Nationalisation Without Compensation 1047

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 304

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 618

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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Grouse Beater 142

I have signed the below Open Letter against the expulsion from the SNP of the long term blogger Gareth Wardell, known as Grouse Beater.

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE SNP AND THE WIDER SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE MOVEMENT

In writing this joint statement we, the undersigned – bloggers and other influencers in the campaign for Scottish independence, affirm our commitment to independence and to the unity of the independence movement in its entirety. It is not our aim to cause discord or to encourage members of the SNP to cancel their memberships. We hope only to raise our concerns and to ask that the Disciplinary Committee and the leadership of the SNP reconsider their decision, and we hope sincerely that the contents of this letter will be taken seriously and in the spirit in which they are intended. Yesterday the decision was made by the Disciplinary Committee of the Scottish National Party to rescind the party membership of Gareth Wardell, the well-known and much respected author of The Grouse Beater blog.

This decision was made as a result of an article he published addressing the issue of the GMB, a London-based trade union, acting in Scotland to deny people their democratic rights. Owing to the author’s reference in the blog to the Nazis’ attitude to trade unions in the 1930s and 40s and his quotation of the term “the Jew” – in the context of citing Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf – the leadership of the GMB union accused him of making an antisemitic attack on Ms Rhea Wolfson, who, unbeknownst to Mr Wardell at the time of writing, is herself Jewish.

We agree without reservation that antisemitism and all forms of racism, prejudice, and discrimination are always wrong. The campaign for Scottish independence is an open and inclusive social and political movement which welcomes the participation and activism of everyone who believes independence is the best option for the future of our country. However, after much discussion and careful consideration, we do not accept Mr Wardell’s contribution was indeed anti-Semitic or racist or discriminatory in the least. It is our firm belief that his words were deliberately and opportunistically taken out of context and weaponised against him and the entire movement in a concerted attack by the union, members of the Scottish Labour Party – to which the GMB is affiliated, and elements of the anti-independence tabloid press.

Frustratingly, this unjustified accusation was taken up by and supported by a number of high-profile people in the SNP – most notably Ms Fiona Robertson the SNP’s national women’s and equalities convener. In an article published on her own blog titled: Holding Ourselves to Our Own Standards, she made the claim that “most people… are not people who have enough background experience of anti-Semitism to make that judgement.” Yet she herself, without any qualifications in racism or antisemitism in particular, is – apparently. Misquoting and wholly misrepresenting Gareth Wardell, Ms Robertson went on in her piece to offer a somewhat problematic definition of antisemitism and from this establish her case that Mr Wardell was sending out a “dogwhistle” to anti-Semites and racists: The explanation is as follows:

if you are writing about a union leader who is Jewish, bringing up Hitler’s view on unions – that they were dangerous because Jewish people controlled them – and then specifically talking about the Jewish union leader implies a link. Otherwise there is no reason whatsoever to start quoting Hitler. It essentially says ‘Hitler believed that Jewish people controlling unions was bad, and this person is Jewish and is controlling a union in a way I don’t like.’ The link between those two dots is ‘so maybe he had a point’.

“Bringing up Hitler’s view on unions,” even when speaking to a Jewish person, is not in and of itself anti-Semitic. This is at best a tenuous grasp. Gareth Wardell at no point claimed unions were dangerous “because Jewish people controlled them.” This much is a serious misrepresentation of the point he was making. On this Mr Wardell was clear; that this was Hitler’s view, and that the Nazis used this pernicious belief in order to undermine and attack trade unions – which Mr Wardell describes as one of the “cornerstones of democracy.” Ms Robertson concludes this argument by suggesting that Mr Wardell’s conclusion is that “maybe [Hitler] had a point.”

This assessment, sadly, suggests only one of two things; either Ms Robertson has failed to understand the article she is critiquing, or malicious intent. The Grouse Beater article implies no such thing. It is reasonable to conclude, given the position of Fiona Robertson in the SNP, that her opinion has become the uncritically accepted opinion of the party’s leadership and has therefore informed the judgement of the Disciplinary Committee and its decision to expel Gareth Wardell from the party. We, the undersigned, hold that both this judgement and the decision to cancel Mr Wardell’s membership of the party are unwarranted and utterly unacceptable. This decision undermines freedom of expression within the party and the movement, and seriously damages the trust that we depend on, that the party will not dispose of us in order to satisfy a perceived need in the political leadership of the movement to appear above reproach.

Signed (28 November 2018):

Barrhead Boy
Craig Murray
David Hooks (PoliticsScot)
Gareth Wardell (Grouse Beater)
Jason Michael (Jeggit)
MacAlba
Mr Malky
Tommy Sheridan
Tradasro
WeeDetour

I can see no room in the article to doubt that Gareth – with whom I have fairly regular disagreements – was quoting Hitler’s views on Jews and the Unions not in approval, but plainly as a bad thing and a terrible warning from history. I cannot say that his article was elegantly written or especially well expressed, and it is unclear why he decided to bring Hitler into the argument at all.

But it is only in the prevailing atmosphere of witch-hunt that a man with no history of racism or fascist thought, would be condemned over a single instance of muddle, which has to be construed in the worst possible manner to be ajudged anti-semitic. It is the eagerness of the SNP leadership to participate in this witch-hunt, against an ordinary member, which is to me a matter of the deepest concern.

This is particularly serious in the light of numerous mainstream media articles which repeat the quote from Hitler with the clear, and entirely unjustified, inference that Gareth was quoting Hitler with approval. The SNP should not seek mainstream media approval at the expense of supporting one of the worst of all slurs against one of its own grassroots members.

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Assange Never Met Manafort. Luke Harding and the Guardian Publish Still More Blatant MI6 Lies 292

The right wing Ecuadorean government of President Moreno continues to churn out its production line of fake documents regarding Julian Assange, and channel them straight to MI6 mouthpiece Luke Harding of the Guardian.

Amazingly, more Ecuadorean Government documents have just been discovered for the Guardian, this time spy agency reports detailing visits of Paul Manafort and unspecified “Russians” to the Embassy. By a wonderful coincidence of timing, this is the day after Mueller announced that Manafort’s plea deal was over.

The problem with this latest fabrication is that Moreno had already released the visitor logs to the Mueller inquiry. Neither Manafort nor these “Russians” are in the visitor logs.

This is impossible. The visitor logs were not kept by Wikileaks, but by the very strict Ecuadorean security. Nobody was ever admitted without being entered in the logs. The procedure was very thorough. To go in, you had to submit your passport (no other type of document was accepted). A copy of your passport was taken and the passport details entered into the log. Your passport, along with your mobile phone and any other electronic equipment, was retained until you left, along with your bag and coat. I feature in the logs every time I visited.

There were no exceptions. For an exception to be made for Manafort and the “Russians” would have had to be a decision of the Government of Ecuador, not of Wikileaks, and that would be so exceptional the reason for it would surely have been noted in the now leaked supposed Ecuadorean “intelligence report” of the visits. What possible motive would the Ecuadorean government have for facilitating secret unrecorded visits by Paul Manafort? Furthermore it is impossible that the intelligence agency – who were in charge of the security – would not know the identity of these alleged “Russians”.

