Friday, April 29, 2005

Operation Christian Vote

There I was, chilling out at the end of the evening watching the news. Then this lot came on to advocate a return to theocracy circa 17th Century Scotland style.

If I were a practicing Christian, I think I'd resent the assumption of sameness: one is a Christian, therefore one must cast a vote with banning abortion, advocating censorship and banning sex education at the top of your agenda.

Piss off!

Thursday, April 28, 2005

The parties' position on the war #5: SSP

One could simply cut and paste from this, since many of the points that apply to the SNP are also salient to the SSP position. Further - while it's a strong field in which to compete, the prize for the most hypocritical use of the UN legalism argument must surely go to the SSP? Tommy Sheridan, in typically understated style, repeatedly used the legality of the war as a pretext for the promiscuous use of terms like "war criminal" and "quislings" (the former was applied to Blair; the latter to the Scottish Labour Party which supported him.)

So, if the UN had granted a second resolution, given his heartwarming conversion to international law, one would expect the SSP to have supported a regime-change in Iraq. But no, as one can see here from their statement about the war:
"We are opposed to the US and British Government waging war even if they bully the UN Security Council into passing a resolution giving the go ahead to attacking Iraq".
Instead - just like all the rest - the SSP demanded more time for the UN, despite the fact that they were aware of the effects of sanctions:
"After a decade and more of punitive sanctions, Iraq is on its knees."
And again in the same piece:
"starving of hundreds of thousands Iraqi children is another..."
...reason for the rise of Islamic militancy, that is.

So the SSP - rather than support the overthrow of a fascist tyrant - would rather demand more time for the UN, despite the fact that, by their own admission, the inspections/sanctions regime starved Iraqi children, brought the country to its knees and allowed the regime to survive with contemptuous ease.

Way to go comrades.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005


Engage is a new webiste set up in response to the AUT's anti-Israeli boycott.

If you value academic freedom and think that the AUT has been dangerously selective in this action then pay it a visit.

If you've managed to convince yourself that all the Middle East's problems are the fault of those pesky Jews - don't bother.

(Via Norm and Harry's Place)

The parties' position on the war #4: SNP

Like the Lib Dems, the SNP cited the absence of UN legal cover as their reason for opposing the war. Unlike the Liberals, here the SNP can at least claim to have been consistent: prior to his premature resignation as party leader, Alex Salmond also took the view that NATO forces should not have been allowed to stop Milosevic's ethnic cleansing rampage through Kosovo without the permission of the Russians.

He did, however, support - and vote for in the UK Parliament - the UN sanctioned military action against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

When they're out canvassing for the Muslim vote with the promise of even more religious segregation in our already disfigured education system, you can bet the SNP activists will neglect to mention that last point.

Beyond the UN rationale, the stance on Iraq forms part of the SNP's long tradition of isolationism: their policy, as well as to withdraw from the Union with England and Wales, is still to withdraw from NATO - the armed forces of an independent Scotland reserved, one presumes, to address the real and present danger presented by the declining fish stocks in the North Sea.

If remarks made by Nicola Sturgeon are at all typical of the wider party, their reasoning behind their opposition to the war includes a crude - and breathtakingly crass - identification of Scotland with Iraq as small countries that have both suffered from interference at the hands of larger, more militarily effective imperial powers.

Alex Salmond on television the other evening was patiently explaining that because it is London rather than the European Central Bank that controls our monetary and fiscal policy, Scottish homeowners have to endure slightly higher interest rates than the European average.

Oh, the crushing burden of the English yoke!

I think the SNP should make this comparison instead: the Kurds are the largest stateless nation on the face of the planet. There are around twenty-three million of them and they have been mistreated in every country in which they're settled - and nowhere more than in Ba'athist Iraq where the northern part has a Kurdish population roughly the size of Scotland.

Oppression Iraq-style involved not marginal differences in interest rates but the use of chemical weapons and mass graves to subdue the restive Kurds.

Given the way that the SNP go all moist when they talk about small nations, you'd think the nationalists might have been prepared to lend their support to the cause of the Iraqi Kurds.

Instead, John Swinney - while he was keeping the leadership chair warm for Alex Salmond - joined the ranks of those who marched through Scotland's streets to insist that the other five-sixths of the Iraqi population should remain in Saddam Hussein's grip for a little "more time".

