Monthly Archives: August 2011


Was Burnes Right?

History is full of interesting “what ifs”. The letters in my last posting from Ranjit Singh to Alexander Burnes relate to one of them.

In 1837-9 Burnes saw more clearly than other British officials in India that Ranjit Singh’s Sikh Empire was very much a personal one and would not survive his imminent death. Burnes also deplored the religous violence and hatred flowing from the Sikh conquest of Muslim lands.

Burnes submitted a policy recommendation that, on the death of Ranjit Singh, his most recently conquered Muslim lands including Peshawar and Kashmir should be returned to the sovereignty of the Emir of Kabul, Dost Mohammed Khan. Burnes favoured what we might call a “Greater Afghanistan” which would have in essence included modern Pakistan plus Kashmir. He argued this would bring stability to the region and provide an effective buffer against Russian expansion from the North. This would have been in fact a return to the status quo twenty years earlier.

Burnes as Envoy to Kabul negotiated with both Ranjit Singh and Dost Mohammed an agreement in principle that Kashmir and Peshawar would be held by Dost Mohammed immediately, but with payment of tribute to Ranjit Singh. This would, he calculated, leave them to fall into Dost Mohammed’s lap at Ranjit Singh’s death.

Burnes’ ideas were rejected in favour of a policy which presumed that the Sikh Empire would continue to be the most important non-British military power in India. Britain therefore, to Burnes’ disgust, invaded Afghanistan in alliance with the Sikhs to depose Dost Mohammed. Humiliating military defeat followed, and Burnes was killed.

The Sikh Empire did indeed disintegrate and both it and Sind were annexed by Britain within a decade. That was not a cunning master plan at the time of the Afghan invasion. It was a reaction to a power vacuum as things fell apart.

What if? is a rather pointless game, but I am struck by the wisdom of Burnes’ proposals. If the Muslim populated areas had been returned to Muslim rule within a generation of their non-Muslim conquest, how much future bloodhsed would have been avoided, continuing to this day especially in Kashmir?

I have never believed that because something did happen, it was inevitable that it would. Burnes’ plan was not a pipe-dream. His negotiations in Kabul were repudiated by the Governor-General, but in fact were warmly approved by the Court of Directors of the East India Company in London, so much so that Burnes was knighted for them and promoted to Lt-Col. (Historians seem to have not noticed why he was knighted, wrongly portraying it as some kind of preparation for command lines in the Afghan invasion).

Unfortunately it took a year for Burnes’ reports to reach London and for London’s approval (and his knighthood) to come back, and in the meantime the Governor-General (who was subservient to the Court of Directors) had repudiated Burnes and launched an invasion.

This was not inevitable either. It was against the great bulk of official opinion in India. The Governor-General needed the authority of his Supreme Council at Calcutta. But the constitutional arrangements had not caught up with the new practice of the Governor-General living in Simla in the summer. An emergency provision existed for the Governor-General to act autocratically when physically separated from his Council, and this is what Auckland abused to launch the war – which senior Council members were known to oppose.

So the Burnes plan was not pie in the sky. How different history might have been. And what an interesting book I am writing. You really must buy it!!

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Emperor Maharajah Runjit Singh

This is a letter from Maharajah Ranjit Singh, the Sikh Emperor who was an astonishing figure in history, to Alexander Burnes. It is in the John Murray collection in the National Library of Scotland. I suspect the second part is a covering letter.

There is no translation, and the very small number of scholars who have looked at it evidently have no idea what it says. The NLS have it down as being in Urdu, though I would have thought Persian more likely.

I hope there are no copyright issues with my publishing the images, though frankly it is not doing much good sitting untranslated in a folder in a box in the NLS. Of course, I am yet again hoping that some of my astonishingly erudite readers will be able to help me get a translation. If we can work out a translation, I will give it to the NLS to insert in the folder.

I have now finished with my archive research in the NLS on Burnes, and I should say it has been an absolute delight. The staff have been infinitely helpful and patient, and put up with my failure ever to manage to use the right coloured form. Moreover I felt welcomed at registration and was not faced with the extraordinary inquisition I got at the British Library, demanding my reasons to want to view the material.

And I shall particularly miss the delicious soup in the cafe.

