16 going on 2015

Way back in the mists of time – November 2009, to be almost precise – I recorded in a blog I now want to proof-read within an inch of its life how Gordon Brown spoke of his support for giving 16 and 17 year olds the vote.  That was prior to the 2010 election, and now here we are closer to the local elections of 2013 than we are to that polling day as far away from the change being made than ever.

Today the SNP has won an important concession from the Government; young people aged sixteen and seventeen will now be allowed to vote in the forthcoming Scottish Independence referendum. This is another widening of the democratic deficit between Scotland and the rest of the UK. Whilst Scottish councils are elected by a representative voting system, in England and Wales voters are lumbered with the old-fashioned, out of date, unfair and unjust First Past the Post. There are still, in 2012, parts of the country where councils publish election results prior to polling day because of ‘uncontested wards’. This scandal doesn’t exist in Scotland; it only exists in England because of First Past the Post.

I’ve supported Votes At 16 from the first moment I realised that our current democratic systems dissuade young people from taking an active role in politics. Whilst party machines may hold no interest to teenagers – they hardly attract older people, let’s be honest – arguing and demonstrating for or against  specific policies has not been this prevalent amongst the young for generations. With more teenagers likely to be taking part-time jobs, or elbow deep in worry about higher education, or earning a bit of cash here and there through App designs and other computer programming endeavours, it’s no longer logical to deny them the vote. It’s hardly worth unravelling the old ‘no taxation without representation’ line, however true it is, because the logic is undefeatable. All those years ago I pointed out that 16 year olds in the 21st century are the 21 year olds of the 1960s, eager to participate in the democratic process whilst denied by the establishment. If the denial seems ‘typical’ from the Tories today, it was merely unfathomable under Labour. Why deny over a million votes out of some outdated view of who ‘gets’ politics in the round? I’ve been a party activist, I can tell you there’s a fair amount of older people who don’t ‘get’ politics either.

Let’s return to another of my obsessions – local government. There needs to be a big reset button pressed at some point in the not so distant future. We need local government elected by proportional representation, what I called ‘a coalition compromise’ , and we need the abolition of Council Tax. Added to that is the need to bring more young people into the political processes, not just as candidates or leaflet droppers or hand-shakers but as voters too. As another ‘compromise’ to act as a stepping stone between no reform and real reform, let’s lower the age at which a person can vote at local elections to 16, just as Scotland will allow younger people to vote in the referendum, to show how minded we are towards longer lasting, real reform.

It’s not because I’m a zealot that I support lowering the voting age, or because I’m a geek or idealistic or a soppy liberal. It’s because the alternative looks, sounds and feels like an establishment stitch-up, and nobody should go along with them whatever your character.

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Vote 2011 – Every Loser Wins

Football managers are experts at finding diamonds in the rough (even Arsene Wenger, whose track record at actually witnessing contentious episodes on the pitch is quite the stuff of legend). Mssrs Molyles, Grant and the rest are wheeled out for post-game interviews to spout, by and large, the same things. “Yeah, it was two points dropped away from home, but you know, the lads really shone today and to come away with a point at this end of the season, you know, yeah, it’s really changed the way we look at the remaining games.”

This week I have been reminded that politicians can find positives in every situation with just as much ease and attraction to the tenuous. With so many elections on the same day – a veritable orgy of democracy – it’s little wonder how our elected elders have analyses the same source material and found completely different conclusions. Just off-side? Questionable linesman decisions? It’s all same-difference….

I will begin with Labour, whose leader Ed Miliband has been doing the media rounds talking much whilst saying little. “There are alternatives to everything this Government is doing” he says (well, sorry, “this Conservative-led government”). Sadly, Ickle Miliband is yet to outline exactly what those alternatives are. His Party were signed up to make public spending cuts in the same mould of the Coalition, so the “unspoken alternatives” he is failing to outline discredit his argument.

Labour did very well in two parts of the country – across Northern England they battered the Liberal Democrats seven shades of Sunday. Many great Northern towns are now without any LibDem representation at local level, or at the very least have seen their numbers slashed to bare minimum. Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Newcastle, Hartlepool, Hull, Leeds, Bolton – each city witnessed colossal drops in LibDem support. Here in Preston, our vote share collapsed in keeping with many others across the region, although we held onto one of our historically safest areas and increased our share of the vote in the target ward of Tulketh. As with all these towns and cities, we will be focusing on the Labour Party’s rule to ensure they keep to the budgetary constraints accepted by the Council before the election was called.

