Navalny Should Be Released 263

Alexei Navalny is not the pleasant liberal our mainstream media paint him to be. Before extensive grooming by the West, he was a racist populist. However, he now makes a more convincing liberal standard bearer than similar proteges like Juan Guaido and to some extent has probably changed with wider experience. He most certainly is not especially popular in Russia, outside some wealthier and younger demographics, but they are voters too, and human progress would not have been great without the much despised middle classes.

I am not in the least convinced by the ludicrous narrative that Vladimir Putin and the FSB were not competent enough to successfully assassinate Alexei Navalny in Russia, including as he lay unconscious in a Russian state hospital. I regard it as a nonsense. But neither do I necessarily suspect that the whole incident was engineered by the West or Navalny (exploited is different to engineered). Incidentally, I am perfectly prepared to accept that the security service outlet Bellingcat was right about the Russian security services following Navalny. I have no doubt whatsoever that they do follow him, and have done so for many years. So what? Western security services followed me intensely when I first became a whistleblower, and on and off ever since, most notably when I have contact with Julian or Wikileaks. The British government announced in Julian’s recent bail hearing it spent £16 million of public money on surveillance of the Ecuadorean Embassy – that’s £16 million on looking at a non-moving target! Security services follow people. There are thousands of the blighters, both in the West and in Russia, and follow people is what many of them do for a living. It is in no sense evidence of assassination. Every time my heart problem puts me in hospital, I don’t imagine it was the MI5 surveillance folks (who must, incidentally, be very bored. When I was younger they did get to look at some great parties).

Anybody who genuinely believes that Putin did not personally authorise the arrest and detention of Navalny on return does not understand Russia. Putin’s purpose is simply to show that he can – that the West cannot protect its protege, which is a good lesson for the next one, and cannot harm Russian interests abroad. In power calculations, Putin is almost always correct. I am fairly sure he is also correct in calculating that swatting Navalny will play well to his popular base, who like the macho thing.

I do not address the technicalities of whether Navalny’s suspended embezzlement sentence was legitimate, and whether he breached suspension conditions, because again if you think that has anything at all to do with what is happening, you are hopelessly naive. Navalny might very well be guilty of embezzlement, but on nothing in the same universe of scale as Putin himself and his inner circle. It is about selectivity of prosecution rather than innocence or guilt. If you have political control of the prosecutor, you hold the cards. Oh sorry, I was drifting back to Scotland.

So Putin can see Navalny jailed till 2025 on the embezzlement charge with no serious consequences and a minor stabilisation of his personal authority. But at what cost? My major criticism of Putin is that he has failed to move Russia, an absolutely vital pillar of European cultural heritage, back towards the European centre after decades of isolation. That involves development away from purely autocratic government; but there remains absolutely no sign that Putin even intends to position Russia for that move once he finally relinquishes power – which he ought to have done many years ago. Allowing Navalny to continue his campaigning will not hurt Putin and will not hurt Russia. It is a fascinating and universal fact that the longer people hold power, the more paranoid they become.

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Let Nobody Ever State Again There Is No Evidence of the Conspiracy Against Alex Salmond 102

I am strongly advised to shut up and say nothing just before my trial. I will however point out three things:

1) These documents are all in the possession of the Lord Advocate. They are held in the Crown Office. That is why we are asking the Crown to disclose them. The Lord Advocate at no stage, in opposing their release, denied their existence. This is the Lord Advocate’s reply to the application. 20210114 Answers to Disclosure Request (3)
2) These are some of the same documents the Lord Advocate has refused to give the Holyrood Inquiry and which Alex Salmond has said prevent him appearing before the Inquiry until the Lord Advocate agrees he can reference them in his evidence.
3) The High Court has agreed with the Lord Advocate that these messages are irrelevant to my trial and do not go to my Article 10 rights of free speech. The High Court notably refrained from endorsing the Lord Advocate’s argument that they are “private messages” and that Murrell and Ruddick are protected from their disclosure under Article 8.
This is extremely important as it means the High Court has not endorsed the Lord Advocate’s arguments for keeping these messages from the Holyrood Inquiry. The grounds on which the High Court did find against me – relevance and Article 10 – relate to my trial but do not relate to the Holyrood Inquiry.

The High Court ruling notably does not endorse the argument here on Murrell and Ruddick’s privacy. The Lord Advocate’s refusal to provide these documents to the Holyrood Inquiry on the grounds of the privacy and data protection rights of Murrell and Ruddick is therefore unlikely to survive a court application by the Fabiani Committee. That would require a great deal more courage than the Committee have shown to date.

I am as advised not going to comment on the merits of the High Court ruling, or on what the messages show.

But, as a matter of simple fact, these messages have now been barred from:
1) The Salmond Trial
2) The Holyrood Inquiry
3) The Murray Trial

Move along please. Absolutely nothing to see here. Nothing at all. Everything in Scotland is perfectly normal and above board. Ignore Craig Murray, he is a conspiracy theorist.
And if you don’t ignore all this, if you publish anything, we may send you to prison.

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Forgive me for pointing out that my ability to provide this coverage is entirely dependent on your kind voluntary subscriptions which keep this blog going. This post is free for anybody to reproduce or republish, including in translation. You are still very welcome to read without subscribing.

Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

Choose subscription amount from dropdown box:

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Alternatively by bank transfer or standing order:

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Account number 3 2 1 5 0 9 6 2
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BIC NWBKGB2L
Bank address Natwest, PO Box 414, 38 Strand, London, WC2H 5JB

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My Trial, and Freedom of Speech 153

UPDATE Some journalists, NGOs and observers registering for my trial using details below are being asked for the case number. This is HCA/2020-06/XM.

My trial for Contempt of Court in my reporting of the Alex Salmond trial is on 27 and 28 January at the Court of Appeals in Edinburgh. Contempt of Court charges can be brought by a judge or by the Crown. These are being brought by the Crown – an important point. It is a strange charge. The potential penalties are very serious – up to two years in prison and an “unlimited” fine. Yet it is not a criminal offence nor a criminal trial, and despite the life-changing penalties there is no jury; but the judges do have to rule on the facts to the criminal standard of beyond reasonable doubt.

I am being charged with contempt of court on three separate counts:

a) Publication of material likely to influence the jury

b) Jigsaw Identification of Protected Identities

c) Reporting the Exclusion of a Juror

These are some of the key issues involved:

a) Publication of Material Likely to Influence the Jury

  1. My defence team believe this is the first modern prosecution in Scotland (or England) for a publication allegedly influencing a jury in favour of the defendant. All previous prosecutions for at least 150 years appear to be for prejudice against a defendant. It has always been assumed the Crown and the judge are big enough to counter any prejudice against the Crown (If anyone wishes to research the unprecedented prosecution point further that would be welcome; it is of course difficult to prove a negative)
  2. The Lord Advocate cannot order censorship. The Crown has not had the power of censorship in Scotland for 300 years. I am not obliged to obey an instruction from the Crown Office to remove an article. If the Lord Advocate genuinely believed an article could influence a trial, he had a public duty to go to a judge before the trial, in a timely manner, and ask the judge to order the removal of the article. I would have contested, but obeyed if I lost – only a judge can order the removal of an article.
  3. It is ludicrous to claim my little blog influenced the jury, compared to the massive outpouring of mainstream media articles amplifying salacious allegations against Salmond released by the Crown Office.
  4. Political satire is protected speech
  5. My articles were well founded journalism indicating the Salmond prosecution was a conspiracy involving senior members of the Scottish Government and SNP, with the active corrupt collusion of the prosecutorial  authorities. This is true and evidenced in documents held by the Crown but kept from the Salmond trial, kept from the Holyrood Inquiry and so far kept from my trial. Publication of this true information was of crucial public interest and protected by my Article 10 rights to freedom of expression under the European Convention on Human Rights.

b) Jigsaw Identification

  1. I did not jigsaw identify anyone.
  2. The Lord Advocate argues that I am responsible for tweets in reply to my own tweets. We argue this is not true – I am not the publisher of twitter – and would set a very dangerous precedent.
  3. The Crown is specifically arguing that the bar for jigsaw identification is that any one single individual with specialist knowledge would be likely to identify a witness from my writing; this could be, for example, an individual who worked in the same office, or the doorman at Bute House who knew who was there on which day. My defence is that jigsaw identification means likely to identify to the public. If the Crown’s definition were accepted, there would be a massive chilling effect on journalism.
  4. The mainstream media demonstrably gave more jigsaw identification information than I did, notably, but not only, Dani Garavelli and Kirsty Wark. I have been singled out for prosecution on political grounds.
  5. The court order protecting identities did not come into being before 10 March 2020. Most of the Crown’s alleged examples are before this date. We absolutely deny my articles enable jigsaw identification, but even if they did they were not illegal at the time of publication.
  6. Up until 10 March 2020, had I wished to publish identities I could have done so quite legally in the articles before that date which the Lord Advocate cites. Unlike England, there is no law in Scotland barring publication of witness identity absent a specific court order. The fact I did not do so in the year between my learning identities and the ban coming into force, in several articles on the case where I could legally have published the identities, make nonsense the Lord Advocate’s contention that I deliberately gave clues.
  7. After Alex Salmond’s acquittal the false accusers continued to take advantage of the court anonymity order to decry and undermine the jury’s verdict and malign Alex Salmond. Given the high positions of influence the women hold, I decided to challenge in court whether there was not a public interest in stopping this behaviour, in this unique case greater than the important general public interest in protecting identities. I did not take it upon myself to determine this, but commissioned and paid for a senior advocate to prepare a case for the judge to decide.  I received the draft application from my senior counsel but the application was postponed by Covid. I would not have taken this expensive and responsible legal route if I was leaking the identities illegally as alleged.

c) Juror Exclusion

  1. All I published was that a juror had been excluded but I was not allowed to say why. We argue this does not breach the court order preventing disclosure of the proceedings where the exclusion was discussed and ordered. The simple fact of the exclusion was not secret.  (Though it is a very interesting story indeed which I shall tell you once I can).

AN APPEAL FOR HELP

I hope that brief account gives some idea of the legal arguments involved. But everybody whose head is not buttoned up the back knows this is not really what the case is about. This is about the ability of those in power in Scotland to use the law to persecute their political opponents. They tried it on Alex Salmond, they tried it on Mark Hirst – both blowing up in their faces – and now they are trying it on me.

If there were a jury, I would not lose one moment’s sleep. But there is not. I am buoyed by the fact that what the Alex Salmond and Mark Hirst trials show is that while both Police Scotland and the Crown Office may stink of rotten corruption at the top, Scotland’s judiciary is still independent. It is worth noting that the simply astonishing admission of the Lord Advocate and Crown Office to malicious prosecution recently in the Rangers case is going to cost the taxpayer almost £50 million, once all costs are in and awards paid out. The police and legal costs for the Alex Salmond case total some £10 million wasted.

I call on journalists worldwide who support freedom of speech to pay attention and to cover this trial. The case is HMA vs Craig John Murray in the Court of Appeals, 27 January. The emails for registration are [email protected], [email protected] and [email protected] – please copy to all three. I also ask you to press specifically for video access, not the dreadful quality sound only phone-in.

I also call on NGO’s, political associations, community bodies and elected representatives worldwide to apply to register for observer status using the same email details.

Once registered, journalists and observers should ask the court for copies of the court documents. I am severely constrained in giving out documents at present.

Members of the public will be able to register to listen live. I am afraid this will very probably be the same poor quality sound only link down the telephone. It also involves giving the court some registration details, and may incur call charges to a London number. Registration details will be posted here by the court shortly – where you will also find details for Martin Keatings’ vital case on Scotland’s right to hold an independence referendum without Boris Johnson’s permission.

I appeal for as many people as can do so to register and listen in. Your support is vital to me both morally and practically. I can see no reason why registered members of the public should not inquire to the court as to the availability of the documents. Justice is supposed to be seen to be done.

Long term readers of my blog know that for well over a decade we have campaigned against injustice, ill-treatment, imprisonment and detention of many, both the famous and the obscure. I therefore feel little shame in asking everyone now to try and join in the same cause on my own behalf.

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Forgive me for pointing out that my ability to provide this coverage is entirely dependent on your kind voluntary subscriptions which keep this blog going. This post is free for anybody to reproduce or republish, including in translation. You are still very welcome to read without subscribing.

Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

Choose subscription amount from dropdown box:

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Account number 3 2 1 5 0 9 6 2
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Etherium/ERC-20: 0x764a6054783e86C321Cb8208442477d24834861a

Subscriptions are still preferred to donations as I can’t run the blog without some certainty of future income, but I understand why some people prefer not to commit to that.

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Only A Corrupt Lord Advocate Stands Between Peter Murrell and Prison 252

Following Robin McAlpine’s excellent article, some responded by asking where is the hard evidence of a conspiracy against Alex Salmond? Well, here is some of it, not public before.

My trial for contempt of court is now fixed for 27 January. This is an extract from my lawyers’ latest submission requesting disclosure of documents which the Crown Office is hiding, both from my trial and from the Holyrood Inquiry:

QUOTE

4. The information in question is:
(a) A series of written communications involving Peter Murrell, Chief Executive Officer
of the SNP, and Sue Ruddick, Chief Operating Officer of the SNP. They discussed
inter alia a pub lunch or similar occasion between Ian McCann, a SNP staff member
working for them, and xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, one of the complainers in the HM Advocate
v Salmond trial. At the lunch, Mr Murrell and Ms Ruddick expected xxxxxxxxx to firm
up her commitment to giving evidence against Alex Salmond, and to discuss
progress on bringing in others to make complaints. They expressed dissatisfaction at
Mr McCann for his performance in achieving these objectives and expressed doubt as
to his commitment to the cause.

(b) A communication from Ms Ruddick to Mr Murrell in which she explained to
Mr Murrell that progress on the case was being delayed by Police Scotland and/or
the COPFS’s saying there was insufficient evidence, and in which communication
she expressed the sentiment that, if the police/Crown would specify the precise
evidence needed, she would get it for them.

(c) Text messages from Mr Murrell to Ms Ruddick stating that it was a good time to
pressure the police, and that the more fronts Alex Salmond had to fight on the better.

(d) Communications from Ms Ruddick about her visits to a number of locations,
including the Glenrothes area, and including in conjunction or discussion with
xxxxxxxxxxxxx. These communications detail their unsuccessful attempts to find
witnesses who would corroborate allegations of inappropriate behaviour against
Alex Salmond. They include a report of a meeting with young people who were
small children at the time of the incident they were seeking to allege, who did not
provide the corroboration sought.

(e) A message from xxxxxxxxxxxx stating that she would not attend a meeting if
xxxxxxxxxxx were also present as she felt pressured to make a complaint rather than
supported.

(f) Messages in the WhatsApp group of SNP Special Advisers, particularly one saying
that they would “destroy” Alex Salmond and one referring to Scotland’s ‘Harvey
Weinstein moment’, employing the #MeToo hashtag.