Previously Harding and the Guardian have published documents faked by the Moreno government regarding a diplomatic appointment to Russia for Assange of which he had no knowledge. Now they follow this up with more documents aimed to provide fictitious evidence to bolster Mueller’s pathetically failed attempt to substantiate the story that Russia deprived Hillary of the Presidency.

My friend William Binney, probably the world’s greatest expert on electronic surveillance, former Technical Director of the NSA, has stated that it is impossible the DNC servers were hacked, the technical evidence shows it was a download to a directly connected memory stick. I knew the US security services were conducting a fake investigation the moment it became clear that the FBI did not even themselves look at the DNC servers, instead accepting a report from the Clinton linked DNC “security consultants” Crowdstrike.

I would love to believe that the fact Julian has never met Manafort is bound to be established. But I fear that state control of propaganda may be such that this massive “Big Lie” will come to enter public consciousness in the same way as the non-existent Russian hack of the DNC servers.

Assange never met Manafort. The DNC emails were downloaded by an insider. Assange never even considered fleeing to Russia. Those are the facts, and I am in a position to give you a personal assurance of them.

I can also assure you that Luke Harding, the Guardian, Washington Post and New York Times have been publishing a stream of deliberate lies, in collusion with the security services.

I am not a fan of Donald Trump. But to see the partisans of the defeated candidate (and a particularly obnoxious defeated candidate) manipulate the security services and the media to create an entirely false public perception, in order to attempt to overturn the result of the US Presidential election, is the most astonishing thing I have witnessed in my lifetime.

Plainly the government of Ecuador is releasing lies about Assange to curry favour with the security establishment of the USA and UK, and to damage Assange’s support prior to expelling him from the Embassy. He will then be extradited from London to the USA on charges of espionage.

Assange is not a whistleblower or a spy – he is the greatest publisher of his age, and has done more to bring the crimes of governments to light than the mainstream media will ever be motivated to achieve. That supposedly great newspaper titles like the Guardian, New York Times and Washington Post are involved in the spreading of lies to damage Assange, and are seeking his imprisonment for publishing state secrets, is clear evidence that the idea of the “liberal media” no longer exists in the new plutocratic age. The press are not on the side of the people, they are an instrument of elite control.

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Officers and Agents

I explain this in detail about every three years, but it is plain from my twitter stream today I have made no significant inroads into public consciousness.

MI6 officers, when operating abroad, do so 99% of the time disguised as British diplomats. They serve three or four year postings like other Embassy staff and will have a “cover job” doing something else in the Embassy. Back home in the UK their “cover job” is working in the FCO.

A proportion of them will be “declared” to their host country, including the Head of Station, and operate in liaison with the host intelligence services. A portion will be “undeclared” and spy on the hosts themselves or on others in territory without the hosts’ knowledge.

Those are MI6 officers, British career spies. The great advantage of the Embassy cover is that they have diplomatic immunity and when they mess up and get caught, they are simply expelled.

“Agents” are not “officers”. In MI6 terminology “agent” is another word for “informant”. The fictional James Bond is not in fact a “secret agent”. He is an officer.

Agents are usually nationals of the host country, but not always. They are “recruited” and “run” by MI6 officers. Motives vary but in the large majority of cases agents provide information for cash. British people who provide information to the Embassy from motives of patriotism will usually do so to a normal diplomat and not to MI6, but British people can be recruited as agents for MI6, in situations where the information being provided is in some sense deeply secret.

Agents of course run far greater risks than the actual MI6 officers and do not have diplomatic immunity.

Matthew Hedges is not an MI6 officer. His research would be of interest to the UK authorities, and it is not impossible MI6 were running him as an agent, but it is much more likely he would simply be cultivated by a normal member of Embassy staff, if at all, or by the FCO in London.

I am obliged to say that Jeremy Hunt has done very well in the Matthew Hedges case. He has been prepared to take individual injustice for a British person much more robustly than we have generally seen from British ministers. I quite accept this is British exceptionalism and that Palmerstonian “Cives Romanus Sum” stuff is safe ground for a Tory minister. I do realise that Hunt is not exactly forthcoming about the human rights of jailed non-British activists and opposition figures in the UAE and elsewhere. But nonetheless Hunt has been unusually robust and done well in this instance.

I compare this to Jack Straw’s utterly disgraceful behaviour in the case of Sandy Mitchell and two companions fitted up by the Saudis over a terrorist bombing 20 years ago. Straw took the opposite view to Hunt and, in the interest of Saudi/British relations, made virtually no protest even though the men suffered dreadful physical tortures in prison.

Incredibly, when after release the victims sought to sue Saudi Arabia for compensation for the torture, through the British legal system, the New Labour government actually intervened in the court case – on behalf of Saudi Arabia.

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Syria: A Moment to Reflect

The death of Raed Fares in Syria reminds us that there was a moment in Syria when protest was led by secular democrats keen to see the end of decades of one family rule. That he was killed by the Islamist rebels the West is now actively supporting – and the fact that all the western news reports have sought to elide that fact – is sign of how horribly it has all gone wrong.

The assault on Hodeidah appears finally to have focused some Western leaders on the appalling horrors of the bombing of civilians in Yemen by the Saudi/UAE led coalition. Hodeidah is abhorrent not just because of the direct effect of the assault, but because the aim is to close the port which is the only supply route standing between further millions and death by starvation. When you add to Hodeidah the hideous killing of Khashoggi and the dreadful imprisonment of the unfortunate Matthew Hedges by Saudi satellite the UAE, and you realise that all of these deaths and injustices including that of Raed Fares are orchestrated by the same people, you would hope the pause to reflect would be general.

Trump/MBS/Netanyahu is the real axis of evil today. In Syria and Yemen the West has abandoned all belief in human rights and in basic decency, in favour of promoting a crazed Sunni jihadist agenda against Iran. The effects are so perverse, that we reached a stage where the continuation of the Assad regime is the best outcome that can be hoped for short term in Syria because the alternative is now al-Nusra. Western foreign policy in the Middle East has long been both illegal and morally indefensible; it has now also become extremely stupid.

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Know Your Limits

The English and Welsh voted to leave the EU. They are entitled to leave the EU, and it is not the job of the leader of the Scottish National Party to frustrate their intention, or even try to influence the terms on which the English and Welsh leave the EU. Just as it is not the job of the Scottish National Party to stop Westminster having the Tory governments the English people inexplicably keep voting for.

It is the job of the leader of the Scottish National Party to secure Independence for Scotland, and to ensure that the vote of the Scottish people, to remain within the EU, is respected. I am therefore entirely unconvinced that for Nicola Sturgeon to try to play a role as the darling of the Remainer population of England is of any use to the people of Scotland. And the truth is that knowing the very last detail of the eventual Brexit outcome, of which we know the essential outlines, will have virtually no effect on the prospects of an Independent Scotland.

Now is the moment of maximum chaos; whatever eventually emerges between London and Brussels will work without immediate catastrophic effects. People will not starve and run out of medicine, in the real world. The UK will continue to be a Tory hell with some changes of arrangements. Scotland should not be in Tory Hell, whatever Tory Hell’s relationship with the EU.

