Saturday, 1 November 2014

Chess Cook-Off



Dominic Lawson penned an intriguing portrait of the world chess champion Magnus Carlsen for The Sunday Times the other day which didn't tell us too much about the young Norwegian except that switches off easily and occasionally loses his head on the football field.

What I found really interesting is that young Magnus can evaluate a position on the chess board with little any calculation and that he 'knows' what is a good or bad move instinctively, without always being able to explain why.

Now the closest I come to that is when I'm cooking up a storm, rattling the pots and pens; I often know what flavours and spices go together without reference to cookbooks and recipes.

So if I ever get the chance to meet Magnus Carlsen I think I'll challenge him to a cook-off because it seems the odds may be against me when it comes to chess.    


Experts say I’m normal. . . I’d have settled for a bit odd

Magnus Carlsen, the world chess champion, astounds other grandmasters with his mental powers. But the 23-year-old doesn’t know how he does it, he tells this opponent


By Dominic Lawson - The Sunday Times
Magnus Carlsen

Perhaps you like to play park football. Imagine how you would feel if Lionel Messi turned up and asked you to join in a spot of competitive keepy-uppy. Or, if you are a club tennis player, how would it be if Roger Federer said he’d be happy to play you, best of three sets?

Well, that is how this club chess player felt, sitting across the board from Magnus Carlsen, the 23-year-old world chess champion (who begins the first defence of his title in Russia in less than a fortnight). Scarier still, I was obliged to interview him for the BBC Radio 4 series Across the Board while playing — and Magnus is not just lethal with the chess pieces. He has developed a similarly unforgiving style as an interviewee. To say he doesn’t suffer fools gladly would be an understatement: monosyllabic would be the most generous way of describing how he has dealt with what he considers stupid questions from journalists.

We are in Magnus’s home town of Oslo and he has just finished a photoshoot for a glossy magazine: not only is he the greatest exponent of the pursuit Goethe described as the touchstone of the intellect; he is also handsome enough to be a model for the clothing company G-Star. I can’t hope to compete there, either.

I’ve done my homework, however, and have read that the five-year-old Magnus’s first chess book was by the only previous Nordic chess great, Bent Larsen. So I open with a move named after that Danish grandmaster, explaining that I would have played a Norwegian opening, if only one existed. “There are in fact a couple of Norwegian openings,” Magnus deadpans. “One is very bad. The other is merely dubious.”

He is a physically intimidating presence — and, after explaining that he sees chess as first and foremost a sport, confides that he is an active football player. “I play for a local team, left back — or so the coach says.” And does he play as hard on the field as he does over the chess board? “Well, I have definitely deserved to have been sent off on two occasions. But the referees have too much respect for me, unfortunately. Occasionally, I lose my head.”

That, presumably, is a reference to the over-competitive rage that sometimes overcomes footballers. Chess at the highest level, however, has over the centuries been associated by the public with a different sort of mental loss of control: insanity. This has much to do with the fate of the American Bobby Fischer, who after becoming in 1972 the first non-Russian since the Second World War to win the supreme title, descended into paranoid reclusiveness.

I ask Magnus if he ever feels worried that intense devotion to such a fundamentally lonely and mentally demanding struggle might send him over the edge at some point. “That crossed my mind only once, when I saw a sad documentary about Bobby Fischer. It made me think: is this going to be me?”

In fact, Magnus is a much more stable character than Fischer ever was, although there are those who claim the Norwegian displays some characteristics associated with Asperger’s syndrome. But this is probably a lazy way of describing someone with extreme powers of concentration — at the age of one, Magnus would sit for hours over complex jigsaw puzzles. In fact, he volunteers: “I have been tested for this sort of thing, and I was told I was normal. But if they had said I was not normal, I would have regarded it as a great compliment. I’m sometimes a bit weird . . . but then everyone’s a little bit weird.”

Perhaps the only weird thing about Magnus is his freakish natural gift for chess. He became a grandmaster at 13 and the world’s highest-rated player at 19. No one else, not even Fischer or Garry Kasparov, achieved that. Kasparov coached Magnus in 2009, reporting afterwards: “I was amazed at how quickly he could evaluate a position, and seemingly without any calculation at all. He sees harmony on the board like a violin virtuoso with perfect pitch.”

