After mentioning in my last entry on the late Gough Whitlam that I once interviewed him for my student mag, I dug out the interview to remind myself how it went. Even though it’s about the fleeting events of the day, I thought I’d scan it and share it here.

Read More · 23 October 2014


Gough Whitlam shaped my life more than any other politician. His government’s investment in higher education meant my father got a pay rise and our family could afford the house I grew up in from the age of five. The introduction of equal pay for women meant that Mum’s wages were on a par with Dad’s throughout my teenage years, which was tremendously important for our family finances and for the message it sent to her two sons. I was one of the last to benefit from a free higher education as an undergraduate, during the 15-year window of opportunity his government opened in 1974. Because of Whitlam, I was able to vote in my state election in 1986 and the federal election in 1987, three years earlier than I otherwise could have, and was able to vote for senators when I later lived in the ACT. I grew up singing “Advance Australia Fair” at school, not “God Save the Queen”.

Read More · 21 October 2014

Scraping the Barrel

It isn’t surprising that this news of potential improved oil extraction technologies is being treated as evidence of some sort of BBC plot to withhold The Truth before the referendum, but as far as Google News indicates there was no reporting of it anywhere before a few days ago, when it appeared in the oil industry magazine Offshore. Any beef about its timing is really with the team at Heriot-Watt University. But then all they’re doing is announcing a promising line of research—it isn’t as if they’re ready to press the big green button on a whole new production method.

Read More · 27 September 2014

An Untied Kingdom

Wall of St Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh, 17 September 2014

The day after, I don’t feel smug or triumphant or gloating or anything of the kind, I feel sad that so much passion and enthusiasm was channeled in a direction that came to nought. I personally disagreed with it, but that passion was important. Today feels anticlimactic.

Read More · 19 September 2014

Broken-Up Britain

With the referendum only two days away, I’m writing comments on Metafilter rather than posts here, so I’m collecting today’s here before they’re instantly out-of-date. Initial quotes from other people’s comments in that thread are shown in italics.

Read More · 16 September 2014

Spinning the Wheel

Parts of my post of a few days ago were months-old in draft, but the catalyst to finish it was this MetaFilter thread going into the final weeks of the campaign. I’ve joined the discussion there now, and written some more lengthy comments which I’ll excerpt below. But first, some links that are worth a look.

Read More · 11 September 2014 · x1

Heart Surgery

I’ve tried a few times in recent months to write about the referendum, but have stalled each time. Joining the fray as a naturalised UK citizen feels fraught with difficulty, so like a lot of people in Scotland I’ve been keeping my head down. That tendency has been particularly noticeable here in Edinburgh, where so many residents aren’t from Scotland. For most of the year it’s killed small talk at social events.

Read More · 8 September 2014 · x8

Into the Trees

For a middle-aged expat Tasmanian who learned to drive on a winding country road behind endless log trucks headed for Triabunna, “The Destruction of the Triabunna Mill and the Fall of Tasmania’s Woodchip Industry” was electrifying reading.

I’d missed the news about the mill being bought by wealthy environmentalists: a brilliant tactical stroke. And I’d missed the news that Eric Abetz and Tony Abbott were angling to open it again, but it didn’t surprise me. I expected the story to continue in depressing detail about how they’d pulled it off and got the log trucks rolling again, so the section on Alec Marr’s monkey-wrenching read like something out of a thriller. I’m averse to vandalism, but when the choice is between letting loggers loose again on Southern old-growth forests, or dismantling a disused mill to prevent that from happening, I know what I’d choose.

A lot of Tasmanians would gnash their teeth and talk about lost jobs, but industrial forestry hasn’t been a jobs bonanza for decades. A century ago teams of loggers used to go into those forests and haul out one giant tree at a time for sawmilling. By the 1980s, a few men with heavy machinery could knock over whole hillsides of ancient trees in one hit, and ninety percent of it, ninety percent of it, ended up as woodchips to be turned into newspaper. Or, as Abetz puts it in this article, “the woodchips are made from the leftovers”. What kind of person thinks of ninety percent of any living thing as “the leftovers”? Poachers killing rhinos and elephants for their horns and tusks? Poachers need jobs too, but where is it written that they have to be those jobs?

Read More · 30 July 2014


Yesterday’s post about the European election results drew on some of my comments at MetaFilter, where another commenter responded that “inferring anything about the UK voting pattern in next year’s general election from the EU results is particularly unwise this year in view of the referendum on Scottish independence”. Clearly, if the next general election is for a new United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland then all current bets are off. The fact that I’m contemplating a 2015 general election for the UK as it now exists reflects my own sense of how the Scottish referendum will go, but that’s another story.

If Scotland votes for the status quo, though, I wouldn’t expect any electoral bounce for Cameron. Few on this side of the border would see him as some sort of hero saving the union; it’s Salmond’s battle, and really a much older and bigger battle than even him. As for south of the border, polls seem to show greater English support for Scottish independence than Scottish support, with no sense that a break would affect their daily lives much, so I would expect a No vote to be greeted by England with a combination of bemusement (“I thought you wanted independence!?”) and indifference. Staunch Tories might give Cameron some credit, but they would have been voting Tory anyway.

When predicting how the next general election will go compared to the last one, what matters is which of the two main parties has consolidated support from their side of the left-right spectrum to give them the largest single vote in the majority of individual electorates. The European and council results indicate two revealing things: the only consolidation of voters to the right of the Tories is happening in UKIP’s favour, not the Tories’, and the consolidation to the left of the Tories is happening in Labour’s favour.

Read More · 27 May 2014

Little Earthquake

The media and Twitter are full of talk today of UKIP earthquakes and the end being nigh for the major parties, but I’m actually encouraged by the European election voting figures for the UK. Leaving aside the lamentable 34% turnout, look at the changes in vote share from 2009—the second column—in these results at the BBC:

Vote 2014 Europe: Great Britain

Over half of UKIP’s gain in voting share has come from the BNP, the English Democrats, the Christian People’s Alliance and NO2EU, not from the major parties; those four parties between them lost 8.29% of the total share. The remaining 2.7% will have come from the Tories, most likely. UKIP have consolidated the angry xenophobic vote that was always there, but which previously was distributed among UKIP, the Tories and several fringe right-wing/Euroskeptic parties.

Read More · 26 May 2014

Politics in 2013