Sunday, 18 December 2016

Three times Olympians got folk telt at Rio.

I meant to post this back after the Olympics but as it's now Sports Personality of Year, here is a small selection of Britain's Olympic personalities at Rio hitting back at some total eejits:

Bradley Wiggins pricking the conscience of Piers Morgan

After winning a team gold for Team GB the legend that is Bradley Wiggins, being the dude he is, poked his tongue out to help prevent him and his team crying on the podium. Piers Morgan however was not impressed and tried shaming him for not singing God Save the Queen. But Wiggo, as Colm Quinn, was quick to remind him where his moral responsibilities really should lie:

Andy Murray correcting John Inverdale who forgot about the Williams' sisters

What a year Andy Murray has had! In fact I'm writing this just as Gary Linekar is talking to Andy on SPOTY. Anyway, when being interviewed by John Inverdale who congratulated him on being "the first person to win two gold medals in tennis", Andy Murray managed not to let his moment of glory cloud his memory so he could remind John Inverdale that Venus and Serena's achievements shouldn't be rewritten.

Callum Skinner telling the Leave campaign not to hijack his success.

Callum Skinner makes the point perfectly. While political campaigns are welcome to voice their support for athletes they shouldn't then start using that to promote their agenda. That's what the Better Together campaign did in 2012 during the London Olympics to try and use emotion against Scottish independence and it was repugnant. It's no different with the more recent referendum campaign that flew the Union Jack so passionately, Leave.EU. The rhetoric of those promoting Brexit was hideous enough without it drifting into the very arena where we should have been able to escape from it all.

If you can jog your memory and remember others with such personality from Rio 2016 drop a comment below and tell us how they got someone telt!

Sunday, 20 November 2016

The monarchy can fund itself

I have an admission to make: I don't really mind the monarchy. As far as I care the Queen can remain Head of State as long as we have the right political system for a fair and progressive society. It's perfectly possible to be such a country whilst retaining a royal family, think of Norway, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands, all with a King or Queen as head of state yet all considered among some of the most progressive countries in the developed world. Meanwhile we have France, Russia and America with executive presidents but these are not exactly the best of countries for liberal politics at the moment. Of course we also have Iceland and Finland as progressive republics. And then we have Spain and Britain with constitutional monarchies but political elites that leave a lot to be desired. So what can we really draw about a country based simply on what system it has for the head of state?

But whatever we think of the monarchy in this country, how it's funded is always going to be a source of controversy. The latest issue to emerge is that of the maintenance bill for Buckingham Palace, a whopping £370 million for the taxpayer. We can argue the exact technicality of the funding arrangement that will pay for this - the sovereign grant drawn from the crown estates - but it's still an issue. The crown estates should be full public property while the monarch's actual properties, Buck Palace, Balmoral, Windsor Castle and so on should all be paid for by something other than the public purse. There is little reason why the monarch and the rest of the Royal Family couldn't be privately funded. The Royal Family is known for being most popular among the wealthiest people in the country. If they are all keen to keep the monarchy and funding them by donations is the only option then they surely won't hesitate to do so. Buckingham Palace recieves around half a million visitors which isn't going to be enough to cover the costs of the bill but crowd-funding and not-for-profit heritage contributions ought to go some way.

What we ought to do is get politicians to back a bill that ends all public funding to the monarchy and its assets. We may only give them less than £1 a year per person or we may give them much much more. But we have to think about public perception here. When the Royal Family are rich enough, giving so much as an extra penny to them is not a savoury thought when there are many other families across the country in greater need. When there is legislation that specifically states public funding should not go to fund the monarchy, that's when public perception of the Royal Family on the side of its skeptics might begin to change. But even then that's not really going to make a difference to people's overall opinions.

The thing is, the debate about the Monarchy, whether we should have it or not, is really less of a financial debate and more of a discussion concerning either how sentimental we are about the institution or how much it is a matter of democratic accountability. Because after all, an elected head of state still has to be paid for and that would generally be done by taxpayers. I'm not arguing for one moment that the monarchy makes any net contribution to the economy, that's more or less negligible. But if it is entirely self funding or funded by donation we could end contributing far more in public funding to the office of President of the United Republic (and wouldn't there also be a small cost involved in having to change the country's name?).

United Republic OKay? All I can say to the designer of that flag is U-ROK!