Magnus is as puzzled by this as everyone else: “I just know why a move is bad or why it is good. But I couldn’t tell you how. I find it very mysterious. But if I knew how, it would be less interesting. I’m just fortunate that I’ve found something I love to do, that I can do better than anyone else — and I don’t understand why.” The mystery lies, I suspect, in the subconscious. It is obvious that Magnus is not really playing moves “without any calculation at all”. It’s more that he developed a deep understanding of chess at such a young age that it became his natural language. He “speaks” chess just as many of us speak English — we don’t appear to be thinking about what words to say in a conversation, but the parts of our brain commonly labelled the subconscious select the right words instantaneously. Sometimes Magnus takes longer to find the right words in our interview than he does the moves — but then English is his third language (after chess and Norwegian).

I try to get a sense of the scale of Magnus’s gift by asking him how many chess games he could play simultaneously, blindfold: in America recently he played 10 opponents at once with his back to the boards (winning every game). “Well, I could surely play 25 games at once blindfold. It would take an effort, but I wouldn’t regard it as extraordinary.”

I tell him that it would seem extraordinary to the rest of us. But Magnus modestly dismisses the idea that he is super-bright: “I’m doubtful that I would excel at anything else than chess. I don’t think I’m stupid by any means, but there are a lot of people who play chess who are much more intelligent than me. And if chess were mathematical I probably wouldn’t be any good at it at all.”

He does, however, seem to have an extraordinary command of his mental processes. He tells me he recently entered into a competition with fellow grandmasters in which the object was, while staying awake, to produce the lowest possible brain activity, as measured electronically. He won. “I’m proud to say that I was a beast at that,” he says. “I do have the ability just to switch out.” Perhaps this explains why Carlsen so often seems out of it in interviews: when he is bored he shuts down.

It probably helps my interview that it is conducted over a chess game, something that never bores him. Although at one point — to my immense gratification — he says: “You have just made a move I didn’t expect you to make and one I slightly feared. So now I’m losing interest in the conversation and will focus on the board position . . . you have set me a very concrete problem.”

Needless to say, Magnus found the best solution to this concrete problem, although I treasured the long silence as his unique brain whirred through all the possible permutations: at least I had made him think. But that was the best it got, from my point of view. After that moment of hesitation (“I’m really at a slight loss what to do”) the world champion inexorably ground down my defences, finishing me off with a pretty queen sacrifice.

“An interesting game, a struggle way beyond my expectations,” declared the world champion afterwards. I wasn’t sure whether to take that as an insult or a compliment.

But it was a thrill, just as for a county-standard tennis player losing 6-0, 6-0 to Roger Federer would be exhilarating. There is no greater privilege than a close encounter with genius.

Union Politics



Paul Hutcheon writing in The Herald says that a growing number of members are unhappy at their trade unions' slavish support for the Labour Party.

Now I'm not surprised and as regular reads know I've been banning on about this for years and it's a clear democratic deficit in Scotland where the trade unions continued to be stuffed full of active Labour Party supporters at senior level, even though support for Labour has been steadily falling for years.

So we now have the bizarre situation where Scotland's unions which claim to be 'representative' organisations do not reflect the politics and views of their grassroots members and instead continue to operate like Labour-only closed shops.       


