Sunday 13 February 2011

Welsh Dragon Scorches Murrayfield and other news

Poor result today at Murrayfield. A high error count was caused by poor ball handling and carrier support. The strong performance in Paris should have been a springboard onto a good tournament but in the face of an organised (though far from spectacular) Welsh team has dumped Scotland firmly in the fight to avoid the wooden spoon.

Elsewhere, the Glasgow Uni Law Ball was on Friday evening. They held it at the Glasgow Science Centre again and as usual it was a great night (well, it became morning... the official hours of sleep were 5:45am until 11am!): food, alcohol and most of all the craic. I'll go no further than to say that seeing certain people in a different environment was if nothing else illuminating...

What I didn't expect was to be helping to change a burst tyre the following morning! Road surface conditions on Anniesland Road at around Scotstoun are absolutely diabolical. Vehicle concerned was one of several that had fallen victim to the various fissures and pot-holes. I've seen better roads in Malta, even Libya! Conditions are just as bad on adjoining streets but after the winter we've just had it's not that surprising. They'll really have to get to grips with it soon, though, as it's palpably dangerous.

Anyway a Politics essay on whether the state is the primary actor in international Politics to write for Monday coming up. Hopefully my body-clock will reset itself some time before I graduate.

Monday 7 February 2011

Human Rights Quagmire

Policy Exchange have released a paper entitled "Bringing Rights Back Home" with a forward from Lord Hoffmann. The cut and thrust of their suggestion is that the UK government re-assess the relationship between domestic courts and the ECtHR, giving serious consideration to complete withdrawal from the latter. This would effectively reverse the obligation the UK signed up to in 1950 to allow Strasbourg to supervise its compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights. The forward comes from the enigmatic Lord Hoffmann who endorses considerable substance of the report. John Morgan has written an interesting critique of the report which is well worth a read. I sympathise with some of the sentiment on the specifics, but I fear the public debate about this has been derailed from the real issues.

The problem is that the prisoner voting debacle (alongside the Daily-Mail-esque responses to other human rights judgements) point the blame at the right institution but for the wrong reasons. The Hirst v UK and more recent Greens and MT v UK cases have instilled a lot of anger among people who clearly don't understand and/or value liberty and democracy. On the substance, the ECtHR and those anti-democrats are on two sides of the same coin: either you believe in universal suffrage or you don't and neither have adopted that standard to its logical extent. All adults should have full voting rights in elections (even prisoners) for one simple reason: if a state has authority to incarcerate you, that must be tempered by your right to choose those who make the laws which exercise that authority.

But let's not get distracted by the specifics. If Lord Hoffmann and the report itself are guilty of one thing, it is undermining their legitimate arguments about the competence creep of the European institutions by fudging it with the substance of the actual decisions made. To his credit, Hoffmann pains to point out that "the brief list of human rights in the 1950 European Convention, which now forms part of our own law, is, in general terms, admirable."

He goes on to argue that the "high-minded generalities" behind interpretation of the ECHR ultimately subverts the values by which member-states are governed. This, he believes, leads the ECtHR to micromanage unjustly the laws of member-states. With the greatest of respect he's got it the wrong way around.

The term "margin of appreciation" is often bandied about by European apologists as a defence for what essentially amounts to supranational judicial diktat. The harsh reality is that member-states have opted into something that shows little to no respect for national sovereignty. A new legal order exists and the degree of deference to national courts and legislatures is lamentable.

The European institutions are a bit like the grumpy neighbour who puts his garden fork through your football for kicking it over the hedge. They can't stop you playing football but they just can't resist damaging your property and grassing you up to your parents. Sure, they can't control the detail of national legislation and sure the national government can ignore their decisions (incurring huge compensation claims in the process). But that they can arrogate any sort of jurisdiction at all into the particulars of constitutional matters of a supposedly sovereign state simply cannot be satisfactory.

So here's my simple three-step solution. Unfortunately it's not going to be in-vogue. This issue is so horrifically bipolar that out-of-the-box alternatives just can't command any sort of popular support.
  1. Withdraw completely from all European institutions, including the supervisory jurisdiction of the ECtHR
  2. Codify the UK constitution, embodying the substance of the ECHR as absolute
  3. Give UK courts and UK courts alone the power to interpret and apply the constitutional law
This kills to birds with one stone. For one, it would give the sovereign state unqualified control over its own constitution and destiny. This should appease those who feel the constitution is being moulded by those other than the people it affects. Secondly, and more importantly, the content of the constitution would make it much more difficult for those who have no respect for liberty and rights to subvert it. They would no longer have the excuse to fudge the constitutional merits with the constitutional authority.

No one has the courage to do this, though. The problem is that the UK legal order are too attached to our incoherent ad-hoc constitutional structure. We're too at ease upholding legal principles not because they are inherently good, logical and necessary but for another reason entirely. We uphold them because of the post hoc rationalising of judicial and political actors who vaguely thought something was right at a largely arbitrary point in time in the past. Its flexibility is undeniable and at times it has proved an asset. Yet it has come at the expense of an informed and considered discourse on freedom and democracy.