I am here considering Brexit only as it affects Independence.

If Independence is actually Sturgeon’s overriding aim, the only logical analysis on her part which I can see, that explains her constant haver on Indy, is that Brexit will be so immediately catastrophic as to have Scots clamouring for Independence as an alternative.

But that is a miscalculation. I am confident the dislocation effects of Brexit will not be as immediately harsh as doom-mongers predict. Plus if the outcome were immediately harsh, Scottish Unionists are far more likely to don tin helmets and rally round the Union Jack while blaming Johnny Foreigner, than they are to convert to Independence on the grounds the UK is having a hard time.

There are of course other options. The UK may not leave the EU at all – which would do nothing to advance the cause of Scottish Independence. There may be a general election which could bring Labour into power – that would on balance reduce the desire for Independence in Scotland.

The truth is, that the delay in pushing for Scottish Independence is not predicated on increasing the chances of attaining Independence. It is based on attempting to secure for the United Kingdom what is best for the people of the United Kingdom. It is an essentially unionist position.

This is Sturgeon’s dilemma. She sees a UK in which the tragedy of the Remain camp is that its leadership is utterly discredited. Blair, Campbell, Umunna, Clegg, Mandelson, Straw; the only people articulating a Remain position have no credibility. They are all people who turn the nation’s stomach when they show up on Marr. That leaves a huge leadership vacuum which Sturgeon is filling in Remainer eyes, and in Guardian/BBC eyes. A Remain minded leader who is not personally hated. A very rare thing indeed.

Who else do the Remain camp have as a leading politician who is not discredited and deeply unpopular? Serious question, please do attempt an answer.

That is a massive temptation to a politician to step forward and take the glory. If Sturgeon appears far more interested in Brexit and in Remain than in Scottish Independence that is, on a human level, very understandable. If it leads to the great opportunity for Scottish Independence being passed over while in pursuit of UK/EU relations and fawning headlines in the Guardian, that would be nonetheless unforgivable.

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Our Falkirk Moment

The largest battle of the Jacobite 45 was not Culloden and not Prestonpans but Falkirk. On 17 January 1746, amidst a howling winter storm, an 8,000 strong Jacobite army routed a similar sized Hanoverian force under Lieutenant General Hawley, which had been marching to the relief of Stirling Castle. By every conventional measure it was a Jacobite victory. They held the battlefield while the Hanoverians retreated pell-mell to Edinburgh, they captured the Hanoverian artillery and baggage, Hanoverian casualties were higher by about four to one. Yet the history books tend to call it a draw.

The Hanoverian force broken at Falkirk formed 80% of the victorious force at Culloden a few months later. Falkirk was decisive because, had the Jacobites chased Hawley’s force as it retreated to Edinburgh in great disorder and with shattered morale, it could have been destroyed. This did not happen, for a variety of reasons. The most important was that Charles Stuart thought it prudent to get all his ducks in the row by capturing Stirling Castle first. The second was that Charles had failed to appoint an overall commander or a commander of the left wing, and spent the actual battle with his senior staff indoors around a fire staying out of the storm, while George Murray, fighting on foot, led the right wing of MacDonalds and Athollmen to victory.

You will gather that the research for my biography of George Murray continues. But unless you are particularly slow today, you will gather that I see a lesson here for the Yes Movement.

This is our Falkirk moment. Both the Tories and Labour are riven by internal dissent over Brexit. The UK is in palpable political chaos, and the prospect of remaining tied to Westminster has never been less appealing. It is not the job of the SNP to “save the UK from a bad Brexit”. It is the job of the SNP to win Scottish Independence, after which Scotland can decide itself on whether it wants to be in the EU or not (and the fact is that when last asked it very much did).

I fumed when the SNP fought the last Westminster election on a “don’t mention Independence” platform, and deservedly lost MPs as a result. I fumed still more when I was not allowed to hold a fringe meeting on Indyref2 at the SNP conference, and the subject was rigorously excluded from the motions before the Conference itself. Now that Nicola Sturgeon is daily putting further and further excuses forward for not moving on Independence, I am inclined to fear that the comfortable fire around which Charles Stuart warmed himself during the Battle of Falkirk, is an apt analogy for the position of the SNP Establishment, who are doing very nicely, thank you, out of their position within the UK, and show no inclination whatsoever to stop warming their toes at the Establishment hearth and move out into the storm and bullets.

I have no more claim to be a strategic genius than the next man. But when I see my sworn opponents, disoriented, in disarray, and fighting fiercely amongst themselves, I cannot help but feel that now is the time to attack them.

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For Once, Theresa May is Very Accurate

Theresa May today chose to compare herself with Geoffrey Boycott. For once, she was being very accurate, especially when it comes to relationships with her own team. Boycott’s players hated him so much during his captaincy they actually ran him out on purpose during a test match.

http://www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/604169.html

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Goodbye, and Thanks for all the Fish

It is rather disconcerting to be watching the UK continue its disintegration in such spectacular fashion, from as far away as Ghana. I wonder whether events appear quite so ridiculous close up.

It surprises me that, in all the discussion and analysis of the withdrawal agreement, there has been so little analysis of the much more important conjoined Political Declaration, which is about the UK’s prospective relationships once the divorce is over. It particularly surprises me that so very little has been said about fish.

It is very unfortunate for British, and especially Scottish, fishermen that their political leaders are strange right wing bigots of a particularly repellent stamp. This blinds decent people to the truth that the fishing communities of the UK did suffer a dreadful historic injustice, on the same scale as Thatcher’s assault on the miners.

It is seldom remembered now that the UK’s initial entry to the European Communities was achieved against a background of traditional hostility from European states, especially France. Ted Heath’s government decided that the economic benefits of joining the Common Market were so huge, it was for the greater good to sacrifice the fishing community.

As a former Head of the FCO’s Maritime Section, I have an intimate and inside knowledge of the subject. The UK had always opposed the adoption in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea of the 200 mile exclusive economic zone for fisheries, on the grounds that as (then) a maritime nation, freedom of the seas was an overriding priority. Hence the (lost) cod war with Iceland. The UK had therefore never adopted an exclusive 200 mile fishing zone. European Community members states had adopted EEZ’s in 1970.

As part of the political deal behind the UK’s accession to the Common Market, the UK agreed it would adopt an EEZ (called at fist an EFZ), and gift most of the fish within it to the fishing fleets of other member states. As the UK has by far the richest fishing waters in the EU, (most of them Scottish), there is no doubt that the UK got a terrible deal on fisheries, and saw this as a worthwhile trade-off for other benefits. The fishermen were betrayed “for the greater good” in an bit of realpolitik. That is simply true. It is one of the factors behind the terrible decay in coastal communities.

The Common Fisheries Policy is often compared to the Common Agricultural Policy. In fact the two work in completely different ways. The Common Agricultural Policy is at heart a system of taxpayer subsidy to farmers to negate the perverse incentive that, due to demand inflexibility for staple crops, in years of shortage a farmer can make far more money than in a good harvest year, as prices shoot up so quickly.

