Monthly Archives: January 2017


BBC Daily Distortion

The BBC has appointed arch Tory Sarah Sands as editor of the flagship Radio 4 Today programme. She is best known to the public for a leaked policy memo she wrote while at the Telegraph, including memorably advocating

“Play on people’s fears… stop just short of distortion”.

The extraordinary thing is that if Sands does “stop just short of distortion” she will actually be improving the performance of BBC News. The BBC Trust has upheld a decision against Laura Kuenssberg for a most disgraceful piece of lying, a breach of every journalistic ethic. At the time of the Paris attacks, Kuenssberg had this interview with Jeremy Corbyn.

Kuenssberg “If you were prime minister, would you be happy to order people – police or military – to shoot to kill on Britain’s streets?”
Corbyn “I am not happy with a shoot to kill policy in general. I think that is quite dangerous and I think can often be counter-productive.”

Kuenssberg deliberately distorted this to make it appear a response to the Paris attacks, and what was broadcast was the following:

Kuenssberg “I asked Mr Corbyn if he were the resident here at number 10 whether he would be happy for British officers to pull the trigger in the event of a Paris-style attack.”
Corbyn “I am not happy with a shoot to kill policy in general. I think that is quite dangerous and I think can often be counter-productive.”

What makes the malice in Kuenssberg’s dealings still more evident is that she had in fact asked Corbyn a question specifically about Paris, and received a very different answer from Corbyn: “Of course you’d bring people onto the streets to prevent and ensure there is safety within our society.”

But she broadcast neither the actual question nor the actual answer about Paris.

The deceit, malice and deliberate bias could not be more obvious. The BBC Trust really had no choice in its finding, and it specifically noted that Kuenssberg “had not achieved due impartiality.” That is an extremely important word – it was not just a lapse in judgement, it was a clear indication that Kuenssberg is partial in her political affiliations.

That of course has been blindingly obvious to a great many people for a long time. You may recall the petition against Kuenssberg’s bias that was signed by 35,000 people before 38 Degrees took it down on the complete lie that it had attracted a significant number of sexist comments.

My personal favourite remains Kuenssberg’s frenetic anti-Corbyn broadcast of 28 June 2016 in which she prophesied that Corbyn’s confidence of winning a second leadership election was misplaced. I cannot imagine a more blatant example of gleeful bias. The piece is headlined “Jeremy Corbyn’s Support Begins to Show Signs of Fraying” and was, as a matter of provable fact, gloriously wrong about everything.

Being a completely biased charlatan will do no harm at all to Kuenssberg in the modern BBC. I leave you with the Head of BBC news, extreme Zionist James Harding, and his reaction to the decision of the BBC Trust, the body which “ensures” the BBC’s impartiality, about Kuenssberg’s blatant lack of impartiality. “We disagree with this finding” says Harding, adding that BBC News “formally notes it.” It could not be plainer said – the BBC no longer has any intention of not reflecting political bias. Mr Harding is no doubt delighted to welcome his new colleague, Sarah Sands, ex Daily Mail, ex Telegraph, and who as editor moved the Evening Standard way to the right.

View with comments

Clinton Gang Push for War with Iran

So what are the Clinton gang doing while Trump introduces anti-Muslim immigration discrimination? Oh, they are pushing for war with Iran, which might give pause to some who think the world would have been less awful had Hillary won.

Here is the front page of the resolution introduced into the House of Representatives by Democrat Alcee L Hastings, an extremely close ally of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who had to resign in disgrace as chair of the Democratic National Committee after WikiLeaks published emails establishing her corrupt endeavours to fix the primary elections for Hillary against Bernie Sanders.

The Resolution reads “To authorize the use of the United States Armed Forces to achieve the goal of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.”

There is in fact no evidence that Iran is continuing a covert programme to produce nuclear weapons. British, French and Russian intelligence all assess that Iran is sticking to its agreements and – here is a key point – so do the CIA. But when did politicians ever let facts stand in their way?

Trump’s mad visa ban, which excludes Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States which are the main financiers, armers, ideologues and exporters of Salafist terrorism, turns out to be imposed on the countries which were on Obama’s watchlist. As the Hastings resolution shows, the anti-Iranian and pro-Saudi madness is bipartisan. To include Iran but exclude Saudi Arabia is further evidence of the twisting of US foreign policy to serve the interests of Saudi Arabia and its ally Israel. This infographic has been compiled based on research by the Cato Institute. I would add the caveat that it refers to terrorist attacks inside America.