'Yes' supporters leave 'No' unions or say: stop giving our cash to Labour Party

HUNDREDS of Yes supporters are either quitting their trade union or refusing to pay into its political fund due to some of the cash ending up with Labour.
Christina McKelvie, convener of the SNP Parliamentary Trade Union Group
Christina McKelvie, convener of the SNP Parliamentary Trade Union Group
Members of unions affiliated to Labour are also considering their position in light of the bodies supporting a No vote in the independence referendum.
Yes Scotland and Better Together made the wooing of trades unionists a key part of their campaigns in last month's vote. However, the spotlight fell on the way some of them reached their decision over who to back.
The biggest Labour affiliates such as Unite and Unison declined to endorse either outcome, while the GMB, the Communication Workers Union and Usdaw all came out for a No.
The Sunday Herald has learned that a growing number of Yes voters are rethinking their union ties.
Some members have left, while others have stopped paying into the so-called political fund.
Labour affiliates ask whether members would like to pay into the fund, but a portion of the money ends up in party coffers. If trades unionists agree to pay the levy, there is no way of stopping part of it going to Labour.
Unite's ruling Scottish committee unanimously agreed against making a recommendation on the referendum, but some members are still unhappy about the union's Labour link.
Since September 18's poll, 129 Scottish members have exercised their right to exempt themselves from paying into the political fund.
The GMB was also criticised for the consultation it carried out ahead of backing a No vote.
Jim Moody, a pro-Yes shop steward for GMB at Scottish Borders Council, said many of his colleagues had stopped paying the levy. "The main problem is the political fund," he said. "Folk want to be in the union, but they don't want to pay into a fund if some of it goes to Labour. I'm hearing it is hundreds of members in the GMB."
Members of Usdaw, the union for shop workers, are also said to be unhappy. One week before polling day, they received a message from general secretary John Hannett which read: "I suggest that if you don't know - then you should vote NO."
A union source said "hundreds" of Scottish members had either left Usdaw or filled out exemption forms as a result of Hannett's email or the earlier decision to back a No vote.
An insider at the CWU said "dozens" of members in the Lothian area had requested exemption documentation.
The Collins Review, which Labour commissioned after last year's candidate selection debacle in Falkirk, proposed that members of affiliated unions should be able to opt-in to the payment that goes to the party.
This reform, which will effectively give individuals the option of paying into the fund while opting out of affiliating to Labour, is expected to be implemented early next year.
Unison, Scotland's biggest union, already gives its members a choice of paying into a "general political fund", a Labour-linked pot, neither, or both.
One union insider said some members had switched to the general fund after the referendum, but another source dismissed the numbers as a "trickle". 
A Unite spokesman said the 129 opt-outs amounted to less than 1% of its membership.
A GMB spokesman said he did not have figures for the political fund exemptions, but added: "Every month for GMB Scotland there is a turnover of members due to changing jobs, retirements and redundancies. For the last two years, numbers in and numbers out each month have balanced."
Christina McKelvie, convener of the SNP Parliamentary Trade Union Group, said: "No wonder trades union members are removing their dues from political funds that are still feeding Labour. Under Johann Lamont Labour has been tied to Tories over the past two years in the most negative campaign in Scottish political history."

Glasgow and Cordia



Cordia is the largest ALEO (Arms Length External Organisation) established by Glasgow City Council, employing over 7,000 staff and providing a range of services from home care to school cleaning and catering.

Now shortly after Cordia was set up the organisation announced that it would be getting rid of 'enhancement's paid to staff for working outside of normal or 'core' hours which sounds like a terrible way for Labour-run Glasgow City Council to behave.

And I don't remember any big trade union campaigns, backed by the STUC for example, aimed at stopping the Council from going ahead with its plans - to make some of the lowest paid Council workers even more poorly paid.

Which strikes me as very odd because the trade union don't need to go banging on about nasty Tory-led Governments attacking people's living standards when they have employers like Glasgow City Council much nearer to home, in their own backyard as a matter of fact.

In a recent employment tribunal case Glasgow City Council was found to be an 'associated employer' of Cordia which is not surprising because the City Council has to sanction all the big financial decisions made by Cordia even though it is, in theory, operating at arms length.  

Which is important because Action 4 Equality Scotland represents over 5,000 clients who are employed by Cordia and Glasgow City Council and the various arguments over people's pay and conditions are now coming to a head.  

Including the issue of what constitutes 'normal pay' and the various enhancements that employees get paid for working shifts, overtime and weekends.  

Glasgow's Top-Ups (30 January 2013)


Here's little walk through previous posts from the blog site - which explain the long-running scandal involving significant top-up payments to elected councillors in the city of Glasgow - for sitting on ALEOs (Arms Length External Organisations).

The practice has now been stopped, thankfully - but not because of any political leadership shown by the city council it has to be said.

No, the practice was stopped because the council's behaviour was exposed in the press - and because a critical report by an independent Scottish Government advisory body (SLARC) recommended that the payments be outlawed.

Recommendations which the Government's Finance Secretary - John Swinney - finally acted upon in June 2011.

Shameful behaviour from the city's 'socialist' Labour administration - if you ask me.

Toothless Tigers (8 October 2012)

As regular readers know, I have a very low opinion of Scotland's public spending watchdogs - the Accounts Commission and Audit Scotland.

As far as I can see they are just 'toothless tigers' - who are treated with disdain by COSLA (the 'voice' of Scottish local government) and individual councils - when it suits their purpose.

Over the weekend I read somewhere that the retired Auditor General - Bob Black - who threw his tuppence worth into the 'future of public spending debate in Scotland' recently - had been championing this cause for years.