UPDATE

Burnes’ policy recommendation was that, on the death of Ranjit Singh, most of his more recent conquests of Muslim lands – including Kashmir and Peshawar – should be returned to Muslim rule under Dost Mohammed of Afghanistan. A strong Muslim state would provide the necessary buffer between UK and Russian territory. He was of course overruled in favour of the invasion of Afghanistan and the British annexation of the Sikh Empire and of Scinde.

You would have to be a pretty full-on Indian nationalist not to see that Burnes’ proposal would have saved much

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On Being Hurt

I am aware that this post will cause some to laugh at me. I am aware that it may make me look pompous and self-seeking, and that my small hurts are nothing compared to what is happening to people in Libya. I am also aware it is impolitic to expose vulnerability when you are involved in internet debate.

What prompts me to write about a longstanding disappointment is this phrase from Chris Floyd yesterday:

Thus Craig Murray was not jumped in an alleyway, or killed in an obscure and ambiguous “accident” of some sort, as might have happened in imperiums of old. He was simply shunted to the sidelines and rendered “unserious” by official disapproval.

Which played on feelings that had been re-awakened by a post on Subrosa a couple of weeks ago, on whether Scotland should have its own honours system.

I could never be accused of craving honours. I have turned down three, the highest of which was Commander of the Royal Victorian Order. When I refused that one, I was given instead by the queen a letter rack hand made by Viscount Linley – and made extremely well. I donated it last month to the auction to meet Julian Assange’s legal fees, and it raised £500 (there is supposed to be a second part to this auction where the items now go on ebay to see if there are higher online bidders. That hasn’t happened yet because of Paypal’s blocking of Wikileaks).

I turned down British honours because it would be hypocritical to accept them for two reasons: I believe in Scottish independence, and I don’t believe in the monarchy. I was actually asked my reason by the queen in Warsaw, and I admit I stressed the Scottish nationalist bit more than the republican bit. She was not in the least put out by it.

With this background, you may be surprised to hear that what has hurt me so much is becoming perhaps the only Rector of a Scottish university in hundreds of years not to be awarded an honorary degree. (At Dundee I am not sure about Tony Slattery, whose rectorship never really started because of health issues).

The university senate debated a year ago whether I should be awarded an honorary degree and decided, with the strongest of steers from the university administration, that I was neither “respectable” nor “distinguished” enough. The matter was brought back again to the university senate by Dundee University Students Association, and again rejected. At university court, the current Rector, Brian Cox, formally minuted his dissent.

As to being distinguished, apart from being a British Ambassador and bestselling author, I have a first class MA (Hons) from Dundee University, was twice elected President of Dundee University Students Association and became Rector of Dundee University. If that is undistinguished, then Dundee University has a remarkably low opinion of itself.

I also find it rather curious that I am “undistinguished” but my two immediate predecessors as Rector, Lorraine Kelly and Fred Macaulay, were evidently “distinguished” enough. I should love to know the criteria.

It is not to do with the job done as Rector, because I attended many more committee meetings than my recent predecessors. This of course is exactly what the university administration did not want me to do. I argued strongly against cuts in university departments and student provision, against tuition fees, against allowing the special branch on campus, and tried to revive the notion of a democratically run academic community. I also attended regular meetings of other rectors, and with the Scottish parliament.

An academic from another university saw me in Edinburgh last week and out of the blue congratulated me on my rectorial installation address. I put a lot of effort into that speech, and it is surprising how often people do read and refer to it – I have been congratulated on it by Charlie Kennedy and Elaine C Smith, for example. But plainly a Rector able to make an interesting contribution on the philosophy of higher education is not what the university administration – which is just itching to bring in high tuition fees for all students – wants.

In a life which has spurned honours, I am hurt because I really care about Dundee University. I spent seven years of my life there plus three as an active Rector. If you sliced me, Dundee University runs through me like a stick of rock. That is why, on being spurned for an honorary degree, I feel emotionally like I have indeed been sliced. This really has hurt me.

Here comes the ridicule…

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Page Eight

Watch Page Eight, written and directed by David Hare, on BBC2 this Sunday at 9pm. It should be brilliant.

David has sent me a very kind message saying that some of the thinking behind Page Eight grew out of his work on Murder in Samarkand. That makes me proud. If it helps make the public think about these issues of humanity, that would be great. And I am certainly going to convince myself that a little corner of Bill Nighy is me…

If you have not yet listened to David Hare’s radio version of Murder in Samarkand, starring David Tennant as me (that is still surreal to type) click on the link top right.