The full piece it is derived from is well worth reading. I am not in general a fan of the Cato Institute, but they deserve commendation for consistency in their anti-authoritarian line.

These are dangerous times. And with the Democrats vying for “dumb patriot” support and seeking to outflank Trump to the right by roaring him on to a military attack on Iran, and seeking to push through legislation to promote that, there appear few influential voices of reason in the USA at present.

View with comments

Trump’s Crazy Immigration Freeze

Baghdad-born Tory MP Nadhim Zadawi has become the media poster boy for British opposition to Trump’s egregious immigration freeze, which May has eventually been forced into opposing against all her profound anti-immigrant instincts. Actually, if I ran a country I would be sorely tempted to ban Zadawi from it too. Founder of blatant Tory push-polling organisation YouGove (sic), the creep charged the taxpayer massively for MP’s expenses including thousands of pounds for heated stables at his second home. Being stinking rich and having children at Princeton is the media’s idea of the sort of person who ought not be banned. I suspect there are more deserving cases.

The stinking rich part is apposite because the world’s biggest sponsors of Islamic terrorism are stinking rich, and are strangely not included in the Trump freeze. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States are yet again excluded from “action against Islamic terrorism” despite being patently the fons et origo of most of it. Trump’s ban would not exclude Osama Bin Laden or the vast majority of the 9/11 cells, which is almost amusing. The reasons for this do not relate solely to the integration of the wealth of the parasitic Gulf State elite with the wealth of the Western elite and banking system. It also relates, as I explained in my talk on the Middle East on Friday, to official American policy to actually promote Saudi backed terrorist jihadi groups against Iranian-backed mainly Shiite interests in the Middle East.

I am not advocating the ban or extending the ban, but it is also worth pointing out that nearly all the recent Islamic terrorist activities against Western, including Turkish, targets were carried out by people from either Tunisia or Central Asia. Those countries are not included either. So plainly the ban or freeze is not really intended to do what it says on the tin. It should be repeated always that the risk from Islamic terrorism to individuals in the West is extremely small, and has always been well less than 1% of the risk of being killed in a road accident.

The most disgraceful aspect of the ban is the notion that it does not apply to religious minority groups in the named countries, such as Christians, Yazidis and Jews. All the countries named are majority Muslim, so in effect it imposes a religious test. It is a ban plainly targeted by religion and not by nationality, and if the US court system had any integrity would be struck down on that basis. This is reinforced by the fact that other non-religious minorities facing persecution, such as gays, are not excluded from the ban.

Trump has certainly startled the Establishment by the extremely unusual expedient of attempting swiftly to carry out his campaign promises. I was among the many who hoped he would forget some of the crazier ones. Apparently not. But his electoral base will be delighted.

View with comments

Chris Law

I am proud to call Chris Law a friend, and I am delighted that the ludicrous police investigation into him has now officially been closed. The rash of daft politically motivated investigations into SNP figures is a peculiar blight on the nation, and the extraordinary length of time the police have taken to examine some totally straightforward cases is inexplicable.

Chris and I both separately spent an awful lot of our own money on campaigning in the Independence referendum. I strongly suspect the basis of the “investigation” was that he modestly downplayed the amount of his own cash he put in to the Spirit of Independence campaign. The “unaccounted donations” alleged never existed, it was always mostly his own cash that funded his fire engine tour.

Meantime, what has happened to the much more real Tory election expenses scandal? Channel 4 were almost alone in covering the massive Tory breaching of expenditure limits. This appears to have gone totally dark.

View with comments

John Hurt

Homosexuality was a criminal offence in the UK until I was nine years old. Attitudes towards gay people remained extremely hostile in much of society even after it was legalised for people over 21 in 1967. At school, I am sorry to say I shared to a large extent in the sneering and intolerant culture that was prevalent at that time.

In an age where there were just three television channels and nobody watched one of them, a new television play was a major event that could reach a mass audience in the way nothing can today. That is partly why Ken Loach had even more political effect with Cathy Come Home than with I, Daniel Blake. I am convinced that John Hurt’s towering performance in The Naked Civil Servant changed society. It brought the individual confrontations Quentin Crisp had engineered his entire life, and expanded them to confront half of the nation with the existence, and right to dignity, of gay people.

