When I was a politics student at the turn of the millennium, John Curtice ranked a distant second behind Prof Bill Miller in the league table of Scotland’s leading psephologists. It seems remarkable to look back on it now, I agree – Scottish political coverage without Curtice at the centre, his hair magnetised by the electoral currents raging in the atmosphere? You’d have more chance of seeing Jeremy Corbyn leading the race for Labour leade…oh.

Professor Miller was my lecturer when I studied voting behaviour, a staple of every politics student’s training and very much the professor’s specialist subject. I’ve carried the insights from his lectures with me ever since.

The key lesson, it seemed to me, is that the commonly accepted models for explaining voting behaviour are all partial at best, and disastrous at worst.

I’ve been reflecting on Miller’s lectures recently in a desperate attempt to make some sense of Corbynmania, for good and bad. Here’s where I’ve got to.

(Features Banquo’s ghost, Tony Benn at Glastonbury, and the left wing paradox of harmful kindness).

Read the rest of this entry »

In the months leading up to the release of Stevie Wonder’s classic Songs In The Key Of Life in 1976, the record-buying public grew so impatient to hear the record that its author was forced to wear a t-shirt around town that bore the legend “We’re Almost Finished!”

Perhaps Frank Ocean is sporting a similar garment as I write. It has been more than three years now since the release of his majestic breakthrough album Channel Orange, and one gets the impression from his Tumblr feed that the impatience of his own fans to hear the follow-up is not lost on him.

And the anticipation is killing me.


Read the rest of this entry »

How, then, to make sense of Greece’s absurdist trauma?

Our public space has been saturated with competing images of Greece over the past month. The Greek people are condemned in certain quarters as lazy, workshy and feckless, while being celebrated in others as tireless participants in a vivid public democracy; denigrated as tax-evading spongers, or lionised as resourceful, communitarian survivors. Meanwhile the Greek government, dominated since January by the left-wing SYRIZA party, is lampooned one minute as a rabble of Marxist provocateurs prepared to ruin their country’s economy to prove an ideological point, and then defended moments later as the only party capable of a serious-minded analysis of the economic mess bequeathed to them by their spendthrift predecessors. And as for the Greek state; well, it’s either a corrupt oligarchy leeching off the tax-payers of more fiscally-responsible Eurozone members, or the site of a cataclysmic takeover by antidemocratic elements in Brussels, Frankfurt and Berlin.

On my Twitter timeline, opinion is polarised between “they shouldn’t have run up all of those debts if they couldn’t afford to pay them back”, and “the Greek economy will never recover without debt cancellation”; between “German taxpayers shouldn’t have to subsidise a failed state” and “Greece forgave Germany’s debts in 1953 so Merkel should return the favour”; between #thisisacoup and #theyhaditcomingtothem.

While I acknowledge that my analysis will be of little interest today to a desperate Greek pensioner or an embattled Bundestag press officer, I humbly offer a perspective from political theory that (a) might help us find melody amidst the present cacophony, and (b) could offer a more ethically satisfactory foundation for future debates over debt. This is the idea of inter-generational justice, or our present obligations to future generations.

I will argue that the negotiations over Greece’s so-called ‘bailout’ and the wider public debates over the crisis have focused too much on the acts of past generations (mainly previous Greek governments) and present generations (Eurozone Finance Ministers and the SYRIZA government) and not enough on the impact of this issue on future generations (of Greeks and of Europeans in general). I’ll conclude with some suggestions about how we might protect the rights of future generations, and at the same time improve the quality of our own public lives.

(rejected titles for this post: Duty and the Greeks; Grights and Gresponsibilities; etc.)

Read the rest of this entry »

In my opinion, much of what passes for public discourse these days can be characterised as antipolitics. In this post I’m going to deconstruct four images from modern life, which bring the shape and definition of antipolitics into focus. I’ll start with an image from British politics, before narrowing my focus to Scotland and then to Glasgow. I’ll then finish up by looking at a familiar trope from the world of social media. In the process I hope to convince you that much of the recent public activity people highlight as exciting and positive is actually the very opposite of politics.

Read the rest of this entry »

I live next to a train station in the southside of Glasgow. It’s close enough that I can wave to our cat from the platform as she watches me head to work from the back window.

I love to hear the trains late at night, heading into town as I get ready for bed. The last one passes just before midnight and always sets me off on a mental flight of fancy: who’s travelling into Glasgow this late on a Tuesday night? Where are they going? What will they get up to?

When I heard the last train rolling past the flat last night, my thoughts turned to the Arches.

Read the rest of this entry »

Something about the General Election outcome has been nagging away at me since Friday morning. Something about the unexpected starkness and decisiveness of the result.

If you’ve ever discussed politics in the pub you’ll no doubt have found yourself entering the realm of speculation. What if this happens in the future? What if that had happened in the past?

I think the 2015 result looks like something you might dream up after a few pints. It looks like a counterfactual.

What if the SNP win basically all seats in Scotland? What if Cameron actually wins a majority? What if UKIP win 4 million votes and almost no seats? What if the Labour vote flatlines?

You may remember the Sliding Doors, a film which imagines two entirely different outcomes based on whether someone does or does not make it into a crowded Tube carriage. This election is a real life Sliding Doors moment.

As Labour try to pick up the pieces of their disastrous result, the party needs to see the clarity of its new circumstances as a blessing. Labour didn’t make it onto the train – so we’re all now actually in that alternative universe in which the Tories won outright and the SNP dismantled Labour’s Scottish power base.

So how did we get here? As ever, it was through a combination of accident and design; through a series of Sliding Doors moments, all of which might have gone differently. In this post I want to explore some other turning points that helped create our new reality.

Read the rest of this entry »

Kevin Bridges had a great joke during the indyref, where he imagined parents fretting about their kids indulging in ‘underage voting’.

I was up for a bit of that. I couldn’t wait to vote, and I have loved election day ever since.

Read the rest of this entry »