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Sirte – the Apotheosis of “Liberal Intervention”

There is no cause to doubt that, for whatever reason, the support of the people of Sirte for Gadaffi is genuine. That this means they deserve to be pounded into submission is less obvious to me. The disconnect between the UN mandate to protect civilians while facilitating negotiation, and NATO’s actual actions as the anti-Gadaffi forces’ air force and special forces, is startling.

There is something so shocking in the Orwellian doublespeak of NATO on this point that I am severely dismayed. I suffer from that old springing eternal of hope, and am therefore always in a state of disappointment. I had hoped that the general population in Europe is so educated now that obvious outright lies would be rejected. I even hoped some journalists would seek to expose lies.

I was wrong, wrong, wrong.

The “rebels” are actively hitting Sirte with heavy artillery and Stalin’s organs; they are transporting tanks openly to attack Sirte. Yet any movement of tanks or artillery by the population of Sirte brings immediate death from NATO air strike.

What exactly is the reason that Sirte’s defenders are threatening civilians but the artillery of their attackers – and the bombings themselves – are not? Plainly this is a nonsense. People in foreign ministries, NATO, the BBC and other media are well aware that it is the starkest lie and propaganda, to say the assault on Sirte is protecting civilians. But does knowledge of the truth prevent them from peddling a lie? No.

It is worth reminding everyone something never mentioned, that UNSCR 1973 which established the no fly zone and mandate to protect civilians had

“the aim of facilitating dialogue to lead to the political reforms necessary to find a peaceful and sustainable solution;”

That is in Operative Para 2 of the Resolution

Plainly the people of Sirte hold a different view to the “rebels” as to who should run the country. NATO have in effect declared being in Gadaffi’s political camp a capital offence. There is no way the massive assault on Sirte is “facilitating dialogue”. it is rather killing those who do not hold the NATO approved opinion. That is the actual truth. It is extremely plain.

I have no time for Gadaffi. I have actually met him, and he really is nuts, and dangerous. There were aspects of his rule in terms of social development which were good, but much more that was bad and tyrannical. But if NATO is attacking him because he is a dictator, why is it not attacking Dubai, Bahrain, Syria, Burma, Zimbabwe, or Uzbekistan, to name a random selection of badly governed countries?

“Liberal intervention” does not exist. What we have is the opposite; highly selective neo-imperial wars aimed at ensuring politically client control of key physical resources.

Wars kill people. Women and children are dying now in Libya, whatever the sanitised media tells you. The BBC have reported it will take a decade to repair Libya’s infrastructure from the damage of war. That in an underestimate. Iraq is still decades away from returning its utilities to their condition in 2000.

I strongly support the revolutions of the Arab Spring. But NATO intervention does not bring freedom, it brings destruction, degradation and permanent enslavement to the neo-colonial yoke. From now on, Libyans like us will be toiling to enrich western bankers. That, apparently, is worth to NATO the reduction of Sirte to rubble.

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Why We Must Leave NATO

The Guardian had a major feature last week on the 20th anniversary of the attempted coup against Mikhail Gorbachev in the Soviet Union. Contrary to the intention of the coup leaders, it was the catalyst for the end of the Soviet Union and, in a sense, the ultimate victory of NATO.

As NATO bombing this week achieves the loss of power of Gadaffi in Tripoli, a look back at that 1991 Soviet coup highlights the stunning hypocrisy of NATO and the danger to world peace which it has become.

One of the leaders of the coup against Gorbachev was a dedicated Stalinist Politburo member named Islam Karimov, who was President of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic. After the failure of the coup, he embraced the idea of Uzbek independence in order both to escape retribution for his part in the coup and to maintain Stalinism in his little part of the Soviet Empire.

(A digression, but one of Karimov’s first acts in independent Uzbekistan was to order the Uzbek Supreme Court to pardon Alisher Usmanov, a notorious gangster jailed by the Soviet Union. He is now the third richest man in Britain).

Karimov has to this day maintained the Soviet institutions in Uzbekistan and even increased the levels of repression, with absolutely no civil or political liberty, and commercial freedoms restricted to his immediate family and friends.

So Karimov, the world’s most notorious torturer, must be NATO’s number 1 remaining enemy, right?

No, actually. He is NATO’s best friend.

