Friday 25 May 2012, 09:00
This weekend sees the grand final of Eurovision 2012. How will Engelbert Humperdinck do? Will it be nul points again for the UK? What might happen if Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland went it alone?
Could Manic Street Preachers represent Wales at Eurovision?
Since about the year 2000 the UK's position as regular Eurovision high achievers has been eroded, some say fatally. Never again, they say, will the UK win, battling as the country does against politically-motivated 'bloc voting', an expanded competition, anti-British sentiment and terrible performances.
The UK last won in 1997 with Katrina And The Waves' Love Shine A Light. All through the 1990s the UK came in the top 10, until 12th place in 1999. From then on, we dipped: 16th in 2000 and 2001; 26th in 2003; 16th in 2004; 22nd in 2005 and 2007; 19th in 2006; 25th in 2008 and 2010.
Jessica Garlick was one of the few highlights for the UK since 2000
Welsh woman Jessica Garlick got third place in 2002, with other high points being fifth in 2009 and a mere 11th in 2011.
So, the UK's average position has dropped a long way from the golden days of Bucks Fizz or Brotherhood Of Man.
We were wondering, therefore... might it be better if Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland embraced the spirit of independence that - politically - our assemblies and parliaments have fostered?
Might it be that the British 'Celtic' nations could bat above their average in this most politicised of 'talent' shows?
There's a man who might know, and he's Dr Patrick Finney of the Department of International Politics at Aberystwyth University. "What an interesting question," he says. "It's not a subject that's been rigorously addressed by political science, but in the spirit of fun I can offer some thoughts."
Let's start simply: Do you think Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland might benefit from entering Eurovision separately from England?
"They might well do, and this would certainly be in the spirit of the current moves towards the establishment of more autonomous political identities in these parts of the UK. This assumes, however, that doing well in Eurovision is a prize worth winning - given the ruinous cost of staging the contest the next year, this might be a moot point."
What do you think of something I've heard people say on occasion, that the UK as a political entity has something of a toxic identity for mainland Europe? In 2003 even Terry Wogan suggested there was a backlash because of the Gulf War.
"This is a complex problem. What factors explain the UK's recent lamentable performance in Eurovision? It could simply be the proliferation of nations competing in the event, which makes it harder for any single nation to do well consistently.
"Equally, regional voting 'blocs' have emerged in the Balkans and Caucasus, in which near neighbours tend consistently to vote for each other - out of loyalty to each other rather than hostility to the UK, of course. But it may well also be that the UK is not well-positioned to win many friends on the continent, given entrenched perceptions that it is slavishly loyal to the US and snootily indifferent or haughtily superior to its fellow Europeans in the EU and beyond."
That tallies with a conversation I had a few days ago, in which a friend was explaining how much more friendly French people were when they discovered he was Welsh, rather than English. So might a 'Celtic' identity be more appealing for mainland European countries to vote for?
"Anecdotal evidence suggest this might be so - I have in the past pretended to be Irish when abroad to good effect! And the Republic of Ireland, I think, has a track record of more recent success than the UK in the contest."
You mentioned voting blocs. If voting blocs exist in the Caucasus countries, or the Balkans, might we expect a similar voting bloc from the Celtic countries?
"Definitely possible! I doubt they would give many votes to England, however."
Do Stereophonics capture the Celtic mood with their song As Long As We Beat The English?
Indeed; we see that in sport - "As long as we beat the English," as Stereophonics once sang. But do you think that Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish entrants should perform in the indigenous languages of their countries?
"This might make sense if the main purpose was the expression of national identity; if the purpose is to win, then English would probably be the better option, especially as it is increasingly the lingua franca of entrants."
Some interesting thoughts from an academic there. As a political experiment it would be fascinating. Culture is inseparable from politics, and it's more complex than one might first suppose: the Balkans are mutually-supportive despite having engaged in the most brutal conflict since World War Two.
At the core of the issue is the fact that most European countries, especially in the expanded format we've had in recent years which embraces former Soviet states, take the competition seriously. It's a matter of national pride. If the Celtic nations entered independently, would they also have this seriousness of purpose? If the UK sees fit to enter kitsch nostalgia, might Wales enter Manic Street Preachers draped in Welsh flags? Might Northern Ireland put forward Snow Patrol to sing an elegiac epic? Might Scotland decide that Paolo Nutini would show their country in a good light?
After all, exposure to hundreds of millions of European TV viewers would be something our tourist boards would love, and wouldn't even have to pay for.
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