Well if he has, then I have to say it's news to me - and I've taken a keen interest in these issues for a very long time.

So let me give you one example of outrageous public spending - which to my knowledge went completely unchallenged for years by Audit Scotland and the Accounts Commission - Top Up Payments to Councillors in Glasgow.

The story ran in the Sunday Herald over several months - in a series of excellent articles by Paul Hutcheon - who essentially pointed out that councillors in Glasgow were being paid twice for the same job - at a cost to the local taxpayer of over £260,000 a year.

So what did Audit Scotland or the Accounts Commission have to say on the matter over all this time - what did their annual inspections and teams of accountants throw up?

Nothing as far as I can recall - which doesn't sit to well with any claim that these two regulatory bodies speak up and speak their minds - loudly and clearly - when it comes to wasteful public spending.

Here are some previous posts from the blog site which explain what was going on - but suffice to say the whole disgraceful practice was brought to an end - though not through any action taken by Audit Scotland or the Accounts Commission.

I might also add that none of the local Labour MSPs spoke out against these payments at the time - including Johann Lamont, the Scottish Labour leader - whose partner/husband Archie Graham was, and still is, a senior Labour councillor in Glasgow.

Government Turns Off Glasgow Top Ups (4 June 2011)

The Herald reported yesterday that Finance Secretary - John Swinney - is putting an end to 'top up' payments enjoyed by many councillors in Glasgow.

True to his word during the Scottish election campaign - John Swinney is now putting a stop to the practice which has been widely condenmed - as a ridiculous waste of public money.

Here's what the Herald had to say:

Needless councillor cash 'to stop'

"Finance Secretary John Swinney said new regulations would end controversial payments to some city councillors.

Regulations to end a system which saw city councillors pocket an "unnecessary" quarter of a million pounds have been announced.

Finance Secretary John Swinney said the new rules will end payments to councillors who sit on bodies known as arms-length external organisations, after a Holyrood committee discovered that Glasgow councillors had claimed £260,000 between them.

The Scottish Local Authority Remuneration Committee (Slarc) found Glasgow to be the only council area in which significant payments of this kind were made.

The regulations come into force on July 1 subject to parliamentary approval, although councillors will still be allowed to claim for "associated expenses".

The move implements one of the recommendations of the Slarc report, published earlier this year.

Swinney said: "It can't be right that a limited number of councillors can receive additional payments to help deliver broadly the same services as delivered by their own councils. In effect, some councillors are being paid twice.

"The Slarc report highlighted that only Glasgow City Council had a policy to pay additional monies and confirmed that 40 councillors were sharing £260,000 in additional payments for serving with boards of arms-length bodies.

"I agree with Slarc that this completely undermines the principles of the existing councillor remuneration scheme, and that's why I have today laid regulations to stop the practice."

The SNP said its councillors on the Labour-controlled local authority sought to end the payments at a meeting of the city council but Labour and the Lib Dems blocked them.

Before the recent Holyrood election, Mr Swinney criticised the council for not ending the "unnecessary" payments voluntarily. He promised to take steps to end the payments himself if re-elected."

So that's £260,000 or so that can go towards something useful in Glasgow - instead of just lining the pockets of Labour councillors.

But what you've got to ask is this:

"Why did the Labour councillors in Glasgow not show some leadership and put an end these payments themselves - why did they wait for the newly elected Scottish government to put Glasgow's house in order?"

Glasgow Top Ups (12 February 2012)

I came across another post from the blog site - about the long-running scandal over Glasgow's 'top up' payments to local councillors.

How refreshing it is to see the good citizens of Glasgow - like Douglas Thomson - standing up and speaking out against this kind of hypocrisy.

The council's leaders and senior officials should be ashamed of the role they played in introducing these payments - and for wasting £260,000 of taxpayers money every year.

Yet no one has been held to account - so far at least.

Glasgow Top Ups (June 5th 2011)

The Herald ran an excellent letter the other day - from a Glasgow reader - who rightly condenmed the Labour-led City Council for its practice of 'topping up' the pay of councillors - who sit on 'arms length organisations'.

Regular readers will be familiar with this subject - which essentially involves Glasgow City Council paying its councillors twice for doing the same job - at a cost of @£260,000 to the public purse.

So well said Mr Thomson - whoever you are.

