A Question of Loyalty 234

I was just talking to an old friend in the European Commission about Scottish Independence. He said within the Commission there would now be overwhelming support for it and for immediate Scottish membership of the EU. He then added “But please can you leave Dr Fox with the English?”.

He was joking, but it led me to think about the loyalties of Unionist politicians. I don’t doubt Dr Fox would stay with the English – there will be no power in prospect for Tories in Scotland.

When asked in an interview during the last Indyref where his loyalty would lie if Independence won, then Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael replied without hesitation that of course he was a Scot and he would be loyal to Scotland. Where, I wonder, would Fluffy Mundell’s loyalties lie? The border is a short hop for him. Colonel Ruthie Davison has always had her eyes on high office at Westminster, and I expect she would be quickly down the A1. As for Labour, I don’t suppose anyone in England especially wants Richard Leonard. To be fair, I suspect Gordon Brown is not going anywhere and would reconcile himself to being the Scot who, in his own mind, saved the World. Wouldn’t it be lovely if J K Rowling upped sticks and went to be closer to her beloved Tony Blair?

With Scotland in the EU and England outside, would Andrew Neil be allowed to “queue jump” and stay as a top Tory at the England and Wales Broadcasting Corporation? Or would he fall victim to a hostile environment? Surely the mighty Laura Kuenssberg would demand a larger field for her snide right wing jibes than her home country?

I offer the “which way would the unionists jump” game to those of you whose minds have been frazzled by the banal spectacle of the results of British hubris, as relayed to us from Westminster all week. The game works much better with a few drams of Caol Ila.

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Machiavellianism and Brexit 450

A Cabinet Office source tells me today No. 10 is considering agreeing a second referendum with three choices: No Deal Brexit, May’s Deal or No Brexit. It would be by alternative vote, ie you rate your preferences 1, 2. The thinking is that the first round might go No Deal 23, May’s Deal 37, No Brexit 40. The second round would then go May’s Deal 60, No Brexit 40.

They claim there is opinion poll evidence to support this. But I see a flaw. It is predicated on the current situation, where a lot of Remainers are prepared to support Brexit, to respect the referendum result. But surely a second referendum would release that psychological constraint and the overwhelming majority of Remainers would seize the opportunity to try and ditch Brexit?

The advantage of the ploy from May’s viewpoint is that it presents her “deal” as the only alternative to No Deal or No Brexit, and in an AV vote the compromise position is always boosted. What is more it keeps the numerous other options for deals outwith her red lines – eg EFTA, Single Market, Customs Union, EEA – all off the ballot paper. This limited choice referendum thus appeals to May as “out-maneuvering” the opposition parties. The idea is to sucker them in to talk on a second referendum, then produce this slanted one.

This has not been adopted as policy yet, but No.10 and the Cabinet Office are working on the practicalities of this option.

There will almost certainly be a vote on a second referendum amendment in the government motion debate now starting on 29 January. One very close adviser to Jeremy Corbyn is suggesting to him that he gives a free vote, in order to prevent the row that the convoluted Conference motion tried to put off by focusing on process not substance, but on which time is running out. The adviser’s take is that the Tories will whip against the “People’s Vote” and a Labour free vote will lead to the second referendum being defeated. He was not however aware of the possibility the Tories will push their version of a second referendum, and I was able to brief him on that.

Today I walked down to Tesco to get my milk and, as every day, I passed the huddle of homeless people who sleep in the close. It illustrated vividly how disconnected Westminster is from the very real problems of desperate poverty that exist in our society. Observing the UK in the last phases of decline of a once great Empire, with its entirely dysfunctional political system and its fractured society, I cannot shake the impression of how small and sordid it all is.

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Racism Poisons the Entire Brexit Debate 463

It appears sadly impossible not to comment on Brexit at the moment; the astonishing scale of the government defeat in Parliament yesterday and the appalling self-serving behaviour of politicians on all sides compels attention.

The first and most obvious point is this; had Theresa May any honour, she would simply resign after her major political objective was rebuffed so dramatically by the legislature. But honour appears to be entirely out of fashion, so I shall not refer to it again today.

Parliament now appears ready to vote that it has confidence in the government when, clearly, it does not. This is because MPs wish to keep their jobs and careers intact. So from hereon the UK proceeds under the lie that it has a government which has a majority in Westminster for its views.

Even more remarkably, Theresa May has no intention of seeking a proposal that could command a majority. She seeks to move forward with cross-party discussions which exclude the leadership of other parties. She also insists that such discussions must be limited by her infamous “red lines” – but within those constraints, there is no deal materially different to the deal Parliament has just rejected which will ever be available.

The truth of course is that May’s “red lines” were in fact motivated by the only consistent strand that can be traced through Theresa May’s political career – hatred of immigrants. If you are going to end freedom of movement, then you have to leave the single market. That is very plainly the rule on which the single market was predicated, and the EU have repeated that ad nauseam in all negotiations. You cannot “cherry pick” to end free movement and keep free market access.

All of May’s “red lines” can be traced to a single source. If you ask “If you end EU immigration, what are the necessary consequences?” you get May’s red lines. Their basis is racism.

Both the SNP and Labour parties had put forward ideas that were broadly compatible. The Labour Party wants customs union, effective single market participation, and retention of worker and environmental protections. The SNP suggested permanent customs union and EEA membership. With minor differences, both these approaches are broadly “Norway plus” and both would limit the effects on the economy and remove the need for a hard border with Ireland.

But there was one major difference. The SNP accepted that single market membership must entail freedom of movement, and boldly argued that EU immigration is a good thing. The Labour Party position is entirely dishonest and predicated on a pretence that you can have single market access without freedom of movement – a position which is a lie.

The Labour Party has a large number of voters frequently described as “white working class”. The phrase is continually deployed as an euphemism for “racist”, which is highly unfair to the very many white working class people who do not share those attitudes. The desire not to alienate what I prefer to call the “John Mann voter” causes many in the Labour Party to adopt this dishonesty about the immigration consequences of single market access.

But it is worse than that. Many at the heart of what I might call “Old Labour” still harbour the dark thoughts that led in my youth to support from many trade union members for the views of Enoch Powell – the idea that immigrants depress wages and damage the working class. Unfortunately both Jeremy Corbyn and John MacDonnell, for both of whom I have much respect in general, still harbour this dinosaur opinion.

In July, Jeremy Corbyn said that immigration “would be a managed thing on the basis of the skills required… What there wouldn’t be is whole-scale importation of underpaid workers from central Europe in order to destroy conditions, particularly in the construction industries.”

Here Jeremy is putting forward a line on immigration “a managed thing on the basis of skills required” that is identical to the Tory line and plainly rules out free movement. Further he is promoting anti-immigrant myths. The economy is not a thing of fixed size with a limited number of jobs. Dynamic EU immigration has been entirely responsible for all growth in our economy this last decade; without it we would have been plunged into the deepest and still continuing recession. The cause of poverty is the obscene proportion of national wealth looted by the super wealthy, not the poor immigrant. The answer to the particular question Jeremy addressed is the establishment, or possibly post-Thatcher re-establishment, of strong legal protections for working conditions in the construction industry, to protect all workers there. The answer is not to attack Central European immigrants.

Until the Labour Party accepts the need to challenge anti-immigrant views head-on, it will continue to talk nonsense on Brexit.

For good measure, Nicola Sturgeon also played politics with a statement after last night’s vote which, remarkably, did not mention the word “Independence” at all. Sturgeon now appears entirely focused on keeping England and Wales inside the European Union against the will of the English and Welsh people, as opposed to having a clear and fixed aim of achieving Scottish Independence from this debacle.

[Update: Subsequently, at 5.32 am. Nicola corrected her position with the following tweet, presumably having absorbed party concerns overnight at her original key omission:

The criticism therefore falls, though it still worries me her first reaction was wrong.]

It seems to me the ultimate solution is plain. Scotland should become Independent and remain in the EU as its citizens overwhelmingly wish. England and Wales should leave the EU as its citizens wish (by a very clear majority if you take out Scotland and Northern Ireland). England and Wales should move to a Norway style relationship broadly as proposed by the Labour Party, with the racists told they cannot have everything they want. Northern Ireland should finally return to Ireland. Some bits of that will happen sooner than others – Scottish Independence in particular – but in a decade or so, I expect all that will have finally happened. If politicians were not so conniving and self-interested, we could get there a lot sooner.

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The Hague Comes of Age 138

I am delighted by the acquittal of Laurent Gbagbo at the International Criminal Court. As I explained at the time in a series of articles, Gbagbo was ousted as President of Ivory Coast by a corrupt election and an armed insurgency, both funded by Western oil interests, chiefly but not solely by Trafigura plc.

Gbagbo was guilty in western eyes of failing to do what left wing African leaders are supposed to do, allow himself to be quickly butchered and his supporters massacred. So Gbagbo ended up at the International Criminal Court as a war criminal, while Big Oil’s puppet, Alassane Ouattara, is now comfortably ensconced in the Presidential Palace of Ivory Coast, and getting very rich indeed.