All the Royal Family needs is the support of wealthy donors, possibly the selling-off of its private assets to be enjoyed by the public in free museums, regular high-end jobs that as prominent public figures they're in a prime position to be offered or just the good old tapping into their bank accounts. If the reigning monarch is so enthusiastic about undertaking his or her role as head of state, a lack of salary isn't going to be a put-off - it's still going to feel like a privilege to be in that role.

Friday, 28 October 2016

I really don't do football tribalism

One weekend, about two months ago, there were two footballing derbies played out in two of the great  cities on this island. I've often had reason to compare Glasgow and Manchester with the civic grandeur of both their centres born out of a seismic 19th century industrial landscape that has become the cultural and economic heartland for many millions of people in the nation/region of which it is the biggest city. And likewise both have inevitably come to each have two big teams playing in some of Britain great cathedrals of football. Yet there is still something of a difference between the Manchester Derby and Old Firm derbies in the reputation of each rivalry.

I do not support either Celtic or Rangers though I may make an exception when it comes to the big European competitions in which case it becomes a matter of Scottish national interest whoever gets there. But I generally prefer to stay out of it and away from the politics of committing myself to an Old Firm club. Yes, I do have more of an affinity with the traditional fanbase of Celtic whose general political leanings are to the left - anti-establishment, anti-imperialism, socialist ideals, Irish reunification, Palestinian solidarity etc. The broad-left is where my political home lies but it does not give me any reason to support Celtic. Because when you have a footballing rivalry as big and divisive as that I want no part of it. The team I support is Liverpool while here in Scotland my allegiances lie more with local teams in the South-west - Queen of the South and Stranraer, both of whom could bring something of a boost to their clubs and local communities if they advance further in the leagues. In the Premiership, if there's any team I want to win it then it will be anyone but the Old Firm. So my support goes to whichever club can end the dominance of Rangers or Celtic. Last season that was Aberdeen who sadly missed out on beating Celtic to the top-spot, this season so far its looking like Hearts might be the contender. But I'm just sick to death of Glasgow's dominance in the top tier of Scottish football, unless Partick Thistle were to come along and steal the Old Firm's thunder.

More of this would be nice

Of course Celtic and Rangers have been good business for Scotland to an extent though the cost of policing them makes for a heavy bill. As football clubs they have their fair share of fans who are there just because they love football and have found their place in the family of one club or another. For them and many Celtic and Rangers fans across Scotland it isn't about sectarianism or ideology. They just support the clubs for similar reasons to why other people support other clubs be it a local connection, a family connection or maybe even a classroom influence among peers. Sadly however, at the heart of Scottish football lies this most tribalistic of rivalries. How about considering other rivalries for a change? Like one between Celtic and Hearts to echo the less acrimonious rivalry between Glasgow and Edinburgh, though that would probably just end up like another sectarian derby. It seems there's actually one between Rangers and Aberdeen that started relatively recently in a single match. But how about people just put aside their religious or political bias in finding their club of affinitiy? The thing with the rivalry between Celtic and Rangers is that the bigotry really cuts both ways. In the showdown between the two at Parkhead in September, a number of Rangers fans went and trashed the toilets while someone in the Celtic camp had the wise idea (n.b. irony) of hanging a pair of dolls possibly to symbolise what they saw as a club who died in 2012. We can call all this banter but it's really hard to know what to make of it. Certainly such behaviour can be highly provocative.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Europe: More control when you're in the room than knocking on the window

We are now in the middle of the month when we are talking about little else but Europe, whether that's the football or something more important, a certain referendum that is less than a fortnight away. As someone on the left and a supporter of Scottish independence, the European Union ought to be the sort of thing I despised as a bureaucratic corporate centralising force with its  unelected headquarters in Brussels. Yet the main advocacy of Britain's exit from this club, a 'Brexit', is coming from the right and perhaps feels too jingoistic for comfort.