In Scotland, unlike Wales, the Labour Party suffered terribly. The SNP ripped apart the totems of Labour support – the Central Belt has almost no Labour MSPs at constituency level. Glasgow is over-half Nationalist, even Gordon Brown’s Kirkcaldy ditched Labour for the SNP. Fingers have pointed at Iain Gray, whose leadership did not inspire activists never mind voters, though the SNP’s success is clearly one of coherent policies. Labour went for negativity and attack, both of which failed to chime with voters who wanted to hear positivity and leadership.

Supporters of y Blaid may well be looking askance at their nationalist cousins. Labour’s working majority at Cardiff Bay clearly shows the difference with their leadership and campaign messages in the two nations. Could it be that Plaid Cymru stepping away from independence talk has made their brand weak and unattractive? What does falling to third do for Plaid’s future?

And now the Liberal Democrats. Well….

….Okay, so in Scotland we did appallingly badly. Wiped off the mainland in constituency terms we are now the Northern Isles Party in that regard, saved from total embarrassment by the vagaries of the d’Hondt voting system and its top-up seats. Clearly Scotland voted for its national parliament with one eye on Westminster politics; Scottish people have great difficulty in accepting any political alliance with the Conservatives can be sold for the national interest. That great guaranteed hotbed of liberal support – the Highlands – tossed us away like a caber. Just like the Labour Party in the South, so we have been attacked by our core supporters for not offering a credible or distinctive policy package and until we can speak with our own voice again Scotland will not e forgiving to whoever leads the Scottish Liberal Democrats in the future.

In England’s local elections, the Liberal Democrats suffered terribly in the North of England. The figures are stunning and sobering. Liverpool slapped us at every opportunity, Manchester ditched us entirely, and Sheffield stuck two fingers up at Clegg in his beloved backyard. Newcastle and Hull got rid of LibDems only a year after giving them control of their respective councils. Handfuls of LibDem councillors across Cumbria fell without so much as a handshake.

The lesson was very different in the South. We still run Eastbourne Council having lost 5 seats straight to the Conservatives, an increase of 8 Conservative Councillors didn’t change our control of South Somerset, and Portsmouth is still under our control (with no increase in Labour representation at all).

We have to learn from this. The messages we gave to voters over the period long before last year;s general election still hold true. We have thousands of dedicated councillors who fulfill their role as street champions and local representatives far better than their Labour equivalents. There is no sense of entitlement to any of our councillors and their wards. Clearly the Coalition is having a damaging effect on our representation, but that is not a reason to ditch it all in and start again.

The Conservatives won seats and councils last week, one of the first times that a ruling party has made advances after in their first year. They consolidated their southern support whilst making very limited increases from the midlands up (indeed the story in Birmingham is one of almost complete Tory collapse). Tories are still almost completely absent in the industrial towns across Lancashire, Manchester and Yorkshire. There may be blue bits in Sefton, but there most certainly are not in Liverpool, St Helens or Knowsley. In Wigan, the leader of the Tory group lost his seat in Orrell. In Chorley, the Tories lost control of the Council.

The winners/losers argument for the post-match interview is, therefore, whatever you want it to be. Labour cannot claim to have “won” the election period, having been demolished in Scotland and only reclaiming old ground in the North. Neither can the LibDems even suggest things are looking alright, for it clearly isn’t. The Tories need to examine how they break out of their comfort zones, because it still has yet to happen.

Two final points – the BNP were wiped out of Stoke Council, and seem to have only one defending councillor re-elected across the country. Their slow and satisfying collapse continues and long may that continue.

And I cannot leave without mentioning the AV Referendum. We lost. It’s terrible that the No brigade managed to drag victory from the ditches of its awful campaign, not least because this slams shut on meaningful electoral and constitutional reform for a generation. There is no two ways about this – saying No to AV has killed off any chance for a fairer, more representative voting system in the UK and that is a scandal for a so-called developed Western democracy. Labour had 13 years in charge to make a go of this, they failed, and this week their lack of action has come home to roost.