And what really makes me want to vomit is the spectacle of Alex Salmond exuding smirky confidence that the SNP will be rewarded at the polls for this shameful, self-interested performance.

If any of the prospective SNP candidates are canvassing in Glasgow, their minders should perhaps steer them away from those exiled Iraqi Kurds and Shias who reject Salmond's analysis and - with all due respect to the SNP - are eminently well-qualified to do so.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The parties' position on the war #3: Liberal Democrats

Sort of done this here, making the point that the Liberal Democrats' purported "principled stand" should not be accepted, since they supported the Kosovo campaign - which also didn't have a specific Security Council resolution authorizing military action.

But given the number of celebrity endorsements they seem to be getting, along with this sort of crap, it's necessary to give Chick and his team another couple of well-placed kicks to the genital area - metaphorically speaking.

For one thing, even if it could be accepted that the Liberals' UN-legalism counts as a principle (which it can't) - how in the name of god are they allowed to get away with the sanctimonious claptrap they were spouting during the most obviously disastrous phases of the post-war occupation (Abu Ghraib, Fallujah)? They said they opposed the war in principle: will someone please tell Charlie Kennedy and Menzies Campbell what that means? I.e. not on the basis of how they thought it was going to turn out - because that was and is irrelevant to the question of its legality.

If we were to take the Lib Dems at their word (always a mistake but go with it for the sake of argument), they would have supported the invasion if it received UN-backing. I'm wondering if that's why they tried to use the failings of the occupation; they think UN-cover would have resolved all the post-war difficulties? Yeah, because after a dozen years of sanctions, the UN was real popular in Iraq: anyone in the Lib Dems notice a slight explosion in the UN headquarters?

Libs: heard of a place called Afghanistan? You supported - as did I - the toppling of the Taliban regime after 9/11. Did the presence of blue berets make any opposition to the subsequent occupation melt away? Has the postwar occupation there been free from incident or blemish? It certainly has not so why haven't you used those incidents as a stick with which to beat Blair Iraq-style? Oh, that's right - keep forgetting: you supported that, not least because it was sanctioned by the hallowed UN.

And when you're out canvassing, wooing the Muslim vote with your "principled opposition" to the Iraq war - will you be reminding them about Afghanistan?

Didn't think so.

The parties' position on the war #2: Conservatives

It's easy to attack the Conservatives on this issue - but that doesn't mean it isn't worth doing. Michael Howard has decided to use Iraq in an attempt to make trust an election issue:
He said Mr Blair had taken only one stand in the last eight years, over the Iraq war, "and he couldn't even tell the truth about that".
Hmmm, well no one could accuse Michael Howard of making a stand on Iraq; he seems to have made several and it's a bit confusing trying to keep up but these are the key point I think: IDS was leader when Parliament voted on the invasion. IDS supported the government's position, which was entirely predictable given that he had previously raised the question of confronting Saddam Hussein militarily when Afghanistan was being debated on the floor of the Commons.

We have no record of Michael Howard dissenting from this in any way, shape or form but now, with the subsequent post-war difficulties, he has been shamelessly opportunistic in trying to make this an election issue, saying that if he knew "what we know now", he wouldn't have voted for the war.

Ah, the razor-sharp QC's mind at work. Problem is, Michael Howard only knows what he knows now because of the invasion of Iraq.

Since JS Mill, the Tories have forever been dubbed "the stupid party".

There's a reason for that.

And if you were thinking of rewarding Michael - poll tax, prison works, shackling pregnant women, child of immigrants making it difficult for those fleeing Milosevic's persecution to settle in Britain, did you threaten to over-rule him? - Howard with an anti-war vote then you're stupid too.

NB: Questions for Michael Howard - why are you banging on about intelligence and WMD? Did you not understand the regime-change argument? Your predecessor did. Either you didn't, in which case, you are too poorly informed to lead a major political party, never mind the country - or more likely you did, in which case you too aren't being entirely honest with us, are you?