5. The respondent saw this information before he published the articles and tweets that
are the subject of these proceedings. The respondent considers that the information
in question would materially weaken the Lord Advocate‘s case and materially
strengthen his case because: (i) it materially strengthens the respondent’s case on
Article 10; and (ii) it materially weakens the Lord Advocate’s case, and materially
strengthens the respondent’s case, on the alleged breach of section 11 of the
Contempt of Court Act 1981

END QUOTE

You can see the full application from my lawyers pub2101131230 DISCLOSURE APPLICATION (1) 

To which the Lord Advocate yesterday replied:

QUOTE

4. In respect of the first question, it is understood that the material referred
to in paragraphs 4a – 4f of the disclosure application are private
communications. As such they can have no bearing on the question of
the degree of likelihood of the disclosure of the complainers’ identities
by the publishing of the articles detailed in the Petition and Complaint
and Submissions for the Petitioner.

5. In respect of the second question, the Respondent asserts in his answers
and submissions that a finding of contempt would be contrary to his
Article 10 rights. The material is not relevant to the court’s consideration
of the Respondent’s Article 10 rights. Further, the disclosure of the
material may constitute a breach of the Article 8 rights of the parties to
those private communications.
Advocate

END QUOTE

You can see the Lord Advocate’s reply in full here 20210114 Answers to Disclosure Request (3). Note the Lord Advocate acknowledges the existence of these messages (which the Crown Office holds) but argues they are private, and irrelevant.

On the face of it, these messages are evidence of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. They refer to pressuring the police, to pressuring a witness, to highly improper encouragement of “evidence”. To reveal them would breach Peter Murrell and Sue Ruddick’s right to private communication? If, dear reader, you ever feel the urge to conspire to commit a crime, be sure to do it by text message, then the Lord Advocate will ensure that it is all kept nice and secret.

It is important to state that the woman in para (a) to whom Ian McCann was sent to screw her courage to the sticking point, was Woman H. She was vital as her allegation was the most serious of all. She was the most active perjurer in the Salmond trial, the woman who was not even present on the occasion she claimed to have been the victim of attempted rape. This is my report of the defence evidence about Ms H at the time, not reported in any detail anywhere else but on this blog:

The first witness today was Ms Samantha Barber, a company director. She had known Alex Salmond since 1994 when she was working for the SNP as a research assistant for the Euro elections. She had thereafter been employed by the European Parliament, and in 2007 become the Chief Executive of Scottish Business in the Community, a post she still held in 2014. She is now a director of several companies.

In the seven years Alex Salmond was First Minister she had several times been a guest at Bute House for dinner. She had a positive and respectful relationship with Alex Salmond but they were not personal friends outside of business.

She had been a personal friend of Ms H, the accuser who alleged attempted rape, for some years by 2014. They remain friends. She had been invited to the evening reception of Ms H’s wedding. She testified she is also a friend of Ms H’s current husband.

Ms H had telephoned her to invite her to the dinner at Bute house with the (not to be named) actor on 13 June 2014. Ms H in inviting her had stated she (Ms H) was not able to be there. In fact Ms H had indeed not been at the dinner. Ms Barber had arrived that evening at around 7pm. She had been shown up to the drawing room. The actor was already there and they had chatted together, just the two of them, until about 7.15pm when Alex Salmond had joined them. The three of them had dinner together. It was friendly and conivivial. At first the actor’s career had been discussed and then Scottish independence. Nobody else was there. Asked if any private secretaries had been in and out during dinner, Ms Barber replied not to her recollection. Nobody interrupted them

One bottle of wine was served during dinner. She had left after dinner around 9 and the actor had stayed on as Alex Salmond offered to show him around the Cabinet Room.

Defence Counsel Shelagh McCall QC asked her if Ms H had been there? No. Did you see her at any point during the evening? No.

[Ms H had claimed she was at this dinner and the attempted rape occurred afterwards. Alex Salmond had testified Ms H was not there at all. A video police interview with the actor had tended to support the idea Ms H, or another similar woman, was there and they were four at dinner.]

Prosecution counsel Alex Prentice then cross-examined Ms Barber. He asked whether she had received a message from the police on 29 January. She replied yes she had, and called them back on 3 February. Prentice asked whether they had then told her they wanted a statement, and whether she had replied she needed to take advice first. Ms Barber agreed.

Prentice asked why she would need legal advice to give a statement to police. Ms Barber replied she had never been involved in any judicial matter and wanted to understand the process she was getting into before she did anything. She had not said she wanted legal advice first, just advice.

Prentice asked again “why would you need legal advice before talking to the police”? Ms Barber again replied she wanted to understand the process she was getting into.

Prentice asked again, twice more, “why would you need legal advice before talking to the police?”. He got the same answer each time. You will recognise from yesterday’s report of his cross-examination of Alex Salmond, that it is a rhetorical trick of Prentice, to constantly repeat the same question in order to throw an unreasoned suspicion on the veracity of the answer. On this occasion he was stopped by the judge, who had enough.

Lady Dorrian pointedly asked him “Is a citizen not entitled to take advice, Mr Prentice?”, in a Maggie Smith tone of contempt.

Prentice then asked whether Ms Barber had already been at another Bute House dinner in May. Ms Barber replied not that she could recall. Prentice then asserted that the dinner on 13 June was with the actor, Ms H, and Alex Salmond. Ms Barber replied no, she genuinely had no recollection at all of Ms H being there.

The defence counsel Shelagh McCall QC then resumed questions. She asked if the police had put to Ms Barber that Ms H was there. Ms Barber replied that they had, and she had told them exactly what she had told the defence and now told the court, that Ms H had not been there.

The next witness was Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, who swore on the Koran. She had joined the SNP in 2000 and been appointed national Women and Equalities Convenor in 2011. From 2015 to 2017 she was MP for the Ochil Hills.

Shelagh McCall QC asked if she knew Ms H. She replied for some years, and more frequently from 2012. Ms H had been involved in the Yes campaign. They had a good relationship, and in 2014 Ms H had asked her advice on standing for the SNP national executive committee.

McCall asked her if she remembered the date of the 13 June 2014 dinner. Tasmina responded yes, that was the day her father had died. She had received a message he was taken very ill that morning and had set off for London. At Carlisle they learnt he had died. (At this point the witness broke into tears.)

Before leaving Scotland with her husband she had messaged the First Minister’s office to say she would not be able to attend the Scottish women’s international football match the next day. (The point of this evidence is it contradicts Ms H’s evidence of her interaction with Ms Ahmed-Sheikh over the football.)

 

Given the nonsense that was Woman H’s allegation, given the context of a new policy for complaints against ex-ministers which has been shown beyond doubt to be designed from the origin to trap one single man, given the frantic attempts to boost, invent or shore up complaints, given that the complainers were all from a tight coterie at the heart of Scottish government, given that the complaints fell apart when exposed to examination in court, I have no doubt that what we have here amounts to conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

In addition to which, Peter Murrell very plainly committed perjury when appearing on oath before the parliamentary inquiry into this matter, when he denied the existence of the hoard of text messages detailed above which are the subject of my latest disclosure application. Here is the evidence of his committing, firstly desperate obfuscation, then perjury.

But this is a straight lie. There is a lot more material. There is precisely the material detailed above that I have requested disclosure of for my court case and which the Crown Office refused to release as they are “private messages”. As you can see, it is precisely what Ms Baillie was asking for. The Crown Office has withheld this material from the Holyrood Inquiry. The Crown Office have also written to Alex Salmond – three times – to tell him that he will be prosecuted if he releases this material to the committee or provides any detail of its content.

There can be no doubt whatever that the Lord Advocate is now corruptly protecting Peter Murrell from a charge of perjury by keeping this material secret. I am aware that the Crown Office has received a letter from lawyers pointing out this perjury, and in response the Crown Office have tendentiously focused purely on one single question.

The Crown Office has rejoined that all of the undisclosed text messages in the series to which Jackie Baillie was referring are purely between Sue Ruddick and Peter Murrell. No other party official was involved, so Peter Murrell was not lying in this answer, which was specifically to a question of whether there were messages to any other party official.

But taking the totality of the exchanges, it is crystal clear that Baillie was not referring solely to texts to officials other than to Sue Ruddick. This is plain throughout but crystal clear here:

That is plainly a straight lie by Murrell. There is a great deal more material, as detailed in my application above and admitted by the Crown Office in their reply that these are “private messages”. It is plainly perjury by Murrell to say there is nothing else.

The Crown Office is lying to protect Murrell from perjury charges, and it has lied to protect Murrell before. The  only two texts from the voluminous Murrell/Ruddick exchanges that have been leaked and have been published, to which Jackie Baillie refers, read as follows. They are from Murrell, instructing his junior Ruddick:

“TBH the more fronts he is having to firefront on the better for all complainers. So CPS action would be a good thing.”

“Totally agree folk should be asking the police questions. Report now with the PF on charges which leaves the police twiddling their thumbs. So good time to be pressuring them. Would be good to know Met looking at events in London.”

Yet in correspondence with Kenny Macaskill MP, Lindsey Miller of the Crown Office – who were sitting on these messages – denied the existence of these specific messages before they were leaked. This is an extract from a letter to Macaskill from Ms Miller, deputy Crown Agent – who remember was in possession of the texts listed immediately above.

 

I defy anybody to state that they honestly believe that Murrell’s message to Ruddick instructing her: “Totally agree folk should be asking the police questions. Report now with the PF on charges which leaves the police twiddling their thumbs. So good time to be pressuring them.” can be characterised as “no evidence” that Murrell put pressure on the police, directly or indirectly. Miller was lying. You might say it is not conclusive evidence – though it is pretty damning. But you cannot say it is no evidence. It is strong, prima facie evidence.

Macaskill having next quoted the precise texts she was hiding to her, this was then Ms Miller’s response:

Yet again, the amount of sophistry involved in protecting Peter Murrell, and the care for his private messages, is in sharp contrast to the gung-ho attitude of the Lord Advocate and the Crown Office to the prosecution of anyone who exposes the conspiracy against Alex Salmond, of which the Crown Office is a part.

My friend and colleague Mark Hirst has been triumphantly acquitted last week on the ridiculous charge of threatening behaviour to which he had been subjected for saying that those who conspired against Alex Salmond would “reap the whirlwind”. The Court found, entirely sensibly, that this was plainly in a political context and there was no case to answer. The Crown Office had instituted an obviously ridiculous charge – found “no case to answer” – out of pure political malice.

Readers of this blog will recall they helped substantially, with £10,000 from my own defence fund having been transferred to Mark.

But Mark’s life has been turned upside down. He lost his employment as a journalist as a result of the charge. His life has been wrecked and he is now having to earn a living working very hard, for a lot less money, in a completely different field from that he is qualified in. I trust he will not mind my saying the whole experience hit him very hard. Remember his home was raided by five officers from the Police Scotland “Alex Salmond team” and all his electronic equipment confiscated, while his name was dragged through the mud on both social and mainstream media.

The same “Alex Salmond team” still exist, are working on my prosecution, and are currently still engaged in a painstaking investigation as to who leaked two of the Murrell messages to Kenny Macaskill. Both the Crown Office and Police Scotland effectively now operate as the private enforcement arm of the Murrells, protecting them from consequences of their wrongdoing and persecuting their perceived political enemies .

That is what Scotland has become.

It is also worth noting that the perceived political enemies are not unionists – in my own case, dozens of MSM journalists who much more plainly committed jigsaw identification than I are not being prosecuted – but Independence “fundamentalists”.

There is much more evidence that the Crown Office is hiding, apart from the Murrell/Ruddick messages and the SNP Special Advisers whatsapp group. The Crown has also refused to release for my trial, or to the Holyrood Inquiry, the following documents:

  • The text exchange between two complainants containing the phrase “I have a plan and means we can be anonymous but have strong repercussions…” referred to in the trial proper proceedings.
  • An e mail from SNP official and defence witness Ann Harvie alleging a “witch hunt” and the emails from Sue Ruddick to which she was replying. This was referred to in the trial proper but this evidence was not admitted before the jury after objection from the Advocate Depute.
  •  Scottish Government documents produced as part of the Judicial Review hearings which support Mr Ronnie Clancy QC assertion of conduct on the part of Scottish Government officials “bordering on encouragement”. This was referred to in open court in the Court of Session proceedings of January 8th 2019. This should include the relevant “One Notes” of the Scottish Government Investigating Officer.
  • Documents relevant to the circumstances in which details of a Scottish Government complaint was leaked to the Daily Record newspaper in August 2018.  The matter of the circumstances in which this information appeared in the public domain was referred to in the evidence of Chief Inspector Lesley Boal in the criminal trial.
  • Documents relevant to the circumstances in which the Scottish Government sources briefed the Sunday Post newspaper in August 2018 that matters were referred to the police on the advice of the Lord Advocate and whether there is documentation demonstrating that such advice was also revealed to complainants by Scottish Government officials or others as a means of persuasion

All of which is still only the tip of the iceberg. The extent to which the Crown Office colludes to keep the Holyrood Inquiry in the dark is truly a disgrace to Scotland.

My own trial starts on 27 January, which is now confirmed. It s going to be “virtual” – nobody will be in a courthouse, not even the judges nor me. I shall be sending out information on how you may follow it live shortly. I plead with you to do so – a political persecution is bad enough, I certainly do not want it to operate in the dark. Put 27 and 28 January in your diary!

—————————————————–

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My Friend Emma Nelson 220

A joke someone made yesterday reminded me of a friend I had in the FCO, Emma Nelson, who died terribly young about 20 years ago. I wanted to say a few things about her that occurred to me in the context of the Alex Salmond case. In doing so I am conscious that Emma’s family might see this, and I want to be plain that no disrespect is intended at all. Quite the opposite.

Emma worked under me as a clerk, when I was Head of Maritime Section at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. She was about fifteen years younger than me and a long way junior in the service. There were several people between me and her in the hierarchy, but I saw a great deal of her every day because, the way the FCO then worked, everything was on paper and she produced all the papers and both filled and emptied my trays, and magically found all kinds of old documents from my vague descriptions of them.

Emma was Scottish, very good looking, found many of the absurd pretensions of the FCO funny, and mocked my forgetfulness and untidiness relentlessly. We got on well. In the run up to the first Gulf war, we were both seconded to the Embargo Surveillance Centre, where I headed the FCO section of a joint department (MOD, FCO, GCHQ, DIS, MI6, DTp, Royal Navy), set up in a NBC bunker in Marsham Street that had originally been Bomber Command in the Second World War and was known as “the Citadel”. It had been re-equipped as a logistics HQ for NATO in WW3. Lots of the old WW2 maps etc were still on the walls in odd places. The Citadel is a warren; there were tunnels connecting underground to Whitehall departments. It was a 24/7 operation. I led on intelligence analysis and action with foreign governments. We slept there. At one stage I did not leave the bunker at all, not for a moment, for 4 weeks. It all went on for several months.