So the acquittal of Gbagbo today – which comes as something of a shock – represents a very important coming of age for the Hague. I have always, as an internationalist, supported the International Criminal Court, but its failure to be pro-active in prosecuting Tony Blair on the Nuremburg aggressive war precedent, and its serial record of convicting only the Western powers’ designated enemies, made it very difficult to defend.

The media, insofar as they have noticed the Gbagbo acquittal, portray it as a failure and an embarrassment for the court, as though the role of a court is simply to declare guilty and bang up everyone before it. In fact this may be the occasion on which the ICC finally came of age and discovered a nodding acquaintance with the concept of justice.

The number of foreign correspondents employed by British newspapers has fallen by over 90% in 20 years. One purpose of this blog is to supply information on countries and situations which I know personally, to which the MSM simply do not pay attention. It is worth noting that this blog has been campaigning against Chinese persecution of the Uighurs for 12 years before it became the latest fashionable cause or pretext for neo-cons to pretend concern about. Indeed when I started writing about the Uighurs in 2005, I am willing to bet not one of the MSM so-called journalists who have recently churned out copy and paste articles on the subject, had ever heard of them. In a fortnight’s time I am heading for other areas where the FCO travel advice strongly advises British citizens not to venture.

Remember tonight, there is a world beyond the Brexit debate and the crass and sordid mess of Westminster politics.

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The Forgotten Referendum – Ireland 1998 353

The problem with making decisions by the blunt and heavy tool of referenda is now very apparent. One self evident difficulty is how to cope with contradictory results. Scotland had two referenda in two years. In the first the Scottish people voted narrowly to remain part of the United Kingdom, in the second they voted heavily to remain part of the European Union. The two results are now incompatible. So how did the referenda help to set the legitimate course of political action? They did not.

There is another incompatible referendum which has gone virtually unmentioned in the UK. Following the Good Friday agreement, Ireland had a referendum in 1998 to amend its constitution to allow it to subscribe to the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. Ireland amended its constitution to remove its unfettered claim to its entire historic territory, in favour of a contingent peaceful process. Mutual EU membership and no border control was absolutely intrinsic to that agreement and to what the Irish voted for in their referendum. The vote, incidentally, was by much the same margin as Scotland’s vote to remain in the EU. So in resiling from its EU accession due to its referendum, the UK is negating referendum votes in Scotland, in Northern Ireland and in the Republic. The UK cannot arrogantly claim its referendum is more important than Ireland’s. The famous “backstop” is to maintain at least the shadow of the arrangements on the basis of which Ireland voted in 1998.

The other reason referenda are not useful is they are insufficiently detailed. The Brexit referendum said nothing whatsoever about the UK’s continued relationship with the EU. It said nothing about the Customs Union, about EEA, or even about freedom of movement. The referendum was called by David Cameron to buy off party splits in the Tory Party, but failed spectacularly even on those sordid terms. as someone who wants the UK to fall apart, personally I am enjoying the chaos, but it was not the planned result by those behind the referendum.

I am probably a horrible elitist. I dislike direct democracy and am quite profoundly Burkean. I believe democracy should work through the people electing representatives they trust, to use their judgement and experience and adaptability to make the decisions of government. This is not a popular position given the appalling calibre of politicians currently. That is partly due to the UK’s antiquated electoral and governance systems; but something else is in play as it appears to be a worldwide phenomenon. It is to do with neoliberalism eating away at societal bonds and institutions, and requires a great deal more thought to delineate. But of one thing I am quite sure: referenda are not the answer to the West’s malaise of government.

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Richard Dearlove Helped Blair Kill Millions. The Security Services are a Danger to Our State and Society 490

When Sir Richard Dearlove was Head of MI6, the Blairites adored him as he approved the lying Dossier on Iraqi WMD which led to wars, invasion, the death of millions and the destabilisation which continues to wreck the entire Middle East. Now, as he writes to Tory constituency chairman advocating the hardest of hard Brexits, had they any capacity for self-reflection the Blairites would probably be thinking it was after all not such a great move of Tony to appoint the hardest of hard right nutters to head our overseas intelligence service.

In my last post, I noted how evidence against me was actually manufactured when I opposed the policy of torture and extraordinary rendition. I have explained ad nauseam that, having been in a senior position in the FCO at the time, I know that Blair’s dossier on Weapons of Mass Destruction was a tissue of deliberate lies, and not just an honest mistake; furthermore it is impossible to read the Chilcot report without coming to that conclusion.

The UK has security services which operate dishonestly and illegally. Interestingly, I cannot say that they are currently out of the control of the UK government; the evidence is rather they are willing to engage in every dirty and dishonest trick at the behest of corrupt politicians like Blair.

Dearlove regularly features in the media shilling for maximum Cold War. His letter yesterday on the dangers of intelligence and security co-operation with the EU, as undermining NATO and the UK/US/Five Eyes intelligence arrangements, is simply barking mad. There is no evidence of this whatsoever. He makes no attempt to describe the mechanism by which the dire consequences he predicts will follow. Amusingly enough, although those consequences are dire to Dearlove, to me they are extremely desirable. If I thought that May’s withdrawal agreement would undermine NATO and the CIA, I would be out on the streets campaigning for it.

But there is a very serious point. There is something very wrong indeed with the UK security services, which are most certainly not a force for freedom or justice. That MI6 can be headed by as extreme a figure as Dearlove, underlines the threat that the security services pose to any progressive movement in politics.

If Scotland becomes independent, it must not mirror the repressive UK security services. Furthermore it must be very chary indeed of employing anybody currently working for the UK security services. If Jeremy Corbyn comes to power in Westminster, he will never achieve any of his objectives in restoring a basic level of social justice and equality to society in England and Wales, without revolutionary change in major institutions including the security services.

My own view on Brexit is that the best deal for England and Wales would be EEA and customs union, essentially the Norway option. It seems that the Labour leadership have essentially got that right, but are making a complete pig’s ear of articulating it, presumably because of their desire not to antagonise their anti-immigrant voters.

Scotland demonstrably has a strong and strengthening pro-EU majority and this is the logical time for Scotland to move to Independence, with the assurance of strong international support. I trust the Scottish government is finally going to move decisively in that direction inside the next month.

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The UK Government Manufacture of False Sexual Allegations 372

I want to give you a concrete example of how the UK government deliberately sets out to manufacture false sexual allegations against people it considers a threat. I do so to educate those who view this concept as an unthinkable “conspiracy theory”. I write of a case of which I have expert knowledge; it is my own case.

I became an “enemy of the state” when, as British Ambassador, I protested against UK and US complicity in torture and extraordinary rendition in Uzbekistan. As detailed in Murder in Samarkand, I very quickly found myself suspended and subject to civil service investigation of disciplinary allegations against me, the worst of which was that I extorted sex from visa applicants. Blair’s No. 10 quickly leaked this allegation against me to the Daily Mail.

I was in a state of complete shock. I had no idea at all what could have led to such allegations. The Kafkaesque nightmare deepened when I was presented with the evidence against me.

The case was of a young woman named Albina Safarova. I was shown her visa application documents by the investigating officer. These included her passport photo, and she was a strikingly beautiful young woman. On the back of her visa application the Visa Officer had written “HMA (Her Majesty’s Ambassador, i.e. me) authorises issue”. The investigation had obtained a statement from the Visa Officer, in which she stated that she had issued the Visa after being informed by two British diplomats that Ms Safarova was a friend of mine. To complete the evidence, the original application was supported by a letter from Ms Safarova’s sponsor, a Mr Dermot Hassett, who stated in the application that the circumstances of the application were known to the British Ambassador, Mr Craig Murray.

All of which seems firm and damning evidence of, at the least, unwarranted interference in visa issues.

Except for this. Not only had I never had any form of sexual encounter with Ms Albina Safarova, I had never met her or even heard of her. The same was true of Mr Dermot Hassett. Not only were they not my friends, I had no idea they existed.

After I left the FCO, I gave the papers to a veteran investigative reporter, Bob Graham, who contacted Dermot Hassett. Graham told me that Hassett explained that a British diplomat – one of the two who had told the Visa Officer Ms Safarova was my friend – had instructed him to write my name into the visa application, with the assurance that the visa would be granted.

So the British government had put substantial effort into the preparation of fake documents connecting me to Ms Safarova and Mr Hassett and this visa application. Yet the whole thing was entirely fake. Those British diplomats had lied, and convinced Mr Hassett and the Visa Officer to produce “independent” documents corroborating those lies.

Interestingly, they never produced any allegation from Ms Safarova that a sexual relationship was involved. In the absence of this and of any evidence that I had ever met Safarova, and in view of the fact the Visa Officer’s evidence crucially stated it was other British diplomats, not me, who told her Safarova was my friend, I was acquitted. No other incident was ever alleged. But mud sticks, and the smear was used to discredit my evidence on torture and extraordinary rendition, and has been so used ever since.

Alex Salmond is far more of a threat to the British establishment than I ever was. So is Julian Assange and so is Tommy Sheridan. Anybody who looks at any of these examples, and does not understand that the state will actually fabricate allegations and fabricate evidence to back them, is a fool.