The parties' position on the war #1: Labour

Given how much has already been written, discussed and argued on this subject, this is probably superfluous but since we're told that the invasion of Iraq is - or if not, should be - a major factor in deciding who to vote for on May 5th, I thought it would be worthwhile having a look at the position that all the parties took on this. But since it was this present Labour government that made the decision - and the other parties were and are necessarily reacting to this - it is with Labour that you have to begin.

Since Blair put virtually all of his eggs in the WMD basket when making the case for war, the subsequent non-discovery of these UN-banned weapons has naturally given rise to the question of whether Blair lied about this (and I use the term "naturally" advisedly; to respond angrily or defensively to this, as some do, is to be irrationally partisan).

If by lied, people mean the vulgar idea that Blair cooked up the WMD case as a pretext, knowing perfectly well that no such weapons existed, then the answer has to be no: it should be remembered that prior to "knowing what we know now", the case made by the French and the Russians, for example, was not that Saddam had no stocks of banned weapons but that no new evidence regarding his intent has been forthcoming.

But if by lied, we mean was Blair completely honest in his reasons for going to war, surely it's beyond doubt that he was not? Blair clearly stated, in response to a Parliamentary question, that the purpose of the invasion of Iraq was to disarm Saddam Hussein of his WMD, not to affect regime-change. Now, I never impute moral superiority to political leaders but I think it's a mistake always to assume as a matter of routine (from a strategic standpoint, if nothing else) that our political class is completely stupid. Disarming Saddam whilst leaving the regime intact would belong to the old containment policy but it should have been clear to anyone paying attention that the Bush Administration was bent, not on enforcing containment, but regime-change. But was it clear to Blair? Of course it was.

The question for the voter is then - whether you supported the war or not - how to respond? It seems superficially simple: if the invasion of Iraq, and the whole business of how it was justified, is a crucial election issue then one should simply vote for the party that was either more honest and/or had a position you agreed with more. One of my motivations for writing about all the parties and their position on the war is, despite not being an admirer of Blair at all, I'm finding myself increasingly annoyed about the lack of scrutiny the other parties have faced on this issue and their complacent attitude that it's only Tony Blair that has any questions to answer.

I'm intending to argue over the next few posts that one of the major reasons that Iraq hasn't benefited Blair's political opponents more is because, for the most part, their positions have been at least as inconsistent as his, and where they have been consistent - they've been more or less consistently wrong.

Finally, as well as being very quickly obvious that this war was not solely about WMD, I would have thought it obvious that the existence and possession of WMD can never be entirely separated from the nature of the regime. Or to put it another way: I'm in favour of multi-lateral nuclear disarmament, always have been and I'm too old to change now, but while I've had the tendency to worry about nukes for as long as I can remember, I'm very much more worried about the possibility that regimes like North Korea, Iran and Ba'athist Iraq could (or could have) gone nuclear than I am (or was) about France, the UK, the USA and even the Soviet Union doing the same. I thought at the time - wrongly as it turned out - that this an obvious point.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Kennedy seeks Iraq war 'justice'

Chick is repeating the line he used in the European elections and is hoping to capitalise on the Lib Dems "principled" opposition to the war:

"Every Labour and Conservative candidate should be held to account by voters over the Iraq war", Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy has argued.
Yeah well, despite the fact that Liberals are almost as rare as Tories in Glasgow, if I track down a candidate, I think I'll be looking for the Liberal Democrat to give an account of themselves because, despite my best efforts (Chick hasn't responded to my e-mail, y'see), I can't get an answer to this question: Mr. Kennedy, you say we should vote for your party because - in your own words - of your "principled position on the war". You then go on to imply that your party opposed the war because a second (he means an eighteenth) resolution from the UN Security Council was not forthcoming. The problem with that is the Kosovo camaign - backed by the Lib Dems - did not have a specific UN mandate either. Your begging the question, Charlie-boy: what was the principle on which you opposed the war exactly? I'd really be interested to know...

Cheesecake is prohibited... well as puppies and kittens over at the Anti-Pudding League.

Absolutely brilliant; nuff said.

SNP backs more faith schools

I'm implacably opposed to faith schools but it's beginning to feel like my republicanism; something I believe in as a concept but which has no chance of becoming a reality in the foreseeable future. So while I might be expected to have a rant about Alex Salmond's backing for Muslim schools in the state sector, what's the point? None of the main political parties are willing to confront the power of the churches in education so given that faith schools will continue to be part of the educational landscape, the SNP are quite right - the present situation is unjust to Muslims.