A welcome end is in sight to system of political patronage.

"You report moves by the Scottish Government to formally end the much-criticised system of local authorities rewarding councillors with additional payments for representing the council on the boards of arm’s-length external organisations, also known as Aleos (“Council double pay axed”, The Herald, June 2).

Such belated action can come as no surprise. That Glasgow City Council was singled out as the main culprit is equally unsurprising, given that Glasgow is the only council in Scotland with a formal policy to pay councillors additional remuneration for serving on Aleos. The Scottish Local Authorities Remuneration Committee (SLARC) had recommended in their report in March that such payments should be ended.

With the council leader, Gordon Matheson, taking no action over the matter, it shows how increasingly isolated the top team at City Chambers have become. The council will now be forced to end the system that many have identified as nothing other than reward for political patronage.

It will be of interest to see how many of the councillors currently serving in these posts will continue to do so without the supplementary payments. Without the additional financial incentive, the expectation must now be that councils throughout Scotland with Aleos will be obliged to ensure that only the most suitably qualified councillors are nominated for such roles and that such appointments are independently scrutinised. Such corporate governance backstops are already employed successfully in the private sector and for appointments made to Scottish Government agencies.

At the same time, the role of Aleos is likely to be examined in the forthcoming report from the Christie Commission on the Future Delivery of Public Services. Aleos must either prove themselves to be a vital part of squeezing more from less in the tight spending environment we are currently entering, and if so be aggressively rolled out nationally. Or, be seen as nothing more than an example of local government excess at its worst.

More disturbingly for local democracy are the findings contained within the SLARC report that the average councillor is white, male and aged 54. Meanwhile, the Electoral Reform Society identified that in the 2007 local government elections, only 21.6% of councillors being elected were women. This outcome has shown little change in the progress of diversity in those representing local communities over the previous decade.

With the battle lines already drawn for the local elections next May, it is perhaps already too late to address this electoral imbalance, but it is clearly necessary for Holyrood to take note. After all, 22 of the new intake of MSPs came from the ranks of local councillors, which in itself is hardly a ringing endorsement of diversity within the Scottish Parliament.

Douglas A Thomson,

Glasgow." 

Religious Mumbo Jumbo






I was taken aback by this story from The Sunday Herald about the number of people in Scotland who apparently believe they are 'possessed', but I'm not sure what 'faith-based' support is likely to mean or the call for the NHS to work with Islamic scholars and Muslim groups.

Because if a person from a different religion presented themselves as being 'possessed' by a devil, I wouldn't waste NHS resources on a Catholic priest or the religious mumbo jumbo of an exorcism.    

Muslim women's centre reports rise in number of patients claiming to be possessed


By Imran Azam - The Sunday Herald

HEALTHCARE professionals in Scotland are likely to face an increase in cases of ethnic minority patients claiming to be spiritually possessed.

Staff at Amina Muslim Women's Resource Centre (Amina MWRC) in Glasgow and Dundee say they are experiencing a rise in clients attributing mental health difficulties to supernatural spirits.

Smina Akhtar, director of Amina MWRC, revealed that 70% of her counsellor's workload since 2012 involves dealing with issues related to the paranormal.

Speaking to the Sunday Herald, she said: "Many of the women who initially contact us want relationship counselling but after a few sessions they highlight the issue of possession by Jinn (in the Islamic faith, supernatural creatures made from fire) or that someone is practising black magic on their family.

"They do not feel confident in confiding in their local GP, fearing they will be ridiculed. They feel confident in telling us. For us primarily this is a mental health issue. However, you have some people who will blame their predicament on external factors.

"We would like the NHS to work with mainstream Islamic scholars and Muslim groups in helping such individuals. Faith-based support should be offered as long as it does not contradict or oppose conventional medicine or treatment."

Earlier this month, Amina MWRC, in conjunction with the Rationalist Society of Pakistan, held an event titled Jinn, Black Magic and the Evil Eye: Fact or Fiction?

The organisation is also working with the University of West of Scotland social work department, which is undertaking research regarding health inequalities, with particular focus on the phenomenon of Jinn possession.

Akhtar fears that vulnerable individuals will turn to alternative options if their concerns are ignored by health officials.

She added: "More and more people are turning to 'faith healers' who promise to remove Jinn from themselves or their loved ones. They advertise their services on foreign TV channels that are beaming into many Asian households. They give assurances but their help comes at a price.