Of course Crisp himself was the hero, but John Hurt took a career threatening risk in taking the part and showed great courage and conviction. Hurt’s ability to manipulate the palette of courage, arch wit, and vulnerability that the role required gave the drama its impact, and propelled it with a shocking force I don’t believe any other actor could have managed.

I am not gay, but in a kind of solidarity I immediately adopted as a boy a number of Quentin Crisp’s mannerisms, including the long fingernails, hair and velvet jacket! I persisted with this for a great many years. A group of us at school adopted similar style, though I don’t recall ever discussing the Crisp influence. In 1978 I was delighted to meet Quentin Crisp, still pushing the boundaries by performing to a Dundee pub.

It was always a joy thereafter to see John Hurt appear in anything. We all have to die, and there is no point in getting maudlin about the death of celebrities. But I thought The Naked Civil Servant effect worth recording.

View with comments

Palestine Speaking Tour?

I am back from India today, and will be speaking at the SNP Club in Edinburgh tomorrow (Friday) at 7.30pm on Iraq and Syria (all tickets gone I am afraid, but it is being livestreamed by Independence Live). UPDATE: Live stream in new post The UK, USA and Middle East Conflict

I have invitations from Friends of Palestine in both Bath and Norwich to address them. I was wondering if any other groups are interested and we can put together a little tour. While I think the Shai Masot affair sparked the invitations, I would want to set out also my thinking on why a two state solution is impractical and we should support a single, non-racial, democratic and secular state in Palestine, in which all the peoples living there would be welcome and equal. Any interested groups should contact me via the button at the top of the blog. It is important to add I don’t charge any fee above travel expenses.

I am aware that the last week I have been so busy speaking and travelling I have not been writing except about my speaking and travelling, and Nadira’s new film. I am sorry if this looked self-obsessed to you (it did a bit to me). I hope things will calm down for a while now.

View with comments

With William Dalrymple in Jaipur

William Dalrymple gave an extremely fulsome introduction to my talk on Sikunder Burnes:

“He defied the British Foreign Office magnificently and we should really be having a session on Craig’s own life where he very honorably exposed nefarious Foreign Office dealings in Central Asia and the willingness of the Blair Bush combo to countenance massive human rights abuses in the name of the War on Terror. He stood down from the Foreign Office, an act of considerable honour rarely seen in civil servants elsewhere in the world.”

“Since that made it impossible for him to continue his career as an Ambassador he has returned to Britain, he is of course a Scot originally, and has just produced an extraordinary book about another mischievious Scot with mixed feelings about the British government, Bokhara Burnes as he is known to Great Game enthusiasts. Bokhara Burnes was a travel writer who was actually a British spy, a player of the Great Game, a key player in the rivalry between Britain and Russia, but who again very honourably opposed the invasion of Afghanistan until he was bought out by a Baronetcy and then lost his life in Kabul. It is an extraordinary story and one that Craig tells with great aplomb in his new biography.”

“We had a lot of fun when I was working on the subject in the National Archives and I would meet Craig there and go for a drink afterwards in the Meridien Hotel next door and exchange notes on secret documents which we discovered there. But I will leave him to tell his own story. Ladies and Gentlemen please give a warm welcome to Craig Murray.”

I very much enjoyed making this particular riff while I was talking, at 27 minutes in on the video:

“Alexander Burnes became famous as a spy and what the British call an explorer. I always find this absolutely a fascinating idea. We call him an explorer because he went and met peoples who had been there for thousands of years and didn’t feel they had any need to be discovered and had a culture which was every bit as developed as his culture, but nonetheless he was an “explorer” for finding these poor benighted people who didn’t previously exist because they hadn’t met a British person, which is a very strange concept. The British idea of what an explorer is I think is quite amusing. He was, let’s say, a pioneer in introducing new cultures to the British who had not met the British before, that might be a fairer way of putting it.”

“And of course first encounters with the British could often turn out to be violent and unpleasant, and many were. That is one of the things with which I struggled in writing the book, I think that struggle is obvious in parts of the book, which is how do you write a book, about somebody who in many ways was a good and admirable person, but served an Imperial project which in itself was not necessarily a good thing. And coming to terms with our Imperial heritage is particularly difficult for Scottish people. I would argue that we were actually the first victims of English imperialism. So for us, it’s a particularly complex question.”