The SNP's policy puts them with the Tories as being the only two to advocate state-financed Muslim schools in Scotland (presently, there are none) and in doing so, they've followed through the logic further than Labour and the Lib Dems of a system that no longer insists on a single state religion but persists with the silly idea of institutionalizing the myth that faith per se is a virtue.

However, as with so many of these issues, no party has the courage to accept completely the logic of their position: if it is no longer acceptable for the state to sponsor a particular religion in the classroom and we've to continue with faith schools, when are we to hear proposals for Sikh, Buddhist and Hindu schools; schools for Pentecostal Christians and other Evangelicals; schools for the heterodox Christian offshoots like Mormonism and Jehovah Witnesses; and Jewish schools? When are all those thousands who responded "Jedi Knights" to the question about religious affiliation in the Scotland 2001 census going to have their corner defended by Alex Salmond? Or schools for Satanists, witches and practitioners of the occult? While we're at it, let's have schools for those who think Elvis is still alive; for those who believe in UFOs and wild conspiracies - it's only fair.

Then when we survey the mess, the segregated and suspicious society we've created, maybe then more people will begin to understand the only practical - and fair - way of catering for all shades of belief in a multi-faith society is to give none of them preference or special status and have a proper, modern and secular education system that insists that god-botherers do it in their own time.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Publicans in frontline to enforce smoking ban

From the Scotsman again: It seems rather harsh to depend on publicans to enforce a ban that'll lose them more business than anyone else.

Despite opposing the ban, I have to say that I'm very curious to see how it'll go. A friend mentioned the other evening the conspicuous lack of success that has followed the smoking ban on public transport and sure enough, the following day some people were puffing away on the bus as I was going to work and on the way home.

I'm a wee bit concerned about the quality of advice that Jack McConnell is receiving. I mean, was there no one on hand to point out, "Jack - smoking ban bad idea; this is Glasgow Jack. You know the place: not California, nor Norway, nor Dublin but the city that is positively Eastern European in its enthusiasm for tobacco, along with most other life-endangering products known to man. Get a reality check"?

Texting lowers IQ

Which explains a lot, given how deeply the average pupil is wedded to his/her mobile phone. Technically, we're supposed to confiscate them if they go off in class but to be honest, so attached to them are they - enforcing this rule generally isn't worth the hassle. (The average pupil responds as if you asked them to surrender one of their kidneys!)

However, now that we know their IQ is at stake (for some, there's a real danger that their IQ scores will dip into negative numbers), I've thought of a solution: henceforth, all mobile phones will be left at the door and pupils will be given a spliff to compensate because, as well as producing a more mellow atmosphere, toking is, apparently, less detrimental to their intelligence than those bloody phones...

Purcell wants to pull Glasgow back together

Well, that's nice of him. And how does he propose to do this?
Speaking in his current capacity as education convener, he says tackling the problem of unemployment and the skills shortage among young people starts in the classroom. "Our schools and our teachers have to understand that they are part of the city’s economy," he says. "Therefore we have to ensure that they are providing our young people with the life skills and the confidence to share in this buoyant economy of Glasgow."
Life skills?
"I think it’s important we stretch the most able children and get the young people into university and higher education. But for those for whom that is not a route, they have the basic life skills to get themselves up in the morning, to dress appropriately, and sell themselves with confidence in an interview. Many of our young people in Glasgow don’t have those skills. We need to work harder at providing our young people with the soft skills employers want."
So my job, it seems, is to provide docile workers for Glasgow's employers. As a believer in a liberal education, I don't buy this of course (hence the strapline) but even if I did, I'm not sure I'm equipped to do so. People talk about compulsory education but the only thing that appears to be compulsory in Glasgow City is attendance; everything else seems to be negotiable. Indiscipline in Glasgow schools is probably the biggest barrier to learning - so how about a bit more support for teachers and schools who attempt to impose some order, only to be frustrated by parents, lawyers, social workers, child psychologists and the other ancillary professionals who apparently deeply and sincerely believe that teachers are the "enemy"?