"They don't work for free. But who regulates them? My concern is that those who are desperate, especially females, will turn to unscrupulous individuals putting them and their families in danger."

Attempts to cure those who are possessed can lead to fatal consequences. Two years ago a husband and three members of his family were jailed in Birmingham after he killed his pregnant wife in a bid to remove an evil spirit from her body.

Abdul Aziz, a Scottish-based Islamic scholar, also spoke at the event organised by AMINA MWRC. He believes that despite the issue of Jinn being widely accepted among Muslims, possession is "possible but extremely rare".

He added: "Unfortunately, the Muslim community are no longer pioneers in treatment of emotional ill health and have resorted to un-Islamic notions of spirit possession as an explanation for everything from bad luck and marital infidelity to schizophrenia.

"Many use religion to exploit the vulnerable. The stigma associated with mental illness and the reliance on poorly qualified so-called Imams are major barriers to Muslims accessing the right kind of social, emotional and psychological help."

The panel also included Dr Najat Khalifa, an associate professor and consultant forensic psychiatrist from the University of Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust. His research interests include religion and mental health, personality disorder and offending behaviour. His advice to his colleagues north of the Border is that they should be open to a faith perspective relating to their patients' problems.

"Evidence from research suggests that some Muslims perceive psychological difficulties as indicative of an unsound spiritual heart. This can lead to conflict between orthodox medicine and religiosity and patients may use a range of religion-based coping strategies without telling their doctor," he said.

"The issues that arise out of working collaboratively with religious leaders need to be explored in more depth, and further research could examine how this happens in practice, identifying potential pitfalls and areas of good practice."

Bombshell for Labour

If this opinion poll from STV is correct, I may have to revise my prediction that the Scottish Labour Party will have 25 fewer Westminster MPs avert next May's general election - see post dated 25 October 2014.

Now that really would shake things up and the Labour establishment, north and south of the border, must be wondering how they got into a position where the Party faces the possibility of complete meltdown.
   
But they deserve what's coming to them if you ask me, because on a touchstone issue like equal pay the Labour Party in Scotland failed to deliver.

At a time when council budgets in Scotland almost doubled between 1997 and 2007, the Labour council employers and Labour trade unions failed to stand up for the lower paid groups within the workforce, largely women of course.

So it's little wonder that so many people are now voting with their feet.    

STV poll: SNP at 52% as Labour face general election meltdown

The Labour Party in Scotland would face political annihilation if there was a general election tomorrow, according to a poll commissioned by STV.

The Ipsos Mori survey shows Labour would poll 23% of the Scottish vote, leaving them with just four seats in Scotland.

In comparison, support for the SNP has surged to 52%, giving them a projected 54 seats at Westminster. The Liberal Democrats would have one and the Conservative party would be left without any Scottish MPs.

The full breakdown of the poll is SNP 52%, Scottish Labour 23%, Scottish Conservatives 10%, Scottish Liberal Democrats 6%, Scottish Green Party 6%, Ukip 2% and 1% support for others.

The 1026 participants were surveyed between October 22 and 29 as the row broke over leadership of the Scottish Labour party. They were asked how they would vote if there was a general election tomorrow.


At the 2010 general election Labour received 42% of the Scottish vote and the SNP 19.9%.

The figures, which exclude those who do not know how they would vote, would dramatically reduce Labour's 40 Scottish MPs - jeopardising Ed Miliband's chances of becoming the next prime minister.

Those who would lose their seat include Jim Murphy, who is standing to be the next leader of Scottish Labour, Douglas Alexander and Margaret Curran, according to seat predictor electoralcalculus.co.uk. The site assumes uniform swings across constituencies.

The only Scottish Labour MPs who would survive would be Willie Bain in Glasgow North East, Tom Clarke in Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, Gordon Brown in Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath and Ian Davidson in Glasgow South West.

The Liberal Democrats would lose all but one of their seats, with only Scottish secretary Alistair Carmichael surviving and high-profile victims including Danny Alexander and Charles Kennedy.

In comparison, the SNP would go from having six seats at Westminster to 54.

The new political map of Scotland?

  (May2015.com) 




via STVvia STV
SNP deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon, who will shortly be named First Minister, said: "Support of 52% for the SNP at Westminster is further proof that the referendum has changed Scottish politics forever. More and more people are choosing to put their trust in the SNP as disillusion with the entire Westminster establishment grows.