Karimov is the major conduit for land supplies to NATO forces in Afghanistan, is host to Germany’s forward airbase, is a most valued member of NATO’s “Partnership for Peace”, is a recipient of NATO military training and equipment.

Because NATO does not care in the least about dictators. It likes them if they forward NATO’s interest in Central Asian or Middle Eastern oil and gas, and if they host NATO military logistics. Karimov can murder hundreds, keep 10,000 political prisoners in desert gulags. Bahrain can become a torture camp. NATO really does not care. Every time you hear a NATO spokesman telling lies about their mission to protect civilians, remember the tortured of Uzbekistan.

I used to be neutral about whether or not an independent Scotland should remain in NATO. I now view leaving NATO as the number one foregin policy priority.

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Plus Ultra – Fuckwit of the Week

An extraordinary posting on Medialens by someone calling themself Plus Ultra, in which he/she/it claims I said a number of things I absolutely did not say. Either Plus Ultra is so stupid it faces imminent extinction, or this is a case of deliberate misconstruction. But to what end?

BEGINS

Murray’s reaction to the ‘rebel’ takeover of Tripoli is deplorable. He makes several undetermined and ‘wishful’ points:

1. That there has been not as much bloodshed as he previously thought there would be
2. That the NATO bombing – which is a blatant violation of 1973 – has been justified in achieving the aim of 1.
3. There is a great deal of support for the rebels – which is as yet unproven given that no elections have been held!
4. That the west’s attempt at getting rid of ‘a bad government’ is somehow ok
5. That NATO can proceed to attack Bahrain.

His Article:

Fall of Tripoli:

“It seems that Gadaffi’s regime has collapsed very quickly at the end. It is difficult to be sure as yet, but it seems there may have been mercifully less further bloodshed than might have been feared. Thank goodness the NATO bombing campaign will now end.

It is plain that there is a great deal of support from ordinary citizens of Tripoli for the rebellion. Whether that translates into specific support for the leadership of the Transitional National Council is quite a different question. Getting rid of a bad government is difficult, but not as difficult as establishing a good one. The next few weeks will be very interesting.

The mainstream news media will move on in a few days, as it has moved on from Egypt. Not all pro-democracy demonstrators arrested under Mubarak have yet been released under the new military government there. However it is good to see anti-Israeli demonstrations are allowed. That is a major advance on the Mubarak years. NATO may yet find it equally difficult to hijack the Libyan people to their agenda.

Now of course NATO are free to move on to oust the despotic, torturing regime of Bahrain. Or not.”

Pass me the bucket…
END QUOTE

It seems extraordinary I have to ask this, but if someone can explain my article to Plus Ultra in the comments, that would be good.

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Stupid Attack on Scottish Free Education

I am, in general, a fan of Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers. But I think he has made a serious mistake over taking the Scottish government to court for charging tuition fees to English students.

Scotland quite rightly refused to follow Blair, Brown and Cameron in the disgrace of abolishing free university education. This is in keeping with Scottish tradition. Scotland had for centuries far higher rates of free education and literacy than England, and five universities when England only had two. The “Scottish enlightenment” and the undeniably disproportionate Scottish contribution to science, medicine, engineering, economics and philosophy were based on education.

The Scottish government would have been delighted to provide free to the student education to English students. Unlike the English government, the Scottish government will continue to pay to Scottish universities tuition fees for Scottish students. The education is not free – the Scottish government pays for it, at the expense of the people of Scotland getting something else with the money instead. If the English government would pay tuition fees for English students, the Scottish government would be very happy.

But plainly the Scottish government could never have the funds to pay the fees of the tens of thousands more English students who would come to Scotland if it were free. The Scottish government has a good defence, that it is not discrimination as fees are based on domicile, not race. Witness my son, Jamie Douglas Murray, who pays fees at Glasgow University.

If Shiner does wins his case, the almost certain result would be that Scotland would have to charge its own students rather than educate the entire UK for free. How on earth would that help anybody? Has Phil Shiner lost his senses?

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Diallo Must Be Deported

When I get home to Ramsgate next week I have the papers for two new political asylum cases waiting for me to study, one of them a bulky parcel from UPS for a case in the United States. I will peruse them carefully to see if they appear genuine, and if so prepare expert testimony. In most ordinary cases I do this free of any charge. If necessary I will go to the tribunals to give evidence. I have won a large number of cases, and indeed never lost a case at tribunal. I have saved two people from deportation at the last minute, one literally en route to the airport. One would almost certainly have been killed on arrival in Uzbekistan.