Twenty months on from the independence referendum it's easy to see the parallels emerging. The Brexit side saying "we are strong enough not to need dictating to by a foreign power" while accusing the other side of "Project Fear". But for me this is quite a different referendum needing quite a different debate. I personally favour remaining in the European Union and so it feels weird to find myself on the same side of the debate as David Cameron and George Osborne. Nonetheless we will be singing from completely different hymn sheets. The British Unionists are still having a dig at Alex Salmond even when they both agree on continued EU membership because we are contemplating another referendum especially if Britain as a whole votes to leave the European Union. We even have the cheek of Willie Rennie suggesting Alex Salmond should leave the Remain campaign because "he's an embarrassment". Talk for yourself mate! Not only that he thinks we "nationalists" will be voting to leave to ensure Britain gets taken out of the European Union so it would create the grounds for that second referendum. Well anybody with half a brain would realise how stupid that would be when the whole point with arguing for a second referendum in the event of a Brexit is because there is a strong Scottish vote for remaining in. So on that basis what we in Scotland should be campaigning for is a very strong vote north of the border (and in the short time we have before the referendum it is best for most politicians and campaigners to focus on one part of the UK when campaigning, whether Scotland, Wales, Wessex or Yorkshire) and let the rest of Britain decide for itself. The simple truth is that polls suggest there's going to be a strong vote to leave south of the border while in Scotland it will be quite the reverse. But Nicola Sturgeon is expressing strong support for a vote to remain in the EU not just within Scotland but across the UK. I certainly don't want the future for a Great Britain of three independent countries to include an England that is detached from the European Union while all its Celtic neighbours are committed members. But if it comes to the rump of the UK choosing to stay out of the EU then I would want an independent Scotland as soon as possible in order to bring the European Union back to at least part of our island.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

A RISE vote is an unwise vote

It's nearly that time of year again. Hard to believe almost 12 months have passed since that historic day when the SNP achieved a near clean-sweep of Westminster's 59 Scottish seats. A day that saw a number of familiar faces from the Yes campaign, some having only joined the SNP since the referendum, gain their spot on the (in)famous green benches. One of those was of course particularly remarkable - a 20-year old politics undergraduate called Mhairi Black unseating Douglas Alexander one of New Labour's stalwarts who had been there since the girl who would become the youngest MP for some three hundred years was still in nursery. I think I felt my age when I remembered back then in 1997 I was revising for exams that I would be sitting at the grammar school in Penrith!

It was easy to feel some gleeful schadenfreude with the enormity of Labour's collapse in Scotland - served them right for how they behaved towards us during the referendum! Yet that feeling soon gave in to a sense that actually Labour were finally eating humble pie and realising what was wrong with themselves. They weren't the great victors of the independence referendum that John McTiernan had so pompously predicted a few months before but rather the lambs that had sacrificed themselves to protect the union by a swing margin of just 5%. They sound like a shadow of their former self but the tone of humility they seemed to adopt wasn't going to make me forgive them anytime soon. They were well and truly tarnished by standing shoulder to shoulder with the Tories in 'Better Together'.

One set of seat predictions for May 5th

Now the time comes for their painful reminder. Whilst last year we could take nothing for granted in the pro-indy camp where most of us were united behind the need to vote SNP, the result this time is pretty much in the bag. The SNP will win the Scottish Parliament elections this coming Thursday and most likely they will increase their majority. But alongside this already-won contest for first place there are another two battles in play. The Tories fancy their chances to be the main opposition party ahead of Labour (I'd hardly be looking forward to that!) and the Greens sense a real opportunity to make a bigger impact on the back of their own increased membership since the referendum with the possibility of winning a few more seats and replacing the Liberal Democrats as the fourth party in Holyrood.

Friday, 8 April 2016

A guaranteed basic income - surely its time has come

Writing in the Guardian back in February last year on the subject of work-life balance Channel 4 correspondent Paul Mason wrote about the possibility of a guaranteed basic income of £6,000 and how this could benefit many working class people. I only came across this article the other day and so thinking that it had only just been written I wondered why he wasn't mentioning Finland taking up this initiative in recent weeks but that was of course before I realised it was written way back three months before the UK General Election when there was still some hope Labour would be the party in government.

8 million gold coins dropped in a Swiss square to celebrate the successful petitioning for a referendum on BI.

The idea of a guaranteed basic income where you are unconditionally handed a government sum of, say, £6,000 a year for basically doing nothing is of course a wonderful thought just by the mere thought of it. What's not to like about that? But naturally anyone hearing this proposition for the first time would be quick to ask the serious questions about how exactly this would work, how much would it cost, what would be the economic effect of it on the country and so on. I myself went through this idea and its associated questions carefully in my mind before becoming convinced that I was onto something.