“London Labour’s treatment of their party in Scotland as nothing more than a ‘branch office’ has left them in meltdown. As a result, people across the country realise that Ed Miliband doesn’t speak for them and Labour support is in free-fall."

In an interview with ITV News, Labour leader Ed Miliband accepted that unless Labour could turn the polls around in Scotland he won’t be Prime Minister.

He said: "This poll is a snapshot not a prediction and let’s see where we are at the general election. I’m determined and believe we can win people back to our cause in Scotland.

"We're going to show the people of Scotland how we're going to change Scotland, how we're going to change the United Kingdom. Yes, it's a big task but I know we can meet it."

STV political editor Bernard Ponsonby said: "This is the most dramatic poll findings ever to be published in Scotland and underlines the scale of the challenge for Labour leaders both north and south of the border.

"There are only two polls in recent memory which have generated as much surprise, the most recent during the independence referendum showing the Yes camp ahead, and before that you'd probably have to go back to 1992 and a poll for ITN which showed support for independence at 50% for the first time.

"Now it is a poll, not an election result, but what it does is to underline the scale of the challenge facing the new leader of Scottish Labour and the figures come as Ed Miliband arrives in Scotland to address a gala dinner in Glasgow.

"On these figures he has little chance of winning a UK election with his Scottish power base facing meltdown."

Johann Lamont resigned on Friday with an attack on UK Labour colleagues, who she accused of treating Scotland as a "branch office".

One of the candidates standing to take over from her, Jim Murphy, launched his campaign on Thursday by pledging to end the streak of "losing Labour" in Scotland.

Mark Diffley, director of Ipsos Mori Scotland said: “The poll gives a further boost to the SNP ahead of their upcoming conference and the formal announcement of Nicola Sturgeon becoming the new First Minister.

"At the same time it will be particularly unwelcome news for the Labour party after a bruising period since the referendum, culminating in Johann Lamont’s resignation last week.

"They will hope that this represents a trough in public support and that their upcoming leadership contest will allow them to begin to regain some of the support they have lost.”


Projected Scottish seats in 2015 General election based on STV poll compared to 2010 result | Create Infographics

A Terrible Beauty Is Born (25 October 2014)


I've posted a few poems by WB Yeats on the blog site and I was reminded of this one about the Easter Rising in 1916 which was used by Martin Kettle as an analogy for the political changes that have come about in Scotland both during and since the country's independence referendum. 

Things have indeed changed, changed utterly, and to me there is a terrible beauty in what's now happening to the Scottish Labour Party and even though I'm not a 'betting man' I think I'll place a small wager on Scottish Labour having 25 fewer MPs at Westminster after next May's general election. 

Easter Rising



By WB Yeats

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

That woman's days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our winged horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road.
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone's in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven's part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse -
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born. 


Ringing the Changes (24 October 2014)



The penny is finally beginning to drop amongst journalists south of the border that Scotland really has changed as a result for the independence referendum.

The old Westminster elite, the ancient regime, that has been used to running the country for so long is on its way out, the Labour Party is completely discredited led as it is these days by someone, Johann Lamont, who is a self-styled feminist and gender equality champion.

Yet has had nothing of substance to say about the the fight for equal pay in Scottish local government for the past 15 years.   

So if you ask me it's no wonder that so many people are voting with their feet.

In Scotland the old politics have crumbled, as they once did in Ireland


In the recent referendum young voters opted for independence. As with Ireland in 1916, a new mood has taken hold and change seems inevitable


By Martin Kettle - The Guardian
'√Čamon de Valera, who retired as Ireland’s president at the age of 90 in 1973, managed to shape national life and politics for half a century and beyond.' Photograph: PA

Sometimes a history book prompts one to reflect on the past and present alike. RF Foster, professor of Irish history at Oxford university, has just published such a text. In Vivid Faces, Foster delves into what made the Irish revolutionary generation of the early 20th century tick. Yet at the core of his richly nuanced inquiry into the radical nationalist mentality is an analysis with implications that stretch beyond Ireland to this day – notably to 21st-century Scotland, but also elsewhere in these islands.

