This lack of service is normal…

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An extended radio silence on here has allowed me to finish up a couple of things I’ve been busy with.  My supervisor now has a draft of my thesis (which is a bit of a weight off my mind, even though it’s still a little way short of being completely done) and between us we’ve written a paper for the Political Studies Association Conference in April (which is online here, and is about the upcoming referendum, and so may be of interest to some of you).  Both of these things have been keeping me pretty busy since December.

If, like me, you now have a little time on your hands – and you like a bit of political geekery – I have a wee recommendation for you.  Head along to the Scottish Political Archive’s “Democracy for Scotland” Exhibition which is hosted by the Museum of Edinburgh until 24 April.  The exhibition itself includes a lot of material from the 1979 and 1997 referendum campaigns, as well as recordings of interviews from participants.  All good stuff – so try and head along while you can.  Just, you know, if you are interested in that kind of stuff.  And ‘cos it’s free…

Back to cold storage for this blog now.  Probably.

On “Offensive Behaviour”

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I know that I got it in the neck for criticising the SNP’s anti-sectarianism legislation, so this post itself won’t make many readers that happy.

I equally know that I won’t write about the legislation nearly as eloquently as Iain Macwhirter has done this morning (though I mightn’t exaggerate for effect quite as much as he has!).  Thus, this is almost a “for my views, see his” post.

I don’t see eye to eye with Mr Macwhirter on much, but on this bill his view is spot on, particularly this section here:

“This legislation is otiose, contradictory, authoritarian, subjective, illiberal, anti-democratic and contrary to internationally accepted definitions of basic human rights. It is threatening and offensive to freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of thought and to personal liberty. It hands discretionary powers to the police that are wholly inappropraite in any civilised society, effectively giving individual officers the power to deprive people of their liberty if they don’t like the way they are behaving.”

I commend his article to you.

He’s wrong about rugby though…

On Clarkson, Offence and Free Speech

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"You cannot be serious!" - He wasn't.

Here’s some thinking which is sure to be unpopular:  the right to not to be offended doesn’t exist.

Specifically, this came into my mind last week, when Jeremy Clarkson was lambasted for his comments regarding the public service strikes on Nov 30th.  Unison wanted him sacked, and were considering referring the matter to the police (under what law?!) while GMB are still planning to “organise a picket” against him.

Here’s the full transcript of what was said during his interview on BBC’s The One Show:

Matt Baker [presenter]: Well Jeremy, schools, hospitals, airports, even driving tests, have all been affected. Do you think the strikes have been a good idea?

Jeremy Clarkson: I think they have been fantastic. Absolutely. London today has just been empty. Everybody stayed at home, you can whizz about, restaurants are empty.

Alex Jones [presenter]: The traffic, actually, has been very good today.

Clarkson: Airports, people streaming through with no problems at all. And it’s also like being back in the 70s. It makes me feel at home somehow.

MB: Do you know anyone who has been on strike today?

Clarkson: Of course I don’t, no. What, somebody public service? No, I don’t. No, absolutely. But we have to balance this though, because this is the BBC.

MB: Yes, exactly.

Clarkson: Frankly, I’d have them all shot. I would take them outside and execute them in front of their families. I mean, how dare they go on strike when they have these gilt-edged pensions that are going to be guaranteed while the rest of us have to work for a living?

MB: Well, on that note of balancing an opinion, of course those are Jeremy’s views.

AJ: Only Jeremy’s views.

Clarkson: They’re not. I’ve just given two views for you.

It’s pretty clear from the context – as Clarkson himself said in his apology – that the comments were said in jest, that they were not to be taken seriously.  Indeed, his point – though made in a ham-fisted way – is that he’s appearing on the BBC, so he can’t have an opinion, because they’ve got to be neutral and unbiased.  But that seems to have been missed under the avalanche of offence taken at the “Frankly, I’d have them all shot” comment.  21,000 people made a complaint.  This is a blog post, and we have to have balance – so is that 21,000 people who were offended, or 21,000 people who don’t have a sense of humour?  Hell, I better not make that joke, or you’ll be picketing my house…

I’ll say again – the right not to be offended doesn’t exist.  If it did, the BBC wouldn’t be able to produce anything worth watching.  We’d be stuck watching Last of the Summer Wine and Dad’s Army.  And even then, they’d probably offend some people, so we’d have to take them off air.  Humour is inherently offensive to someone – that’s part of it’s attraction.  Think of someone like Jimmy Carr or Frankie Boyle.  Did they get to where they are by being nice to kittens?  And do note that when they have DVDs to sell, the controversy is ratcheted up – just as Clarkson did on the BBC.