View with comments

Locked In

I am very proud to say that the trailer is now ready for Nadira’s debut short film, Locked In. It is a searing exposure of the harshness of immigration detention and the injustice of the fast track system. Locking up asylum seekers in the UK, who have suffered torture and abuse in detention in their own countries, is an appalling practice.

Nadira both wrote and produced the film and directed the post-production. The story is based on a number of true incidents including cases in which I was personally involved. Nadira’s research included interviews with asylum seekers, NGO’s, lawyers, journalists and policemen. The film highlights the work of Medical Justice (recently renamed Freedom from Torture), and organisation for which I have explained before I have the highest regard.

The film is being offered to festivals at the moment and will eventually be released online. The film’s website is here. Nadira has made a serious career change into film, and is now writing her first feature and considering a number of offers to direct.

View with comments

Trump and the Media

With no sense of irony, a “liberal” media which rightly excoriates the President of Gambia for failing to accept an election result, continues to do precisely the same thing in the case of Donald Trump. No invective is too strong to be cast against a man whose election the “liberal” media did everything possible to prevent.

With the happy resignation of Stephen Daisley, a strong contender for worst journalist in the World is now Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian. He takes the irony to an entirely new level. He claims that Trump will destroy the legacy by which smaller nations “long looked to the US to maintain something close to a rules-based international system.” He completely ignores the fact that the greatest single hammer blow against the rules based international system was delivered by Freedland’s idol Tony Blair, when he supported the invasion of Iraq without a Security Council Resolution and in the specific knowledge that, if the matter of force were properly put to the Security Council, it would not merely meet three vetoes but lose a majority vote.

The UN, and the rule of international law, have never recovered from that hammer blow, which Freedland enthusiastically cheered on. Nor has Freedland apparently noticed that the smaller nations rather detest than worship the USA. It has invaded and bombed them, interfered in their elections, supported right wing coups and armies, run destabilising CIA drug rings in them, and armed and even sometimes led dictatorial death squads. Look at all those US Security Council vetoes and the resolutions that never got to a vote because of threatened US vetoes. Look at all those General Assembly votes that were everyone against the USA, Israel and the poor occupied Marshall Islands. Freedland’s hymn to the Pax Americana is a sick joke. For much of the world, a period of American isolationism would be extremely welcome.

I am thankfully too clear-headed to like Trump because of the extraordinary campaign of vilification to which he has been subjected. Freedland has no shame about repeating the lie that Trump kept Hitler’s speeches by his bedside. I was in a position to know for sure that the “Russian hacking” elements of the extraordinary “Manchurian candidate” rubbish which the entire establishment threw at Trump was definitively untrue. I had the background and training to see that the Christopher Steele dossier was not only nonsense, but a fake, not in fact produced seriatim on the dates claimed. The involvement of the US security services in spreading lies as intelligence to undermine an incoming President will go down as a crucial moment in US history. We have not yet seen the denouement of that story.

But none of that makes Trump a good person. He could be an appalling monster and still be subjected to dirty tricks by other very bad people. There is much about Trump to dislike. His sensible desire for better relations with Russia is matched by a stupid drive to goad China.

Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric did tap in to the populist racism which is unfortunately sweeping developed countries at the moment. The very wealthy have succeeded in diverting justified anger at the results of globalisation on to immigrant populations, who are themselves victims of globalisation. By shamelessly tapping in to the deep wells of popular atavism, the elite have managed the extraordinary trick of escaping the wrath their appalling profiteering and extreme levels of wealth should bring. His words on race in his inauguration address were good, but does he really mean them? His anti-Muslim rhetoric remains deeply troubling. His ludicrous boast yesterday that he would end radical Islamic terrorism is precisely indicative of the counter-productive stupidity that feeds it.

I am a free trader and dislike the march of protectionism. But on the other hand, international trade agreements have become routinely not about tariffs but much more about the allocation of resources within the states concerned, mandating a neo-liberal model and giving extraordinary legal status to multinational companies. The collapse of the current model of international trade agreement, if that is what Trump really heralds, has both its positive and negative aspects.