It has got harder. The popular outcry against asylum seekers, whipped up by the tabloid media, has resulted in political determination to restrict numbers, and that has filtered down through all aspects of the system. If there is one thing that makes it harder still, it is fraudulent asylum seekers. They do exist, as does benefit fraud. These liars and cheats open the way for the malicious to attack the entire system, and cast unfair doubt on the whole principle of providing help to the genuine needy. It is not nasty conservatives who are the root of the reaction against asylum seekers – they merely feed off it and exploit it to their own vicious ends. Those truly undermining the system are fraudulent asylum seekers.

Nafissato Diallo is a fraudulent asylum seeker, a fraudulent benefit claimant, a fraudulent tax declarer, a fraudulent public housing occupier, an associate of criminals and a probable receiver of proceeds of crime. She lied about being raped on her asylum application (for which she was professionally coached with a tape of her false story), she lied about how many children she had in order to receive more benefits, she lied about her income to receive public housing and to avoid tax, she lied about the receipt of very substantial sums of money into her bank account from known, indeed imprisoned, criminals.

I judge she most probably lied too about being raped by Dominique Strauss Kahn. We will never know for sure, trial or no trial. The Guardian has for the last few months been full of articles telling us that a woman may be a fraudulent asylum seeker, a benefit, tax and housing cheat and a criminal associate, but she can still be a rape victim. That is absolutely true.

But they fail to say the converse. A woman may be a rape victim, but she can still be a fraudulent asylum seeker, a benefit, tax and housing cheat and criminal associate. That is equally true and equally important.

In order to maintain public support for the asylum system, it is essential that it has integrity. If Diallo is not now deported, nobody can believe in that integrity.

Now criminal charges against DSK are being dropped, there is no need for her to remain. She does not need to be ordinarily resident in the US for her money-seeking lawyers to pursue a civil case.

An astonishing ignorance of Africa pervades the comments on this issue throughout most of the web. I have lived in or worked on Africa most of my career. We seldom see any of the postive side of Africa on TV. In fact almost the only time Africa appears on our TV screens is when there is a terrible famine in East Africa, an act of piracy or civil war. But in real life Africa is a huge continent in which, despite relative poverty, the vast majority of its people live happily.

I am not in any sense denying or belittling the problems of poverty and disease, prolonged by an expoitative world economic system. But there is no famine in Guinea Conakry, where Diallo is from. People do not starve there. And she is a Muslim Fulani, and therefore part of a dominant group in Guinea Conakry, most certainly not a persecuted one. Which is why her claim was based on lies about gang rapes. There is no political reason why Diallo would need political asylum.

Of course Guinea Conakry is poorer than the United States. But actually it is not at all an unpleasant place, it really is not. Unless you believe that anyone from a poor country should always be allowed to emigrate to the United States, or that anyone from an undemocratic country should always be allowed to emigrate to the United States, (and you are quite entitled to that view if you hold it), there is no reason Diallo should not be returned. There really is not.

If you think all of Africa is a hell-hole, you are absolutely wrong.

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Fall of Tripoli

It seems that Gadaffi’s regime has collapsed very quickly at the end. It is difficult to be sure as yet, but it seems there may have been mercifully less further bloodshed than might have been feared. Thank goodness the NATO bombing campaign will now end.

It is plain that there is a great deal of support from ordinary citizens of Tripoli for the rebellion. Whether that translates into specific support for the leadership of the Transitional National Council is quite a different question. Getting rid of a bad government is difficult, but not as difficult as establishing a good one. The next few weeks will be very interesting.

The mainstream news media will move on in a few days, as it has moved on from Egypt. Not all pro-democracy demonstrators arrested under Mubarak have yet been released under the new military government there. However it is good to see anti-Israeli demonstrations are allowed. That is a major advance on the Mubarak years. NATO may yet find it equally difficult to hijack the Libyan people to their agenda.

Now of course NATO are free to move on to oust the despotic, torturing regime of Bahrain. Or not.