Some election periods are dull. Not this one. Much change, not least in Scotland, with constitutional and representative hoo-ha to follow. For those who found the AV campaign “a bit much”, incidentally, you wait until the boundary changes start…

Old Firm, new challenges

My post last week concerning proposals to bring Celtic and Rangers into a modified two-tier Premier League brought a very considered response in the Comments section from a reader called “Martin”. This post is a part reply to him. It would appear, following the Premier League vote last week, that this “Anglo-Scottish League” proposal has been roundly defeated.

Martin says, “Having a two-tier Premier League would divide television revenue between 36 clubs rather than 20, and considering only two of those would be Scottish teams, 14 English clubs would be better off, increasing competitiveness at the higher end”.

I think this statement presumes the television revenue would be fairly distributed and evenly granted between clubs. This presumption, under the new circumstances of an Anglo-Scottish league, lacks logic. The larger clubs, the “Big 4” of the Premier League, already command far more attention and television coverage than even those mid-table sides in the same league: it would be fanciful to suggest that Norwich or Hull or even perhaps Aston Villa would see similar benefits to a two-tier league than Manchester United or Arsenal. “Increasing competitiveness” could well be the end result, although not instantly; the special atmosphere between the “larger” clubs and Celtic or Rangers is often because of the rare European Cup ties between the sides, a relationship which would become lesser as the novelty of regular matches wears off.

Martin then lists a number of “cross country” examples, including the Welsh clubs which play in England (Cardiff, Swansea, Wrexham, Colwyn Bay, and Merthyr Tydfil), Monaco in France, and Derry FC in Ireland, amongst others. He is absolutely right to point out these examples. And he is right to suggest that “..[t]he only way that clubs from smaller nations will ever be able to compete with the financial monopoly of the big clubs is to play in their leagues, or form cross-country leagues.”

With all due respect, Celtic or Rangers playing regular league football in England is not quite the same thing as Cardiff or Wrexham playing in England. That the Old Firm are “big fish” in a small nation is perhaps entirely a consequence of a mis-handling of the Scottish Leagues over generations. If something must be done, why not the “Atlantic League”, where similarly sized nations could share revenues across borders without the wholesale negative consequences to England’s footballing system?

Martin says that the Old Firm “leaving Scotland will improve the competitiveness of that league, and fill the ground two times more a season at every English club they play“. I cannot agree completely with this all-done-and-dusted assumption. For sides already struggling in Leagues 1 and 2, the promise of expensive jaunts up to Glasgow twice a season to be roundly thumped in a stadium atmosphere completely alien to the rest of the League does not exactly glisten with gold.

Inventing traditions in football does not work. FIFA see this with their ill-fated World Club Cup competition, a globe-trotting failure completely disconnected from fans who have no attraction to watching unknown Asian clubs stretch out results against a seemingly never-ending rota of different African also-rans. There could be a great amount of financial benefit from introducing Celtic and Rangers into the English Premier League, not least for those larger clubs and more affluent fans for whom the lucrative profits would rush out of the gates and flood the club shop. Ultimately, however, the logistical difficulties and questionable benefits further down the leagues tip the balance against the proposals.

I would like to thank Martin for taking the time to respond to my first post. He makes a good case for the proposals, but ultimately I think the whole idea would do more harm than good.

Premier League II

I could not put it better myself, really. Everton really must be having a ‘mare with David Moyes is now getting all Satire-waving about the “inevitable” coming of “Premier League 2”.

On the most basic argument, any additional top league in English football featuring the Old Firm rivals Celtic and Rangers would put an end to the long serving tradition of British football. As a kind of “thank you” to inventing the modern game, the four Home Nations are awarded four separate seats on the FIFA and UEFA top tables; England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales. Okay, we’re not quite unique in this, France has a separate international team within its borders, but I won’t give away this pub quiz answer today….

For Celtic and Rangers to become permanent, full members of the otherwise English Premier League, the whole future set up of the national and international game would change forever. UEFA and FIFA have made it quite clear that a separate English international football team would not exist were the Old Firm to become members of any national football division. Remember the fuss regarding Cardiff winning the FA Cup not being able to take part in European cup competitions? Think about that writ large.

If the idea of a joint Anglo-Scottish football team doesn’t jump out at you (oh imagine the pubs before kick-off…), what about the future of the lower leagues? The amount of money trickling down to even League 1 and League 2 levels is not torrenting down in great waves; an increasing number of Conference and non-league sides are up against the financial wall including Hyde, Farsley Celtic, and Chester. The possibility of having a “walled garden” outside of which survive a withering clutch of barely solvent league teams is nothing short of offensive.