It is of course a major question whether the establishment and his own Republican party allow him to do anything too radical at all. My own suspicion is that after all the huffing and puffing, nothing much is going to change. The key intra-party battle will probably be over the only policy he affirmed in any detail yesterday, the return of New Deal type state infrastructure spending. The idea of a massive state funded programme of national infrastructure, particularly in transport, to get heavy industry back on its feet, is the very antithesis of neo-liberalism. I think yesterday cleared up the question of whether Trump really meant it – he does. Will he be allowed to do it by a party committed to small state and balanced budgets, is a huge question. As Trump is also committed to tax cuts, it implies a massive budget deficit – with which Trump might well be comfortable. If Trump does succeed, it could fundamentally shift the way western governments look at economics, turning back the clock to the happier days before the advent of monetarism.

So that is Trump. Much that is bad but some fascinating things to watch. I suppose the reason I can’t join in the “it’s a disaster” screams, is that I thought it was already a disaster. The neo-liberal, warmongering orthodoxies did not have my support, despite Obama’s suave veneer. The pandering to racist populism of Trump is bad, and we must keep a watch on it. He may turn out not really to be different at all. Like all politicians, personal enrichment will doubtless be high on his agenda. But I do not start from the presumption the world is now a worse place than it was last week. I shall wait and see.

View with comments

Talk on Alexander Burnes in Montrose Tonight 7.30pm

UPDATE: Video now available

My talk from the George Hotel Montrose will be livestreamed here this evening courtesy of Independence Live.

I feel quite emotional to be giving a talk tonight on Alexander Burnes, just across the road from the home where he was born. At the time of his birth his grandfather, mother and father, three aunts, an uncle and four siblings all lived in the house. The aunts and uncle all died in their early twenties without ever marrying or leaving home. Alexander was to have eleven siblings who survived into adulthood. He used to tend the garden and keep a pet cat and a pet crow(!) along with his favourite little brother Charlie, nine years younger. His proudest moment was when he secured Charlie a cadetship to join the East India company. They were to die together, hacked down in a Kabul garden.

Alexander Burnes and his great-uncle Robert Burns both died at the tragically young age of 37. Robert of course left the greater legacy, but Alexander certainly inherited some of that genius, and in his lifetime had greater fame (and sold more books!) I spent eight years of my life in digging up old records to try to rescue Alexander’s memory from neglect and even malice, and give a fair assessment of his life and tarnished reputation. The great difficulty was the disappearance of so many prime sources.

I shall not be repeating the contents of the book in my talk this evening, but rather talking about my quest and why I thought it was important. I shall be explaining some of the extraordinary things I discovered about the key role of the small burgh of Montrose in the development of British India. And examining why the themes of Burnes’ life keep recurring, and governments fail to learn from the mistakes of the past.

Being a sentimental old fool I like to think Alex and Charlie – who have no known grave or memorial – will be standing at the back of the room smiling with approval.

View with comments

Stunning Admission from Obama on Wikileaks

In his final press conference, beginning around 8 minutes 30 seconds in, Obama admits that they have no evidence of how WikiLeaks got the DNC material. This undermines the stream of completely evidence-free nonsense that has been emerging from the US intelligence services this last two months, in which a series of suppositions have been strung together to make unfounded assertions that have been repeated again and again in the mainstream media.

Most crucially of all Obama refers to “The DNC emails that were leaked”. Note “leaked” and not “hacked”. I have been repeating that this was a leak, not a hack, until I am blue in the face. William Binney, former Technical Director of the NSA, has asserted that were it a hack the NSA would be able to give the precise details down to the second it occurred, and it is plain from the reports released they have no such information. Yet the media has persisted with this nonsense “Russian hacking” story.

Obama’s reference to the “the DNC emails that were leaked” appears very natural, fluent and unforced. It is good to have the truth finally told.

Liked this article? Please share using the links below. Then View Latest Posts

View with comments

Chelsea Manning Adds a Glow to the Day

I cannot tell you how delighted I am that Chelsea Manning is going to be released. Having done so much to reveal the truly sordid nature on the ground of the USA’s neo-Imperial aggression, Manning is a true hero. It is a shame that Obama is forcing her to undergo another five months of a truly hellish prison sentence, but still there is now an end in sight.

All of which adds to the mystery of Obama. He launched the most vicious War on Whistleblowers ever in American history. Obama’s people even went for whistleblowers like Bill Binney and Tom Drake of the NSA, whose whistleblowing happened pre-Obama but who Bush had not sought to persecute. So freeing a whistleblower is the least likely act of clemency to be expected.