Working in that pressured environment, you get closer to people and social barriers drop. We did very, very occasionally get a break, and one evening I went on a pub crawl with several staff which ended with Emma and I, arms round each other’s waist, high kicking our way around Central London while belting out hits from Cabaret. Not at all sober, we got back to the bunker and slept in the same little cell on separate camp beds.

It was not a romantic relationship. We never kissed. It was certainly not sexual. On a further occasion, when we were out for lunch with another young woman who worked with us, she asked Emma direct if we were linked. “Naw”, replied Emma, “Craig’s a’ mooth and nae troosers”. Working in the FCO, where everyone gets reposted every two or three years, you get inured to fleeting friendships and after one of us was posted out we were very seldom in touch. It came as a shock to me when, a very few years later, I got a letter from Emma who was, from memory, posted in South America, saying she was seriously ill. Very shortly thereafter, I received notification she had died.

There has been a major outbreak on social media of people claiming that Alex Salmond’s relationship with female staff was very bad even if not criminal. But the large majority of what was described was far less physical than Emma and I high kicking together to Cabaret (remember, there were allegations of pinging someones hair, putting hands on shoulders over clothes, touching a knee over trousers and putting an arm round someone who was crying).

What worries me is this. By the standards of politically correct behaviour which social media on the Salmond case appears to state ought to be the norm, my relationship with Emma Nelson was wholly inappropriate if not criminal. I was much older than her and very senior. I had a power relationship to her. We therefore ought by these standards never to have had our arms around each other high-kicking, and certainly should not have been getting drunk together. Inappropriate. Inappropriate. Inappropriate.

But does that not merely enforce snobbishness? Is that not simply reinforcing class and social barriers? If I could not interact in that way with Emma because I was senior to her, is that really the world we want? And is it not enforcing a bitter joylessness on life? What kind of world is it going to be if fun interaction is only permitted with people of your same social level – which is what “power relationship” effectively means?

Nobody will ever convince me there was anything wrong in my relationship with Emma. But I can see precisely how the extraordinary prevalence of misandry now would seek to misconstrue and portray it.

—————————————————–

 
 
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Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

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Both Tortuous and Torturous 431

Magistrate Vanessa Bararitser walked into Westminster Magistrates Court No.1 at 10.12am this morning with the sunniest smile and most carefree disposition I have ever seen her adopt. Her shoulders appeared visibly lifted. She positively beamed at Clair Dobbin, counsel for the US government, as she invited her to put the case for the prosecution as to why Julian Assange should not be released on bail.

Mrs Dobbin has one of those gloomy, presbyterian personalities that only fully comes to life when it has the chance to condemn somebody. There is nothing like a flat Belfast accent for a really rousing condemnation, and this was a collector’s item.

Julian Assange, she stated in tones that made plain she considered that name in itself to be suspicious and unsavoury, had shown he would go to great lengths to avoid extradition to the United States. The judgement against his extradition turned only on one single point – that of his mental health – and that single point might easily be overturned by the High Court.

Assange had helped Edward Snowden to flee justice; he had boasted about it. As detailed in the US Government’s second superceding indictment, he had organised flights for Snowden and arranged a distraction operation to throw the CIA off the scent. When the US authorities had trapped Snowden in Russia by canceling his passport, Assange had tried to arrange not just private jets but even Presidential jets to help Snowden escape further. Such was Assange’s reach and ability.

Furthermore, the President of Mexico had made a public offer of asylum, giving Assange a firm motive to escape. Many countries would wish to support him and he might again enter a foreign Embassy. He had hidden for seven years in the Ecuadorean Embassy to avoid extradition to the USA. He had broken his bail commitments in 2012: “any idea that moral or principled reasons would bear on Mr Assange’s conscience turned out to be ill-founded indeed”.

The British government had been obliged to spend £16 million on the surveillance of Mr Assange while he was in the Ecuadorean Embassy. Those who had stood surety for him had failed in their duty to ensure that he presented himself in court in 2012. Tracy Worcester, who was among those offering surety now and had offered accommodation for the Assange family, had failed in her duty in 2012.

Furthermore Julian Assange had obtained diplomatic status from Ecuador, a further example of his seeking means to avoid extradition.

Dobbin then stated the US Government was appealing against the judgement not to extradite, and said it would do so on the grounds that Baraitser had made an error in law in incorrectly applying the relevant test on conditions that would bar extradition. In effect, Baraitser had set a new test of whether measures would be in place to make suicide impossible, whereas the correct test was whether measures would be in place to mitigate against the risk of suicide, and on that proper test the evidence was that the US system was sufficiently robust.

The test required a rigorous assessment of the facilities for treatment and prison conditions in the USA. This assessment had not taken place.

Dobbin went on to say that Baraitser had misinterpreted the law as to whether the cause of the immediate suicidal impulse was current circumstance or an underlying medical condition. She then argued that Assange’s young family ought not to be a factor, because they had been born while Assange was in the Embassy, and therefore in full knowledge that his future was entirely uncertain. Taken together, Dobbin concluded, these arguments posed an insurmountable obstacle to the granting of bail.

Edward Fitzgerald then replied that Baraitser’s judgement against extradition changes everything. Since October 2019, when the prison sentence for bail-jumping concluded, Assange had been held in Belmarsh prison solely on the basis of this extradition request. Now the request had been refused, he must be entitled to his liberty pending any appeal, as specified in the discharge order of Monday’s judgement. The status quo now was that the extradition request has been refused. Therefore the grounds for detention were gone, and further detention would be oppressive.

The court had accepted that incarceration was deleterious to Assange’s mental health, and he needed the support of his family. Conditions in the prison were made much worse by further lockdown due to Covid-19. Assange had not received a family prison visit since March 2020.

There followed a strange interlude where Fitzgerald stated that there was a major Covid epidemic in Belmarsh and 59 prisoners had tested positive in December. Dobbin rose to deny this and said there had been only 3 positive tests for Covid in Belmarsh, brandishing an email sent by the prison authorities at 10.49pm the previous night. There was heated discussion as to the veracity of this figure.

Fitzgerald next stated that the supervising prosecutor in the USA in this case had put on record his doubts that the incoming Biden administration would wish to continue this prosecution. He also pointed out that the Mexican offer of asylum was specifically for after the conclusion of legal proceedings and after discussion with the UK at foreign minister level. It was not an invitation to abscond.

Assange had no reason to abscond. There was little or no precedent for the High Court overturning any ruling against extradition on Section 91 health grounds. The defence strongly refuted the US government’s claim that the relevant tests had not been properly considered and applied by the court. Numerous expert witnesses had been heard. The Lauri Love case was the most relevant precedent. Stringent monitoring and bail conditions could be applied, but with the presumption now against extradition, Julian Assange should be returned to life with his family pending any US appeal, to give him a chance to recover his health.

Baraitser then immediately gave her decision. She stated that Assange had been a fugitive from British justice since 29 June 2012 when he failed to report to court as ordered. His entire motive for his residence in the Ecuadorean Embassy had been avoidance of a US extradition request. Assange therefore still had a motive to abscond. He had the backing of a powerful international network of supporters who could facilitate his escape.

The US government had the right to appeal and the High Court had the right to determine the matters at issue. It was therefore essential to ensure that Assange appeared before the High Court.

Assange had been deeply involved in the organisation of Edward Snowden’s escape which further underlined his contempt for the law. His health problems could be managed well in Belmarsh. Baraitser specifically accepted the figure of 3 COVID cases in Belmarsh given officially by the prison authorities. In conclusion, bail was refused.

COMMENT

All of Julian’s team were optimistic before this hearing and it seems perverse that, a judgement against extradition having been made, Julian should continue to be held in high security prison pending the US government appeal. He has already been in jail for over 14 months just in the extradition matter, after the expiry of his unprecedentedly harsh sentence for bail-jumping.

In effect, having already served that sentence, Julian is now being punished again for the same offence, spending years in extreme prison conditions purely because he once jumped bail, for which he already served the full sentence.

The logic of holding Julian now is simply not there, given the current legal position is that he is not being extradited. Furthermore this continuing raising and lowering of his spirits, and never-ending incarceration with no fixed limit, is destroying his fragile health. Baraitser has played cat and mouse this week. Julian is living his life in conditions both torturous and tortuous.

It is ironic to hear Baraitser declare in condemnatory tones, without equivocation, that Julian only entered the Embassy to escape extradition to the USA. This is of course perfectly true. But I remember the many years when the Establishment line, from the government and repeated in several hundred Guardian columns, was that this truth was a fiction. They claimed there was never any intention to extradite to the USA, and actually he was avoiding extradition to Sweden, on allegations that never had any basis and which disappeared like mist when the time actually came. I suppose we should be grateful for at least this much truth in proceedings.

Today’s judgement makes plain that whatever is happening with Monday’s judgement, it is not genuinely motivated by concern for Julian’s health. Yanis Varoufakis yesterday stated that the ultimate aim is still to kill Julian through the penal system. Nothing that happened today would contradict him.

The extraordinary figure of only 3 Covid infections in Belmarsh is very hard to believe and contradicts all previous information. Plainly Covid is less of a risk than anywhere else in London, and perhaps we should all break in to improve our isolation and safety. The only explanation that occurs to me is that the vast majority of prisoners are denied access to testing and are therefore not confirmed cases. or that the prson has chosen to give testing results for a single day and chosen to misrepresent the meaning of the statistic. In fact the point is not central to the bail application, but as a possible example of yet further malfeasance by the Belmarsh medical team, it is particularly intriguing.

The decision not to grant bail can be appealed to the High Court. I expect that will happen (there has been no chance yet to consult Julian’s wishes), and happen in about a fortnight.

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The Assange Verdict: What Happens Now 184

I fully expect that Julian will be released on bail this week, pending a possible US appeal against the blocking of his extradition.

There was discussion of when and how to make the bail application on Monday, after magistrate Vanessa Baraitser announced her decision not to grant extradition as it would be oppressive on health and welfare grounds. Lead Defence QC Edward Fitzgerald was prepared to make an immediate application for release on bail, but was strongly steered by Baraitser towards waiting a couple of days until he could have the full bail application ready in good order with all the supporting documentation.

I had the strong impression that Baraitser was minded to grant bail and wanted the decision to be fireproof. I have spoken to two others who were in court who formed the same impression. Indeed, in the past, she has more than once indicated that she will reject a bail application before one has been made. I can think of no reason why she would steer Fitzgerald so strongly to delay the application if there were not a very strong chance she would grant it. She gave him the advice and then adjourned the court for 45 minutes so Fitzgerald and Gareth Peirce could discuss it with Julian, and on return they took her advice. If she were simply going to refuse the bail application, there was no reason for her not to get it over with quickly there and then.

Fitzgerald briefly made the point that Assange now had very little incentive to abscond, as there had never been a successful appeal against a refusal to extradite on medical grounds. Indeed it is very difficult to see how an appeal can be successful. The magistrate is the sole determinant of fact in the case. She has heard the evidence, and her view of the facts of Assange’s medical condition and the facts of conditions in American supermax prisons cannot be overturned. Nor can any new evidence be introduced. The appeal has rather to find that, given the facts, Baraitser made an error in law, and it is difficult to see the argument.

I am not sure that at this stage the High Court would accept a new guarantee from the USA that Assange would not be kept in isolation or in a Supermax prison; that would be contrary to the affidavit from Assistant Secretary of State Kromberg and thus would probably be ruled to amount to new evidence. Not to mention that Baraitser heard other evidence that such assurances had been received in the case of Abu Hamza, but had been broken. Hamza is not only kept in total isolation, but as a man with no hands he is deprived of prosthetics that would enable him to brush his teeth, and he has no means of cutting his nails nor assistance to do so, and cannot effectively wipe himself in the toilet.

Not only is it hard to see the point of law on which the USA could launch an appeal, it is far from plain that they have a motive to do so. Baraitser agreed with all the substantive points of argument put forward by the US government. She stated that there was no bar on extradition from the UK for political offences; she agreed that publication of national security material did constitute an offence in the USA under the Espionage Act and would do so in the UK under the Official Secrets Act, with no public interest defence in either jurisdiction; she agreed that encouraging a source to leak classified information is a crime; she agreed Wikileaks’ publications had put lives at risk.

On all of these points she dismissed virtually without comment all the defence arguments and evidence. As a US Justice Department spokesman said yesterday:
“While we are extremely disappointed in the court’s ultimate decision, we are gratified that the United States prevailed on every point of law raised. In particular, the court rejected all of Mr Assange’s arguments regarding political motivation, political offence, fair trial, and freedom of speech. We will continue to seek Mr Assange’s extradition to the United States.” That is a fair categorisation of what happened.

Appealing a verdict that is such a good result for the United States does not necessarily make sense for the Justice Department. Edward Fitzgerald explained to me yesterday that, if the USA appeals the decision on the health and prison condition grounds, it becomes open to the defence to counter-appeal on all the other grounds, which would be very desirable indeed given the stark implications of Baraitser’s ruling for media freedom. I have always believed that Baraitser would rule as she did on the substantial points, but I have always also believed that those extreme security state arguments would never survive the scrutiny of better judges in a higher court. Unlike the health ruling, the dispute over Baraitser’s judgement on all the other points does come down to classic errors in law which can successfully be argued on appeal.

If the USA does appeal the judgement, it is far more likely that not only will the health grounds be upheld, but also that Baraitser’s positions on extradition for political offences and freedom of the media will be overturned, than it is likely that the US will achieve extradition. They have fourteen days in which to lodge the appeal – now thirteen.

An appeal result is in short likely to be humiliating for the USA. It would be much wiser for the US to let sleeping dogs lie. But pride and the wound to the US sense of omnipotence and exceptionalism may drive them to an appeal which, for the reasons given above, I would actually welcome provided Julian is out on bail. Which I expect he shall be shortly.

More analysis of Baraitser’s judgement will follow.

—————————————————–

 
 
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Julian Assange: Imminent Freedom 121

It has been a long and tiring day, with the startlingly unexpected decision to block Julian’s extradition. The judgement is in fact very concerning, in that it accepted all of the prosecution’s case on the right of the US Government to prosecute publishers worldwide of US official secrets under the Espionage Act. The judge also stated specifically that the UK Extradition Act of 2003 deliberately permits extradition for political offences. These points need to be addressed. But for now we are all delighted at the ultimate decision that extradition should be blocked.

The decision was based equally on two points; the appalling conditions in US supermax prisons, and the effect of those conditions on Julian specifically given his history of depression. The media has concentrated on the mental health aspect, and given insufficient attention to the explicit condemnation of the inhumanity of the US prison system.