I know. It happened to me.

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The Salmond Stitch-Up – the Incredible Facts, and why Mackinnon and Evans Must Be Sacked 266

Judith Mackinnon joined the Scottish government in 2017. She was slotted into the highly remunerated non-job of Head of People Advice. That really is her title. I saw it in the Record and did not believe it, but just phoned the Scottish Government and they confirmed it. Judith Mackinnon is Head of People Advice at the Scottish Government. She was previously Head of Human Resource Governance at Police Scotland. A senior policeman tells me that appeared in practice to mean professional feminist.

As might be expected from somebody with such pointless job titles, Mackinnon writes gobbledegook rather than English. Here is an extract from her Police Scotland submission to the consultation on the Scottish Government bill on gender equality on boards.

I confess I got no further than answer 1), my bullshit meter having exploded. I felt very sorry for Jackie McKelvie.

It is vital to note that, in her peculiar non-job at the Scottish Government, Mackinnon had no normal professional contact with the alleged “complainants” against Alex Salmond. It is still more vital to note that the “complainants” did not approach Mackinnon. In January 2018, shortly after starting at the Scottish Government, Mackinnon sought them out and – as it was carefully put in court today (tremendous twitter stream report here), spoke to them in a manner “bordering on encouragement to proceed with formal complaints” against Alex Salmond. It appears this was a process, not just one meeting. Again in the language used in court today, there was a “significant amount of direct personal contact” between Mackinnon and the complainants.

At this stage the complaints were brought to the attention of Leslie Evans, the Permanent Secretary – assuming she was not the one who instigated Mackinnon to act originally. Incredibly, Evans then appoints Mackinnon as the formal investigating officer for the case.

Even more incredibly, Mackinnon and Evans then together work on a new Civil Service Code which specifically makes the retrospective actioning of these complaints possible.

So Mackinnon instigated the complaints, investigated the complaints and drafted the code changes which made the complaints actionable.

Judith Mackinnon has been a human resources professional operating for over 25 years. It is impossible that Mackinnon did not realise that this method of pursuing a stitch up is absolutely illegitimate, as was today conceded in court. It is equally impossible that the Head of the Civil Service, Leslie Evans, did not realise these measures were completely illegitimate.

The actions of these civil servants are not just reckless, they are a deliberate stitch-up of an individual amounting to the crime of misconduct in public office. It is most certainly a sacking offence and it is Evans and Mackinnon who should be the subject of police investigation. Apart from their deliberate and cold malice towards Salmond, they have cost the taxpayer £350,000 wasted on this case.

Leslie Evans issued a statement today which is breathtaking in these circumstances in its impudence and its tendentiousness. She appears to try to say that she did not know until last month of Mackinnon’s role in instigating the complaints.

After reassessing all the materials available, I have concluded that an impression of partiality could have been created based on one specific point – contact between the Investigating Officer and the two complainants around the time of their complaints being made in January 2018.

The full picture only became evident in December 2018 as a result of the work being undertaken to produce relevant documents in advance of the hearing.

This amounts to an incredible accusation against Mackinnon by Evans. To save her own skin, Evans appears to be alleging that at the time of Mackinnon’s appointment as investigating officer, Mackinnon did not reveal to Evans her role in initiating the “complaints”; and presumably also left that out of the investigative reports, if Evans did not find out until December.

However as a former member of the senior civil service myself, I can tell you that the truly disgusting Leslie Evans is here attempting to give that impression by weasel drafting. She is saying that “the full picture” only became clear in December. In fact, Evans already knew a great deal more than she is here attempting to portray. Perhaps she didn’t know whether Mackinnon and the complainants drank tea or coffee together, hence not the “full picture”.

There is a still more important and extraordinary misrepresentation in Evans’ statement, She claims:

All the other grounds of Mr Salmond’s challenge have been dismissed

I cannot understand this at all. There has been no judgement issued in the case. The Scottish Government caved in once it was ordered to reveal the incriminating emails and minutes that told the above story. The Scottish Government caved in and settled out of court; therefore the case was dismissed by the judge. It is totally false of Evans to claim that this amounts to Salmond’s other claims being “dismissed” in the sense she intends to convey, and indeed is the opposite of what the Scottish Government’s own QC specifically stated in court. He said that the Government disagreed with Salmond on the other points but that this was “now academic”.

The misrepresentations in Leslie Evans’ statement are simply appalling in a civil servant. She has to go.

All documents in this case should now be released. It is a matter of essential public interest, relating to a politically motivated attempt to impact on the bid for Independence of the entire Scottish nation. One thing that those documents will make clear is whether or not the First Minister’s office was as entirely insulated from events as is claimed.

Nicola Sturgeon must now move to demand the resignation of both Evans and Mackinnon. Both fully deserve to lose their jobs. If Sturgeon moves to protect them, she will attract suspicion that she is motivated by keeping them silent about the extent of her own involvement in the sorry process. To avoid this rumour she has to act swiftly and decisively and invite them to resign tomorrow morning.

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Gdansk 1710

Writing about your personal demons for the public is seldom a good idea, and it is a particularly bad idea when you are starting at 3.40am as they are haunting you. We are spending Hogmanay in the beautiful city of Gdansk. It is my first time here for over twenty years, but the city has remarkable memories for me.

In November 1994 I was newly arrived as First Secretary at the British Embassy in Warsaw when a fatal fire occurred at the famous shipyard, in a hall being used for a rock concert tied in to a MTV transmission. The fire doors were all padlocked shut, and the heat had reached such intensity that a flash fire had occurred right across the hall. Miraculously only five people had died immediately, but hundreds had been horrifically burnt or suffered fume inhalation and the hospitals were completely overwhelmed.

Within hours of the fire I was dispatched to Gdansk by our dynamic Ambassador and found myself on a train heading North with only a Motorola mobile phone the size of a large brick (1994) and a phone number for DFID, in those days a part of the FCO and known as ODA. I roused from his London bed the official in charge of emergency assistance, Mukesh Kapila, and he instructed me to get a list from the medical authorities of all the supplies required. He explained that major burns required large volumes of consumables by way of ointments and special gauzes and bandages.

Arriving in Gdansk I very soon discovered that the victims were dispersed round several hospitals and there was no central authority able to produce a list of requirements. Poland was still in the early stages of a shock transition from communism and elements of administration were shaky at the best of times, let alone in a large scale emergency. The only way to make any progress was for me physically to go to every hospital and every concerned ward, buttonhole the doctors there and ask them what they needed.

To say they were swamped would be ridiculous understatement. Victims were everywhere, very many critical, and in some places bleary-eyed doctors literally had nothing – creams, bandages, painkillers, saline drips all exhausted. Meeting many doctors, when I told them I could get anything sent out instantly, the reaction ranged from angrily incredulous to massive bear hugs.

It was of course difficult. In 1994 Polish medical practice differed quite sharply from British. There were language barriers; my as yet basic Polish lacked medical vocabulary. And I had to keep interrupting incredibly busy people. But after the first couple of hospitals I was able to extrapolate and phone through to Mukesh the most obviously urgent items, and by the end of the day I was clutching 16 handwritten lists and could sit down to consolidate them.

But I have not described to you what it was like to go round those wards. I really cannot – it was indescribable. Horribly disfigured people screaming and writhing in pain, begging and pleading for any relief, even asking to die. And the worst thing is, they were all teenagers – the average age seemed about 16. One image I shall never forget was of a girl sitting bolt upright in bed, looking calm, and I recall thinking that at least this one is OK. But I had seen her right profile and as I passed her, the left side of her face was literally skeletal, with a yellow blob for an eye, no skin and just the odd sinew attached to the bone. Her calm was catatonic.

But in a way still worse were two girls who looked perfectly healthy, lying on top of their beds apparently in an untroubled sleep. The doctor told me that they were already brain dead, having inhaled cyanide gas from the combustion of plastic seating. The mother of one of them was there and she pleaded with me to tell the doctor not to turn off the ventilator; the poor woman was crazed with grief and pulling at her hair, which was dyed red. I can still recall every detail of the faces of both mother and her still daughter.

I called in every day for a week or so and sat with the mother a few minutes, in silence. Then one day they were gone; the doctors had switched off the ventilator.

Andrze Kanthak, our Honorary Consul, was a fantastic support and worked extremely hard throughout this period – but as we walked together into the first ward, Andrze simply fainted straight out at the sight of it all. That evening we had hardly finished consolidating my 16 lists and sending them off to Mukesh when news arrived that the first shipment of most urgent supplies was arriving at Gdansk airport, and we dashed off there with a lorry from the City Council.

It was a bitter disappointment. Customs refused to release the medicines until duty had been paid and, still worse, everything would need to be checked and certified by the food and drug administration, which could take weeks. All my fury at the self-satisfied officials was of no avail, and we returned temporarily baffled.

A phone call now came that DFID had chartered a flight to arrive the next day with 20 tons of medical supplies, so the situation was now critical. Walesa was now President and I suggested we contact his office, but Andrze advised we should rather recruit Father Jankowski.