Incidentally, Radio 4 did a good piece on the whole issue, which I broadly agree with, in which they describe the whole thing as a “perfect storm” and it is worth listening to.

The bottom line for me though, is that this is a free speech issue.  That Clarkson gave an opinion (and, as he made clear, an opinion which he doesn’t even hold!) is the only way to make sure that I can give an opinion, and that those who are inclined to do so can go on strike.  For me, those who are “offended” by his comments aren’t really.  They are simply holding up Clarkson as a caricature of views which they don’t like, seeing him as a political opponent.  And while that’s fine – by all means disagree with your political opponents – don’t make it into something it isn’t.

Addendum:  Have just read Clarkson column on suicide.  Though I find his views incredibly disrespectful and lacking in humanity – and I wouldn’t for a second defend the comments themselves – he still has the right to hold and express those views.  That’s what liberal democracy is about.  If he wants to have controversial views, it’s up to him.  You don’t have to buy the newspapers he writes in or the DVDs he sells, or  watch the television programmes he appears on.

Evelyn Beatrice Hall put it best when, paraphrasing Voltaire, she said: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Quite.

“That line of attack isn’t working any more – quick, find another one”

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The Scottish Lib Dems line up to attack...

Having been told on Twitter that it was clear that I “really hate the Lib Dems” I did wonder for a second if this post was merited.  But then I remembered a quote from my favourite TV show:  “if they’re shooting at you, you must be doing something right.”  So I decided I’d write it anyway.

I don’t hate the Lib Dems.  Well, I don’t hate the Lib Dems any more than I hate other political parties.  What I can’t stand is the way political parties will make a political stand about something on Monday, then reverse their stance by Friday and criticise those who still hold the position they originally held.  Now, there is something to be said for the Mario Cuomo quote that “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.”

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The State of the Parties – SNP

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(I understand I said this would be up on Friday, but forgive me – things have been a little busier than I had planned).

The last in my series of posts on the state of the Scottish parties at Holyrood looks at the juggernaut that is the SNP.  I don’t know that there is any more to add to the post-May media avalanche of “how the hell did they do that?” which hasn’t already been said.  The party single-handedly re-wrote Scottish political history in one night, winning seats in places where they had never… (yes, okay – there’s a danger of falling into hyperbole here).  There really has been enough written about that night, suffice to note here that it was historic, likely unmatched and probably the most impressive electoral performance in Scottish history.  I’m not going to dispute that.

But since then – what have the party done?

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The State of the Parties – Scottish Greens

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I’m risking the wrath of my former Better Nation colleague James for what’s coming here… but I really do think that Scottish “Greens” is a misnomer for the party who held onto their 2 MSPs in May’s election.  I’d suggest “Scottish Lefties who occasionally talk about the environment” would be a more appropriate (if slightly lengthy) name for the party.  And that for me, is the biggest issue facing the party at the moment.  I know James will tell me that the party “don’t just pick policies out of thin air – they are principles” and that’s all well and good.  But there are ways of maintaining those principles without radically changing.

When the party was led (well, okay, co-convened) by Robin Harper from his first election to the Scottish Parliament in 1999 until he stood down as co-convenor in 2008, the party actually talked about green issues. But since he was replaced by Patrick Harvie, the party has focused much more on left-wing, social issues rather than environmental issues.  Now, as I mentioned above, this IS a principled position (the Scottish Greens have always had a left-wing tendency) but I also perceive it to be something of an electoral strategy as well.

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The State of the Parties – Scottish Lib Dems

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I did wonder whether I should bother writing a post about the Lib Dems.  I mean, it appears to be patently obvious that the party has been utterly screwed by their participation in a coalition with the Conservatives at UK level, with the loss of 300,000 votes in May’s Scottish Parliament election symbolic of the electorate’s feelings towards the party.  But my look at the parties in the Scottish Parliament wouldn’t be complete without it…

I suppose the first thing to point out (which is pretty obvious) is that there is no real distinct Lib Dem voter.  I’ve been teaching first years at university who can identify that, at least traditionally, the working class vote Labour and the middle class vote Conservative.  But where do the Lib Dems fit into that?  Well, one answer to the question as to “who votes Liberal Democrat” was “middle class people who don’t think they are middle class”.  Which I liked – and I liked it, because it’s almost true.  Lib Dem voters – at least prior to 2010 – tended to be well-educated (with a degree) but still considered themselves to not be middle class enough to vote for the Conservatives.  Hence the choice of Lib Dems.

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