Only an unquestionably and purely sovereign constitution can solve that. In our ignorance we argue over the symptoms and miss the real problem.
"Can we have our ball back please, Mister?"

Saturday 5 February 2011

French off to a Flyer

France 34 (T: Medard, Penalty, Harinordoquy, Traille; C: Parra 2, Yachvili; P: Yachvili; DG: Thrinh-Duc)

Scotland 21: (T: Kellock, Brown, Lamont; C: Parks 2, Jackson)

Kelly Brown battles through for the second Scotland try
The scoreline doesn't reflect it, but Scotland played quite well this evening. 3 tries from an away side in Paris was good to see and certainly there were signs of promise.

But the French were, at times, just in a different class, especially on the break. The freedom and space they had at times made the Scottish back-line just look silly.

Scotland's problem was not putting their mark on the game early enough and mistakes at crucial points with the basics. They'll have to work on the line-out as we lost the first try to a poor throw and were lucky to get away with it a couple of other times. The first-half scrum was uncharacteristically poor with Euan Murray being the unlikely weak link. That seemed to sort itself in the second half but that penalty try was costly given when it came.

Kellock's and Lamont's tries were particularly good and it shows how much more effective you can be if you resist the temptation to move sideways. Straightening up and running hard at a defence will always make the yards if you've got support. Ball handling into the tackle wasn't great and Scotland will need to learn to resist the urge to off-load especially if they're on the blind-side. That cost the try that put the French out of sight and the last 20 minutes was always going to be difficult.

A refreshing change from a few years ago where if Patterson didn't kick we didn't get points, though. If we cut out the elementary errors we should be a good match for anyone. If the French play against other teams like they did at times today, they'll win the Grand Slam.

Puddles in Perth

So the big cup away day to Perth is cancelled because of a waterlogged pitch. Drat.

On the up-side, I can now watch the rugby this afternoon. Was a bit underwhelmed by the Wales v England game yesterday but hopefully the Irish should produce a high scoring free flowing game against Italy this afternoon. The evening skirmish against the Frogs will be tough, but the Scottish team are as good as they've been in quite a while. I would be disappointed if we didn't win at least a couple of games this year.

Shame Chris Cusiter (Gordonian) is injured at the moment. Don't know if fellow Gordonian Ruaridh Jackson will get a chance, but here's hoping Scotland can cause an upset.

Ruck'em to France!

Tuesday 1 February 2011

Audit Right There...

Further to yesterday's post, word has it on the grapevine that Jim Alexander had been pushing for a full audit of the accounts after years of sustained losses and palpably failed budgeting. Gerber Landa and Gee deal with the Club accounts and an ex-director (partner in that company) apparently held the proxy votes removing Alexander. This certainly looks as though something has been swept under the carpet.

Surely it is no coincidence that the Club highlight problems in the finances and then these problems suddenly "disappear"? What I want to know is why more than 3 million shares did not even cast votes at the AGM. If the ex-director in question purported to hold proxies (as rumoured) for two families who no longer have direct involvement with the Club, it still begs the question which other shareholding brought the opposition to Jim up to the 4 million mark.

Of course, there are three members of the current Club Board who hold shares. They are Ronnie Gilfillan (1m), Grant Bannerman (420k), David Beattie (500k).

Other major shareholders include ex-director Eddie Prentice (1m), Jim Oliver (500k), Duncan Stewart (500k) and Lord Smith of Kelvin (200k).

Given that at least one of the Club directors knew that proxies had been lodged (per the meeting with the Jags Trust) this begs a very simple question. If they knew that Jim's position was under threat and none of the current directors were complicit: why were the shares of Ronnie Gilfillan, Grant Bannerman and David Beattie not used to bolster Jim's position?

Also, given that the aforementioned ex-director appeared to be communicating in tandem with one of the directors, why would he be soliciting votes to oust Jim unless with the acquiescence of that director? That ex-director's 1 million votes alongside the current board's votes (even giving him the benefit of the doubt and assuming he didn't vote) would have meant Jim Alexander's position was safe.

This leads to two possible conclusions:

1. The ex-director must have led the proxies and must have had at least tacit if not voting support from elements of the boardroom. The complicit director may have kept the rest of the board completely in the dark about the impending coup, with Jim's position otherwise safe with boardroom as opposed to shareholder votes.


2. The abstention of board members was a precondition of a back-room deal of the non-director shareholdings approving the share issue at the same AGM. Bear in mind that this share issue would (in theory at least) dilute their influence from beyond the Firhill grave.

What do you think?

Edit: It has been suggested that Grant Bannerman DID vote for Jim and asides the Jags Trust was the only substantial shareholder to do so.