The Common Fisheries Policy at base is totally different. It pools the physical resources of member states. If the CAP worked the same way, then British farmers would be entitled to take some of the grapes of Champagne or the oranges of Seville. And the UK gives vastly more than it gets in the CFP. Scotland above all.

So the fishermen may lack articulate, credible or even respectable leadership, but they are in fact perfectly correct. The political and media elite has never given them a fair hearing, because the perceived gains to everybody else of single market membership were so huge. Like many of the Brexit supporters, fishermen were dismissed as stupid old men, an opinion sadly many of their self-appointed “leaders” seemed to justify.

Which is why the Political Declaration is so very interesting. After several clauses on future UK access to the single market for goods and services, it then contains a very plain indication that in exchange for all this, the fishermen are yet again to be sacrificed to the wider interest.

Within the context of the overall economic partnership, establishment of a new fisheries agreement on, inter alia, access to waters and quota shares, to be in place in time to be used for determining fishing opportunities for the first year after the transition period.

Either alone, or even more so in the context of the whole document, there is no doubt at all what this means. It is therefore interesting, that conspicuous by their absence among the Tory resignations this morning, are David Mundell and Ruth Davidson, who had both advertised they would resign in precisely this case. But we already knew they are people of no honour.

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea mandates that states must ensure sustainable levels of fishing within their EEZ. Once quotas to enforce the sustainable limit have been set, the state has an obligation to share by agreement any of the sustainable quota it lacks the capacity to fish itself. In fact, the EU has always set overall fishing levels too high, and the UK quota sharing ignored the EU capacity provision, but rather actively enforced a massive downsizing of the British fishing fleet. The Political Declaration not only includes continued quota sharing, but a continued EU role in enforcing levels – eg more over-fishing.

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It seems to me a general election is the most probable outcome of the current turmoil. The Scottish Government should announce that, in the event of pro-independence MPs winning a majority of Westminster seats, Scotland will declare Independence and apply to the United Nations for recognition and admission. That sets out a fair democratic test before the electorate, and is analogous to the way that Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Croatia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic became independent, plus the overwhelming majority of states in Africa, Asia and South America – almost none of which was by referendum.

The unionists are utterly divided. The United Kingdom is teetering as never before. Westminster has shown its contempt for Scotland in its power grab of major devolved areas, its attempt to grant Northern Ireland superior status to Scotland with the EU, and its shunning of the Scottish Government in the entire Brexit process.

It is not the time for Nicola to try to salvage the UK from its own political collapse. It is time for us to end the United Kingdom. It will be a kindness. They can wish us goodbye, and thank us for all the fish.

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Scruton and Soros 1161

One principle of this blog is that I give my views whether they will be welcome or not, either to the general public or to the portion of the public who regularly read this blog. Since we started accepting subscriptions to keep it going, almost every article causes somebody to write to me saying they are canceling their subscription because they did not agree with me. I would much prefer anybody who is kindly giving money in the expectation of agreeing with everything I write, to cancel now. The purpose of this blog is to be intellectually challenging and provide food for thought, with facts and viewpoints not readily available in the mainstream media. It is about intellectual inquiry, not followership.

This is one of those occasions when I know that a significant number of people here will not agree with me. I like George Soros and consider him to be a good man. I should declare an interest; he once bought me a pizza, over 20 years ago. But I considered then, and I consider now, that Soros is a man who has devoted huge amounts of his personal resources, in terms of time and in terms of money, to attempting to make the world a better place, from motives of altruism.

Furthermore I believe that a lot of the work of the Open Society Institute, which I witnessed first hand, in Poland and Uzbekistan and elsewhere, is good work, particularly in the field of human rights and media freedom.

I believe that Roger Scruton’s attack on Soros, particularly in a venue in Hungary where the far right Prime Minister has conducted a truly hateful, state orchestrated, anti-semitic and anti-immigrant campaign against Soros, puts Scruton totally beyond the pale.

Soros frequently is cited in comments below the line on this blog as the personification of evil capitalism. Let me address the obvious elephants in the room. The first is how he made his money. This I make no attempt to defend. He has simply managed assets and traded derivative products, particularly in foreign exchange markets, and either by brilliance or sustained good luck, become extremely wealthy from an activity that provides no societal good. Indeed derivatives trading is a cancerous growth on modern economies, where the financial flows vastly exceed the value of trade in actual goods or genuine first party services.

However, people live and work in the economic situation that exists; to condemn people for not dropping out and going off-grid is to adopt a purist and ineffective position. I do not know how Soros got into the business line he adopted, but I am not condemning every individual working in trading. It is also worth stating that Soros’ ethnicity is utterly irrelevant to his career, and those who hint otherwise are offensive.

The second elephant in the room is that Soros appears aligned to the global spread of neo-liberalism, and to the Clinton camp with its warmongering foreign policy. Leaving aside for two paragraphs the question of whether or not that is true, the most important answer to that is that the man is entitled to his beliefs. To condemn him because his beliefs are not all my beliefs would be wrong. That Soros uses so much of his personal wealth to try to make the world a better place, according to his view of how society might best be structured, makes him a good man and not a bad man. That I may have a different view of how society should be structured is not the test; it is whether somebody is genuinely trying to do good by others.

Soros’ view of how society might best be structured is coloured by his past experience of the Eastern bloc. It is natural that anybody from what was occupied Hungary looks at Russia with a wary and distrustful eye. It is natural that those who understand the real failings of Soviet style central planning are dubious of schemes of socialism. But Soros is in fact fairly mainstream European social democrat with very liberal societal views. I genuinely do not understand his demonisation by large sections of the left. Soros is anathema to the right wing nationalist parties of Eastern Europe.

It is also worth pointing out that Soros’ view of his own profession is by no means straightforward. He argued extremely strongly for greater financial regulation, publishing highly informative and reasoned books on the subject, at the height of the craze for deregulation. He was not a supporter of the Big Bang or of Gordon Brown’s market worship. His 1998 opus, The Crisis of Global Capitalism, argues that financial markets are inherently unstable and swing like a wrecking ball not like a pendulum, and that globalisation is in fact an extension of Imperialism. That someone made so much money, from rules he believed should have been altered to stop him doing it, is a conundrum; but he is altogether a complicated character.

Finally, that Soros is a warmonger and supporter of US military attacks on the Middle East is not true. He opposed the Iraq war, and is generally against military intervention. His funding reaches so many NGO’s, of diverse views, it is always possible to find a tweet by Avaaz, or a report on Syrian human rights violations by Amnesty International, and make the claim “that is Soros shilling for war”. But in fact his influence on the vast array of civil society institutions he funds is extremely light touch, and they encompass widely differing viewpoints. Soros’ strong support for the warmonger Clinton is something I do not attempt to justify, other than to note that many people of liberal views are taken in by the old “liberal” establishment. It is quite a psychological step to accept it has gone full neo-con.