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Thatcher and Blair Caused the Riots

There is a shameless article by Blair in the Observer in which he says the riots were the fault of a very specific group of families, not of society in general. Society in general is jolly good, thanks to one T Blair. In fact, what could possibly be wrong with a society in which Blair has amassed £28 million to date? I love the bit where he says:

I agree totally with the criticisms of excess in pay and bonuses.

This from the man who gets payoffs from corporate America in $100,000 fees for a one hour lecture, then charges corporate executives $400 a pop to be photographed shaking hands with him. Blair agrees so much with criticism of excess pay and bonuses that he did absolutely nothing about it in three terms of office, and presided over the widest ever and still widening gap between rich and poor in this country.

I agree with Blair that we should not excuse individual responsibility for looting and should acknowledge exactly how undesirable and anti-social is the milieu of the rioters, and seek to eliminate that sub-culture. But we have also to understand what generated it, and eliminate those causes.

What caused it was not just poverty. There are plenty of decent poor people. A factor is indeed the deliberate destruction of UK manufacturing capacity on ideological grounds by Thatcher, an ideology carried through by Blair. But it was still more directly the deliberate destruction of social capital by Thatcherism and Blairism, its antipathy to any manifestation or instrument of horizontal social solidarity, and its manifest anti-intellectualism.

Through Thatcher and Blair, education, knowledge and intellectual analysis became valued only if they tended to economic productivity, not as goods in themselves. This attitude still permeates every ministerial statement on education.

The all-pervasive idea that economic productivity was the only good and material consumption the only purpose, relentlessly promoted in media and advertising, left no place for those who could not find a job to produce or funds to consume.

But what these alienated classes could pick up in full from Thatcherism and Blairism was the anti-intellectualism and the desire to consume. Thatcherism and Blairism inevitably produced an entire callous, desocialised and proto-criminal class. It was their inevitable consequence.

These are Thatcher’s and Blair’s riots.

A week ago I published this start on the process of designing a remedy to the social ills that Thatcherism and Blairism have brought:

There is an excellent article by Simon Hughes on response to the looting. He has in many ways the same position as me in seeking radical solutions to the malaise of our hugely unequal society, while in no way sympathising with criminal looters.

The direction of all of Hughes’ proposals is correct, but his proposed action does not go far enough and is not specific enough. In both public and private organisations, the earnings differential between the highest and lowest paid should be limited by law to a factor of four, including the effect of all non-salary perks and benefits. Hughes does not give specifics on his desire to limit this gap, but Will Hutton has been promoting a factor of ten in the public sector – that is far too wide an equality gap.

Similarly Hughes’ pious wish to promote worker partnership and cooperatives needs to be given concrete form by legislation forcing all companies to give truly significant – I am thinking around forty per cent – shareholdings to employees.

If Simon really wants to roll back the excesses of the last thirty years, then natural monopolies like the utilities companies and the railways need to be returned fully to public ownership. PFI should be discontinued and all PFI assets nationalised without compensation.

Housing Association properties should be taken over by local authorities as traditional council housing, and massive new public funded mixed home building programmes should be begun that include the demolition of the ghastly huge sink estates of sub-standard housing. That would help boost the economy out of recession.

Hughes’ diagnosis is correct. But the reversal of the incredible and dangerous expansion of the gulf between rich and poor requires truly radical use of the power of the state with measures along the lines of those above. Anything else is just tinkering.

There is of course much else, of which limiting banking transactions to the actual funding of purchase of property, goods and services, rather than gambling on future values of those things, is perhaps the most important.

But we must repudiate Blair’s assertion that there is little wrong with our society. One very good start would be to send Blair for war crimes trial at The Hague, to demonstrate to all that crime does not pay.

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Faint Hearts

I hope that some of the sentencing overreactions to the looting will be corrected. But I saw one hilarious overreaction last night as Spurs supporters were herded past our flat here from Tynecastle after their match. There was the kind of massed phalanx of police that I haven’t seen since the miners’ strike, with armoured helmets and horses much in evidence. In the middle of this mass, much outnumbered by police, was a tiny little knot of Tottenham Hotspurs supporters, being herded towards Haymarket station.

Having seen Spurs hammer Hearts 5-0, I suspect the Spurs fans were too ecstatic to be annoyed. But it looked really extraordinary, so on going down to the chippie I asked a policeman why the huge escort – Hearts supporters aren’t known for violence against visitors. He replied very gravely that the looting had started in Tottenham, and they didn’t want that kind of nonsense here. So either the police had no intelligence on how many Spurs fans were expected, or they had decided to escort them three policemen to every fan. Scottish fear of the barbarian English is quite a wry concept.