I was the only person physically present in the public gallery inside the court, having been nominated by John Shiption to represent the family, aside from two court officials. I am quite sure that I again noted magistrate Baraitser have a catch in her throat when discussing the inhumane conditions in US supermax prisons, the lack of human contact, and specifically the fact that inmates are kept in total isolation in a small cage, and are permitted one hour exercise a day in total isolation in another small cage. I noted her show emotion the same way when discussing the al-Masri torture evidence during the trial, and she seemed similarly affected here.

Julian looked well and alert; he showed no emotion at the judgement, but entered into earnest discussion with his lawyers. The US government indicated they will probably appeal the verdict, and a bail hearing has been deferred until Wednesday to decide whether he will be released from Belmarsh pending the appeal – which court sources tell me is likely to be held in April in the High Court. I should be very surprised if Julian is not released on Wednesday pending the appeal. I shall now be staying here for that bail hearing.

I apologise for not giving a full analysis of the judgement yet, it has all been rather hectic, but wonderful. Here is a brief video giving more detail. I can produce a more considered piece tomorrow.

—————————————————–

 
 
Forgive me for pointing out that my ability to provide this coverage is entirely dependent on your kind voluntary subscriptions which keep this blog going. This post is free for anybody to reproduce or republish, including in translation. You are still very welcome to read without subscribing.

Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

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The International Criminal Court: Now Simply Indefensible 303

Support for the rule of international law, and for the institutions which uphold it, is one of the principles of this blog. I have therefore always been extremely keen to defend and support the International Criminal Court, despite widespread criticism that it is simply a tool for use against leaders in the developing world and other opponents of the neo-con world order. I maintained that the standard of justice and investigation in the cases it did consider was generally good, and the need was to widen its ambit.

Unfortunately, the decision of the ICC to close down its investigation into War Crimes committed by the British in Iraq is the last straw for me in continuing to harbour any hope that the ICC will ever be anything more than an instrument of victors’ justice. I have read the entire 184 page report which closes down the investigation, and it is truly shocking. It is shocking in the outlining of British war crimes, but what really shocked me is the truly appalling picture that clearly emerges of the attitudes of the International Criminal Court.

I am afraid this article is rather heavy going, and requires you to read some rather lengthy sections of the report to show what I mean. Nothing is so damning of the ICC as the words of their own report, so I do not apologise for this approach. I would say that what I found really did shock me and has completely changed my mind about the value of the International Criminal Court as an institution. As I flatter myself I have a reasonably good grasp of such matters, I am proceeding on the assumption that what was startling to me will probably be startling to you, and you will find this worth reading.

The launching of the Iraq War was itself the most serious single war crime of this century to date, and the ICC had previously ducked it by arguing that the Statute of Rome which founded the Court did not at the time of the war include illegal war of aggression among its list of war crimes. I argued then and I argue now that this did not remove that crime from its jurisdiction. The crime of illegal war of aggression was already firmly a part of customary international law and the very foundation of Nuremberg, so the ICC did not need specific mention in the Treaty of Rome to be able to prosecute it.

The current ICC report on British war crimes in Iraq however simply blandly reiterates the line (para 35):

Finally, although a number of communication senders have also made allegations relating to decision of the UK authorities to launch the armed conflict, the Office takes no position on legality of war given the non-applicability of the crime of aggression at the material time.

It was perhaps always Utopian to imagine that Blair, Straw, Campbell, Scarlett, Dearlove etc would pay for their crimes. But it did seem very probable that the ICC would prosecute at least some of those directly responsible for committing war crimes on the ground. Alas, the ICC has now produced 184 pages of mealy-mouthed sophistry and responsibility-dodging to justify why there will be no further investigation, let alone prosecutions. I have read the full report and frankly it makes me feel sick. But I shall still try to elucidate it for you.

This ICC report does give an account of the origin of the Iraq War, and it is astonishing. At para 36 it states the UK/US case for the invasion as historical truth, as though that were the simple and uncontested fact of the matter.

36. After the January 1991 Gulf War, the Security Council adopted a resolution setting out ceasefire terms, including ending production of weapons of mass destruction and permitting inspection teams on the territory of Iraq. In September 2002, the US and UK argued that Iraq was in material breach of the relevant resolutions and was seeking to develop weapons of mass destruction. UN weapons inspectors stated they had not found any “smoking gun” in their search for weapons of mass destruction, but noted that this was “no guarantee that prohibited stocks or activities could not exist at other sites, whether above ground, underground or in mobile units”. The US gathered a coalition of 48 countries, including the UK, for the stated purpose of searching and destroying alleged weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

That is it. That is the ICC’s entire account of the origin of the Iraq War. The notion that Security Council Resolution 699 of 1991 authorised the 2002 invasion – a position never endorsed by the Security Council – appears to be taken as read despite being the most hotly disputed question in international law of all time. The selectivity of the cherry-picked quote from the weapons inspectors is an audacious bit of sophistry given it is taken from a report in which the weapons inspectors detailed they found no evidence of WMD, that cooperation from the Iraqi authorities was improving, and asked for more time and resources to complete their work. Even more flabbergasting, this ICC report paragraph gives as a supporting footnote the infamous UK government “dodgy dossier” on Iraqi WMD, a totally discredited document, without any indication there is any problem with it.

The truth is, that the paragraph in the report by the ICC prosecutor on the origin of the war is precisely as the UK would draft it, and in its unmoderated presentation of extremely contentious positions and its remarkable selectivity as to what facts are presented, it is entirely tendentious. I suspect that not only could it have been drafted by the UK government, it is very likely it was so drafted. I cannot think of anyone else, not even the current US government at time of writing, who would consider that paragraph a fair or reasonable explanation of the origins of the Iraq war.

This criticism applies to the entire document. It is written entirely in the preferred language of the invaders. For example, Iraqis resisting the foreign occupation are referred to as “insurgents” throughout the document. We first see this in para 43, in the statement that the British forces in Basra faced “an increasingly violent insurgency”. Oh, those poor innocent British forces, sitting at home in Basra, facing invasion from “insurgents” who had surged in from… from… err, Basra. The idea that the invaders were the respectable power and the locals were “insurgents” may be the language of the British MOD and may be adopted by the Daily Mail, but it should not be the language of the International Criminal Court. Here again, the prosecutor simply accepts the entire British framing of the narrative. Insurgents are referred to throughout.

Not only is the entire report written in the British voice, it entirely omits the Iraqi voice. The Prosecutor has written a report on British war crimes against Iraqis. The Prosecutor accepts there is credible evidence that hundreds of such war crimes were committed. Yet nowhere is there one single direct quote from an Iraqi victim. Not one. In the hundreds of references, The Prosecutor has based the entire report on whether to prosecute Brits for crimes against Iraqis, solely on interviews with Brits in official positions.

Everything is seen through the British military lens. To give another small illustration of this point, a skirmish at Majar-al-Kabir, following which captives were grossly mistreated, is referred to as “The Battle of Danny Boy”, which it is called by nobody except the British army. The ICC should not be calling a site in Iraq by the name the British army gave their checkpoint there, nor representing a skirmish involving 100 people as a “battle” because the British army does. “The Battle of Danny Boy” is a good illustration of the way that this report is written entirely through the British military gaze using British, not Iraqi, terms.

This next fact alone sufficiently illustrates my point, and entirely damns both this report and the International Criminal Court. Of the 776 footnotes, not a single one references a document in Arabic or in translation from Arabic. Not one. The vast majority of references are to official British documents. On the rare occasions when Iraqis are mentioned in the report, it is frequently to impugn their reliability as witnesses. The Iraqi individual most discussed – still briefly – is not a victim but a lawyer engaged in collecting testimonies. The Iraqi voice has gone unheard in this ICC decision. The victims are unconsidered.

You will search in vain for the Iraqi voice even where it could easily be found, in the witness statements of Iraqis to the British courts the report so freely quotes. But no, where Iraqi experience is recounted at all it is thoroughly mediated by British judges or other authorities.

Yet remarkably the report accepts that British forces were responsible for war crimes on a substantial scale. The report was written by a team, and plainly the team that was setting out the facts on the ground held rather different views from the politically influenced bosses who were writing the conclusions. The report notes:

70. The UK deposited its instrument of ratification to the Rome Statute on 4 October 2001. The ICC therefore may exercise its jurisdiction, from 1 July 2002 onwards, over alleged acts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed either on UK territory or by UK nationals on the territory of other States.
71. As set out more fully below, on the basis of the information available, there is a reasonable basis to believe that, at a minimum, the following war crimes have been committed by members of UK armed forces:
wilful killing/murder under article 8(2)(a)(i)) or article 8(2)(c)(i));
torture and inhuman/cruel treatment under article 8(2)(a)(ii) or article 8(2)(c)(i));
outrages upon personal dignity under article 8(2)(b)(xxi) or article 8(2)(c)(ii));
rape and/or other forms of sexual violence under article 8(2)(b)(xxii) or article 8(2)(e)(vi)).

Then again:

113. The information available provides a reasonable basis to believe that in the period from April 2003 through September 2003 members of UK armed forces in Iraq committed the war crime of wilful killing/murder pursuant to article 8(2)(a)(i) or article 8(2)(c)(i)), at a minimum, against seven persons in their custody. The information available provides a reasonable basis to believe that in the period from 20 March 2003 through 28 July 2009 members of UK armed forces committed the war crime of torture and inhuman/cruel treatment (article 8(2)(a)(ii) or article 8(2)(c)(i)); and the war crime of outrages upon personal dignity (article 8(2)(b)(xxi) or article 8(2)(c)(ii)) against at least 54 persons in their custody. The information available further provides a reasonable basis to believe that members of UK armed forces committed the war crime of other forms of sexual violence, at a minimum, against the seven victims as well as the war crime of rape against one of those seven victims while they were detained at Camp Breadbasket in May 2003. Where such detainee abuse occurred, this typically arose in the early stages of the internment process, such as upon capture, initial internment and during ‘tactical questioning’.
114. As noted above, the findings set out above are a sample pool of incidents which, while not reflecting the full scale of the alleged crimes relevant to the situation, were sufficiently well supported to meet the reasonable basis standard and allow the Office to reach a determination on subject-matter jurisdiction.

Later the following aggravating factor is considered:

140. The manner in which these crimes are alleged to have been committed also appears to have been particularly cruel, prolonged and severe. Notably, in five cases of deaths in custody, the victims were allegedly tortured – or at least severely and repeatedly assaulted – by UK personnel who detained them prior to their death. In the killing of Baha Mousa in September 2003, the victim was hooded for almost 24 hours during his 36 hours of custody and suffered at least 93 injuries prior to his death.

It is important to note that this appalling catalogue of crimes, where there was a reasonable prima facie case to proceed, represented only a very small sample of the thousands reported to the International Criminal Court. But even this small sample convinced the prosecutor that there was good enough evidence for the investigation to go forward.

So why did it not proceed? The Prosecutor decided to drop the case on the principle of “Complementarity”. This means that the ICC cannot prosecute if the government concerned – the UK government in this case – is itself genuinely investigating or prosecuting. The prosecutor based the decision not to proceed on these provisions of the Statute of Rome:

But none of the catalogue of crimes for which there is good evidence, examined by the ICC, had resulted in prosecution. In fact the report detailed that not a single prosecution had resulted from the work of the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) in the MOD, although they had investigated scores of cases which the IHAT itself – consisting of former military and retired policemen – considered viable. In every single case, the proposal for a prosecution had been knocked back by the Service Prosecuting Authority (SPA).

In fact the ICC only references two cases in which there were convictions for war crimes, and in both cases the conviction was purely because somebody immediately admitted the truth and confessed at the initial investigation stage. The maximum sentence given out was just one year in prison. The report’s account of how one of these convictions from confession came to fruition is extremely revealing:

91. Several notable features stand out from the Camp Breadbasket court martial. First, although multiple military personnel knew about the alleged abuses (including the alleged sexual crimes), each failed in their duty to report them. The conduct only came to light when one of the soldiers involved in taking trophy photographs had the photographs developed in a civilian shop and the shop assistant reported the conduct to civilian police, who made an arrest. Second, during his testimony, when asked why he had not reported alleged criminal conduct at Camp Breadbasket, Corporal Kenyon asserted that, “there was no point in passing anything up the chain of command, because it was the chain of command who was, in my eyes, doing a wrongdoing to the Iraqis to start off with, and they were passing Iraqis down to us, for us to do the same things basically”.

The key fact here is that the MOD’s processes and investigations had nothing whatsoever to do with the conviction. It came about because of the chance of a civilian seeing the photo and bringing in the civilian police, who had plain and undeniable photographic evidence of torture and sexual abuse. Otherwise this would have been entirely covered up by the MOD, exactly like all the other thousands of cases bar one other (in which somebody wracked by conscience insisted on confessing). For the ICC to quote the Camp Breadbasket conviction as evidence the UK investigation processes are working is tendentious. It was very obviously a fluke; I cannot think of a better example of an exception that merely proves the rule.

The International Criminal Court’s decision that there are no grounds to continue investigation, on the grounds the UK’s own procedures are adequate, becomes truly incredible – in the real meaning of the word, utterly lacking in credibility – when you read this passage of the report. It really is worth reading:

380. The Office has pursued a number of lines of inquiry to independently ascertain the veracity of the BBC/Times allegations with a view ultimately to speak with the primary sources of the allegations and other persons directly involved or with knowledge of facts related to the events. Overwhelmingly, those former IHAT staff the Office spoke to indicated that they had concerns about the outcome of IHAT’s investigations. Most considered that the investigative teams did a thorough job, but when it came time for the investigations to progress to prosecutions, there was something obstructing this. The former IHAT investigators were unable to specify what this obstruction was, given their limited access to decision-making, but insisted that such obstruction came at levels higher up within IHAT or the SPA (Services Prosecuting Authority).
381. Several former IHAT investigators reported their frustration at the outcome of inquiries into systemic issues submitted for internal IHAT/IHAPT review, whether in terms of recommendation for further investigative steps or referrals for prosecution, in view of their concern that cases involving superior responsibility were prematurely terminated or that there was leadership pressure within IHAT/IHAPT not to pursue them.
382. Several former IHAT staff were of the view that IHAT’s independence and impartiality was undermined by its relationship with the army and MoD, including: its physical location on a British Army base; IHAT’s use of MoD resources and systems; and requirements that IHAT staff go through the RNP or MoD personnel for certain functions (such as securing custody and travel).
383. Multiple former IHAT staff described difficulties in accessing evidence in the possession of the RMP or the MoD. They described how some RMP and MoD personnel obstructed access to files, in their view unjustifiably; did not permit IHAT staff to locate documents they had been vetted to inspect; and imposed restrictions on access; or were repeatedly told that they had been given all of the relevant material pertaining to a certain matter, only to later discover that they had not. The former IHAT staff described how some storage boxes had been mislabelled, obscuring the discovery of relevant evidence, and their view that the RMP only gave IHAT a fraction of the relevant material they possessed.
384. The former IHAT staff the Office spoke to also conveyed the difficulties the teams encountered in attempting to interview witnesses and suspects and to conduct other investigative steps. They described multiple occasions on which their requests to interview important witnesses were blocked for either unexplained reasons or for administrative ones, such as ‘expenses not allowing’. They described how witness interviews were hampered by IHAT refusing to reimburse witnesses for travel, travel details being changed at the last minute and in one case a potential witness being arrested before meeting with investigators. Some had the impression that IHAT management were trying to put obstacles in their way. Multiple former IHAT staff relayed their impression that there was no will on the part of IHAT management to allow proper investigations which would result in prosecution.
385. Concern was also expressed over the SPA’s involvement in the termination of cases. Several former IHAT staff that the Office spoke to felt that the SPA, as part of the MoD, was not truly independent or impartial respecting the armed forces. Multiple individuals with extensive civilian criminal investigations experience described how the investigation teams built cases which they considered were evidentially strong and ready to proceed, but the SPA refused to lay charges. With respect to certain alleged killing incidents, the view was conveyed that evidence supporting charges of manslaughter or murder, which would have proceeded in a domestic civilian police inquiry, were discontinued by the SPA.