I most certainly do not agree with all of Soros’ views, or actions. But I agree with more of them than you may suppose. That all of his actions are motivated by a desire to make more money for himself or to benefit the ruling class, I am quite sure is not true. That he is a hawk and a warmonger I do not believe. That his efforts do a lot of real good I have witnessed first hand. The demonisation of Soros is lazy, inaccurate and unfair.

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The Price of Peace

I have never managed fully to understand the mechanism by which the media and political class decide when to leave a fact, a glaringly obvious and vital fact, completely excluded from public debate. That process of exclusion is a psychological, not an organisational, phenomenon but extremely effective.

Brexit continues to dominate mainstream political discussion, and the Northern Ireland border issue remains at the centre of current negotiations, forced there by the London government’s reneging on the agreement it signed almost a year ago. But there is a secret here, hidden in plain sight, the glaring fact driving the entire process, but which the media somehow never mention.

For the Tory right, the destruction of the Anglo Irish Agreement is a major goal to be achieved through Brexit. In this, they are in secret communion with their friends in the DUP.

Consider the 58 page paper by one Michael Gove, entitled The Price of Peace, published in 2000 by the Tories’ leading “think tank” the Centre for Policy Studies.

Gove argues the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement and the Anglo Irish Agreement should be annulled. And Gove concludes:

Ulster’s future lies, ultimately, either as a Province of the United
Kingdom or a united Ireland. Attempts to fudge or finesse that
truth only create an ambiguity which those who profit by violence
will seek to exploit. Therefore, the best guarantee for stability is the
assertion by the Westminster Government that it will defend, with
all vigour, the right of the democratic majority in Northern Ireland
to remain in the United Kingdom. Ulster could then be governed
with an Assembly elected on the same basis as Wales, and an
administration constituted in the same way. Minority rights should
be protected by the same legal apparatus which exists across the
UK. The legislative framework which has guaranteed the rights and
freedoms of Roman Catholics and ethnic minorities in Liverpool
and London should apply equally in Belfast and Belleek…

In such circumstances, resolute security action, the use of
existing antiterrorist legislation and the careful application of
intelligence could reduce the IRA to operating as it did in the fifties
and sixties. Combining such security measures with a political
determination not to allow Ulster’s constitutional status to be altered
by force of arms would rob the republicans of hope.
It can be done. But does any Government have the will?

Gove gets to this position through a statement of root and branch opposition to the Good Friday Agreement motivated by a classic Tory rejection of any role for the state in seeking to enhance social justice, and of affirmation that the rights of the “majority community” to rule must not be limited or mitigated. Gove objects to every measure of the Good Friday Agreement, including promotion of Catholic recruitment into the RUC, support for the Irish language, state support for businesses, prisoner releases and changes to the oath of allegiance to the United Kingdom.

It [The Good Friday Agreement] enshrines a vision of human rights which
privileges contending minorities at the expense of the democratic
majority. It supplants the notion of independent citizens with one
of competing client groups. It offers social and economic rights:
“positive rights” which legitimise a growing role for bureaucratic
agencies in the re-distribution of resources, the running of
companies, the regulation of civic life and the exercise of personal
choice. It turns the police force into a political plaything whose
legitimacy depends on familiarity with fashionable social theories
and precise ethnic composition and not effectiveness in
maintaining order. It uproots justice from its traditions and makes
it politically contentious. It demeans traditional expressions of
British national identity. And it privileges those who wish to
refashion or deconstruct that identity.

This view of Northern Ireland is shared by Gove’s colleagues in the European Reform Group. They may have accepted it was politically not possible to roll back the Good Friday Agreement in the last couple of decades, but Brexit and a hard border fundamentally undermines the Anglo-Irish Agreement and changes their whole calculation.

It is not possible to understand the current state of play in Brexit negotiations, without understanding that those effectively driving the Tory Party position do not view a hard border with Ireland as undesirable. They view it as a vital achievement en route to rolling back power sharing and all the affirmative measures which brought peace to Northern Ireland, in an affirmation of the glory and power of unionism.

It is no accident that Northern Ireland is the rock on which Brexit has foundered. It is considered Tory strategy about which, by that psychological mechanism I will never understand, the mainstream media has chosen not to tell you.

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The Ignominious Death of the United Kingdom

I am in Ghana and had some Ghanaian friends in the apartment here while I was watching the budget. I was ashamed, and they were incredulous, at the sheer crassness of the entire event. Hammond’s manner and delivery were beyond embarrassing. The constant stream of infantile jokes, of which the lengthy stream of toilet humour was just one part, was beyond childish. The worst thing about it is that Hammond apparently genuinely believed he was funny.

But even worse was the petty party nature of so much of it. The obsequious reference to DUP MPs by name, the grovelling towards new Tory “star” Ruth Davidson, the puerile digs at the SNP, the shoehorning in of an anti-semitism reference, the pathetic jibe at John MacDonnell’s accident. The Ghanaians with me observed that it would all have disgraced a school debating society.

Most of the budget’s rehashed public spending announcements and tax cuts for the wealthy are not worth analysis. The condemnation of PFI was very welcome, but it has taken 20 years for the political class – Red Tories or Blue Tories – to acknowledge the blindingly obvious, that they have used it as a device massively to abuse public services to rip off the taxpayer to the benefit of the bankers and wealth managers who funded the PFI schemes.

Hammond made the constantly repeated Tory claim that the income gap between rich and poor in the UK is shrinking. It depends what you are measuring. While it is indeed true that the income gap between the top and bottom deciles is slightly shrinking, the gap between the top centile and the bottom decile – or any other decile, including the between the top centile and the top decile – is expanding very fast. In short, we are taking on the characteristics of a helot society, where distinctions between the upper middle class and working class are reducing, but the gap to the extremely wealthy is growing.

In Ghana this last week I have made a point of asking a large number of Ghanaians, from drivers and students to businessmen and senior ministers, whether, in exchange for a higher standard of living and free immigration to the UK, they would give up Independence and become a colony again. I have been met with incredulity and outrage that I would even ask such a question, and even anger from those who misunderstood my motive in asking.

Ghanaians are of course quite right. Any nation should be outraged at the idea it would voluntarily become subservient, or that its allegiance can be bought for money. Which is why I am incapable of understanding the mentality of unionists in Scotland, many of whom were swayed in 2014 by arguments their pension might be reduced or their currency depreciated.

As everybody who canvassed in the 2014 knows, and opinion polls confirm, it was not those on the breadline who were influenced by these arguments. The worse off were solidly pro-Independence (except for the Orangemen, whose thought processes are not rational). It was the bungalow dwellers of suburbia who were swayed by the fear that they might not be able to trade in their Nissan Qashqai after three years as they intended.

In fact, I think the arguments Scotland will be worse off after Independence are demonstrably nonsense. But even were they true, I cannot express the degree of my contempt for those who value national freedom in pennies, and weigh self-respect against gold.

Independent states which are geographically, climatically, and in population and demographics closest to Scotland – Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland – are all markedly wealthier than Scotland, despite Scotland’s terrific endowment of national resources. Why do some Scottish people believe they are inferior to the inhabitants of these countries, and would be unable to run their own affairs and economy?