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Owning the Parthenon

Ponzi schemes and finance bubbles of all kinds depend on it being in nobody’s short term interest to admit they are worthless – indeed to people having a terrible fear of the consequences once it is discovered the scheme is worthless.

Larry Elliott in the Guardian has an interesting article on how this worked in the great banking bubble. He quotes James Galbraith:

“There was a private vocabulary, well-known in the industry, covering these loans and related financial products: liars’ loans, Ninja loans (the borrowers had no income, no job or assets), neutron loans (loans that would explode, destroying the people but leaving the buildings intact), toxic waste (the residue of the securitisation process). I suggest that this tells you that those who sold these products knew or suspected that their line of work was not 100% honest. Think of the restaurant where the staff refers to the food as scum, sludge and sewage.”

At the moment, everybody knows that Greece will default and cannot effectively reform. But the consequences of admitting this are so disastrous, everybody is pretending not to know. However Northern European politicians are finding that, whatever they agree in cosy EU cabals, their voters are not stupid and are not happy to stump up for massive guarantees sure to be called, and massive loans sure not to be repaid.

Several countries, led by the Austrians, Dutch and Nokialand, now have political leaderships trying desperately to unpick the promises they have made, by demanding solid assets as collateral from the Greek government against any default.

This has caused some puzzlement in the UK Treasury, where a friend of mine is exasperatedly wondering how the Greeks are expected to find up to $100 billion of physical assets to pledge. Greece has a much larger state sector than most other European countries, but any possible assets are slated for privatisation under the vaunted economic reform programme. They can’t both be privatised and pledged for collateral. If Greece had secure reserves it could pledge, it would not be in this mess in the first place, while the tax office building in Thessaloniki or an old coastguard cutter do not carry much genuine market value.

They could, of course, pledge the Parthenon, Mount Olympus etc, I suggest to my friend. She seems to consider it for a moment.

“But think of all the fuss over just the bloody Elgin marbles” she groans.

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Kabul Attack

I am very sorry to hear of the attack on the British Council office in Kabul. I do hope that, as details of the dead and injured start to come in, the count does not rise higher, whoever they are, and that the British Council staff are safe. I am a great believer in the contribution of cultural diplomacy in international peace and understanding, even if I do not support every detail of the British Council.

But this attack does represent, yet again, the folly of the occupation of Afghanistan. It has reinforced old anti-British sentiment dating back to our first invasion of 1839 and a series since. It will be generations before we might be forgiven our bombings, and I can guarantee you that the British Council will not be able to maintain any effective operation in Kabul after our troops slink away defeated.

The British Council opening there at all is empty bravado that has now cost lives.

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Exam Results

A piece of paper does not encapsulate a person’s worth. University is one good way of enhancing your understanding and experience of this wonderful world, but there are many other ways.

I was very unhappy with the discipline and structure of school and did very badly – my A Levels were BEE. I lost my place to do law and scraped into Dundee on clearing to study History. In the free atmosphere of university I flourished and ended up with a First, as well as twice being President of the students union (and eventually became Rector of the university). My parents and friends were very upset the day my A Level results came out but I knew, even then, there were much more important things in life. I know it still more now.

Study what you enjoy, not what you think might pay. The economic world is changing so fast there are few safe bets anyway. But you are a wonderful, complex being, not just an economic agent. Experience life wherever it takes you. Everybody deserves love, and with patience you will find some. Nobody’s worth depends on bits of paper of any kind.

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Sanctuary Management Services Rip-Off

I had a tour round the three year old campus of Queen Margaret’s University yesterday. It was impressive, but extremely compact for a university of 5,500 students. When I first went to Dundee, it had only 3,500 students and the University was vastly more extensive.

The Students Union in particular was completely inadequate – one very small bar and cafe, three pool tables. Students Unions are a vital part of the university experience, but evidently not at QM.

But what especially shocked me was the accommodation. Divided into (mostly) six bedroom flats, they rent out on forty week lets for over £100 per bedroom. But the rooms are absolutely tiny (more expensive premium ones are available). They do have en suite facilities of an extremely clever very very compact modular design like a Japanese pod hotel (and costing in bulk around £1,500 per unit, I would judge). But they are small. There is a shared kitchen, which is pleasant enough.