From the Scotsman

Thursday, April 21, 2005

On proportional voting systems

This is prompted by a piece I found over at Harry's Place in which Harry is finding his commitment to PR somewhat strained, despite having "long been a supporter of electoral reform and proportional representation". Meanwhile, Johann Hari reckons "Only a multi-party proportional electoral system can make politics compatible with complex consumer preferences, giving us a political menu that stretches from the Greens to the BNP". Finally, Nick Cohen recently described our FPTP as "appalling".

I used to share this consensus over PR but now think both that FPTP has benefits - and proportional systems drawbacks - that tend to be overlooked.

One purported benefit of PR that should be nailed from the outset is the notion that it is "fairer" and more "democratic". The logic is that since no government in Britain since 1945 has been elected on a minority of the popular vote - whereas PR systems typically produce coalition governments based on 60% of the vote - PR is, therefore, more representative.

This overlooks a couple of problems: coalitions are the product of compromises made between parties and produce policies that no-one has voted for - which rather undermines their claim to be representative. (A case in point being the deal the Liberals made with Labour in the Scottish Parliament over university tuition fees.)

Another is the fact that PR systems can produce a change in government without anyone casting a vote - surely a failing in any system claiming to be more democratic?

This was the case in Ireland when, rocked by the scandals concerning paedophile priests, the Fianna Fail administration resigned, leaving the Irish Labour party to reform a coalition with Fine Gael. (The case also illustrates the problem with being unable to get rid of minority parties who exercise the role of king-makers out of all proportion to their electoral strength).

Some PR systems can also put power away from local constituencies and into the hands of the party machine. This contest may be pretty low-down and dirty but when it's done, I don't think anyone in Bethnal Green and Bow will have much of an excuse for not knowing who their local MP is.

The same cannot be said for PR. Under the Holyrood AMS system, we have two MSPs. I know who the MSP elected by FPTP is alright, but as for my list MP - I haven't a clue, and that seems to be the case with most people I've mentioned this to.

But it's the strength of FPTP that tends to be overlooked - and to appreciate it, one has to get back to the essence of the electoral system and what you want it to achieve.

The glory of democracy - as one of my lecturers put it - was that not only does it legitimize the sort opposition that would be considered treason in pre-democratic systems, but it does is some way carry the idea that such opposition is a democratic duty.

In this context, FPTP is the best system: I don't think there was much doubt that after 18 years of Tory rule, the British electorate were in the mood for a change (to put it mildly) and the great advantage of our system is that it allows us to do just that - get a complete change in government; get rid of the lot of them.

Contrast and compare with the Scottish Parliament. To me it has a very serious democratic defect that is hardly ever addressed: can the Holyrood system deliver a change in government? It's too early to say, but the signs aren't encouraging. Who does a left of centre unionist like me vote for? All the opposition parties are nationalist, except for a small fringe group of fanatics who call themselves the Scottish Conservatives - and here I reckon PR is part of the problem. And - to return to the theme of Harry's piece - if we ever do get a change of administration in Holyrood, I've got the awful feeling that we'll never be rid of those oily Lib Dems.

Ah - I hear you say - but doesn't PR increase turnout because people know their vote isn't wasted? Er, if you look up the election stats for the last Holyrood election, that should disabuse you of that notion; I'm not providing them for you because, frankly, I'm embarrassed...


Today the Vatican; tomorrow Poland. Ah hem - only joking, sort of. By all accounts the new pontiff is pretty much like the previous one, with the doctrinal conservatism but without John Paul's warmth or charisma. My sympathies are with those reformist Catholics who are dismayed by this appointment and specifically with Hans Kung who, despite having fallen foul of Ratzinger's theological conservatism, appears unwilling to give way to pessimism.