Jankowski was the parish priest in Gdansk who had been integral to the Solidarnosc movement, and at that time he wielded enormous political influence. His home was extraordinary for a parish priest – literally palatial – and when I met him there the next day he readily agreed to help. He came to the airport with us as the chartered cargo flight arrived, and supervised the loading into the council lorries which I dispatched to the various hospitals. A tall imposing figure in a flowing black cassock, the customs officials who had blocked us obeyed him without question.

Things calmed down over the next few days, Mukesh Kapila himself came out, and the hospitals once supplied performed brilliantly. Astonishingly, from hundreds of cases of severe and extensive burns, with scores in intensive care, we lost nobody except the two girls who were already brain dead, bringing the final death toll to seven. The incredible survival rate was viewed as a miracle, and perhaps it was, but it was a miracle assisted by some fantastic doctors, by Mukesh Kapila and his staff, by Father Jankowski, by Andrze Kanthak and by the Secretary of Gdansk Council whose name (Janowski?) has slipped my mind, embarrassingly as the experience made us firm friends for a long while.

But I am afraid to say the personal impact on me was quite severe. It is no secret that I struggle against bipolar disorder, and the sheer horror of those days in the wards undoubtedly triggered me for quite a while. I also suffered recurrent nightmares for more than a decade, about the horrific burns but also about the brain dead child and the mother tearing her hair. Worse than the nightmares were the waking flashbacks, not so much visual as emotional, experiencing the feeling of it happening again.

When I got back to the Embassy nobody was very interested in what I had been doing. I was ticked off for returning a day late and also for not obtaining much media publicity for the UK’s role. I have written before that one of my frequent duties in Poland was to conduct high profile visitors around the concentration camps, a visit all British politicians wish to make. Those places filled me with horror, which resonated on the same emotional frequency as the Gdansk trauma. Those frequent visits made my time in Poland difficult to me, which is a shame as it is a delightful country and people.

Back here now as a tourist, with my family and at a festive time, no troubling memories are assailing me. I find I can now be proud of what we did, rather than ashamed at my emotional reaction afterwards. And I can’t quite tell you why, but I felt it should be recorded.

Finally, it is worth noting that this Gdansk experience was one of a number which led me immediately to understand that the famous BBC report on “Saving Syria’s Children” was faked. The alleged footage of burns victims in hospital following a napalm attack bears no resemblance whatsoever to how victims, doctors and relatives actually behave in these circumstances.

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Cui Bono? David Leask, Ben Nimmo and the Attack on Ordinary Scottish Nationalists

We know for certain that the Integrity Initiative targets Scottish Nationalists, because two of its luminaries, otherwise unconnected to each other, David Leask and Ben Nimmo, collaborated on a massive attack piece in the Herald identifying individual SNP supporters as “Russian Bots”.

Ben Nimmo works for the Atlantic Council, funded inter alia by NATO. He is also on a retainer of £2,500 per month from the Integrity Initiative, in addition to payments for individual pieces of work. For his attack on Scottish Nationalists Nimmo was therefore paid by the Atlantic Council (your taxes through NATO), by the Integrity Initiative (your taxes) and by the Herald (thankfully shortly going bankrupt). Leask claims to have received nothing but a cheese sandwich from the Integrity Initiative, but has briefed them in detail on Scottish nationalism, attended their seminars, and they have included Leask’s output in their “outcomes” reports to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (on which more in a few days’ time).

I took apart Leask and Nimmo’s horrendous attack at the time, revealing among other things that one of Nimmo’s criteria for spotting a Russian bot or troll was use of the phrase cui bono.

Nimmo’s role as witchfinder-general for Russian Bots appears very remunerative. His August 2016 invoice to The Institute for Statecraft, apparently the 71st invoice he had issued to various neo-con bodies that year, was for £5,000.

It is interesting that rather than sort code and account number, his invoice gives IBAN and BIC, used for payments coming from abroad.

There is a very important aspect of the detailed minute of David Leask’s briefing for the Integrity Initiative, which CommonSpace cut out of the extracts which they published. Leask says that the Integrity Initiative are “pushing at an open door” with the SNP leadership and the editors of The National, who he characterises as reliably anti-Russian and pro-NATO:

YATA – there would probably be a lot of studenty anti-NATO responses. But that might be more of a reason to do it. But SNP reversed NATO policy when it realised what Russia was up to (under influence of Nordic/Baltic allies)
 Mainstream politicians don‟t want to challenge the fringe normally but they’re starting to. Stewart McDonald (defence spokesman) pitching NATO – “friends in Norway, Balts etc are in it”. SNP foreign policy chiefs have very anti-Kremlin, anti-RT, pro-Ukraine rhetoric.
 Immigration not an issue in Scotland.
 Pushing at open door – allies in Scotland about disinformation. Putin may want to sow discord among Scottish nationalists. Pro-independence sister paper had headline complaining Russian trolls attacking Sturgeon. http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/16094929.SNP_top_brass_warn__Sturgeon_is_being_targeted_by_Kremlin_trolls/
Yes campaign had attacks on servers and cyberactivity, thought it was the Brits but then concluded it was probably Russians. http://www.heraldscotland.com/politics/referendumnews/15771388.Yes_leaders__Don_t_be__naive__about_Russian_online_meddling_in_independence/
 SNP going to Ukraine – to reassure allies they are not pro-Russian.

I am afraid Leask is not wrong. The continual willingness of the SNP leadership to endorse Britnat anti-Russian rhetoric without question is a nagging worry for many nationalists. Precisely the same department of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office which funds the Integrity Initiative, funds the Westminster Foundation for Democracy which paid for this joint Britnat/SNP leadership group event at the last SNP Conference, featuring a Ukrainian politician also used by the Integrity Initiative.

Read that carefully, and note that it is not just a discussion on the Ukraine – no harm in that – but one which is openly anti-Russian. The very title, on countering Russian disinformation, is literally straight out of the Integrity Initative’s handbook. Two SNP MP’s took part, including the foreign policy spokesman.

Remember that meeting was on the conference fringe at which I was not permitted to hold a meeting on preparing for Indyref II. An awful lot of Nicola loyalists tell me that, in appearing at present to be much more interested in keeping the entire UK in the EU, rather than striking for Scottish Independence, the leadership are playing a brilliant tactical game.

Other explanations are available.

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British Government Covert Anti-Russian Propaganda and the Skripal Case 334

It is worth starting by noting that a high percentage of the Integrity Initiative archive has been authenticated. The scheme has been admitted by the FCO and defended as legitimate government activity. Individual items like the minutes of the meeting with David Leask are authenticated. Not one of the documents has so far been disproven, or even denied.

Which tends to obscure some of the difficulties with the material. There is no metadata showing when each document was created, as opposed to when Anonymous made it into a PDF. Anonymous have released it in tranches and made plain there is more to come. The reason for this methodology is left obscure.

Most frustratingly, Anonymous’ comments on the releases indicate that they have vital information which is not, so far, revealed. The most important document of all appears to be a simple contact list, of a particular group within the hundreds of contacts revealed in the papers overall. This is it in full:

Tantalisingly, Anonymous describe this as a list of people who attended a meeting with the White Helmets. But there is no evidence of that in the document itself, nor does any other document released so far refer to this meeting. There is very little in the documents released so far about the White Helmets at all. But there is a huge amount about the Skripal case. With the greatest of respect to Anonymous and pending any release of further evidence, I want you to consider whether this might be a document related to the Skripal incident.

The list is headed CND gen list 2. CND is Christopher Nigel Donnelly, Director of the Institute for Statecraft and the Integrity Initiative and a very senior career Military Intelligence Officer.

The first name on the list caught my eye. Duncan Allan was the young FCO Research Analyst who, as detailed in Murder in Samarkand, appears in my Ambassadorial office in Tashkent, telling me of the FCO staff who had been left in tears by the pressure put on them to sign up to Blair’s dodgy dossier on Iraqi WMD. During the process of clearing the manuscript with the FCO, I was told (though not by him) that he denied having ever said it. It was one of a very few instances where I refused to make the changes requested to the text, because I had no doubt whatsoever of what had been said.

If Duncan did lie about having told me, it did his career no harm as he is now Deputy Head of FCO Research Analysts and, most importantly, the FCO’s lead analyst on Russia and the Former Soviet Union.

Now let us tie that in with the notorious name further down the list; Pablo Miller, the long-term MI6 handler of Sergei Skripal, who lived in Salisbury with Skripal. Miller is the man who was, within 24 hours of the Skripal attack, protected by a D(SMA) notice banning the media from mentioning him. Here Pablo Miller is actively involved, alongside serving FCO and MOD staff, in a government funded organisation whose avowed intention is to spread disinformation about Russia. The story that Miller is in an inactive retirement is immediately and spectacularly exploded.

Now look at another name on this list. Howard Body. Assistant Head of Science Support at Porton Down chemical weapon research laboratory, just six miles away from Salisbury and the Skripal attack, a role he took up in December 2017. He combines this role with Assistant Head of Strategic Analysis at MOD London. “Science Support” at Porton Down is a euphemism for political direction to the scientists – Body has no scientific qualifications.