Of course this all feeds in to the question of whether Obama is a good man frustrated or a charlatan all along, as a tick in the good man frustrated column. I still tend to the man with decent instincts who at the end of the day didn’t care enough to really fight for them.

The other good news is that Abdel Hakim Belhadj has been granted permission by the Supreme Court to sue Jack Straw and Mark Allen for his extraordinary rendition and torture. The unanimous dismissal of the argument of sovereign immunity is extremely important, as it rolls back the assertion that we have no protection from the state.

It is worth recalling Jack Straw lying through his teeth to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee on 24 October 2005. Every single statement on the substantive issues which Straw makes here is now known to be an outright lie:

Q105 Sandra Osborne: I would like to ask you about the issue of extraordinary rendition. In response to this Committee’s report of last year on the war against terrorism, the government said that it was not aware of the use of its territory or air space for the purposes of extraordinary rendition. However, it appears that there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that the UK air space is indeed being utilised for this purpose, albeit mainly in the media. Some of the suggestions seem to be extremely detailed. For example, the Guardian has reported that aircraft involved in operations have flown into the UK at least 210 times since 9/11, an average of one flight a week. It appears that the favourite destination is Prestwick Airport, which is next to my constituency, as it happens. Can you comment on that? What role is the UK playing in extraordinary rendition?

Mr Straw: The position in respect of extraordinary rendition was set out in the letter that the head of our parliamentary team wrote to Mr Priestly, your Clerk, on 11 March; and the position has not changed. We are not aware of the use of our territory or air space for the purpose of extraordinary rendition. We have not received any requests or granted any permissions for use of UK territory or air space for such purposes. It is perfectly possible that there have been two hundred movements of United States aircraft in and out of the United Kingdom and I would have thought it was many more; but that is because we have a number of UN air force bases here, which, under the Visiting Forces Act and other arrangements they are entitled to use under certain conditions. I do not see for a second how the conclusion could be drawn from the fact that there have been some scores of movements of US military aircraft – well, so what – that that therefore means they have been used for rendition. That is a very long chain!

Q106 Sandra Osborne: The UN Commission on Human Rights has started an inquiry into the British Government’s role in this. Is the Government co-operating fully with that inquiry? Why would they start an inquiry if there were no reason to believe that this was actually happening?

Mr Straw: People start inquiries for all sorts of reasons. I assume we are co-operating with it. I am not aware of any requests, but we always co-operate with such requests.

Q107 Mr Keetch: They are not flying under US military flags; these are Gulfstream aircraft used by the CIA. They have a 26-strong fleet of Gulfstream aircraft that are used for this purpose. These aircraft are not coming into British spaces; they are coming into airports. Some are into bases like Northolt, and some into bases like Prestwick. Whilst it is always good to have the head of your parliamentary staff respond to our Clerk, Mr Priestley, could you give us an assurance that you will investigate these specific flights; and, if it is the case that these flights are being used for the process of extraordinary rendition, which is contrary to international law and indeed contrary to the stated policy of Her Majesty’s Government, would you attempt to see if they should stop?

Mr Straw: I would like to see what it is that is being talked about here. I am very happy to endorse, as you would expect, and I did endorse, the letter sent by our parliamentary team to your Clerk on 11 March. I am happy, for the avoidance of any doubt, to say that I specifically endorse its contents. If there is evidence, we will look at it, but a suggestion in a newspaper that there have been flights by unspecified foreign aircraft in and out of the United Kingdom cannot possibly add up to evidence that our air space or our facilities have been used for the purpose of unlawful rendition. It just does not.

Q108 Mr Keetch: I accept that, but if there were evidence of that, you would join with us, presumably, in condemning —–
Mr Straw: I am not going to pre-judge an inquiry. If there were evidence, we would look at it. So far there we have not seen any evidence.
Q109 Richard Younger-Ross: Our former Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, has stated in a document to us: “I can confirm it is a positive policy decision by the US and UK to use Uzbek torture material.” He states that the evidence is that the aircraft that my colleague referred to earlier, the Gulfstreams, are taking detainees back to Uzbekistan who are then being tortured. Is that not some indication that these detainees are being transferred through the UK?