Read that, and then consider that the conclusion of the International Criminal Court report is that their investigation must be dropped as there is no evidence that the UK is not diligently pursuing prosecutions.

The ICC then details a dozen paragraphs of what I would characterise as bland managerial reassurances from the MOD that these concerns are unwarranted, a result of the limited understanding of junior staff, and decisions not to prosecute have always been taken on the advice of external counsel. You are welcome to read that section of the report starting at para 386. The ICC accepts these reassurances and the British Government view as genuine without question, never for example considering that the MOD might have external counsel of notable militarist views and disinterest in human rights. The fact that external counsel is involved in the decisions not to prosecute is taken by the ICC as substantial guarantee that the procedure is genuine.

After the IHAT was closed down its workload was transferred to the smaller Service Policy Legacy Investigations Team, which immediately closed down 1213 out of the 1283 cases it inherited. That this indicates that a genuine process is underway is apparent to the ICC, but not to me. The report also notes something remarkable about the IHAT’s approach in that it categorised cases into three tiers, of which only the first tier was actively pursued. The second tier were cases considered less serious so it was not “proportionate” for them to be pursued. But consider what was in the second tier. This is from para 355 of the report:

Tier 2 allegations are those that may meet the investigative threshold of the SPLI but are dependent upon a further review. They are cases of moderate severity and ill-treatment where no life changing injuries or significant psychological harm has been sustained. Examples of Tier 2 cases could include, but are not limited to, GBH type offences that are not of a life changing nature; e.g. broken bones and or fractures. Tier 2 allegations could also include lower level sexual allegations e.g. intimate searches, and other treatment of a serious nature i.e. mock execution, nonfatal shootings and electrocution.

But as the report notes, this almost all meets the definition of torture: GBH inflicting broken bones and “non-fatal shooting”, as well as “lower level” sexual abuse is pretty serious stuff. If somebody shot you in the knee while holding you captive, would you think it “proportionate” for them to be prosecuted? The MOD would not – subject to an unspecified future review.

The question of the work of the IHAT being frustrated by senior management is one of those instances where the content of the report is at such variance with its conclusions, it is pretty clear that these were not written by the same people. In fact, the report returns to the concerns of IHAT staff again, plainly giving real weight to something earlier paragraphs had already dismissed:

408. The Office spoke with a number of former staff of IHAT who held different levels and functions. This sample of individuals was to some extent self-selected (being persons who were willing to speak to the Office). Accordingly, there may be limits to the representativeness of their experiences as compared with that of former IHAT staff as a whole. The Office nonetheless notes that the views of these individuals were on the whole balanced, as evidenced through their advancement of both praise and critique for various aspects of IHAT’s work. The Office also accepts that these individuals were not natural ‘whistle-blowers’. As former law enforcement personnel bound by confidentiality undertakings with their former employer and liable for penal sanction for potentially breaching protections on classified information, they may have been naturally reticent to speak with the ICC, which also reduces their likelihood of having made frivolous or malicious allegations. On the whole, the information received by the Office corresponds to the reports made in the BBC Panorama programme and in the Sunday Times.
409. The Office views with concern the fact that professional IHAT investigators – drawn from experienced retired officers of civilian police forces or serving Royal Navy Police personnel – would have made allegations of a cover-up or expressed concerns over the fate of the IHAT investigations that they worked on.

The schizophrenic report attempts to reconcile this by constantly referencing only para 2 (a) of the admissibility criteria, and claiming that neither the lack of prosecutions nor the allegations of IHAT staff give conclusive evidence that criminals are being deliberately shielded from prosecution. The report claims on the basis of previous court decisions that for a case to be admissible, “shielding” by the state must be proven to the standard of criminal proof. I am not sufficiently expert in the court’s previous judgements to know if that is true. But on the face of it, it is an extremely curious view of the admissibility criteria, read as a whole. Even apart from that, the evidence of shielding of soldiers by the MOD appears to be fairly compelling; certainly enough to justify further investigation.

The detail of the report gives ample evidence, much of it from UK courts, that cases are not being adequately investigated, that prosecutions are not being properly pursued, and that the military are conspiring – “Closing ranks” as more than one senior judge has put it – to cover up crimes, and getting away with it.

Para 213
The commanding officer referred Baha Mousa’s death for investigation by the RMP’s SIB, which was concluded in early April 2004 and resulted in the court martial of seven soldiers of the QLR. The court convicted Corporal Donald Payne of inhuman treatment but acquitted him of manslaughter and perverting the course of justice. He was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment. Payne appears to have been the first British soldier ever to be convicted in the UK of a war crime. In the case of five other defendants, the Judge Advocate ruled that there was no case to answer due to lack of evidence, while two further accused were cleared by the jury of negligently performing the duty of ensuring that detainees were not ill-treated by men under their command.331 Justice MacKinnon, who presided over the court martial, acknowledged that despite his finding that Baha Mousa’s injuries were the result of numerous assaults over 36 hours “none of those soldiers have been charged with any offence simply because there is no evidence against them as a result of a more or less obvious closing of ranks”.

A similar example:

217. Naheem Abdullah died from a blow or blows to the left side of his head inflicted by one or more soldiers of a section of the 3rd Batallion of the Parachute Regiment while in their custody in Maysan Province on 11 May 2003.346 Naheem Abdullah’s death was investigated by the RMP’s SIB in 2003 and seven soldiers were charged with murder. At a court martial on 3 November 2005, the Judge Advocate found that the evidence did not permit a conclusion to be drawn on the individual responsibility of each defendant. The Judge Advocate criticised the RMP’s SIB investigation as “inadequate” with “serious omissions” by investigators in not searching for records of hospital admissions or registers of burials.
218. During the Ali Zaki Mousa litigation, the UK High Court noted its concern that IHAT had not taken the case forward despite the court martial finding that the death was a result of an assault by the section to which the soldiers belonged.
219. On 27 March 2014, the Secretary of State for Defence announced that an IFI investigation into Naheem Abdullah’s death had been commissioned in order to comply with the High Court’s decision in Ali Zaki Mousa (No. 2) but that “no prosecutions will result”. The IFI made “exhaustive inquiries about the whereabouts of the transcript of the court martial” but concluded it had probably “been destroyed or thrown away”. It further noted that the soldiers had not given oral evidence, been examined or cross-examined and found that the “need for them to give oral evidence” was a “critical aim” of the IFI inquiry.

In what universe is this not an unwillingness or inability of the UK authorities genuinely to prosecute? If this were a stabbing by a group of civilian youths, they would all be banged up under the doctrine of “common purpose”. The difficulties of prosecuting criminals who stick together are by no means the sole preserve of the armed forces, and the days when nobody could be convicted because of the problem of proving which gang member struck the fatal blow are long gone in civilian life.

The sole difficulty here is the prosecutors’ and investigators’ unwillingness to use the toolbox regularly used against gangs or organised crime, against self-protecting groups of soldier war criminals. The criminals are indeed being shielded.

Para 228 further shows the MOD’s failure in this regard is systemic:

As IHAT/SPA set out to the Office: 7 defendants were prosecuted during a six month court martial, with the case against all but 2 being dismissed by the judge at the conclusion of the prosecution case. The reasons for this outcome are complex but relate to the quality of the evidence given by the British soldiers who were called as witnesses by the prosecution. While the defence did not dispute that the detainees in this case had been subjected to serious mistreatment, including acts of violence, during their detention at “BG Main”, the detainees themselves were unable to identify which individual soldiers had been responsible for which aspects of their mistreatment or for which assault. This was primarily because the detainees had been hooded for most of the relevant time. Several of the soldiers who were called as witnesses by the prosecution proved reluctant to provide evidence against those with whom they still served, leading to what the Judge Advocate, a senior judge from the civilian system who had been brought in to try this case, described as a “more or less obvious closing of ranks”. The 2 defendants against whom the case was not dismissed at the conclusion of the prosecution case were subsequently acquitted by the Military Board after consideration of all of the evidence.

Finally, one last paragraph to illustrate that the conclusion of the report is completely incompatible with its internal evidence:

250. The Baha Mousa Inquiry report, published on 8 September 2011, made findings on the death of Baha Mousa in British custody in Basra after several days of abuse in September 2003. Five years prior to the report, seven suspects had been subject to the pre-IHAT procedure described above, which resulted in six acquittals at a court martial and one conviction for the war crime of inhuman treatment (following a guilty plea). The report found that British soldiers had subjected detainees to serious, gratuitous violence and that although doctrinal shortcomings may have contributed to the use of a process of unlawful conditioning, it could not “excuse or mitigate the kicking, punching and beating of Baha Mousa which was a direct and proximate cause of his death, or the treatment meted out to his fellow Detainees”.414 The findings did not inspire new prosecutions. On 8 June 2017, during a hearing to review the progress of IHAT investigations, Justice Leggatt noted that it was “difficult to understand why almost six years after a major public inquiry was finished in 2011 there has been no resolution of the question whether to prosecute anybody in relation to Baha Mousa.”

Yet the International Criminal Court claims not to have sufficient evidence that the UK government is not genuinely pursuing prosecutions: and remarkably states that even the passing now of legislation specifically to give an amnesty to soldiers for historic war crimes, does not radically affect its judgement as to the MOD’s practice and intent.

This report is a nonsense. It is based on adopting the UK MOD gaze throughout, and accepting that everything statted by UK official sources is true and given in good faith, which is never even questioned. The failure even to entertain the notion that the UK is acting in bad faith renders the report utterly pointless. Never can a report have been written on any subject where the internal evidence was so utterly incompatible with the conclusion. The report is the responsibility of prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. I find her motives as baffling as her conclusions.

What is however plain is that I can no longer argue that the ICC is an impartial body. Its protection of the UK not only over the initiation of the Iraq War, but even over the many crimes committed by its working level soldiers, let alone those who commanded them, stands in such stark contrast to the ICC’s treatment of those viewed as the designated enemies of the Western powers, that it has lost all moral authority.

I leave you with Ms Bensouda’s conclusions:

502. The Office recalls that, based on its evaluation of the totality of the information available, it cannot conclude that the UK authorities have been unwilling genuinely to carry out relevant investigative inquiries and/or prosecutions (article 17(1)(a)) or that decisions not to prosecute in specific cases resulted from unwillingness genuinely to prosecute (article 17(1)(b)). Specifically, for the purpose of article 17(2), the Office cannot conclude that the relevant investigative inquiries or investigative/prosecutorial decisions were made for the purpose of shielding the person concerned from criminal responsibility for crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court; that there has been an unjustified delay in the proceedings which in the circumstances is inconsistent with an intent to bring the person concerned to justice; or that the proceedings were not or are not being conducted independently or impartially, and they were or are being conducted in a manner which, in the circumstances, is inconsistent with an intent to bring the person concerned to justice.
503. On this basis, having exhausted all avenues available and assessed all information obtained, the Office has determined that the only appropriate decision is to close the preliminary examination and to inform the senders of communications. While this decision might be met with dismay by some stakeholders, while viewed as an endorsement of the UK’s approach by others, the reasons set out in this report should temper both extremes.

Do you feel a little bit sick too?

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Before the usual appeal for funding to continue this blog, I want to make a brief point. There is only one of me. I am aware that output this past month has been very slight. This has partly been due to exhaustion (and perhaps writers’ block) and partly to a whole series of quite major happenings in my personal life, some good, some bad, but all of them stressful. I am very grateful to those of you who subscribe to keep the blog going, but it does not come with a guarantee of any particular volume of output. It is also the case that some articles, like this one, require rather a lot of work. This blog will always have spells of unusually high and unusually low activity. I am doing my best.

 
 
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The Fake Political and Media Class 323

This blog has been silent for three weeks so nothing would stand between the “bold” predictions in my last article, and the proof that they were true. I am in fact neither particularly prescient nor brilliant. To anybody with serious experience of diplomatic negotiation, it was very obvious a deal was fairly easy. As I predicted, the level playing field mechanism is solved by it not only being a case of the UK following EU standards, but of mutual rights. In the entirely improbable circumstance of Tory UK adopting higher environmental, social or safety standards than the EU, the UK will have resort to a range of measures against unfair competition; just as the EU can in the much more likely scenario of the UK failing to keep up with evolving improvements in these areas. The same goes for state aid. The mutual obligation undercuts the “sovereignty” argument and squares that (silly) circle. Elsewhere, a few tonnes of fish here or there was never going to outweigh the manufacturing interests on both sides. So this very limited agreement, covering the 22% of UK/EU trade that is in goods, was always a shoo-in.

As I also predicted and still predict, the media will now go wild about “Johnson’s Christmas Triumph”.

What I want to discuss with you is not the agreement itself, nor the process of reaching it, but the quite extraordinary fact that a deal which was always going to be made, was the subject of pretend cliffhanger drama and tension by the entire professional media and the entire professional political class, both government and opposition, not just in the UK but right across Europe and on other continents as well.

Sane, sober and alone, any serious professional political journalist knew that this deal would be made and broadly what it would look like. So did Keir Starmer, Nicola Sturgeon, Bill Cash and Nigel Farage. Yet absolutely everyone has been pumping out this false narrative of cliff-hanging tension, as have the national ministers of EU states in the EU Council and the Members of the European Parliament.

Why? I think this really is quite a profound question. And I think the answer is that the professional media and political class – the latter an ever burgeoning number, battening on to the body politic at our ever increasing expense – have become simply a form of entertainment. High politics is no more than a form of reality TV, where both those taking part and those reporting on it know that dramas and crescendos have to be manufactured to keep the plebs interested and keep the golden goose laying. The politicians and the political journalists have a joint interest in putting on a show over artificial crises. The worrying thing is, they manage to convince themselves, at least some of the time, to their own professional gain, that the version they are promulgating of what is happening, is reality.