“Mighty” Anderlecht are about discussing the “Atlantic League” theory in case a British “Premier League 2” falls flat. If the notion of pan-European league fills you with a logistical shiver down the spine, you may not be the only ones. But the future of British football, which is far more than sepia-tinged nostalgia for half-time pies and giant killing, relies on the four Home Nations having leagues of their own. Cross-border leagues do not exist in any other country in the world; for clear and unique reasons, the United Kingdom does not suit the notion of a grouped league football format.

Healthy and economically strong our football teams are not (Spurs aside, and there are rather dodgy non-politically correct suggestions for why…). Bringing English and Scottish leagues together in any form would merely produce an incredibly exclusive clutch of world-famous franchises kept away from the motley crews (and indeed, Crewe) below. As a fan of football, and of the lower league game specifically, the prospect does not thrill me with joy at all.

Glasgow North East by-election

Following the resignation of former Speaker, Michael Martin MP, there is to be a by-election in his Glasgow North East constituency. This will take place on the 12 November. The candidates are as follows, with links and info where available.

In keeping with my policy set out in the Norwich North thread, this blog does not include direct links to British National Party websites or candidates.

Updated 1 November with Scottish Socialist Party link

Charlie BAILLIE – British National Party
Willie BAIN – Scottish Labour Party Candidate
Eileen BAXENDALE – Scottish Liberal Democrats
Mev BROWN – Independent (Fellow blogger Kristofer Keane informs me that Brown has stood in various Scottish elections with different party labels each time, namely thus far Referendum Party, UK Independence Party, NHS First, Scottish Voice Party, and the Jury Team.
Colin CAMPBELL – The Individuals Labour and Tory (TILT) This newly registered party seems to be a mix of traditional Tory, old Labour, and Whig-influenced policy pick-n-mix with some terrible poetry to boot.
Ruth DAVIDSON – Scottish Conservative and Unionist
David DOHERTY – Scottish Green Party
Mikey HUGHES – Independent. Mr Hughes took part in Big Brother. Did he win? I have no idea.
David KERR – Scottish National Party (SNP)
Louise McDAID – Socialist Labour Party
Kevin McVEYScottish Socialist Party – Make Greed History
Tommy SHERIDAN – Solidarity – Scotland’s Socialist Movement
John SMEATONJury Team. Smeaton is the Glasgow Airport baggage handler who “took on” the attempted terrorist attack while on duty with the now infamous words “This is Glasgow: we’ll set aboot ye”.

If there any further updates or links, I will try my hardest to add them.

I wish Liberal Democrat candidate Eileen Baxendale all the best of luck in what will be a testing by-election fight.

karaoke

Positive thinking. Things are good. By the bathroom mirror I notice stronger more defined muscles in the arms, a lesser belly, broader shoulders. All will fade once the effects of yomping up mountains carrying camping equipment wears off (or for that matter eating at the Wellington followed by munching an entire fruit-loaf while watching England) but for now OPTIMISM and FEELING GOOD are orders of the day.

(Inserted thought, though. Did sit in the Wellington next to the jukebox which inevitably means the usual selection of songs. I finished on Have A Nice Day which is not my preferred choice. Drained by pint when the warbling women restarted with the tinny beats and “off” production. I’m sounding like my father moaning about rappers on childrens’ television back many years ago; he said once-upon-a-time the moon landings were carried live, now it’s all….well, there was a term for people it may be best not repeated….If I am sharing the same disquiet over musical tastes it’s not from the same social commentary perspective.)

Specifics, though. Devil in the detail. Damn TV Licencing people sent me a letter during my break (do their “chase up team” not know my budgeting starts and ends with payday weekends? What good is every third-week for me?). Powergen, e-on, buggery sods from the bank (they lured me into complacency, now their letters go almost directly from letterbox to shredder).

Goodness, though. That’s the spirit. Sunshine, more days off work (though, ah yes, must buy breakfast cereal to avoid continuing the microwaved-cheese-on-warm-floppy-bread habit). And this Saturday I am off to watch the mighty Burscough against Frickley (so I replace the West Highland Line with a muddled jaunt across Manchester and Leeds commuter routes). FC United in two weeks time, never before has the promise of a day in Bury seemed so appealing….