However, while this pontiff seems unlikely to be a unifying candidate, I'm wondering if it's right to suggest that the adoption of a more liberal theology - while desirable from a socially liberal perspective - will help stem the decline in Catholic congregations world wide because evidence for this seems rather scant: theological liberalism hasn't done either the Church of England or the Church of Scotland much good, whereas those brances of religion that have been relatively inflexible theologically appear to be experiencing considerable growth in various parts of the world. After all, Islam is the world's fastest-growing religion and in Latin America, the Catholic church has been plugging away with a liberation theology approach - only to have been outstripped by the huge growth in Evangelical protestantism. It's a little reported fact that the congregation growth in that part of the world is the largest expansion in protestantism since the Reformation. It seems that doctrinal conservatism, combined with modern techniques in evangelism, is the key to success here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

"Modernisers" take control of Glasgow City Council

From the Scotsman: Charlie Gordon was ousted in a bloodless coup yesterday, which paved the way for a younger generation to take control of Glasgow City Council. His replacement is Steven Purcell who, at only 32, will be the youngest person ever to hold the job.

Can't say I know much about him except he's the genius responsible for all these school mergers in Glasgow.

And that's been a huge success, hasn't it?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

SSP Manifesto: more Marxist than Marx

The SSP manifesto, launched yesterday, promises to end poverty by making "capitalism history". The analysis is simple: capitalism causes poverty so get rid of capitalism and poverty is eliminated. The introduction to the manifesto goes on:
"Capitalism is a system that breeds division and hatred. It is unable to seriously challenge racism, homophobia and religious hatred, because these problems are rooted in the system itself."
The weakness of this argument is one found all too often on the hard left: they err because they know not their history, nor their Marx. Even a superficial understanding of human history should give one the insight that the existence of poverty, hatred, racism, homophobia and sexism pre-date capitalism. And what I mean by being more "Marxist than Marx" is this: it would need to be more than superficial but - and I hate being the bearer of bad news - a proper understanding of Marx should not lead one to believe that capitalism is the worst thing the human race has ever had to endure.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Who to vote for?

Found this over at Freedom and Whisky.

Who Should You Vote For?

Who should I vote for?

Your expected outcome:


Your actual outcome:

Labour 4
Conservative -40
Liberal Democrat 62
UK Independence Party -23
Green 64

You should vote: Green

The Green Party, which is of course strong on environmental issues, takes a strong position on welfare issues, but was firmly against the war in Iraq. Other key concerns are cannabis, where the party takes a liberal line, and foxhunting, which unsurprisingly the Greens are firmly against.

Take the test at Who Should You Vote For

Funnily enough, I was thinking of voting that long as they don't expect me to hug any trees that is...

Back from Hols

And what does one find on the blogsphere? More guff about Galloway. Personally, I think the Respect/Galloway groupies are making a tactical mistake. Galloway will probably lose; New Labour will take the result as a symbolic vindication of their policies and because Gorgeous Boy has made Iraq so much the central issue, it'll be difficult for Respect to argue otherwise. But what it would actually mean is that the voters of Bethnal Green aren't as obsessed with Iraq as those of us who lurk in the blogsphere.

Holiday was excellent timing; missed the Pope's funeral and Chuck and Camilla's wedding.

Didn't go on holiday soon enough though - one of the last things I read in the press was this by David Aaronovitch, which made the old blood boil. If you haven't read it, I think I can reduce it to its essence as follows: those who criticise New Labour's record on liberty are just a bunch of dinner-party psueds who don't live in the real world and don't, therefore, appreciate how important a Labour victory is to the "real" folks who know how the shoe pinches. (Peter Hain seemed to be saying much the same thing).

Leaving aside the fact that Mr. Aaronovitch doesn't look like he's refused many dinner-party invitations recently, it's worth while asking what kind of real world he lives in if he thinks giving police too much power isn't a problem.

Are we to ignore detention without trial; the admission of evidence obtained under torture into British courts; ID cards; and restrictions on free speech (religious hatred bill) because at least New Labour will be slightly less hard-faced towards the poor than the Tories?

Old Aaro may not be in the communist party anymore but I guess the old authoritarianism dies hard. I think I live in rather closer proximity to the "real world" than him and I don't find this line of argument compelling in the least. It's Leninism-lite and I ain't voting for it - and if there was any doubt in my mind before, Mr. Aaronovitch has ably dispelled it.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Fortnight's Holiday

Off to sunny Spain.

Before fatherhood: "I want to go somewhere not too touristy and indicative of the people and their culture".

After fatherhood: "Somewhere - anywhere with sun, kiddie's entertainment and chicken nuggets will do me fine thank you"...

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