Let me add a few thoughts to this. The first is that I do not think that anybody except a very few utter nutters really believe, for example, that Jeremy Corbyn is personally a racist. Yet the mainstream political and media classes pump out the anti-semitism slur in a continual stream. This forcefully reminds me of the run-up to the Iraq War, when I asked an FCO colleague working directly on Iraq how he managed to do his job when he knew full well that Iraq had no Weapons of Mass Destruction. He replied to me that he was an avid player of “Football Manager”; while in the game he really was immersed for hours and the manager of Arsenal, once he left the game of course he knew he was not. Walking into the FCO to work was the same. While in the FCO, he believed Iraq had WMD and acted on that basis; once he left in the evening he did not.

In a sense this game, where the political and media class connive at contrived dramatic happenings, replaces and covers for the absence of real differences in politics, as will be illustrated when Starmer’s Labour votes for Johnson’s Brexit Deal. Just as they have failed to oppose even the granting of powers to kill and torture to the security services, or the granting of amnesty to those who commit war crimes. When you do not really have an actual opposition, you will get pretend political events. I am also reminded of those in the SNP who pretend to be absolutely committed to Scottish Independence, while having not the slightest intention of doing anything towards that goal that may jeopardise their comfortable and well-paid political careers.

I stand by my prediction that phasing of implementation of procedures will mean that the non-tariff friction that is, despite this agreement, going to make UK trade in goods with the EU much more logistically difficult, will not have immediate effect, so in the early part of 2021 Brexiteers will be gloating that predictions of doom did not happen. I also stand by the prediction that the real effects will come through slowly and surely and increase both inflation and unemployment in the second half of 2021. This agreement of course covers goods only – the UK financial services industry will become still further oriented towards servicing non-EU clients seeking minimal scrutiny. The EU will now be able to impose a transaction tax as a brake on reckless trading in derivatives. London will become the high risk centre for the dodgy money and the fast buck, to an even greater extent than it is already.

Johnson will now surf a jingoistic media wave and be hailed a great success. Which, for us Scots, makes it still more certain he will never agree voluntarily to an Independence referendum. Anybody who now argues the route to Independence must only lie through the agreement of Downing Street, is arguing the Unionist Case.

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Forgive me for pointing out that my ability to provide this coverage is entirely dependent on your kind voluntary subscriptions which keep this blog going. This post is free for anybody to reproduce or republish, including in translation. You are still very welcome to read without subscribing.

Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

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Sorry, Johnson Will Not Disappear 948

It is currently popular among those who make money writing media articles about politics, to argue that Boris Johnson will implode next year and be replaced as Tory leader by someone more rational and conventional. I very much doubt this: the most important reason for that doubt being the power of the atavistic English nationalist forces that Johnson has unleashed in British politics. Astonishingly, despite the UK government’s hideously inept performance in the Covid crisis, and the corruption and looting of the public purse on a massive scale for which the pandemic has been used, the Conservatives still lead Labour in the UK opinion polls.

Partly that is due to Sir Keir Starmer having no apparent policy other than to ensure that no party member ever criticises Israel. But it is mostly due to the fact that Johnson’s supporters do not care what happens to the country, as long as they can see news footage of black people being deported on charter planes and immigrant children washed up dead rather than rescued. The racist brand is very, very strong in England. Cummings and Johnson’s plan to appropriate it and target the areas of England with lowest levels of educational achievement as their new political base still holds up as a political strategy. Look at the polls.

Tory MP’s care about themselves. They will ditch Johnson extremely quickly if he becomes a perceived electoral liability and therefore a threat to their own jobs. But as long as the Tories are ahead in the opinion polls, then Johnson is secure. The idea that there is a norm to which politics revert is a false one. Many of the same pundits who are assuring us now that Johnson will depart, also assured us that his kicking out moderate and pro-EU Conservatives from his party, and removing Remainers from his Cabinet, was a temporary move to be reversed post-election. There is in fact no going back to the norm.

Even the dimmest Labour Party members must now realise that Starmer lied when he promised he would carry on with Corbyn’s radical economic policies if elected to the leadership of the Labour Party. The Corbyn phenomenon was interesting. It arose as a reaction to the massively burgeoning wealth inequality in UK society and the great loss of secure employment opportunity with rights and benefits available to the large bulk of the population. That situation continues to worsen. Brexit was in large part a cry of pain resulting from the same causes. But Brexit in itself is going to do nothing to improve the social position or economic prospects of the working class.

Whether the novelty of Brexit will in the long term continue to be enough to channel the desire for radical change away from actual programmes of redistribution of wealth and ownership, I doubt. I suspect the Starmer project will falter on public reluctance to yet again embrace a choice of two Tory parties, and Starmer will be ejected as Labour leader before he can become the third Blue Labour PM. In the meantime, I can only urge those in England to vote Green. I can certainly see no reason to vote Labour and validate the Starmer purge.

As a former professional diplomat, I am going to be astonished if there is not a Brexit deal announced very shortly. It is plainly highly achievable given the current state of negotiations. The EU have moved very far in agreeing that an independent UK body, as opposed to the European Court of Justice, can be responsible for policing UK compliance with standards regulation to ensure against undercutting. The “ratchet clause” sticking point, where a mechanism is needed to ensure the UK does not undercut future improved EU regulatory regimes, can be resolved with some fudged wording on the mutual obligation to comply with the highest standards, but which does not quite force the EU to simply copy UK regulation in the improbable event it becomes more demanding than the EU regime. By making the obligation theoretically mutual the “sovereignty” argument about UK subservience to EU regulations and standards is met, which is the ultra Tory Brexiteers biggest fetish. Fisheries is even simpler to solve, with obvious compromises on lengths of agreement periods and quotas within easy grasp.

It should not be forgotten that David Frost is not the plain loutish Brexiteer he has so spectacularly enhanced his career by impersonating domestically, but is the smooth and effective professional diplomat he shows when actually interacting with Barnier. It could only be an act of utter lunacy that would lead Johnson to eschew a deal that the Express and Mail will be able to trumpet as a massive victory over Johnny Foreigner. I expect we shall be seeing a union jacked apotheosis of saviour Johnson all over the media by a week from now at the very latest – another reason he will not be leaving office.

It is of course, all smoke and mirrors. By expectation management, a deal which is a far harder Brexit than anybody imagined when Theresa May set down her infamous red lines, will be greeted by a relieved business community as better than actually blowing your own brains out. As I have stated ever since the repression of the Catalan referendum, I can live with leaving the EU and live with abandoning its political and security pillars. I continue to view leaving the single market and losing the great advantage of free movement as disastrous.

One thing that has been very little publicised is that, deal or no deal, the UK is going to fudge the worst consequences by simply not on 1 January applying the new rules at the borders. There will not be immigration checks on the 86% of truck drivers entering the UK who are EU citizens, for the first six months. Otherwise the queues by mid January would scarcely be contained by Kent itself. Similarly, the UK side will not be applying the new customs paperwork on 1 January except on a “random sampling” basis. Those who are eagerly anticipating chaos on 1 January will thus probably be disappointed. In fact the deleterious economic effects of Brexit are quite probably going to take some time to show through in a definite way. I do not believe we will see either empty shelves or major price hikes in the first few weeks.

My prediction is this: Boris will agree his thin deal and at the end of January the Brexiteers will be gloating that the predicted disaster did not happen. Effects on economic growth and employment will take some time to be plainly identified, and it will be mortifying how readily the Tories will twist the narrative to blame the EU, and also to obtain English nationalist support for the notion that this gradual pain is worth it in pursuit of a purer country, with less immigration. That may sound crazy to you. But is it not crazy to you that the Tories are still ahead in UK polls after the last year? Mark my words; hope that Boris Johnson will simply vanish is very misplaced.

There is of course the possibility that Johnson is indeed completely bonkers and will not agree any deal at all, in which case 1 January chaos is unavoidable and all bets are off. I should be very surprised indeed. But then I did not think Trump would be mad enough not to concede the US Presidential election. Trying to predict the irrational mind is a pointless undertaking. I don’t think Johnson is that irrational; but I have been wrong before.

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The State You May Not Criticise 382

In the 15 year history of this blog, I have criticised the Human Rights records of states including Bahrain, Belarus, Brazil, Burma, Cameroon, China, Ecuador, Egypt, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Ivory Coast, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Libya, the Maldives, the Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sweden, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Togo, Turkey, Uganda, the United Kingdom, the United States, Uzbekistan, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

The only country of which criticism has resulted in substantial legal and political action against me and attempted censorship is Israel. Criticism of Israel also immediately results in heavy suppression of traffic to my site from the corporate gatekeepers of Twitter, Facebook and Google.

Now a group of witch-hunting UK MPs has written to Amazon to complain that Alexa has quoted my blog on Israel.

It is worth looking at precisely what the MPs are complaining of in my case. Let’s look at the exact passage:

“Question: Is Israel guilty of war crimes?
Answer: Here’s something I found on the web: according to www.craigmurray.org.uk, ethnic cleansing on a massive scale and serial human rights abuse, including war crimes, yes, Israel is guilty of these atrocities.”

The website in question includes numerous conspiracy theories.

Now the MP’s of the All Party Group Against Anti-Semitism do not attempt to say what is wrong with this answer. They do not say why it is untrue – in fact, they do not even claim it is untrue. They do not say why it is anti-semitic; presumably, although they do not say as much, they must believe it is anti-semitic for the All Party Parliamentary Group on anti-semitism to be complaining about it. In fact, they ground their objection entirely on an unsubstantiated claim that this website includes conspiracy theories.

I maintain that the answer quoted from my website is self-evidently true and highly capable of proof. It states fact which a large majority of the public would recognise as true. Yet I am told by a journalist from the Times who contacted me, that on the basis of this incoherent letter from self-selecting MP’s, Amazon have blocked Alexa from quoting my website. This is only a tiny example of the removal of access to dissenting opinions – dissenting as in not conforming to the wishes of the political Establishment, although not diverging from objective truth. The trend towards this censorship on the internet is massive.

I am particularly concerned that one of the signatories of the letter is Lisa Cameron, an SNP MP. The statement that “ethnic cleansing on a massive scale and serial human rights abuse, including war crimes, yes, Israel is guilty of these atrocities” is completely in line with longstanding SNP policy on Palestine. Lisa Cameron’s part in having my website blacklisted for an opinion in line with SNP policy is shameful.

But it is not isolated. As I feared, the SNP’s large cohort of MPs at Westminster have become very comfortable there with their life of privilege and large income, and they have been almost entirely captured by Britnat standards and Britnat attitudes. Last week, we had the official party paper on defence policy in which Stewart MacDonald MP and Alyn Smith MP directly jettisoned the party’s long term commitment to unilateral nuclear disarmament in favour of “multilateralism” – a long word for no nuclear disarmament ever.

Along exactly the same lines of moving to align with the right wing obsessions of British Nationalism, the SNP’s Stewart Hosie had signed up to the off the wall Russophobic report of Westminster’s Intelligence and Security Committee, a report conditioned by the appalling list of war hawks who were the only ones asked to give evidence.

Land Reform has been reduced to the foundation of a Scottish Land Commission which can put public money towards other funds raised by community groups to buy out great landlords in specific tracts at an assessed “market price”. Yes, the market price. So the great success of the much touted land reform is that it has put £5 million of public money straight into the pocket of the Duke of Buccleuch, for some tiny and insignificant portions of his vast estates, marginal and despoiled moorland he was probably glad to be shot of. The Chair of Buccleuch Estates, Benny Higgins, is also economic adviser to Nicola Sturgeon.

There is much triumphalism at the new “realism” of the Blairite triangulated SNP and its positioning as a “safe” part of the Establishment. How much of the old radicalism of the SNP remains may, in small part, be measured by how many votes I garner in the election for President at the current conference. I fear it may not be a high number.

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Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

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The Route to Independence Leads Through Oban 136

Grassroots Oban are hosting me for a zoom talk on the Route to Independence this evening at 7pm. You are welcome to join us, which you can do by registering in advance (ie now) here:

https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJ0kfuqrpzIrGNLlxVYFLb2z2LlxT6Hx_vFf

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting. I hope that over half the meeting will be open to questions and contributions and I am very happy for these to be wide-ranging. I must confess I don’t like online meetings and I very much miss actually getting round and meeting people. Hopefully we are not too far now from being able to do that again.

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Militarism and the Populist Playbook 297

Why militarism is such a surefire winner for populists is an interesting question, to which the answer is probably an unpleasant reflection on human nature. Atavism and racism are the easiest way to political success, despite the demonstrably catastrophic consequences.

For an economically dominant power to allocate its resources under the influence of militarism, and then project the resulting capability for extreme violence on less wealthy or organised states, is the time-honoured way for populist politicins to satisfy the atavistic urge they have whipped up, while minimising the catastrophic consequences at home. UK military power is not for “defence” and has never been for “defence” since the formation of the UK. It is for the projection of military power abroad. The destruction of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Yemen are all, in varying degrees, the result of the application of UK military force on weaker states.

These countries were unable to offer any significant military response; the major cost to the UK of destroying them has been the cost of munitions, supply and pay. Costs in British servicemen injured or maimed has been terrible for the individuals concerned but politicians don’t care; indeed our casualties are unrelentingly put to the service of whipping up more jingoism and militarism. British killed and maimed is of course a tiny number compared to the killed or maimed which Britain has inflicted.

There are other costs, of course. Almost all the terrorism in the UK has been blowback terrorism from this destruction abroad. There have also been resultant refugee flows which have disturbed the political equilibrium of all of Europe. But remarkably neo-conservative politicians are able to fashion those consequences into arguments for us to invade and kill still more frequently abroad.

Johnson’s announcement of an extra £16 billion of defence spending will be wildly popular with his electoral base, who love a bit of jingoism. It will be wildly popular with his MPs, because nothing lines the pockets of politicians and their close business associates as reliably as “defence” spending – except for Covid spending, but that giant chance to plunder the public purse will run out soon. In a country that could not afford to feed school children, a country that starves asylum seekers and lets kids drown in the channel rather than take them in, £16 billion extra to blow up other countries is no problem.

It is four times the amount of new money the government pledged yesterday to tackle the actual existential threat of climate change. To be spent instead on tackling a pretend existential threat. The idea that Russia or China wants to invade the UK is an utter nonsense. Neither has any plans to do so, nor has ever had any plans to do so. The UK has not been at war with either Russia or China for 150 years. We are however doing our best to provoke conflict, with billions more going into avowedly offensive cyber capability targeted on Russia and China. You also do not have to be a devotee of Isaac Azimov to understand that the pouring of billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money into the specific purpose of designing artificial intelligence to kill people is not necessarily a good long term goal. The advantage of these areas of spending for Tories is of course that outcomes are nebulous and thus the scope for super-profits and for corruption is simply enormous.