Must concentrate, though. Could have taken the leccy reading and done it all here, on-line. CDs to review, I could send them off from the Conty tonight if the laptop is repaired. Now there are things to do, do them.

Scotland

Camping holidays are great, overall. Escape, adventure, a touch of my father’s character with a helping of Celtic spirit. Responsibility, resourcefulness, recklessness. Romance does unusual things to the soul, not necessarily just “for it”, as does the inability to measure the time and distance from life departed. Nearer to God than thee, all that. Boadicea in my head on the crossing from Arisaig in the Sheerwater, spattering of salt-water over head, the brutal beauty of rocks among the crashing seas. Impossible to separate the hints of Tolkien from even that distance; Rùm has doors hidden in the sheer sides of mountains, takes its language from the calling winds.

Eigg, Rùm, Canna; three sisters scattered across the seas, waiting for their parents to return home. Spellcasting in silence. I sat on the “point of contemplation” on the other side of Eigg’s harbour, watching the breathless subtlety of a new dawn passing over the mainland. Maybe “God’s fingers” are more than the result of a contrived combination of sun and clouds after all? Be not amazed by what you knowst to be nature’s gift, for He provided the air and the water and the light…..

In the sunset of my life, may I be taken to Eigg to watch the sunrise again? Such watercolours in animation, such changing in the silence. Yellow, peach, red, ruby, orange, cyan, silver, iron, blue. It’s impossible to avoid sounding a bit too much like William McGonagall when on Eigg – “out glare the blind stare of Sgurr”, that sort of thing. Hear the call of the Highlands in the sing-song accent. Eigg is the flirty, charming girl at the party, who jokes and laughs but suggests a deeper romance if only the correct amount of attention is received. She will be a dangerous woman to cross, that much is known. It’s the scent on the wind, the knowing hint in the smile.

My hand shows the wound of a dragon’s stone, the momentary loss of concentration at the entrance to the Cathedral Cave; a slice of time, blood across two centimetres, a sign directly related to pressure and prayer and His warnings.

Rùm has a darker, more mature character. She’s the girl who never wears the same dress twice, who tells blue jokes and drinks sweet whisky. Rúm is the island of dowager women draped in silver scarves, of unforgiving waterfalls carving paths through history. Kinloch Castle stole my imagination, its eccentricity instantly magnetic. Our tour-guide knew her audience, sidestepped anything suggested by the heavy doors and high windows. Her South African accent danced and tiptoed through the hour we spent as guests of Sir George Bullough, asking us to admire beautiful “lenscep pentinx” and the “bilyart rum”. We drank bottles of Highland Gold until the dusk turned to a dark purple night, barefoot in the courtyard, lost in heavy dreams.

My sleep could have been eternal, where it not for the cunning design of the servant’s rooms – now dorms – with mirrors positioned to ensure the morning sun always woke servants from sleep at every angle.

Canna is beyond description, although many swearwords could have been offered given the lack of even a tea-room now. She is the smart, sassy girl with golden hair and a love of Rothko. My eyes were filled with beauty from the moment we set foot on the tiny harbour. At night we watched a dinner-plate moon break through napkin-thin clouds, broken by the waves below into countless smiles and frowns. How easy, how brutal, God shows the magnetic pull of honesty and falsehood even in the growing hours of night.

In the early hours of the morning, with Nocturne in the head, I walked to the bridge connecting Sanday with Canna, watching the still full moon, now dusted with chalk and tears, broken only twice by its reflection. A hundred solutions to a thousand thoughts crossed my mind. Peace in prayer, however quiet, however remote. Out across the seas to a lighthouse on the horizon, hundreds of miles again between that outcrop and the Western Isles (across the seas, beyond the waves, ‘ghaoth thig a Canaidh gum fairich mi blàth i…..)

Return would be at the drop of a hat, the instant, the very moment of possibility. Escape is what you make of it. Tourist or traveller, writer or walker. “Enthusiastic amateur” as I may be, who eat a potato cooked within an empty beer can on open flame, still very much alive with the possibilities which flow from such days away. Coming through the days to England’s youngest city, such a sudden shift following 10 hours of travel, retains the warmth of a Highland life which pounds the heart and feeds the mind.

O! To be there again, soon, soon…