Generations make a difference in history. The men and women who transformed Ireland between 1916 and 1922 were strikingly young, even by the standards of today’s callow politicians. The average age of the executed leaders of the Easter Rising was 37. Michael Collins, effectively the first leader of independent Ireland, was killed when he was a mere 31. The corollary was that those who survived, embodied by √Čamon de Valera, who retired as Ireland’s president at the age of 90 in 1973, managed to shape national life and politics for half a century and beyond, until they in turn were peacefully supplanted by a very different, more Europe-centred Irish generation.

As Foster crucially argues, these young revolutionaries of the early 20th century were in revolt not just against the British government – the traditional nationalist narrative – but against the previous generation of Irish nationalists too. The active 1916 generation tended to be urban not rural people, for whom religion was not always a defining characteristic. They often came from comfortable, and in some cases privileged, backgrounds. A significant proportion were in white-collar jobs: teachers, writers and civil servants. Several wrote poems. But they had a common revolutionary awakening, and the first world war presented them with a shared opportunity, which they grasped.

In Foster’s account, the revolutionary generation underwent a crucial change of mentality in the years before 1916. Foster calls it “the quiet revolution in the hearts and minds of young middle-class Irish people from the 1890s onwards.” One, the well-born Muriel MacSwiney, and by then 28-year-old widow of the hunger-striker mayor of Cork, Terence MacSwiney, put it this way in 1920: “You see, my parents are not quite like myself. I think I am rather characteristic of a certain section in Ireland. The younger people of Ireland have been thinking in a way that some of the older ones have not.”

These young radicals were alienated not just from British rule but also from the values, lifestyles and ambitions of their parents. They disliked the forms of schooling, entertainment, writing and politics of the previous generation. They rejected the powerful established alternative offered by the constitutional Home Rule party under John Redmond, which in 1912 it appeared to be on the verge of delivering. By that time, the new generation was hungry for something more than that.

Fast-forward to the present day and look around. Are there modern signs of a generation impatient of the political past and hungry for something new? True, there is no mass European war taking place today, as there was then. True also, there is a total absence, with the exception of Islamist jihadism, of the belief in politically motivated violence that marked 1916. And true, in addition, there have been other generational revolts since the early 20th century that have been absorbed, including ones in Britain in the 1930s and 1960s.

Ask yourself nevertheless whether Britain today is marked by generational political ruptures that in small ways echo aspects of the Irish nationalist revolutionary experience of the last century as described by Foster and the broad answer, without pushing the parallels too far or too crudely, is surely yes. Those ruptures are particularly striking in the onward march of Scotland’s nationalist movement. In some very different ways, they are also discernible in England, in the rise of phenomena as apparently diverse as Ukip, Occupy and homegrown jihadism, and in the juvenile culture of Russell Brand’s narcissistic anti-politics.

No one who spent time in Scotland during the referendum campaign was in any doubt that they were witnessing something new. Partly, this sense of a generational break was magnified by the strength of pro-independence feeling on social media, all of which tended to reflect itself to itself with ever growing excitement. But the sense of a gathering generational rejection of past Scottish politics was palpable. And the defeat of independence seems barely to have slowed it. The sometimes malign incompetence of the victors may have fuelled it even more.

The figures show we are in new generational political territory now. Young voters clearly opted for independence in Scotland. The strongest pro-independence showing in the referendum was among voters in their late 20s and their 30s – which happens to be precisely the same generation that made Ireland’s break with the past a century ago.

It is not yet clear whether the surge in Scottish National party membership since the referendum – the SNP has more than tripled in size in the five weeks since 18 September – also reflects a surge of younger-voter support. But it may well also be the case. A TNS Scotland poll last week suggested 16- to 34-year-olds were twice as likely to expect to become more involved in politics in the future as Scots aged over 55.

This is emphatically not in any way to imply that the pro-independence movement is about to head off down the revolutionary blood-sacrifice road that the Irish nationalist movement once took so dramatically. But it does begin to feel as though a decisive break between generations is taking place in its own way all the same.

This time, in Scotland, it is potentially a break with devolution, with the traditional parties – Labour in particular – and with Britishness. It also seems inevitable in many minds, rather as it did to the Irish people who spurned Redmond’s party long ago. The insensitive stupidity of the official government reaction, though fortunately not as brutal as in 1916, is yet another echo. We may not be witnessing the birth of the terrible beauty that WB Yeats saw a century ago and on which Foster writes so compellingly. Yet under the pressure of generational change, our politics is stumbling, miserable, uncomprehending and barely self-aware, into a new form that, compared with even the recent past, has changed, changed utterly.