As I said, militarism is a very successful part of the populist brand. You therefore have this vast waste of money on offensive military capability being hailed by Labour under Sir Keir Starmer, the right wing muppet who leads the UK’s laughingly titled opposition. You also have, not coincidentally, a defence paper published on Tuesday by the SNP which tries to outflank the Tories from the right in extreme Sinophobia and Russophobia and proposes continued operations from Scottish bases post_independence by both US and English armed forces.

With the ousting of the left from Labour and the astonishing rightward gallop of the SNP, there is currently no realistic route to oppose militarism available in the UK’s – or Scotland’s – so called democratic electoral system.

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Forgive me for pointing out that my ability to provide this coverage is entirely dependent on your kind voluntary subscriptions which keep this blog going. This post is free for anybody to reproduce or republish, including in translation. You are still very welcome to read without subscribing.

Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

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Where are the Praetorian Guard When You Need Them? 123

Here is Boris Johnson writing on devolution in 2001:

OCH aye, it’s the New Jerusalem! It’s a land of milk and honey they’re building up there in Scotland, laddie. They’ll nae be doing with your horrid Anglo-Saxon d e v i l-t a k e-t h e-h i n d m o s t approach. No, they’re just more socialist than us sour-mouthed Sassenachs.

They want to spend on the puir wee students, provided, of course, that they are poor wee Scottish students, not English ones. They want to shame the tightwads in the Treasury by spending on the puir wee Scottish teachers – in fact, they’ve given them a pay rise of 21.5 per cent over the next three years, far more than the English teachers are getting. And now, just to show how much generally nicer they are than the English, they have decided to spend, spend, spend on the puir wee old folks who need someone to help them open a can of beans.

In the teeth of opposition from the Treasury of what is still laughably called the United Kingdom, the Scots have decided to pay for free personal care for the elderly. Yes, that means all of us, folks. Even if we have assets of more than £16,000, we will be entitled not just to free nursing care – changing our dressings, putting our drips in – but to everything connoted by “personal care”.

If we are so lucky as to live in Scotland, it won’t matter that we could well afford to pay for someone to run our baths, or tie our shoes. There’ll be none of that business about reaching for our own wallets. Not in Scotland, Jimmy.

The BBC have been in overdrive spinning away that Boris is actually a great fan of devolution, and we should all apparently understand that naturally he says entirely different things to different audiences. In fact there is no shortage of evidence that Boris Johnson’s expressed view that devolution is a “disaster” is his genuine view. His premiership so far has all been about the extreme centralisation of power not just in Whitehall but in No. 10, of which more later.

The latest Tory ploy to claw back powers from Holyrood to Whitehall has been the Internal Market Bill. It is more notorious for openly and declaredly breaching international law, but the seizure of regulatory authority by (let us be blunt) England across a broad range of economic activity is just as significant. The Tory response has been, aided by a complicit media, simply to deny that what is happening, is happening.

But Boris’ declaration of war on devolution makes that approach more difficult. It also queers the pitch for the Gove strategy to head off Independence by false promises of more powers for Holyrood. This was done famously with “The Vow”, which promised Scotland the strongest federal parliament in the world. Referendum over, the opposite happened. All the signs are that the people of Scotland already are not stupid enough to fall for that trick again, but Boris has made it impossible for the unionists to even try.

If the Tories offer Maxi Maxi Devo-Maxi Maxi Max again, who will now believe them?

I am strongly of the view devolution has run its course. Undoubtedly it brought great benefits to Scotland. Free personal care for the elderly, no university tuition fees, free prescriptions. It also strengthened the sense of national identity and faith in Scottish competence in self-government.

But after a time, the cumulative effect of Tory austerity and spending cuts over years and years erodes services beyond the ability of even the most competent devolved administration to mitigate them. You then fall into the devolution trap, where you become the body that imposes the cuts, and takes the blame for falling standards, which are caused by the Treasury in London. The time comes when gradualism has achieved all that gradualism can, and it is time to break free from the devolution chrysalis and spread the wings of Independence. That time is now.

In his talk to the Northern Tory MP’s, Johnson called them his “Praetorian Guard”. That chimes with me, because I had been fretting about my inability to write anything useful about developments in Westminster politics. These defy ordinary political analysis, and bear more relation to the account of the courts of Roman emperors by Tacitus than anything that ought to happen in a modern western democracy. There were no great questions of public policy that led Lee Cain and Dominic Cummings to resign. There are vital decisions pending on a basic deal with the EU, but that was not the dispute – in fact nobody in No 10 seems to care about that one way or the other. What the great spat was about, was dinner party jostling for personal advantage among people with names like Allegra, Dominic, Carrie and Dido. Various individuals were “in tears” or “felt disrespected”. The good of the people who are being governed features nowhere at all in the insider accounts of what is happening at the top of the UK government.

It is understandable why Johnson thinks of himself as a Roman Emperor; he governs like Nero. The National Audit Office report yesterday listed £10.5 billion worth of contracts for NHS supply awarded without any proper tender. Many of these were to firms with no history of supplying medical equipment, chosen by the personal influence of MPs and Ministers. It is unsurprising there is so much personal jostling for influence, and the Civil Service has been effectively and deliberately barred from its customary role in decision making, when self-enrichment by corruption has become the primary aim of Westminster politicians.

Boris Johnson appears to have forgotten that the most common death met by Roman Emperors was murder by the Praetorian Guard. I could think of five such Imperial deaths – Wikipedia lists 13! Now where are the Praetorian Guard when you really need them?

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Forgive me for pointing out that my ability to provide this coverage is entirely dependent on your kind voluntary subscriptions which keep this blog going. This post is free for anybody to reproduce or republish, including in translation. You are still very welcome to read without subscribing.

Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

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Michael Russell, Neo-Liberal 265

Mike Russell is claiming I have in some way misinterpreted or mis-attributed his detailed advocacy of privatisation of the NHS. I therefore bring you the following published critiques, every one of which has evidently “misunderstood” Mike Russell too. First from Iain MacWhirter in the Scottish Review of Books:

I have to say that Russell’s own ideological adventure rather confirms the need for political parties. Grasping The Thistle – even the revised version – is a blueprint for an essentially neo-conservative political revolution in Scotland. He wants to privatise the state, abolish inheritance tax, corporation tax, capital gains tax and introduce the highly regressive flat-rate income tax, which has been introduced in some Eastern European countries like Estonia.

If Russell were in charge, Scotland would be exposed to something like the “shock therapy” that the Friedmanite ideologues imposed on the Soviet Union after the fall of the Berlin Wall. This would imply, not just a rebalancing of public spending, but the wholesale destruction of the welfare state, taking the clock back to Edwardian Britain before Lloyd George’s People’s Budgets.

I’m not sure the Scottish people are prepared for such a Year Zero. Imagine the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh having to close because it failed to make a profit. What would happen to the patients? Scotland is a relatively egalitarian country with much less income inequality than England. Under the Russell/MacLeod revolution it would become a playground for the super-rich, a plutocratic caste with no interest or connection with the ordinary people. Jock Tamson need not apply.

Grasping The Thistle may be independent thinking, but I’m not entirely sure it is rational thinking. Certainly, these ideas are so far removed from the manifesto of the Scottish National Party that it becomes difficult to know how Russell can remain a member of it. It seems to me that he disagrees with just about everything his own movement stands for: social democracy, Europe, independence, parliamentary democracy, progressive taxation, public services free at the point of need, an oil fund – the list goes on and on.

Here is Rob Brown in Bella Caledonia, who obviously also entirely misunderstood Mike Russell:

After years of deifying social democracy, monkish Mike Russell suddenly saw the light and realised that right-wing heresy had to become the new orthodoxy within the national movement.

He devoted all his spare hours – when not praying for a swift return to that most holy of shrines, Holyrood – to reading the ancient runes with a businessman called Dennis MacLeod. Together this Druidic duo co-authored a tome dissing almost everything the SNP had stood for in its modern incarnation. Even that most sacred and patriotic of mediaeval parchments the Declaration of Arbroath got debunked in the first few pages.

The SNP, Russell and MacLeod jointly pontificated, should banish devilish notions of national independence and instead seek to negotiate a “New Union” with England. Once Westminster conferred its blessing on full fiscal autonomy for Bute House, in return for abolition of the Barnett formula, auld Scotia could then be administered all the shock therapy she so desperately required to be jolted out of her zombie state.

Our semi-independent government could then go on the lion rampage against the undeserving poor, the idle and the feckless. Scotland’s welfare state and taxes would be slashed, with vouchers introduced to marketize provision of schools and hospitals – none of which would be supplied through the NHS, since this would be dismantled in favour of an insurance-based health service.

Here is David Gow also misunderstanding Mike Russell:

Already then, however, other, overtly pro-capitalist strands of thinking were developing, often taking on anti-statist blindly pro-market tones (as in Mike Russell’s Grasping the Thistle).

Michael Keating of the University of Aberdeen even failed to grasp the subtleties of Russells “dialogue” on a neo-liberal approach in an academic paper:

There have been advocates of the liberal market strategy in Scotland. While
out of parliament, Mike Russell (later SNP Cabinet Secretary for Education) and
Dennis MacLeod wrote a book promising exactly that, with a drastic reduction in the
role and size of the state and of public spending and taxes (MacLeod and Russell,
2006). This was widely seen as an effort to out-Thatcher Margaret Thatcher and
seems to have riled the SNP leadership sufficiently for them to have had the text
toned down between proof and publication (Macwhirter, 2006).

Gerry Hassan has rushed to Russell’s aid online now, but strangely enough also had failed to understand Russell did not really mean it:

Pre-2007, there was the well-intentioned work of Kenny MacAskill (2004) alongside Mike Russell’s advocacy of a host of predictable right-wing and neo-liberal platitudes (MacLeod and Russell 2006).

While if Mike Russell is not a neo-liberal, it is unfortunate to find him quoted in another academic book called Neo-Liberalism in Scotland:

In his biography of Thatcher, Hugo Young quotes his subject as
saying, “the Scots invented Thatcherism, long before I was thought of”,
dryly adding that this “was believed to be a reference to Adam Smith, the
economist, and possibly the philosopher David Hume”.12 In her
autobiography Thatcher noted with bemusement the failure of her
“revolution” to win hearts and minds in Scotland, “home of the very same
Scottish Enlightenment which produced Adam Smith, the greatest
exponent of free enterprise economics till Hayek and Friedman”.13 The
more openly pro-market figures in the SNP, like Michael Russell, have a
similar view:
“Adam Smith was the father of modern capitalism and it is high time that
his own people rediscovered his genius, particularly as, in his own land,
that genius is currently tarnished by the half-baked economic models
espoused by most of our political parties.14”

Finally, just to remind you how very bad what Russell and MacLeod wrote about the NHS was:

Take health first of all. We would encourage the private sector to compete with established NHS hospitals, clinics and other services. We would encourage NHS management and staff to buy out existing NHS facilities and services under favourable financial terms and join the private sector. We would require NHS facilities that remained in government ownership to be run at a profit however modest. Those that failed to maintain profitability over a reasonable time frame would be privatised. In each geographic area the government would solicit bids from the area’s medical facilities and GPs for the various services it required for its citizens. Fragmentation of services may well see the redundancy of large general hospitals and their replacement with privately run clinics specialising and competing in particular medical procedures and services, at least in the more populated areas.

One idea that is worth further consideration is the possibility that some provision may be supported by “Payment vouchers” made available free of charge to citizens in order that patients would receive treatment wherever they wished. Citizens who wished to make their own arrangements with medical service suppliers would be free to do so. Armed with their voucher they could shop for the fastest and best service and if they so wished add to the value of the voucher.

—————————————————–

 
 
Forgive me for pointing out that my ability to provide this coverage is entirely dependent on your kind voluntary subscriptions which keep this blog going. This post is free for anybody to reproduce or republish, including in translation. You are still very welcome to read without subscribing.

Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

Choose subscription amount from dropdown box:

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Paypal address for one-off donations: [email protected]

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Account number 3 2 1 5 0 9 6 2
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It’s Only Words 149

UPDATE:

Mike Russell has responded in a tweet that his book is a dialogue between the two authors, implying he did not subscribe to its views on the NHS. Unfortunately, having read the full book, this is demonstrably untrue.

It is certainly true that the Introduction states that not all the ideas are agreed by both the two authors. As the Introduction also notes (p.14), in some places these disagreements are noted in the text. But unfortunately, in the entire section on the NHS, indeed the entire section on privatisation, there is no sign of any disagreement between the authors and certainly there is NO dialogue. No counter-argument is given. In fact the entire text at this juncture is written in the first person plural. The book states:

We would encourage the private sector to compete with established NHS hospitals, clinics and other services. We would encourage NHS management and staff to buy out existing NHS facilities and services under favourable financial terms and join the private sector. We would require NHS facilities that remained in government ownership to be run at a profit.

Here the “We” used at the start of each of those three sentences can only mean the two authors, Dennis MacLeod and Michael Russell. It can mean nothing else in the context of the book. It is not a dialogue. Plainly Mike Russell signed up to these views. If he wishes to say he sincerely recants, I would accept that. But he cannot pretend he did not sign up to it.

I also reject the puerile idea that because the Labour Party criticised him for his views on the NHS, it is wrong for anybody in the SNP to criticise him. As for his outrage at being questioned in this way, this is what democracy looks like. We are in an election. Expect to be scrutinised. Actually, I am just starting.

In the contest for SNP President, you are allowed only 25 words for your electoral statement to voters. Yes, 25 words. Approximately half a tweet. Obviously intellectual debate is not being encouraged. There are no official hustings (though kudos to the SNP trade union group who are trying to organise one).

This is my best shot at 25 words so far:

2014 no gold standard. Biased BBC, the Vow breaking purdah.
Tories will never agree a referendum they know we will win.
We must take Independence.

Grateful for your suggestions.

In the interests of public knowledge I wish to publish, entirely unedited, some of the writings of another candidate for President, Mike Russell. As I showed, when I announced my candidacy I faced a storm of very unpleasant social media criticism from what I might term the Scottish media and political Establishment, which insofar as it was not purely abuse, centred on the “accusation” that I hold non-mainstream opinions. I am proud to affirm that I do indeed.

I therefore thought you ought to know the opinions of Mike Russell, the establishment’s candidate. There is no trick here. The below passage is complete and unedited from his book, Grasping the Thistle (Argyll Publishing 2006), by Dennis MacLeod and Michael Russell. It is jointly authored and the passage I quote is written specifically as “We”, indicating both authors agree (not true of the whole book, as is made clear in it, but plainly applying to this passage of “We” proposals on the NHS).