Another element brought into this group is the state broadcaster, through Helen Boaden, the former Head of BBC News and Current Affairs.

In all there are six serving MOD staff on the list, all either in Intelligence or in PR. Intriguingly one of them, Ian Cohen, has email addresses both at the MOD and at the notoriously corrupt HSBC bank. The other FCO name besides Duncan Allan, Adam Rutland, is also on the PR side.

Zachary Harkenrider is the Political Counsellor at the US Embassy in London. There are normally at least two Political Counsellors at an Embassy this size, one of whom will normally be the CIA Head of Station. I do not know if Harkenrider is CIA but it seems highly likely.

So what do we have here? We have a programme, the Integrity Initiative, whose entire purpose is to pump out covert disinformation against Russia, through social media and news stories secretly paid for by the British government. And we have the Skripals’ MI6 handler, the BBC, Porton Down, the FCO, the MOD and the US Embassy, working together in a group under the auspices of the Integrity Initiative. The Skripal Case happened to occur shortly after a massive increase in the Integrity Initiative’s budget and activity, which itself was a small part of a British Government decision to ramp up a major information war against Russia.

I find that very interesting indeed.

With a hat-tip to members of the Working Group on Syria, Media, and the Propaganda, who are preparing a major and important publication which is imminent. UPDATE Their extremely important briefing note on the Integrity Initiative is now online, prepared to the highest standards of academic discipline. I shall be drawing on and extrapolating from it further next week.

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Continued American Occupation of the Middle East Does Not Suppress Terrorism, It Causes It

Even the neo-con warmongers’ house journal The Guardian, furious at Trump’s attempts to pull US troops out of Syria, in producing a map to illustrate its point, could only produce one single, uncertain, very short pen stroke to describe the minute strip of territory it claims ISIS still control on the Iraqi border.

Of course, the Guardian produces the argument that continued US military presence is necessary to ensure that ISIS does not spring back to life in Syria. The fallacy of that argument can be easily demonstrated. In Afghanistan, the USA has managed to drag out the long process of humiliating defeat in war even further than it did in Vietnam. It is plain as a pikestaff that the presence of US occupation troops is itself the best recruiting sergeant for resistance. In Sikunder Burnes I trace how the battle lines of tribal alliances there today are precisely the same ones the British faced in 1841. We just attach labels like Taliban to hide the fact that invaders face national resistance.

The secret to ending the strength of ISIS in Syria is not the continued presence of American troops. It is for America’s ever closer allies in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf to cut off the major artery of money and arms, which we should never forget in origin and for a long time had a strong US component. The US/Saudi/Israeli alliance against Iran is the most important geo-political factor in the region today. It is high time this alliance stopped both funding ISIS and pretending to fight it; schizophrenia is not a foreign policy stance.

There has been no significant Shia Islamic terrorist or other threat against the West in recent years. 9/11 was carried out by Saudi Sunni militants. Al Qaida, ISIS, Al Nusra, Boko Haram, these are all Sunni groups, and all Saudi sponsored. It is a matter of lunacy that the West has adopted the posture that it is Iran – which has sponsored not one attack on the West in recent memory – which is the threat in the Middle East.

The origin of this stance appears to lie in the fact that the Shia group Hezbollah proved to have the only military force among Israel’s neighbours capable of halting an Israeli invasion. After the disastrous invasion of Iraq resulted in an Iran friendly regime in Baghdad, the US decided for balance of power reasons to back Saudi regional power plays, only for Saudi Arabia to fall into the hands of the psychopathic warmonger Mohammed Bin Salman who escalated an already flawed policy to breaking point.

The chaos of this incoherent and counterproductive strategy is, peculiarly enough, what the neocons actually want. Perpetual war and destabilisation in the Middle East is their goal. One of the findings I had not expected to discover in writing Sikunder Burnes was that the British had been deliberately exploiting and exacerbating the Shia/Sunni divide as early as 1836 to the Imperial purpose. Today, by keeping Arab populations poor and politically divided, the neo-cons believe that they enhance the security of Israel, and they certainly do facilitate the access of western companies to the oil and gas of the region, as we see in destabilised Iraq and Libya.

The Clintons and Blair were the apotheosis of the capture of the mainstream “left” political parties by this neo-con Imperialist agenda in the Middle East. Sanders, Trump and Corbyn were the first politicians with any chance of power for many decades who did not pay lip-service to the neo-con agenda. Trump’s lack of enthusiasm for Cold War politics has been neutralised from any possible action on his part by the ludicrous lie that Russia hacked his election. Furthermore his greed has led to deals with Saudi Arabia which have largely undercut his declared preference for non-interventionism. And now in Syria, the very hint that Trump may not be fully committed to the pursuit of perpetual war has the entire neo-con establishment, political media and NGO, screaming in unison, both sides of the Atlantic.

I have written before that Trump may be a rotten President for Americans, but at least he has not initiated a major war; and I am quite sure Hillary would have done by now. For a non-American, the choice between Hillary and Trump ended up in balancing on one side of the scale the evil of millions more killed and maimed in the Middle East and the launching of a full on, unreserved new Cold War, against on the other side of the scale poorer Americans having very bad healthcare and social provision and America adopting racist immigration policies. I do hope that the neo-con barrage today arguing for more American troops in the Middle East, will help people remember just how very unattractive also is the Hillary side of the equation.

It is also very helpful in revealing the startling unanimity of our bought and paid for political, media and NGO class here in the UK.

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The Scottish Parliament Does Have the Right to Withdraw from the Act of Union

The London Supreme Court last week not only confirmed that the Westminster Parliament could overrule at will any Scottish Government legislation, irrespective of the Scotland Act and the Sewell Convention, but it also ruled that Westminster had already successfully done so, by retrospectively passing provisions in the EU (Withdrawal) Act that overruled the Bill on the same subject, within the competence of the Scottish Parliament, that had already been passed by Holyrood.

Not content with that, the London Supreme Court confirmed that London ministers may, by secondary legislation, under the Scotland Act decree laws for Scotland that are not even passed through the Westminster parliament.

Which leaves Scotland in this extraordinary situation. English MPs or English ministers in their London Parliament can, at any time, impose any legislation they choose on Scotland, overriding Scotland’s parliament and Scotland’s representation in the London parliament. Yet, under the English Votes for English Laws rules of the London Parliament introduced by the Tories in 2015, Scottish MPs cannot vote at all on matters solely affecting England.

That is plainly a situation of colonial subservience.

I am firmly of the view that the Scottish government should now move to withdraw from the Treaty of Union. Scotland’s right to self determination is inalienable. It cannot be signed away forever or restricted by past decisions.

The Independence of a country is not a matter of domestic law it is a matter of international law. The right of the Scottish Parliament to declare Independence may not be restricted by UK domestic law or by purported limitations on the powers of the Scottish Parliament. The legal position is set out very clearly here:

5.5 Consistent with this general approach, international law has not treated the legality of
the act of secession under the internal law of the predecessor State as determining the effect
of that act on the international plane. In most cases of secession, of course, the predecessor
State‟s law will not have been complied with: that is true almost as a matter of definition.

5.6 Nor is compliance with the law of the predecessor State a condition for the declaration
of independence to be recognised by third States, if other conditions for recognition are
fulfilled. The conditions do not include compliance with the internal legal requirements of
the predecessor State. Otherwise the international legality of a secession would be
predetermined by the very system of internal law called in question by the circumstances in
which the secession is occurring.

5.7 For the same reason, the constitutional authority of the seceding entity to proclaim
independence within the predecessor State is not determinative as a matter of international
law. In most if not all cases, provincial or regional authorities will lack the constitutional
authority to secede. The act of secession is not thereby excluded. Moreover, representative
institutions may legitimately act, and seek to reflect the views of their constituents, beyond
the scope of already conferred power.

That is a commendably concise and accurate description of the legal position. Of major relevance, it is the legal opinion of the Government of the United Kingdom, as submitted to the International Court of Justice in the Kosovo case. The International Court of Justice endorsed this view, so it is both established law and the opinion of the British Government that the Scottish Government has the right to declare Independence without the agreement or permission of London and completely irrespective of the London Supreme Court.

I have continually explained on this site that the legality of a Declaration of Independence is in no sense determined by the law of the metropolitan state, but is purely a matter of recognition by other countries and thus acceptance into the United Nations. The UK Government set this out plainly in response to a question from a judge in the Kosovo case:

2. As the United Kingdom stated in oral argument, international law contains no
prohibition against declarations of independence as such. 1 Whether a declaration of
independence leads to the creation of a new State by separation or secession depends
not on the fact of the declaration but on subsequent developments, notably recognition
by other States. As a general matter, an act not prohibited by international law needs
no authorization. This position holds with respect to States. It holds also with respect
to acts of individuals or groups, for international law prohibits conduct of non-State
entities only exceptionally and where expressly indicated.

As I have stressed, the SNP should now be making a massive effort to prepare other countries, especially in the EU and in the developing world, to recognise Scotland when the moment comes. There is no task more important. There is a worrying lack of activity in this area. It may currently not be possible to spend government money on sending out envoys for this task, but if personal envoys were endorsed by the First Minister they would get access and could easily be crowd funded by the Independence Movement. I am one of a number of former senior British diplomats who would happily undertake this work without pay. We should be lobbying not just the EU but every country in Africa, Asia and South America.