I paced the total flat area at around 80 square metres. That is an income of £3,000 per month on 80 square metres – absolutely colossal! Our rented flat in West Kensington was about 100 square metres and cost me £1500 per month, and our little house in Ealing was about 150 square metres and cost me £2000 per month. This is £3,000 on 80 square metres? In a field outside Musselburgh?

(The £3,000 comes from six rooms at a little over £100 per week per room. There are of course more than four weeks in the average month. The rooms are not empty outside the 40 weeks, but available for holiday let – at a still higher rate).

I was greatly puzzled by this until I saw stickers for Sanctuary Management Services. Dundee University’s PFI contract with Sanctuary was in part responsible for the major financial crisis at the University when I took over as Rector, which led to the administration forcing through departmental closures. The West Park PFI development contract was so structured that cost overruns (which were legion) fell on the University and not on Sanctuary. Getting information inside the contract from the administration was like drawing teeth, and the cv enhancing businessmen who dominated University Court were much more interested in covering up a blot on their and the University’s reputation than on digging into it. One thing is for sure – Sanctuary Management Services came out of it very well indeed.

Queen Margarets University has PFI written all over it, and doubtless the students will be paying those very high accommodation fees forever. This will bring a great deal of profit to Sanctuary Management Services Ltd. That transfer of money comes of course from the students themselves racking up vast amounts of debt that will blight their young adulthood.

If Sanctuary at Dundee University is anything to go by, the student experience on maintenance and management heavy-handedness will be less than fun, not to mention the private “security” roaming the place.

Sanctuary Management Services always impose excessive security, and the impact of this on the student experience also worries me. Every student room is, 24 hours a day, behind three locked doors. The front door of the block, the corridor or “flat” door, and their own room. That means for example that a first year student cannot access the room of anyone even in their own hall of residence to knock at the door, see if they are in and chat and have a cup of coffee.

This seems to me a completely unnecessary reinforcement of desocialisation. I recall fondly in my student days wandering the halls and dropping in on coffee – often a snowballing group of us, wandering round collecting up friends until settling down somewhere. It was almost impossible to be sat alone and lonesome, and as a depressive myself that was very important. Now the shy and depressed can stew behind those multiple locks with little chance of being rescued. It is, as I said, a desocialisation of the student experience, further exemplified by the near non-existent students union social facilities.

There has not in fact been a vast crime wave of theft and assault from students that makes Musselburgh in 2011 and infinitely more dangerous place than Dundee was in 1982. Those locks are not to protect students – they are to protect the property of Sanctuary Managment Services.

But this is all OK! Sanctuary Management Services Ltd is, after all, a charity, a subsidiary of a Housing Association! It is interesting that being a highly exploitative landlord to students counts as a charitable pursuit. While being a charity presumably means it does not pay a dividend to shareholders, I would nonetheless be fascinated to know more about the salaries, expenses, housing, company cars and other perks of those at the top of Sanctuary Managment Services Ltd and its parent Housing Association.

Interestingly enough, while Sanctuary’s website says it is registered at Companies House, I drew a blank when trying to bring up its company accounts there.

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Coulson for the Pokey

If our criminal justice system works at all, then the slimey Andy Coulson will soon be behind bars for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. The Guardian has just published a whole raft of evidence released by the select committee, of which this is not the only bit which seems to have Coulson – the “editor” in question – absolutely bang to rights.

Of course, while the justice system can work 24 hours on convicting people who nicked some maltesers, Scotland Yard have still proved completely incapable of identifying any of the policemen who took Murdoch’s bungs, or in locking up Coulson and the other News International executives who are guilty as sin.

Given this letter from Goodman making plain that Coulson instigated a cover-up of the extent of culpability within N.I., it seems that Cameron must resign for having brought a definite criminal into the heart of 10 Downing Street, despite numerous warnings. Cameron is compromised by this beyond repair.

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Lessons From Ghana

I am off back to work in Ghana for a few weeks next month.

Anyone who believes the crime in England was related to poverty or to race should visit Ghana, where crime is at a low level and society is extremely helpful and supportive. People are much poorer than in the UK yet are not ignorant of the possibilities of western levels of consumption, but they would not dream of seizing them by force, and those few who do have no pro-criminal social milieu in which to shelter.

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