Time's up Tony

The post-Thatcher reconstruction that never
happened under Labour is the real challenge facing Sco

Not only will Blue Labour be swept out of office by the SNP and allied forces (the new coalition of the willing) it will be cleansed from 1000s of local council seats where it has festered for far too long.

Like the MMR that breeds in its privatised hospitals, Labour's grip on local authorities has acted as an incubus for backhanding and the sort of corrupting comfortability of eternal rule.

'Why oh why' cries a perplexed Unionist media as editors gradually wake up to the potential of constitutional change.

Constantly being daubed 'subsidy-junkies' while funding the London Olympics is a minor irritant and Blair's Wars a real motivation but most people are looking forward.

Why should Scotland host Trident 2 - a moral absurdity and a strategic nonsense? The sums don't add up and everywhere Labour's credibility is in tatters.

Relentless privatisation rubs against the grain of the wider mainstream of Scottish political culture.

The emblematic deluge of shite cascading from the PFI water treatment plant into the Firth of
Forth by Edinburgh was perhaps the perfect symbol for the fag-end days of the Blair Project in Scotland. The owner of this consortium? Thames Water.

So what happened after this major public health disaster affecting communities and wildlife for miles up the river estuary? Who was called to account? The head of SEPA perhaps, one of Labours countless useless
quangos? The manager of Thames Water maybe?

Nothing. Nobody was held to account let alone fired. Whatever happened to "rights and responsibilities".

Where's your ASBO culture - your blanket solution to a lost generation - when it comes to chums and croneys running what should be public utilities?

The incident was a shocking indictment of the failed Lib-Lab administration.

So who will govern Scotland in their place? Not Labour. But will the Lib Dems retain their ministerial Mondeos under the leadership of the awesomely uncharismatic Nicol Stephen?

Lets hope not for the grey men of the Lib Dems combine apparently green credentials (they want more
renewables - but who doesn't?) with an audacious road-building programme and plans for airport extensions.

Stephen was the man who gave the go-ahead for the hated M74 after a multi-million pound public inquiry deemed it a terrible idea. Not very liberal and not very democratic you might think.

More promising could be a renewed Green presence - any advance on their current eight MSPs would be a boon and could have the affect of offering a little noticed alternative partner for the SNP if they can offer enough concession to bring in the Greens Swedish-modelled idea of 'confidence and supply' through which they don't enter a formal coalition but support the main planks of a minority govt in return for
some 'red line issues' In this case, no new nuclear, no Trident and a massive increase in renewables.

All of which would be a real victory and a shock to the British State pre actual independence.

Other room for manoeuvre beyond a dispiriting and dissipating coalition with the Lib-Dems could be based on the oddballs, rebels and misfits that could be elected via the STV system, including Tommy Sheridan,
Margo MacDonald and a host of independents. Could this unlikely band of troubadors help the SNP move beyond the slick slogan 'It's Time' and answer the question, yeah but time for what?

There's a desperate need to lift the nationalist vision beyond sycophancy to business leaders and start sorting out the massive social problems Scotland faces. The post-Thatcher reconstruction that never
happened under Labour is the real challenge facing Scotland.

It's almost certain that a large part of the support for the SNP is strategic but that is not the same as saying its an anti-Labour vote.

For decades the polls showed that support for independence outstripped support for the SNP and at some level that is still true. Whatever the result Labour have nobody to blame but themselves.

Only yesterday Blair was asked about his party's poll flop and his answer was revealing. Smiling his inane smile and gripping his faithful coffee mug he "When you're mid-term its always tough". Somebody should
have briefed him ('You're in Scotland Tony, its not mid-term its end of term, the parliament's been dissolved').

It's not Jack McConnell's fault, it's not Gordon 'Two Flags' Brown's fault either. But ten years is a long time in politics. Blair destroyed everything that Labour was based on, so he can hardly be surprised when
its natural supporters reject him. Time's up Tony.

Gus Abraham is the editor of 1820
 
 
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Want your team to succeed? Try taking a step back

From the boardroom to the sports ground, managers need to step back for creativity to thrive.

Everyone is in favour of creativity, usually at the expense of creative people. The concept is in perpetual boom. Give us creative midfielders, creative leadership, creative solutions, creative energy. It’s with the “how” that the problems start – with extra meetings and meddling, over-analysis and prescriptiveness, whiteboards and flow charts. Professional systems rarely support the creativity that they allegedly seek. The creativity industry system is at odds with its stated goals.

