Monday, 31 March 2014

Week 13, Unlucky for some

Who would have known it? In just one week, Week 13 of 2014 (let's call it 13'14, that has a certain ring to it!), everything changed, the tide turned, a new order was born, and you can think of any other number of clich├ęs to describe it. But basically in the course of the week the media in Scotland was dominated by a truth it couldn't avoid. That now the gap in the polls was narrowing and the alternative media and twitter's cybernats were finding a stronger voice, the Yes campaign was suddenly becoming a force to be taken seriously. And so it took only a few gaffes in the Better Together hierarchy and an underwhelming performance by Nick Clegg at the Lib Dems' Scottish conference to embarrass the Unionists to the point of admitting the Yes campaign could win this September.

The ball started to roll for the Unionist campaign a week ago on Sunday as new polling revealed the extent to which people were starting to turn away from No and give their backing to Yes. But that was only the beginning.

Friday, 21 March 2014

The Parliamentary Case for Independence

Ask any MSP or MP who has worked at both Westminster and Holyrood "Which parliament do you prefer?" chances are the answer is always going to be the same. Whichever side of the independence debate they're on they are still likely to tell us they prefer Holyrood over Westminster. And it probably isn't so much political as pastoral. The Scottish Parliament has a charm and convenience that the UK Parliament doesn't have.

The debating chamber is certainly a lot nicer in Holyrood. The seats are better spaced out, there is no need for anyone to stand and every member gets their own desk on which to put their documents. The seating is arranged in such a way as to reflect what was intended to be a more consensual approach to parliamentary politics rather than the confrontational nature of the House of Commons. Aesthetically the chamber at Holyrood is much more pleasing. It has a fresh wooden look and lets in a lot more natural daylight. That in itself could have a more positive effect on the mood of the chamber. The freshness makes it feel closer to nature as was part of the original vision by the Spanish architect Enric Miralles (if you look at the shape of the parliament from above it is like a small litter of leaves). And it's modern. That's important because it sends out the message that this is a democracy that is current and up-to-date or at least more so than Westminster.

Holyrood from a golden eagle's perspective.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Cold War II? I hope not.

I enjoyed watching the Sochi Olympics. I enjoyed the opening ceremony better than the one at London 2012 although that was good as well. Russia had clearly been waiting a long time for this opportunity to show itself off to the global community and here was a showcase of Russian culture with the sound of Alexander Borodin's Prince Igor providing an atmospheric opening to proceedings evocative of the Russia of the 19th century rich in its ballets and literature before it made way for the chaos of the 20th Century. When the national anthem was played with the raising of the tricolour I was powerfully reminded that this was the first post-Soviet Olympic Games held on Russian soil. Yes, the setting of these Olympics raised some eyebrows: of all the places to host it why did the Russians choose somewhere far south in the Caucasus Mountains where it was much warmer? Surely further north in the heart of Russia where colder winters are better known would have been more apt, like the Ural Mountains. Nonetheless, this was very much Russia being exhibited and what a statement they made of it as they went forward and claimed the top medal-haul with 13 golds. Russia can certainly look forward to more great sporting festivities with the Grand Prix taking place in the same city in August and the World Cup all over the country (well, the European part), four years from now. So having invested in the most expensive Winter Olympics ever Russia is making significant progress in the 21st Century.

Sochi - Russia living the dream?

At least that's what we'd like to think. But Russia can hardly be seen as progressive right now. The Kremlin's suppression of gay rights was of course the big social talking point throughout the Olympics with people taking to twitter to ask Mr Putin if he was enjoying watching the double-luge (which is NOT a mixed event!). But as the Paralympics dawn it is events on the adjacent coastline to Sochi which is threatening to overshadow Russia's reputation. If ever there has been more evidence in recent years of the old Soviet Union's legacy in Eastern Europe the struggle in the Ukraine between those who want closer integration with the European Union and those who want to remain integrated with Russia possibly absorbed says it all. Are we about to witness an event that means the Cold War now has to acquire 'I' as a suffix?