The fact that Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Sweden are all markedly wealthier than England, but that Scotland is poorer, should be sufficient indicator that the Union has not brought the claimed historical benefits, compared to those small independent states. So should the fact that, in 1707, the population of Scotland was a quarter that of England, and after three hundred years of union it is a tenth, while the population of the Highlands has only just returned to the original level. The fact that the A1 is, amazingly, still not much dualed north of Morpeth, while Crossrail is a national UK expenditure; the fact that high speed rail – like Crossrail accounted for in GERS as a national UK expenditure – will not come north of Leeds; the massive concentration of central government functions in London, and the long term effect of that on economic development: given all these indicators, you have to be slightly crazy to believe an independent Scotland would not be better off.

Astonishingly, this collection of untalented careerists that constitutes the “government of the United Kingdom” is managing currently to extend its lead in the UK wide opinion polls, while falling back again into third place in Scotland. I have sympathy for friends in England who do not wish Scotland to be independent, because the Tories have such a majority in England. But they have no right to force Scotland to live under a succession of Tory governments, which it has not voted for in over 60 years. Similarly, the Scots have no right to prevent the English from living under Theresa May – or even under Jacob Rees Mogg – if the English continue inexplicably to wish to do so.

I have expressed for many years the hope that I will see Scottish Independence and a United Ireland before I die. I am happy to say I am now convinced that I will do so. That the end of the UK would be marked by such a squalid, incompetent and dysfunctional political leadership I could not have dared to hope. Thank God the UK will soon be over.

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The Destruction of Central Edinburgh Communities

Of the three flats on the corridor where I rent my current Edinburgh home, just off the Canongate, two were lived in and one a holiday let. As of this month, only we are resident and there are two holiday lets. Before this I lived in the Holyrood Park apartment block. Of the 14 flats on the stair we lived on, only 3 were inhabited. Eleven were holiday lets and holiday homes. Our rent was raised every six months until eventually we we were forced out by rent reaching over £1500 a month. A taxi driver taking me home once told me he had never taken an actual resident there before, only holidaymakers; he did not know there were residents.

One Edinburgh website alone boasts that over 2,000 Edinburgh apartment owners use its short term letting service – and presumably a significant percentage of those 2,000 own multiple apartments. The authorities simply cannot know how many Edinburgh flats are holiday lets. It is a huge black market, avoiding income tax, fire, safety and other regulations and very often involving illegal sub-letting. Certainly in the apartment block I now inhabit there are flats used for holiday lets which are supposed to be social housing. The extent of it may be gauged by the fact that, with parking in great demand in Central Edinburgh, we have an underground car park with just one narrow space per flat, but that outwith the festival I have never seen the car park more than 20% full.

It is partly, but not just, an airbnb phenomenon. There are many other websites. A search for “apartments only” in Edinburgh from booking.com for 6-8 November shows an astonishing 877 apartments available – in addition to those already let, or available from a plethora of other sites and agents. There must be a minimum of 3,000 housing units not designed as holiday accommodation, taken out of Edinburgh’s housing stock and put to that purpose. Of these, I know from direct observation most are simply empty for the vast majority of the year, but from just Hogmanay and the Festival an owner can make more money than a working family could pay for rent in the year. The result is, of course, to force rents up across the city for ordinary people.

The impact on the city centre community has been devastating, and the process is by no means ended, with estate agents I have spoken with saying that most city centre properties now sold are still going to investors for this purpose.

Cities like Edinburgh and Barcelona, which are quite rightly huge tourist attractions, need to take urgent planning decisions to prevent the organic life of the city becoming extinct, and their being reduced to Disneyland parks. I have sympathy with those who argue that greedy overcharging in the hotel sector is part of the problem. But having lived as a resident in hollowed-out empty buildings, surrounded by homeless people sleeping rough next to empty homes, it is plain something is very wrong. That is without mentioning the unpleasantness of the stag and hen party culture which forms a significant part of the Edinburgh trade, and amongst which even the most liberal person has trouble living with small children in the family.

State regulation is out of fashion, but I would advocate tackling this through planning consent and simply designating which properties are for residential purpose only, and which for holiday accommodation if a permit is obtained. The latter might then be easily taxed as commercial properties, overcrowding and fire regulation addressed, and the income tax more easily pursued. The alternative is for the community of Central Edinburgh to vanish. I live a short walk from my father’s birthplace in a tenement on Johnstone Terrace. It is now a holiday let.

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It’s the Real Thing

This video has been on all the major news networks, but I would like you to turn up the sound, watch the twitches and pay close attention to the very definite problems that the Crown Prince is having with his nose.

Here – apart from sniffing and a runny nose – from a treatment website is a list of some of the mental symptoms of cocaine abuse. An interesting take on the reckless Khashoggi assassination?

Mental state:
Euphoria
Overconfidence
Unusual excitement
Aggressiveness
Paranoia
Poor judgment

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Khashoggi, Erdogan and the Truth

The Turkish account of the murder of Khashoggi given by President Erdogan is true, in every detail. Audio and video evidence exists and has been widely shared with world intelligence agencies, including the US, UK, Russia and Germany, and others which have a relationship with Turkey or are seen as influential. That is why, despite their desperate desire to do so, no Western country has been able to maintain support for Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. I have not seen the video from inside the consulate, but have been shown stills which may be from a video. The most important thing to say is that they are not from a fixed position camera and appear at first sight consistent with the idea they are taken by a device brought in by the victim. I was only shown them briefly. I have not heard the audio recording.

There are many things to learn from the gruesome murder other than the justified outrage at the event itself. It opens a window on the truly horrible world of the extremely powerful and wealthy.

The first thing to say is that the current Saudi explanation, that this was an intended interrogation and abduction gone wrong, though untrue, does have one thing going for it. It is their regular practice. The Saudis have for years been abducting dissidents abroad and returning them to the Kingdom to be secretly killed. The BBC World Service often contains little pockets of decent journalism not reflected in its main news outlets, and here from August 2017 is a little noticed piece on the abduction and “disappearance” of three other senior Saudis between 2015-17. Interestingly, while the piece was updated this month, it was not to include the obvious link to the Khashoggi case.

The key point is that European authorities turned a completely blind eye to the abductions in that BBC report, even when performed on European soil and involving physical force. The Saudi regime was really doing very little different in the Khashoggi case. In fact, inside Saudi Arabia, Khashoggi was a less senior and important figure than those other three abducted then killed, about whom nobody kicked up any fuss, even though the truth was readily available. Mohammed Bin Salman appears to have made two important miscalculations: he misread Erdogan and he underestimated the difference which Khashoggi’s position as a Washington Post journalist made to political pressure on Western governments.

Khashoggi should not himself be whitewashed. He had a long term professional association with the Saudi security services which put him on the side of prolific torturers and killers for decades. That does not in any sense justify his killing. But it is right to be deeply sceptical of the democratic credentials of Saudis who were in with the regime and have become vocal for freedom and democracy only after being marginalised by Mohammed Bin Salman’s ruthless consolidation of power (which built on a pre-existing trend).