I am not attacking Michael Russell. I make no comment on his views on NHS Scotland, other than to say mine are very different. I merely publish his views as the large majority of SNP membership have come into politics since 2014 and may be unaware of them. I should say I had no idea Mike Russell held these opinions, and when first told a week ago, I did not believe it until I bought a copy of his book. He is of course perfectly entitled to his view, and an Independent Scotland will include people of all shades of political opinion. Indeed, he may have changed this opinion, perhaps at the first sight of his Scottish Ministerial limousine. While I shall not comment, you may wish to comment below on what you make of his opinion on the NHS. I encourage you to do so.

MIKE RUSSELL, CANDIDATE FOR SNP PRESIDENT, WRITES ON NHS SCOTLAND:

Take health first of all. We would encourage the private sector to compete with established NHS hospitals, clinics and other services. We would encourage NHS management and staff to buy out existing NHS facilities and services under favourable financial terms and join the private sector. We would require NHS facilities that remained in government ownership to be run at a profit however modest. Those that failed to maintain profitability over a reasonable time frame would be privatised. In each geographic area the government would solicit bids from the area’s medical facilities and GPs for the various services it required for its citizens. Fragmentation of services may well see the redundancy of large general hospitals and their replacement with privately run clinics specialising and competing in particular medical procedures and services, at least in the more populated areas.

One idea that is worth further consideration is the possibility that some provision may be supported by “Payment vouchers” made available free of charge to citizens in order that patients would receive treatment wherever they wished. Citizens who wished to make their own arrangements with medical service suppliers would be free to do so. Armed with their voucher they could shop for the fastest and best service and if they so wished add to the value of the voucher.

Now it is pretty well a certainty that Mike Russell will win the SNP Presidency. The voters at Conference are a very controlled base and these days the payroll vote is a very high percentage of conference votes. There is very little chance I shall get over 20% of the vote. I am standing to give those ordinary members who are free to do so, a chance to express their concern at lack of focus on getting Independence and particularly to protest at the acceptance that Westminster has a veto on Independence via the S30 mechanism. There are also deep concerns at the way the party is being run.

I am standing because this is what democracy looks like, as my friend Clark reminded me.

There is also a third candidate, Corri Wilson, a former MP. I spoke to her and she seems a very decent person.

Dennis MacLeod, Russell’s co-author, was a multi-millionaire Canadian mining magnate and highly respected SNP member and party donor. Mike Russell has a record of decades of impeccable service to the party. They were perfectly entitled to publish their personal opinion on the NHS and indeed they were entitled to argue for a ultra right economic policy, as their book does. These opinions of Russell and MacLeod do not represent SNP policy and are most unlikely ever to represent SNP policy. Just as I have published personal opinions which are not SNP policy nor likely to be.

My point is simply this. As people, including paid SNP staff, have pointed to my opinions and said they make me unfit to be SNP President, I am entitled to point to Mike Russell’s opinions so that people may make a fair comparison before they vote. You can characterise it as you wish, but it is a fairly plain left/right choice.

At the moment we are in the nomination phase which lasts until Friday 13th. Then voting takes place at the virtual conference.

Nomination phase: Any SNP member can nominate me. I need 100 nominations to stand. Go to snp.org and login with your membership number. Then go to My Account top right, then next menu Elections, then next menu Nominations. You will find you have to click the nominate button by my name several times until the “remove nomination” button appears. There have been glitches, so if you have already nominated me I would be grateful if you could check the “remove nomination” button still appears. I know people who have rejoined the party in order to nominate, and been able to do so immediately.

For the actual voting you need to be a conference delegate to the virtual conference. I understand almost all branches still have open slots, so contact your branch secretary and say you wish to be a delegate.

This is the first election of any kind I have ever entered where there is no mechanism at all for the candidate to verify nominations or ballots. You are simply given the results of the electronic polling, as passed through the hands of SNP HQ staff – including some of those directly involved trying to fit up Alex Salmond on false charges and send him to jail. I therefore will feel much more confident of avoiding shenanigans if I receive well over the minimum 100 nominations.

UPDATE Mike Russell has responded in the following tweet:

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Forgive me for pointing out that my ability to provide this coverage is entirely dependent on your kind voluntary subscriptions which keep this blog going. This post is free for anybody to reproduce or republish, including in translation. You are still very welcome to read without subscribing.

Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

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Trident Must Be Destroyed, Not Given to Westminster 275

There appears to be a presumption that upon Scottish Independence, the Trident submarine fleet and its incredibly destructive WMD’s must simply be handed over to Westminster by Holyrood. That is wrong in international law; if the weapons remain on the territory of Scotland, a sovereign state, it will be for the Scottish Government to dispose of them as it chooses.

The principle is well-established and there is a directly relevant and recent precedent in the nuclear weapons in Ukraine. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the highly mobile tactical nuclear weapons were swiftly taken back to Russia but the Trident comparators, the strategic nuclear weapons with their silos and the Tupolev strategic bomber fleet and its weapons, were destroyed, many inside Ukraine itself, following the Budapest Agreement of 1994 between the US, UK, Russia and Ukraine and separate bilateral agreements between Ukraine and France, and Ukraine and China.


This photo is of a Ukrainian technician dismantling a SS-19 missile at a US government funded facility at Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine. [Russia of course breached the Budapest Agreement when it invaded Crimea, but that does not impact on the legal precedent of Ukraine’s right to dispose of the missiles on its territory].

There is no doubt that in international law, independent Scotland will be under no obligation to hand the Trident system over to Westminster. By taking another route, and seeking the dismantling of the Trident system under international auspices while ratifying the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, START and its protocols and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, Scotland will earn great kudos at the United Nations. Making this intent plain at the time of the Declaration of Independence will help secure for Scotland the developing country votes which Scotland will need at the UN General Assembly, recognition by which is the defining test for a country’s Independence.

Scotland has a moral obligation to the world to destroy nuclear weapons on its territory. It is also the case that it should be a simple matter to mobilise international aid funding for the cost of decommissioning and dismantling the Trident nuclear fleet and its missiles – a process in which China, Russia, the USA, France and Westminster should be invited to participate. In fact, the decommissioning work would take years and would bring an economic boost to Scotland, providing far more work than the simple maintenance and operation of the nuclear fleet ever has.

The United Kingdom is a rogue state. It invaded Iraq in a blatantly illegal war of aggression, killing and maiming hundreds of thousands, displacing millions and setting the economic development of the country back 50 years. It significantly contributed to the similar destruction of Libya. It has brazenly defied the United Nations General Assembly and the International Court of Justice in refusing to decolonise the Chagos Islands. It is passing legislation to grant its soldiers immunity from war crimes charges and its secret service officers and agents immunity for murder and torture. To hand Trident missiles, and the capacity to unleash the destruction of the human race, over to the control of this erratic, declining imperial construct would be grossly irresponsible.

An Independent Scotland must not allow WMD to be operational from its territory for one single minute after Independence. We cannot prevent the UK from moving the Trident system out of Scotland before Independence is finalised – in which case we will at least achieve the system being non-operational for about ten years while a new base is constructed, which will itself be a worthwhile achievement.

We in the SNP have to stop pretending to be anti-Trident while expecting to be complicit in a transition plan to let Westminster keep operating Trident. That is an immoral stance and a grossly hypocritical stance.

You don’t negotiate over WMD. You destroy them.

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Forgive me for pointing out that my ability to provide this coverage is entirely dependent on your kind voluntary subscriptions which keep this blog going. This post is free for anybody to reproduce or republish, including in translation. You are still very welcome to read without subscribing.

Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

Choose subscription amount from dropdown box:

Recurring Donations



 

Paypal address for one-off donations: [email protected]

Alternatively by bank transfer or standing order:

Account name
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Account number 3 2 1 5 0 9 6 2
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BIC NWBKGB2L
Bank address Natwest, PO Box 414, 38 Strand, London, WC2H 5JB

Bitcoin: bc1q3sdm60rshynxtvfnkhhqjn83vk3e3nyw78cjx9

Subscriptions are still preferred to donations as I can’t run the blog without some certainty of future income, but I understand why some people prefer not to commit to that.

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Internalised Danger 308

We have got so used to the United States being an extremely violent danger to the rest of the world, that the prospect of it internalising its violence is fascinating as well as horrifying. I am hopeful that it is not however likely.

I have to admit I thought Trump was smarter. I expected him to fight for an election result good enough to give him some leverage, and then at a point about about 36 hours ago start to negotiating with Biden for immunity for his family and himself, no tax investigations, and perhaps some continued government boosting of his business affairs, in return for a concession in the election. One thing we know from Burisma and China is that old Joe Biden loves a bung, so I was expecting comfortable understandings to be reached between two immoral and grasping old men. I thought I possessed a fair store of worldly wisdom, but plainly I underrated how crazy Trump is.

The American political system is plainly broken. The Democrats almost managed to fail to defeat Trump, having yet again managed to ensure that the poor electorate was given the choice of two horribly unattractive candidates. The Electoral College system came within an inch of reimposing Trump against the wishes of a large majority of the popular vote.

I do know all the arguments for the electoral college system, that it gives a counterbalance to the huge populations of the cities and coasts and allows rural states to protect their interests. But what it means in the real world is that the votes of conservative white people have disproportionate effect. If Trump had won due to this system, the strain on the fabric of the American body politic would have been – rather like the strain on the UK from Scots being permanently ruled by English Tories. Californian votes in effect are worth less than other votes because they have to be discounted in electoral college representation, because there are so many Californians. Biden having squeaked it removes the acuity of this sore, but the sore is still there waiting to burst out again in 2024.

Having been wrong about Trump backing out, I am reluctant to predict further. My instincts are that Trump’s gun touting fanatics are blowhards and while I fear there may be a few fatalities and incidents, mostly this is going to fizzle out in a series of dead-end lawsuits. I don’t see widespread rioting by “deplorables”, rather long term nursing of grievance. I have no expectation at all that a Biden administration will carry our any meaningful social and economic reform to improve the lives of those whose feelings of alienation were manipulated so adroitly by Trump.

It is typical of the shallowness of the identity politics which have replaced real attempts at social progress and economic improvement for ordinary people, that we are supposed to be celebrating that Kamala Harris will be Vice President on the grounds of her gender and race, when she is a power hungry right winger of the most hardened kind.

America urgently needs a radical dose of social and economic reform as championed by Bernie Sanders. It needs the Green New Deal, and the world needs a real commitment in Washington to environmentalism. One prediction of which I am very confident is that we are not going to see any genuinely significant action on any of this. None of Trump’s poorer supporters will be changing their political minds due to an improvement in their livelihood and prospects over the next four years.

Of one thing I am sure; I am pleased for those who feel released tonight from a regime rooted in racism, and I hope they are right that Trump will now fade away into irrelevance. But as the social and economic position of middle class Americans continues to deteriorate, one thing will be plain in future. Trump was not the cause of America’s problems, he was only a symptom. The future is not bright.

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Forgive me for pointing out that my ability to provide this coverage is entirely dependent on your kind voluntary subscriptions which keep this blog going. This post is free for anybody to reproduce or republish, including in translation. You are still very welcome to read without subscribing.

Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

Choose subscription amount from dropdown box:

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Alternatively by bank transfer or standing order:

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Account number 3 2 1 5 0 9 6 2
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Bitcoin: bc1q3sdm60rshynxtvfnkhhqjn83vk3e3nyw78cjx9

Subscriptions are still preferred to donations as I can’t run the blog without some certainty of future income, but I understand why some people prefer not to commit to that.

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Moving Forward 78

AUOB continues its heroic work in trying to weld together the disparate forces of the Yes movement, including the SNP. It is vital that we do pull together as it will take the entire Yes movement to get us over the line to Indy. AUOB is to be congratulated in securing top level SNP support for a virtual Assembly on 14 November, at which SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford will speak alongside wider movement figures such as Lesley Riddoch, George Kerevan and Robin Mcalpine, plus the more open face of the SNP, Kenny Macaskill. The Assembly on 14 November is an online event, and you can sign up for it here. There have of course been a number of efforts to unite the disparate elements of the Yes movement, but I feel this may turn out to be the most hopeful initiative. Neil Mackay of AUOB in particular is to be commended for his indefatigable behind the scenes work and diplomacy.

Less behind the scenes and more front stage, today we must commend another hero of endless perseverance, Martin Keatings, who yesterday won a key procedural ruling enabling his crowd-funded hearing on the legality of an Independence referendum without S30 permission from Westminster finally to go ahead. The case has been subject to massive obstruction not just from Westminster but from the Scottish government itself. No, that is not a mistype. The “respectable” argument the Scottish Government has deployed is that the petitioners are usurping the power of the Parliament in asking for a ruling on the legality of a referendum which the Parliament has not voted to hold. It is for the Scottish government, not the plebs, to ask if it has the power to hold a referendum without Boris Johnson’s permission.

The catch is, of course, that the Scottish government has no intention of asking the question as the status quo gives a perfect excuse to do nothing on Independence while remaining firmly in power on the backs of Independence supporters.

My own view is that Keatings and his backers in Forward as One are absolutely right to try to try to move the prospects for a referendum forward, and to clear up the legal ambiguity. But I should add that, even if the court rules that in UK domestic law Westminster permission is still needed for Scotland to hold a referendum on Independence, that has no effect on international law and the Scottish people’s absolute right of self-determination.

I suspect if Keatings wins his case, the Tories will immediately move to change the law at Westminster specifically to make referenda on Independence, or on all reserved matters, illegal. But that in itself would precipitate a crisis to which the Scottish Government would be obliged to respond. In short, I continue to see no downside to Keatings’ actions and plenty of upsides.

Finally may I ask any SNP members who have not yet done so to nominate me to stand for party President. You need to go to SNP.org and log in with your membership number. Then go to My Account top right, then elections and then nominations.

It is a two stage process. Those who receive 100 nominations go forward for election. Any party member can nominate but only Conference delegates will be able to vote. To vote you need to contact your branch secretary and say you wish to be a conference delegate (it is an online event). I believe almost all branches have plenty of spare delegate slots available. I understand it is also still possible to join or rejoin online to support me. Many thanks indeed to all those who have done so to date.

—————————————————–

 
 
Forgive me for pointing out that my ability to provide this coverage is entirely dependent on your kind voluntary subscriptions which keep this blog going. This post is free for anybody to reproduce or republish, including in translation. You are still very welcome to read without subscribing.

Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

Choose subscription amount from dropdown box:

Recurring Donations



 

Paypal address for one-off donations: [email protected]

Alternatively by bank transfer or standing order:

Account name
MURRAY CJ
Account number 3 2 1 5 0 9 6 2
Sort code 6 0 – 4 0 – 0 5
IBAN GB98NWBK60400532150962
BIC NWBKGB2L
Bank address Natwest, PO Box 414, 38 Strand, London, WC2H 5JB

Bitcoin: bc1q3sdm60rshynxtvfnkhhqjn83vk3e3nyw78cjx9

Subscriptions are still preferred to donations as I can’t run the blog without some certainty of future income, but I understand why some people prefer not to commit to that.

View with comments