My preferred route to Independence is this. The Scottish Parliament should immediately legislate for a new Independence referendum. The London Government will attempt to block it. The Scottish Parliament should then convene a National Assembly of all nationally elected Scottish representatives – MSPs, MPs and MEPs. That National Assembly should declare Independence, appeal to other countries for recognition, reach agreements with the rump UK and organise a confirmatory plebiscite. That is legal, democratic and consistent with normal international practice.

There will never be a better time than now for Scotland to become an Independent, normal, nation once again. It is no time for faint hearts or haverers; we must seize the moment.

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Peoples Vote in Danger of Becoming War Criminal Rehabilitation

Regular readers know I have largely steered clear of discussing Brexit for the three years its possibility then prospect has dominated the UK political agenda. I used to be enthusiastically pro-EU, as part of my general outlook of supporting international law and organisations. I was however shocked, deeply, by the enthusiastic support of all three institutional strands – council, commission and parliament – for the appalling Francoist paramilitary violence in Catalonia, and decided that the EU is no longer an institution I can support.

The increasingly illiberal developments of the EU’s Third Pillar – including the abuse of arrest warrant procedure against Julian Assange and the internationalising of “Prevent” style Islamophobia – had already increasingly been worrying me. My reservations about the EU are therefore different to those of many. I particularly bemoan the loss of Freedom of Movement which I believe to have been one of the greatest achievements of civilisation in my lifetime. I remain incensed at the success of the elite in conning the deprived that their poverty is caused by immigrants, whereas it is caused by massive inequality of wealth.

So I am conflicted on Brexit, but on balance would prefer to leave but stay part of the single market, thus retaining freedom of movement. My personal preferences aside, there is plainly a huge majority against leaving the EU in Scotland, so for Scotland to leave the EU at all at present would be wrong. It is my profound hope that the SNP will find the courage shortly to move on towards Independence.

Having a nuanced view on Brexit is not in the least fashionable at the moment, when the media are whipping up a climate of extreme division. It is very plain that Tony Blair and the Blairites see Brexit, and the growing stock of the People’s Vote campaign, as a rehabilitation opportunity for discredited war criminals – war criminals who have to date avoided punishment. That the Blairites succeed in smuggling themselves back into political power via the People’s Vote campaign is the biggest danger in the entire process.

Tony Blair yesterday made a speech on the People’s Vote platform at the Royal Academy, widely reported. Who exactly is running the People’s Vote and why are they giving a platform to Tony Blair? Three days ago it was Margaret Beckett representing the People’s Vote, and on Newsnight last week Peter Mandelson. It is like plunging into a recurring nightmare. Today we have a completely deranged – even by Nick Cohen’s standards – attack on Jeremy Corbyn in the Guardian/Observer, on this issue. And on Marr we had the deeply odious Chuka Umunna.

The major reason that Remain lost the referendum campaign in England and Wales is that the Remain campaign was fronted by the most detested and discredited politicians in the UK: Blair, Brown, Cameron, Clegg, Mandelson, Osborne, and Kinnock and Straw jr. There is nothing these people could propose which would not be rejected out of hand by huge numbers, just at the sight of them.

The question arises, who are “the People’s Vote” and who agreed that Tony Blair speaks for them? My strong belief is that a large majority of the 700,000 who marched through London would regard Blair as a war criminal and be horrified. Plainly, the People’s Vote does not in any sense belong to the People as a campaign but is being controlled by the New Labour war criminal elite, who see it as a chance to redeem their loss of political power.

My disinterested advice to Remain supporters, if they wish to win a second referendum, is for “the People” to wrest control of “the People’s Vote” from the self-appointed war criminal friendly clique currently running it, to ditch the war criminals and to lead with Caroline Lucas. If the People’s Vote is really – as it seems to be – the Blair Bandwagon, it will crash into the buffers of entirely well-merited public distrust.

England and Wales voted for Brexit 53.3% to 46.7%. I do wish Sturgeon would accept – as every genuine believer in Scottish Independence should accept – that the vote in England and Wales is no business of us here in Scotland, and leave the English and Welsh to it. Sturgeon should be working for nothing else but Scottish Independence, which is the way to honour Scotland’s clear vote to Remain.

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British Security Service Infiltration, the Integrity Initiative and the Institute for Statecraft

The British state can maintain its spies’ cover stories for centuries. Look up Eldred Pottinger, who for 180 years appears in scores of British history books – right up to and including William Dalrymple’s Return of the King – as a British officer who chanced to be passing Herat on holiday when it came under siege from a partly Russian-officered Persian army, and helped to organise the defences. In researching Sikunder Burnes, I discovered and published from the British Library incontrovertible and detailed documentary evidence that Pottinger’s entire journey was under the direct instructions of, and reporting to, British spymaster Alexander Burnes. The first historian to publish the untrue “holiday” cover story, Sir John Kaye, knew both Burnes and Pottinger and undoubtedly knew he was publishing lying propaganda. Every other British historian of the First Afghan War (except me and latterly Farrukh Husain) has just followed Kaye’s official propaganda.

Some things don’t change. I was irresistibly reminded of Eldred Pottinger just passing Herat on holiday, when I learnt how highly improbable left wing firebrand Simon Bracey-Lane just happened to be on holiday in the United States with available cash to fund himself, when he stumbled into the Bernie Sanders campaign.

Recent university graduate Simon Bracey-Lane took it even further. Originally from Wimbledon in London, he was inspired to rejoin the Labour party in September when Corbyn was elected leader. But by that point, he was already in the US on holiday. So he joined the Sanders campaign, and never left.
“I had two weeks left and some money left, so I thought, Fuck it, I’ll make some calls for Bernie Sanders,” he explains. “I just sort of knew Des Moines was the place, so I just turned up at their HQ, started making phone calls, and then became a fully fledged field organiser.”

It is, to say the least, very interesting indeed that just a year later the left wing, “Corbyn and Sanders supporting” Bracey-Lane is hosting a very right wing event, “Cold War Then and Now”, for the shadowy neo-con Institute for Statecraft, at which an entirely unbalanced panel of British military, NATO and Ukrainian nationalists extolled the virtues of re-arming against Russia.

Nor would it seem likely that Bracey-Lane would be involved with the Integrity Initiative. Even the mainstream media has been forced to give a few paragraphs to the outrageous Integrity Initiative, under which the MOD-sponsored Institute for Statecraft has been given millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money by the FCO to spread covert disinformation and propaganda, particularly against Russia and the anti-war movement. Activities include twitter and facebook trolling and secretly paying journalists in “clusters of influence” around Europe. Anonymous helpfully leaked the Institute’s internal documents. Some of the Integrity Initiative’s thus exposed alleged covert agents, like David Aaronovitch, have denied any involvement despite their appearance in the documents, and others like Dan Kaszeta the US “novichok expert”, have cheerfully admitted it.

The mainstream media have tracked down the HQ of the “Institute for Statecraft” to a derelict mill near Auchtermuchty. It is owned by one of the company directors, Daniel Lafayeedney, formerly of D Squadron 23rd SAS Regiment and later of Military Intelligence (and incidentally born the rather more prosaic Daniel Edney).

By sleuthing the company records of this “Scottish charity”, and a couple of phone calls, I discovered that the actual location of the Institute for Statecraft is the basement of 2 Temple Place, London. This is not just any basement – it is the basement of the former London mansion of William Waldorf Astor, an astonishing building. It is, in short, possibly the most expensive basement in London.

Which is interesting because the accounts of the Institute for Statecraft claim it has no permanent staff and show nothing for rent, utilities or office expenses. In fact, I understand the rent is paid by the Ministry of Defence.

Having been told where the Institute for Statecraft skulk, I tipped off journalist Kit Klarenberg of Sputnik Radio to go and physically check it out. Kit did so and was aggressively ejected by that well-known Corbyn and Sanders supporter, Simon Bracey-Lane. It does seem somewhat strange that our left wing hero is deeply embedded in an organisation that launches troll attacks on Jeremy Corbyn.

I have a great deal more to tell you about Mr Edney and his organisation next week, and the extraordinary covert disinformation war the British government wages online, attacking British citizens using British taxpayers’ money. Please note in the interim I am not even a smidgeon suicidal, and going to be very, very careful crossing the road and am not intending any walks in the hills.

I am not alleging Mr Bracey-Lane is an intelligence service operative who previously infiltrated the Labour Party and the Sanders campaign. He may just be a young man of unusually heterodox and vacillating political opinions. He may be an undercover reporter for the Canary infiltrating the Institute for Statecraft. All these things are possible, and I have no firm information.

But one of the activities the Integrity Initiative sponsors happens to be the use of online trolls to ridicule the idea that the British security services ever carry out any kind of infiltration, false flag or agent provocateur operations, despite the fact that we even have repeated court judgements against undercover infiltration officers getting female activists pregnant. The Integrity Initiative offers us a glimpse into the very dirty world of surveillance and official disinformation. If we actually had a free media, it would be the biggest story of the day.