The novel was an early casualty. Nothing makes me close a book more quickly and finally than the creeping realisation that the author is following a narrative map purchased on an American creative writing course. Life is too short for competent novels. The creativity industry pulls up the worst while dragging down the best.

Something similar happens inside professional sport, even though creativity is so obviously linked to performance and profit. Yet sport, especially English sport, has suffered from excessive managerialism. Perhaps guilt about English sport’s amateur legacy gave “professionalism” free rein, however pedestrian its form.

Here is sport’s problem with creativity: professional systems crave control, but creativity relies on escaping control. If an attacking player doesn’t know what he is going to do next, what chance does the defender have?

So when truly unexpected moments do happen, they take on a special lustre. This month, Olivier Giroud scored an unforgettable goal for Arsenal. Bearing down on the goal, he was already launched in mid-air when he realised that the cross was well behind him. With his body far ahead of his feet, Giroud clipped the ball to the top corner of the net with the outside of his left ankle – a so-called scorpion kick.

It was, in retrospect, the only option available to him. Football, for a moment, touched the arts – not only beautiful, but also complete. Nothing could have been added or taken away.

I once tried to compare the perfect cricket shot to Robert Frost’s celebrated description of writing a poem: “It begins in delight, it inclines to the impulse, it assumes direction with the first line laid down, it runs a course of lucky events, and ends in a clarification . . . Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting.”

A great goal, however, fits that poetic model better than a cricket shot. Cricket shots come in many aesthetic grades, but they are all intended as shots. A goal, on the other hand, is more than just a very good pass, only better. There is an act of transformation within the event.

Frost’s acknowledgment of luck (distinct here from fluke) neatly defuses the accusation. Saying that a great goal involved luck does not to diminish it. Many unearned factors must interact with the skill.

“But did he mean it?” some people have wondered about Giroud’s goal. That isn’t the point, either. There wasn’t time. Giroud had solved the problem – to make contact with the ball, however possible, directing it towards the goal – before he was fully conscious of it. That doesn’t make it an accident. The expertise of a striker, like that of a writer, is opportunistic. He puts himself in positions where his skills can become productive. It is a honed ability to be instinctive. “If I’d thought about it, I never would have done it,” as Bob Dylan sings on “Up to Me”, an out-take from Blood on the Tracks.

Pseudo-intellectual? Quite the reverse. There is nothing pretentious about recognising and protecting creativity in sport. Over-literal decoding is the greater threat: instinctive performance needs to be saved from team meetings, not from intellectuals.

Having described a creative goal as unplanned – indeed, impossible to plan – what can coaches do to help? They can get out of the way, that’s a good start. It is no coincidence that the teams of Arsène Wenger, who is sometimes criticised for being insufficiently prescriptive, score more than their fair share of wonder goals.

The opposite arrangement is bleak. A friend of mine, a fly-half in professional rugby union, retired from the game when his coaches told him exactly which decisions to make in the first six phases of every attacking move. In effect, they banned him from playing creatively; they wanted rugby by numbers.

Not everything can be rehearsed. One useful book for coaches scarcely mentions sport – Inside Conducting, by the conductor Christopher Seaman. “I’ve never had much sympathy for conductors who ‘program’ an orchestra at rehearsal,” Seaman writes, “and then just run the program during the performance. There is much more
to it than that.”

Dan Vettori, the rising star among cricket’s Twenty20 coaches, is rare for having the bravery to echo Seaman’s theory. He believes that cricketers are more likely to play well when they feel slightly underprepared. It’s a risk and a fine balance – but worth it.

As I explored here last month in the context of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, there is a danger of slotting players into false stereotypes and classifications. Giroud, for example, is slow. Slow yet athletic. That’s an unusual combination and partly explains why he is underrated.

We often think of pace as the central and definitive aspect of athleticism. But speed is just one component of total athletic ability (leave to one side footballing skill). Giroud has an outstanding vertical jump, power and great balance. Because he is big and slow, those athletic gifts are harder to spot.

Management systems overestimate both labels and top-down tactics. A braver policy, pragmatic as well as aesthetic, is to be less controlling: allow opportunity to collide with skill, directed by an open, expert and uncluttered mind. l

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 12 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's revenge