The same scepticism is true many times over when related to CIA Director Gina Haspel, who personally supervised torture in the CIA torture and extraordinary rendition programme. Haspel was sent urgently to Ankara by Donald Trump to attempt to deflect Erdogan from any direct accusation of Mohammed Bin Salman in his speech yesterday. MBS’ embrace of de facto alliance with Israel, in pursuit of his fanatic hatred of Shia Muslims, is the cornerstone of Trump’s Middle East policy.

Haspel’s brief was very simple. She took with her intercept intelligence that purportedly shows massive senior level corruption in the Istanbul Kanal project, and suggested that Erdogan may not find it a good idea if intelligence agencies started to make public all the information they hold.

Whether Erdogan held back in his speech yesterday as a result of Haspel’s intervention I do not know. Erdogan may be keeping cards up his sleeve for his own purpose, particularly relating to intercepts of phone and Skype calls from the killers direct to MBS’ office. I have an account of Haspel’s brief from a reliable source, but have not been updated on who she then met, or what the Turks said to her. It does seem very probable, from Trump’s shift in position this morning to indicate MBS may be involved, that Haspel was convinced the Turks have further strong evidence and may well use it.

Meantime, the British government maintains throughout that, whatever else happens, British factories will continue to supply bombs to Saudi Arabia to massacre children on school buses and untold numbers of other civilians. Many Tory politicians remain personally in Saudi pockets, with former Defence Minister Michael Fallon revealed today as being amongst them.

It is of course extraordinary that Saudi war crimes in Yemen, its military suppression of democracy in Bahrain, its frequent executions of dissidents, human rights defenders, and Shia religious figures, even its arrests of feminists, have had little impact in the West. But the horrible murder of Khashoggi has caught the public imagination and forced western politicians to at least pretend to want to do something about the Saudis whose wealth they crave. I expect any sanctions will be smoke and mirrors.

Mohammed Bin Salman is no fool, and he realises that to punish members of his personal security detail who were just following his orders, would put him in the position of Caligula and the Praetorian Guard, and not tend to his long term safety. Possibly people will be reassigned, or there will be brief imprisonments till nobody is looking. If I were a dissident or Shia in Saudi Arabia who bore any kind of physical resemblance to any of the party of murderers, I would get out very quick.

With every sympathy for his horrible murder, Khashoggi and his history as a functionary of the brutal Saudi regime should not be whitewashed. Mohammed Bin Salman is directly responsible for his murder, and if there is finally international understanding that he is a dangerous psychopath, that is a good thing. You will forgive me for saying that I explained this back in March whilst the entire mainstream media, awash with Saudi PR cash, was praising him as a great reformer. For the Americans to deploy Gina Haspel gives us a welcome reminder that they are in absolutely no position to moralise. Whatever comes of this will not be “justice”. The truth the leads can reveal is much wider than the narrow question of the murder incident, as I hope this article sketches out. That the fallout derails to some extent the murder machine in Yemen is profoundly to be hoped.

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Why the “Two State Solution” is Apartheid


I expect you are all familiar with the maps showing the radical shrinking of Palestinian land over 70 years due to the expansion of colonial Israeli settlement. Startling and appalling, yes, but to me they bring back strong memories of other maps, in a precisely analogous situation, which goes to the heart of why Israel is an apartheid state.

The original apartheid state of South Africa created “homelands”, known colloquially as “bantustans”, and proposed that, as the apotheosis of apartheid, these “homelands” would become independent states and house the majority black population of the country in fenced-off areas which had been too arid, rocky or commercial mineral free to attract significant white settlement over three centuries of theft. South Africa actually did recognise some of these as Independent states, while the rest were supposed to be on a course to recognition.

The maps really do bring out the startling similarity between these two attempts to formalise the dispossession of the original people. Thankfully, even though the “Homelands solution” had its supporters including Thatcher, it never achieved support beyond what was then an extreme right wing view, and none of the “independent states” ever achieved international recognition.

I worked in the FCO as the South Africa (Political) desk officer from 1984-6, and seeing off right wing Tory lobbying to adopt the Homelands policy was a major problem. It is simply symptomatic of the extraordinary right wing shift in western politics over the intervening three decades, that a “Bantustan” solution for Palestine, laughably called a “two state solution”, is now the accepted wisdom of the political and media class.

The proposal is precisely analogous to South Africa not only because of the displacement of the original population into separated enclosures, but because it leaves the bulk of the land in the hands of a colonial population, whose identity and exclusivity is specifically enshrined in law by ethnicity. Israel’s adoption this year of a new nation state law putting the state on an officially racist basis only confirmed the reality encapsulated in a raft of hundreds of other laws and regulations. The harsh discriminatory regime faced by non-Jews in Israel has been exhaustively documented, and it is not my purpose to repeat it here. I recommend this lecture by Ben White:

Many of the practices Ben describes have strong echoes of the apartheid regime, as do the disregard for Black/Palestinian life, the regular use of disproportionate lethal force against protestors, the mass arrests and detentions, the impunity for both law enforcers and “master race” civilians who attack blacks/Palestinians. These features are highly analogous.

But what I want to address here is the striking similarity between the arguments used by supporters of apartheid, with which I dealt every day at the FCO, and the arguments used today by supporters of Israel. They came by post thirty years ago not internet, and we did not use the word meme, but the key arguments are exactly the same.

We are outnumbered, we will be murdered in our beds.

Supporters of apartheid argued constantly that, as there were more black than white people in South Africa, they would be powerless in a single, democratic South Africa and would be dispossessed and murdered. Bloodcurdling quotes from black nationalists, some real, some invented, would be recycled continually as evidence that a peaceful united South Africa was not possible. A unitary democratic state, it was frequently asserted, would inevitably be followed by a massacre of the white population.

I think it is extremely important to state that the white South Africans arguing this, and their overseas supporters, genuinely believed it at the time. In 1984-6, they really did think majority rule would mean massacre.

I hear precisely the same argument from Israelis and their supporters today. A single state encompassing Israel and Palestine is not possible because they would be outnumbered. Exactly as in South Africa then, these assertions are often accompanied by an obsession with racial demographics and birth rates. And exactly as in South Africa then, the Israelis today really have been taught actually to believe this – that they will all be massacred unless the original population is corralled and viciously controlled.

In fact, of course, no such thing occurred in South Africa. The capacity of a subject people for forgiveness once released is generally surprising. It turns out that it is vicious racial overlordship, as opposed to subjection, which sooner develops psychopathy in a nation. Indeed, remarkably the South African government is only now taking the first tentative steps towards long overdue land reform.

The Land Was Empty Before We Colonised It

White supremacists had put an enormous amount of effort into arguing that the part of Africa most free of disease and amenable to human population, was remarkably free of humans before the arrival of the colonists. The amount of historical distortion involved in this was mind-boggling, and it has been comprehensively debunked since.

It is however remarkable how exactly the same arguments are repeated by Israelis and their supporters who make a variety of ahistoric claims: that the Naqba never happened, that the Palestinians always lived herded together in the Gaza strip, that there is no such thing as a Palestinian identity, and that illegal West Bank settlements are built upon previously unoccupied land.