As the Establishment feels its grip slipping, as people wake up to the appalling economic exploitation by the few that underlies the very foundations of modern western society, expect the methods used by the security services to become even dirtier. You can bank on continued ramping up of Russophobia to supply “the enemy”. As both Scottish Independence and Jeremy Corbyn are viewed as real threats by the British Establishment, you can anticipate every possible kind of dirty trick in the next couple of years, with increasing frequency and audacity.

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The Supreme Court Judgement and Scotland’s Colonial Status

London’s Supreme Court, sitting in judgement on its Scottish colony, has ruled that parts of the Scottish Government’s UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill exceed the powers of the Scottish Parliament.

The judgement is absolutely specific that the Scottish Bill breaches both the Scotland Act, the original devolution settlement, and the Tory/DUP government’s recent European Union (Withdrawal) Act, which rolled back devolution, grabbed powers from the Scottish Parliament over previously devolved areas and wrenched them back to Westminster. The Tory/DUP European Union (Withdrawal) Act Schedule 4 specified that it overruled the Scotland Act devolution settlement.

If you carefully read the judgement, especially paras 47 to 65, the Supreme Court has gone still further than ever before in saying that neither the Scotland Act nor the Sewell Convention in any way limits the power of the UK Parliament to legislate for Scotland, even in devolved areas, without any need for consent from Scottish ministers or parliament. They even go so far as to specifically state that London ministers have an untrammelled power under the Scotland Act, without needing consent from Scotland or specific further endorsement from the Westminster parliament, to impose secondary legislation on Scotland.

It is a long judgement but its heart is at para 53:

That conclusion is not altered by the other arguments advanced by the Lord Advocate. In relation to the first argument (para 47 above), a provision which made the effect of laws made by the UK Parliament for Scotland conditional on the consent of the Scottish Ministers, unless it disapplied or repealed the provision in question, would for that very reason be inconsistent with the continued recognition of its unqualified sovereignty, and therefore tantamount to an amendment of section 28(7) of the Scotland Act. In relation to the second argument (para 48 above), the question before the court is whether, if the Bill were to receive Royal Assent, section 17 would be law. If not, there would be no question of its having to be disapplied or repealed by the UK Parliament: it would be of no legal effect whatsoever (“not law”, in terms of section 29(1) of the Scotland Act). It is therefore no answer to an argument that section 17 of the Bill would be outside legislative competence, to say that it could be disapplied or repealed. In relation to the third argument (para 49 above), this submission resembles the Lord Advocate’s first argument, and for similar reasons we are unable to accept it. A provision which imposes a condition on the legal effect of laws made by the UK Parliament, in so far as they apply to Scotland, is in conflict with the continuation of its sovereign power to make laws for Scotland, and is therefore equivalent to the amendment of section 28(7) of the Scotland Act.

Having asserted that the London Parliament and Government can do anything to Scotland it wishes under its “sovereign power to make laws for Scotland”, the judgement logically asserts that the power grab contained in the EU (Withdrawal) Act was perfectly legal. As the Supreme Court said in its published explainer for the media:

What is the effect of the UK Withdrawal Act on the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament in relation to the Scottish Bill? The UK Withdrawal Act is not a reserved matter but it is protected against modification under Schedule 4 [99]. Several provisions of the Scottish Bill in whole or in part amount to modifications of the UK Withdrawal Act. These are: section 2(2) [101]; section 5 [102]; section 7(2)(b) and 7(3) [103-104]; section 8(2) [105]; section 9A [106]; section 9B [107]; section 10(2), 10(3)(a) and 10(4)(a) [108-110]; section 11 [111-113]; section 13B, section 14, section 14A, section 15, section 16, section 19(1) and section 22 (to the extent that these provisions relate to section 11) [114-118, 120-121]; section 26A(6) [122]; and section 33 and Schedule 1 paragraphs 11(a) and 16 [123-124].

The judgement is as expected and reaffirms Scotland’s colonial status and the London view that the Scotland Act did not recognise any inherent Scottish rights, but rather graciously handed down from above some powers that London may change at a whim, exactly as though Scotland were an English County Council.

Given all this, the part of the judgement which states that it was not in itself outside the competence of the Scottish Parliament to pass a bill which relates solely to the domestic effects of EU withdrawal, is a very small victory indeed – and utterly irrelevant in the wider scheme of things.

Anybody in the SNP today touting this judgement as a victory, has either not read it, or is worryingly comfortable with vassal status inside the UK Establishment.

Devolution is not just a sop, it is a trap. It is a device by which the SNP has its energies sapped dry in a Herculean effort to maintain Scottish services and public welfare while being perpetually undercut by Tory austerity. The Scottish government are trying to defend the Scottish people with both hands tied behind their backs, while a unified Tory media attacks them relentlessly for every public service failure in Scotland, as though the Tories were not the cause.

Not only was the Vow of increased powers for the Scottish Parliament, which turned the tide of the 2014 referendum on Independence, an abject lie; what the Supreme Court has affirmed is that the English Tories and Northern Irish unionists can strip powers from the Scottish Parliament at will.

What the Supreme Court have done today is to provide crystal clarity that Scotland has but two choices; complete subservience to Tory England or Independence. All else is fiction.

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Theresa May’s Britain

I have only ever been able to discern two underlying motivations in Theresa May’s career; a love of office and a hatred of immigrants. It is possible to love office without loving power; loving power means you want to do something with it, whereas loving office is just for prestige and personal economic opportunity. I do not imagine May’s hatred of immigrants is driven by actual racism, easy though it is to read that into her hostile environment, go home van, end free movement, career. It is rather that the incredibly successful Tory narrative remains the false attribution of working class poverty to immigration, rather than its actual cause, massive inequality and an entire legal structure and system of government geared to promoting the interests of the super wealthy.

I do not understand the notion that we have a constitutional crisis. The solution seems self-evident. England and Wales voted to leave the EU, by a large margin if you take those two countries, which share a legal system, alone. Let them leave the EU. Scotland voted by a still larger majority to remain in the EU. Let it become Independent, remain in the EU, and not need to thwart the will of the English and Welsh to leave. And let Ireland forget its bigots and be a united country.

Constitutional crisis over. Indeed, that there is no other viable solution, and the UK is no longer a viable political unit, I can guarantee you will be universally recognised by the year 2030 as having been a self-evident truth. The actual dissolution of the UK will come ten years before that.

The BBC TV News was hyping the success of the British economy under Theresa May a couple of days ago on the basis of figures from the Office of National Statistics showing that the economic inactivity rate had fallen to 21%, the lowest since records began. But that needs to be considered alongside the fact that purchasing power of average wages is still below where it was ten years ago, and a huge swathe of the population is in insecure, part time and low paid employment.

The decline of leisure is not something to be celebrated. The shrinking of the “economically inactive” figure to 21% means that many pensioners are forced to keep on working because they cannot make ends meet on the developed world’s most miserly pensions, that parents of young children are forced both to stay in jobs rather than provide all the love, protection and affection they may wish. Every time Theresa May is questioned on the heartless fiasco of universal credit, she states its aim is to “get people back into work”, by which she means choose between starvation and vicious drudgery; with no rights, no prospects and low paid hours handed down as a favour.

Whether or not May stays as head of the Tory government, or is replaced by some other heartless Tory bastard, I really do not care. I have not been blogging much recently, in sheer exasperation at the enormity of societal injustice and the utter irrelevance of the available political system. But I guess we have to get back to chipping away at the marble facade of power with our tiny social media picks. One day it will fall.

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Nationalisation Without Compensation

When slavery was abolished in the British Empire, taxpayers paid huge sums in compensation to slave owners for the loss of their “property”. No compensation was ever paid to the slaves for the loss of their freedom.

The problem with that approach is, of course, that the state did not take into account that the “property” of which it was relieving the landowners was acquired as part of an inhuman and immoral situation.

I was considering the same question in relation to the constitutional moves of South Africa to redistribute land without compensation. It seems to me this is plainly morally justified. The only question marks I can see are of practicality, in terms of making sure those taking over the land are trained to keep it properly in production, and that redistribution is not corrupt. Those are not insuperable problems, and I support the South African government in its endeavours.

But I wish to apply the same principle, of the state acting to right historic injustice on behalf of the people, much more widely and in the UK.

I apply precisely the same argument to the great landed estates, particularly but not only in Scotland. I believe the fundamental answer to land reform is confiscation by the state of large estates, and that social justice can never be redressed by the taxpayer simply handing over money to the ultra-wealthy. We have already been doing far too much of that through the bankers’ bailouts.

I have no moral qualms at all about simply taking back the land, whether it be from the Dukes of Sutherland, Buccleuch and Atholl, from a Dutch businessman or from a sheikh. In England the Grosvenor estate, the lands of the Duchy of Cornwall, and similar holdings could be confiscated. I do not see this as harm to the “owners”. Let them work for a living, or try their luck with the benefits claim system. Residential properties in large estates might become council homes, while tenants of commercial properties might pay rents to the council rather than to the Duke of Westminster, and the council use a large portion of that money for homebuilding.