The Only Democracy in the Region

This claim was made repeatedly by both South Africans and Israelis. It depended on the notion that black South Africans were not South African citizens, but could exercise their democratic rights within the “Homelands”, precisely as Israel argues that the millions of displaced Palestinians are not Israeli citizens but can exercise their democratic rights within the Palestinian occupied territories they were herded to. And again, this argument was rejected with derision by the Western media and political class in the South African case, but to query it in the Israeli case is well outside the Overton window.

The Original Population Are Better Off

A rehash of the Imperial argument that governance by the master race brings economic benefits to the colonised, it was continually asserted that Black South Africans enjoyed better working conditions than any other Africans. Similarly Israel claims that by permitting its caged Palestinian labour force to commute into Israeli factories from their camps, it is helping the Palestinian people.

If you scroll down the replies to this tweet, made at the time of the Gaza demonstration massacre, you will find numerous examples of all of the above arguments being put forward by supporters of Israel. I really had not expected to find myself still fighting apartheid in 2018, let alone in a situation where it is viewed by the Establishment as the acceptable solution.

I do not accept the arguments of any proponent of a “two state solution”, any more than I accepted the arguments of the supporters of apartheid South Africa. It is an essential work to convince people that, despite the massive backing of the media and politicians for it, the “two state” solution represents nothing but the ultimate sanctification of apartheid Israel.

The disgraceful shift of Saudi Arabia to close alliance with Israel and the USA to pursue an obsessive fight against the interests of Shia Muslims everywhere, has hopefully lost some traction after it has become impossible to deny that Mohammed Bin Salman is the psychopath his actions, especially in Yemen but also against peaceful democratic dissidents, had long revealed him to be. The Salman/Kushner plan for an ultra-fragmented Palestinian “state” with its capital in an obscure outer suburb of Jerusalem may have been dealt a mortal blow in the diplomatic world.

The only potential resolution of the situation in Palestine must involve justice and dignity for all. That solution requires the abolition of apartheid Israel and its replacement by a unitary, democratic state blind to race and religion. That is no more impossible in Palestine than it was in South Africa. The fears of those who believe it is not possible, are just as implausible as the fears of apartheid supporters 30 years ago,

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Nicola and Independence

I have been gently chided for not giving my reactions to the SNP conference, which I attended as a delegate.

Nicola’s major speech was very good. The media universally attempted to characterise it as kicking a new Independence referendum into the long grass. I did not hear it that way at all. I think they are clutching at the straw of her single mention of patience and perseverance, against the fact she used the word “Independent” or “Independence” an extraordinary 31 times in her speech. Of course she wishes to retain flexibility and an element of surprise, but as someone who has studied the matter extremely closely and who distrusts the highly paid SNP professional “elite” on this issue, I was reassured as to Nicola’s intentions.

The members are in extremely good heart and very confident. I was personally much touched by the many scores of individuals who bothered to come up to me and say they followed the blog. The conference agenda was somewhat bland, though fizzing with righteous anger at the effects of austerity on the vulnerable. My major criticism would be that far too high a percentage of total speaking time on the conference floor is given to MP’s, MSP’s and MEP’s. Constituency proposed motions, for example, were too often used as a showcase for the MP/MSP rather than introduced by an ordinary party member.

I dislike the political class now attached to the SNP in just the same way that I distrust the professional political class in every political party. The horrible Alex Bell should be a serious warning of the kind of false hypocrites that a salary will attract “to the cause”. Seeing MPs I knew as just punters campaigning in 2014, now walking proudly before power dressed entourages of paid staff, was a strangely unpleasant experience.

My major concern is that the SNP’s foreign policy and defence teams at Westminster appear to have been entirely captured by the UK establishment and indeed the security services. They have been willing and instant amplifiers of the Tories’ Russophobia.

It appears to me truly remarkable that I was not allowed to hire a room for a fringe meeting on Independence campaigning, but that the “Westminster Foundation for Democracy” – which is an FCO front and 90% FCO and DFID funded – was allowed a room on the fringe to hold this anti-Russian propaganda fest with a Ukrainian MP imported by the FCO.

Furthermore the meeting was co-hosted by the SNP and “Westminster Foundation for Democracy” and featured two SNP MPs.

I took issue with two other senior SNP figures last month over the party’s slavish devotion to what the UK intelligence services tell them.

The problem here is of course that the SNP is accepting a UK-centric vision of the world. This is a fundamental error, a category mistake. Because Russia is in an antagonistic relationship with the UK does not mean Russia should or will have an antagonistic relationship to an Independent Scotland.

Whatever happened in Salisbury, the root cause was spy games between Russia and the UK. Precisely the kind of spy games an independent Scotland must have no part of.

MI6 recruited Sergei Skripal as a traitor to Russia, who for money revealed secrets of his nation to MI6, including identities of agents. That is the root of the Salisbury events, and it is not the sort of thing an Independent Scotland will be doing. If an Independent Scotland is just going to behave like the UK in foreign affairs, carrying on neo-con foreign policy by illegitimate methods, I see no point in Scotland being independent. The Skripal affair, whatever really happened, is part of an entire system which most people in the Yes movement wish to get out of. We do not see the UK’s enemies as our enemies.

But the UK security services are our enemies. Scottish nationalism is defined in security service tasking as a threat to the UK and we are targets of the UK security services. The British government is not going to agree to another Independence referendum and we are going to have to win Independence, like the Catalans, in the teeth of every dirty abuse of British state power.

I would feel very much better if the SNP leaders, like Chris Law and John Nicholson both of whom I count as friends, would sometimes draw a deep breath, forget what they imbibed as Westminster MPs, and remember which side they are on.

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Sikunder Burnes: A Question Answered

When researching Alexander Burnes, one of the questions which kept nagging at me was whether he had any children by any of his Indian partners. I was unable to identify any individual Indian partners, other than the fact he had by the end of his career a harem of women from Kashmir. It would have been unusual if he did not have Indian partners right from the beginning of his career in India, but I could not establish that. Besides Burnes was unusual, as the story of his love for, and legacy to, the prostitute Emma Graham reveals.

Since the book was published I am very pleased to have been contacted by direct descendants of the Burnes family, now living in the United States. The family tradition of naming the eldest son James has continued down to the present day, and Mr James Burnes has provided me with photographs of a whole line of James Burnes’s.

But what is more he tells this rather heartwarming story. He recently sent away for a DNA ancestry test, of the type that identifies, among other things, others who have done the test and to whom you are related. The result threw up a senior Indian engineer, now retired and living in the United States, as a distant cousin. Contacted, the gentleman was delighted and said there was a family tradition that his great great grandmother had been the partner of Alexander Burnes.

Historians of course cannot generally give too much credit to that kind of oral history, but the DNA evidence validates it. Establishing family relationship by such DNA tests carries a high degree of certainty. While the ethnic group/origin profiling aspect of these tests is more open to criticism, I rather like it because it proves beyond dispute that we are all mongrels and that notions of ethnic purity are utter nonsense. Nadira found unexpectedly that her ancestry includes Jewish and Inuit, which is rather lovely.

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