Agricultural land from vast estates might perhaps best be given to the tenant farmers who have rented it. In the Highland glens, there are vast tracts which were once cattle rearing and arable. We have been lied to for generations that these are only fit for moorland for grouse and deer hunting – despite the fact that they are studded with the croft foundations of the cleared populations they once supported, who reared cattle and grew crops. These unfarmed lands should be given free to communities to develop; with assistance for the expensive task of bringing them back into production. That assistance would be a better use of state money than paying “compensation” to the ultra-wealthy.

But it is not only land. I favour nationalisation without compensation of all PFI projects, and of all railways and utilities. The owners have milked the public and the taxpayer far too long. Any business investment carries risk, including political risk. If you misjudge the political risk, your business fails. These businesses have made a misjudgement of political risk in the view they could profiteer, that it is possible to rip off the people forever without blowback. That is a business miscalculation, and such businesses deserve to fail.

The Labour Party’s renationalisation proposals have been carefully calculated within the existing framework of “legitimate” property rights. Therefore John McDonnell has framed rail nationalisation in terms of the expiration of franchises, and talked of PFI projects in terms of buyouts. I reject this approach in favour of the more radical approach of confiscation.

Yes, I realise that some percentage of the investments removed will belong to pension funds and insurance companies and even foreign states, and to small investors. Still more will belong to hedge funds and plutocrats, and the stake of ordinary people in wealth through pension funds had been – deliberately – tumbling for two decades. The less wealthy individuals with a stake in pension funds will lose a little, but gain from the wider public good, and for them there might be a compensation mechanism.

I also realise the markets will not like confiscation, and there will be an increase in bond yields; but this will pass. There is no measure to redress social injustice the markets will like. The City of London is our enemy and will naturally attempt to resist or punish any attack on its continued ability to be the conduit for the hoovering dry of the national wealth.

The fact is, that the extreme injustice and inequalities of society have now become so very glaring that there is no way to make any impression on wealth disparity without changes that may be rightly considered revolutionary. Either we are content to live in a society where the wealthiest one per cent will within two decades own ninety per cent of all wealth in the UK and the rest of us be helots, or we make changes to the fabric of the economy and government which are truly radical.

The economic system has tilted beyond correction by tinkering.

What is immorally owned ought not to be compensated on expropriation by the community.

As with the owners of slaves, the owners of “property” would be likely to attempt to defend their riches through the courts. This is where the doctrine of the sovereignty of parliament might for once be put to good rather than evil use, in passing law making such state confiscation unequivocally legal. Both the UK and Scotland appear set for at least a period outside the EU; I cannot think of a better use for any window of legal autonomy.

I am fully aware that I am proposing very radical measures very unlikely to be adopted by the current political Establishment. But the most telling fact of recent western society, itself a natural and predictable result of that galloping wealth inequality, is that the political Establishment has its coat on a very shoogly peg.

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Azov Again

Yet again, the Guardian’s Hillary cult irrationalism leads it to a wrong analysis, this time in relation to Russian actions at the Kerch strait.

To quote the Guardian:

Russian forces seized the vessels and their crew and Moscow’s refusal to return them was the reason Donald Trump offered for his decision to cancel a bilateral meeting with Putin, which had been planned for Friday morning.

As Russian actions in the Sea of Azov had been known for days, there was speculation in Washington that the real reason for the change of mind was the court appearance of Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, on Thursday in which he pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the extent and duration of negotiations with the Kremlin about a possible Trump hotel in Moscow, continuing up to July 2016, at the height of the presidential election campaign.

This is a deliberate misreading of the situation, and actually Trump’s actions have been correct and no doubt guided by the State Department’s maritime law experts.

As explained in my last post, under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea the Ukrainian navy, and any other vessel, has an absolute right of innocent passage to the Ukrainian coast through the Kerch Straits and the Sea of Azov. They do however have an obligation to comply with sea lanes and notification regimes established for reasons of navigational safety.

It appears Ukraine may not have observed the navigational safety regulations, so Russia had a right to take proportionate action for enforcement. The Russian action was a bit heavy handed, but probably did not stray over the proportionate boundary.

However Russia did not have a right to detain the vessels or the crews, other than briefly. This is specifically not allowed. So at some point in Russia’s continued detention of the vessels and crews, Russia’s actions switched from legal to illegal. The timing of Trump’s decision to cancel the Putin meeting makes perfect sense in terms of the stage at which Russia went from being in the right in the incident, to being in the wrong. In taking prisoners to Moscow Russia is very, very definitely in the wrong.

The situation is complicated by their being military personnel. Russia has to make a decision. If the claim is this was not innocent passage and the Ukrainians planned to attack the bridge, there is no legal option to treat that as terrorism. These were military ships and that would be war. Russia has either to accept that this was not an attack, or accept that it is in a state of war with Ukraine. You can’t treat military personnel from military vessels as terrorists. And Russia very definitely acted illegally in parading foreign military personnel to make statements on TV.

As expected, my last posting brought howls of protest from those of limited intellect who style themselves radicals, and who essentially take the view the Russians are the goodies and the Ukrainians the baddies, and therefore Russian actions must be legal. All of their arguments were intellectually abysmal.

The rule of international law is a very tenuous concept. It has great achievements, but has never been more under attack. There are proponents of the USA and UK, of Russia, of China, who plainly prefer a might is right approach. The hypocrisies are sickening. For example, there is no significant difference in the legal justification nor in the method of achievement between the realisation of “self-determination” in Kosovo and Crimea. Yet the people who believe the West wear the white hats will argue that Kosovo was legal and Crimea illegal, and those who believe the Russians wear the white hats will argue that Crimea was legal and Kosovo illegal. It is a sorry task to try to argue for impartial rule of law in these circumstances, as the partisan idiots will prove in comments below almost immediately.

With the secession of Kosovo and Crimea, I take the view that both were illegal, though I can see a respectable argument that both were legal. That one was legal (either one) and the other not, I can see no sensible argument whatsoever.

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The Murky Sea of Azov

Prima facie, it is Russia which is acting illegally in the Kerch Strait. As I wrote when it was the Russians who were being harassed in the English Channel:

Contrary to Article 44 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, to which the UK and Russia are both party, the UK has engaged in extensive illegal harassment of a Russian naval submarine engaged in fully lawful transit of the Dover Strait.

A Russian naval vessel en route between the Baltic and Black Seas is fully and specifically entitled under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea Articles 37 and 38 to the right of passage through the strait. This is in addition to the general right of passage through the territorial sea at Article 17. The Russian navy was in full compliance with the provision at Article 20 that, while in territorial waters, the submarine must be on the surface and displaying its flag, and in compliance with Articles 29 to 32 on warships.

Not only does the Russian Navy have every right to sail through the Dover strait on passage, it has been exercising that right – along with many other navies – for over a hundred years. The decision of the British government now to employ military harassment and threat is not only illegal, it is a gross and entirely deliberate act of provocation designed to sour international relations and disturb the atmosphere of world peace.

The author of this article, Craig Murray is a former Head of the Maritime Section of the United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and former Alternate Head of the United Kingdom Delegation to the United Nations Preparatory Commission on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. He is a retired British Ambassador.

Russia is very definitely acting illegally in putting military personnel of another state on television to make statements, whether coerced or not (personally I found them precisely as believable – no more and no less – as Yulia Skripal’s strained statement to British TV).

Please note that Ukrainian ships have the right of innocent passage through the Kerch Strait irrespective of whether the Crimean side is viewed as Ukrainian or Russian. The coastal state does have the right to make arrangements for maritime safety which may include designating sea lanes and a notification regime akin to air traffic control. If Ukraine violated these provisions, (which seems probable), Russia had a right to take enforcement action. But that enforcement action specifically does not extend to substantive detention of vessels and crew.

The situation changes if Russia genuinely has evidence that the military vessels were engaged in a military attack. But it only changes, and the civilian rules only cease to apply, if one side or the other acknowledges that a state of war now exits. Ukraine came close to this
by demanding that its servicemen be treated as prisoners of war. There is no option to treat uniformed military personnel of another state as terrorists. But if Russia does not acknowledge a state of war, it has to let them go. Russia is certainly not entitled to impose a wider blockade of the strait to shipping to or from Ukraine – any more than Israel is entitled to blockade Gaza.

Given that Russia appears on the face of it to be very much in the wrong, the western powers have been remarkably quiet. I suspect this indicates knowledge that Poroshenko was indeed engaged in some sort of stupid stunt. In which case the Russians have played into his hands by a disproportionate reaction. Poroshenko’s own action in declaring martial law is of course also wildly disproportionate. My sense is that we have here two Presidents each with slipping popularity ratings, deliberately escalating a crisis as it suits each domestically. Such playing with fire is wildly irresponsible, far too many people have died in Ukraine already.

I expect the usual howls of protest from people for whom the application of impartial international law is anathema, who believe you must be on the side of the “goodies” against the “baddies”. I am aware that rationality and impartiality are not much valued in political discourse nowadays. I shall however stick to them with stoic resolve.

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