Mr Straw: It is Mr Murray’s opinion. Mr Murray, as you may know, stood in my constituency. He got fewer votes than the British National Party, and notwithstanding the fact that he assured the widest possible audience within the constituency to his views about use of torture. I set out the British Government’s position on this issue on a number of occasions, including in evidence both here and to the Intelligence and Security Committee. I wrote a pretty detailed letter to a constituent of mine back in June, setting out our position. As I said there, there are no circumstances in which British officials use torture, nor any question of the British Government seeking to justify the use of torture. Again, the British Government, including the terrorist and security agencies, has never used torture for any purpose including for information, nor would we instigate or connive with others in doing so. People have to make their own judgment whether they think I am being accurate or not.

Q110 Mr Illsley: Foreign Secretary, the letter which you supplied to the Committee in March which gave the conclusion that the British Government is not aware of the use of its territory or air space for the purpose of extraordinary rendition was taken at face value by most members of the Committee at that time, before the election. We took that to mean that we were not aware of any extraordinary rendition, and that it was not happening. The press reports were therefore something of a surprise. Would our Government be contacted by any country using our airspace, taking suspects to other countries? Would we be asked for permission or would there be any circumstances where we would be contacted; or is it the case that it could well be happening but that our Government is not aware of it simply because we have not been informed, or our permission is not necessary?

Mr Straw: Mr Illsley, on the precise circumstances in which foreign governments apply for permission to use British air space, I have to write to you, because it is important that I make that accurate. What Mr Stanton on my behalf said in the letter is exactly the same: why would I, for a second, knowingly provide this Committee with false information, if I had had information about rendition? We do not practise rendition, full-stop. I ought to say that whether rendition is contrary to international law depends on the particular circumstances of the case; it depends on each case, but we do not practise it. I would have to come back to you on that question.

Chairman: We will expect a letter. Thank you very much

Yesterday, we had Theresa May’s unremitting hard Brexit speech, which made plain that pandering to racism on immigration was going to be the priority over every possible interest in her approach to negotiations on leaving the EU. The pound stirred slightly on hopes that her announcement that Parliament would be given a vote on the final deal, could give hope that the whole thing might be avoided. However it is plain that she meant that Parliament could vote on a leaving with a deal or just leaving with no deal.

I feel pleased with May’s speech on two grounds. The first is that its contemptuous dismissal of the views of the 2 to 1 majority in Scotland which wishes to remain in the EU, brings Scottish Independence palpably closer. Even after three centuries of subservience, at some stage a natural reaction to having your face ground into the dog food must set in. A second Independence referendum is now inevitable.

Secondly, the EU is actually an extremely successful union and the euro an extremely successful currency, perceptions which a rabid nationalist UK media have successfully distorted. It is impossible that the UK will find replacement relationships in fields from trade to external relations to security to education and scientific research, which are anything like as economically beneficial. It is not just internal EU trade – the EU’s external market access will never be bettered by the UK, and the common external tariff is much more liberal than commonly realised. For example there are effectively no tariffs on manufactured goods from Africa. I confidently predict a Brexit Britain will both impose and face higher external tariffs than the EU.

My optimism arises from the fact that the May thesis is so barmy – that all of this should be sacrificed to pander to the daft xenophobia of the English and Welsh who don’t like “foreigners coming in” – that I still cannot believe that the political system will allow it to happen. The idea that the basis of the country’s economy can be destroyed on the basis of the sloganizing of the semi-educated, will meet institutional resistance. I want Scotland independent, but I also want England to avoid the self-harm of leaving the EU. I am farily confident both options are simultaneously achievable.

View with comments

Speaking Engagements

I am happy to say a busy time ahead:

18 January in Aytoun Village Hall, Berwickshire at 7pm for Yes Berwickshire documentary film London Calling talking about BBC Bias in the Independence Referendum, and how to prevent and counter it next time.

19 January Montrose, George Hotel, 7.30pm talking about Alexander Burnes just fifty yards from the family home where he was born

21 January 2pm Perth, Soutar Theatre, for Yes Perth City. London Calling, post film discussion also with Alan Knight and Allan Grogan. Register here.

23 January 2.30pm Jaipur India Sikunder Burnes. Talk at the Jaipur Literature Festival – the World’s largest with 330,000 visitors.

27 January 7.30pm Edinburgh for Edinburgh SNP Club. Talk on the situation in Iraq and Syria.

As I visit London, frankly, as seldom as possible, I thought I might give an early shout out for what seems to be an excellent event on 25 February at University College, London, a colloquium entitled “Noam Chomsky: The Responsibility of Intellectuals”. Half hour papers will be presented by Neil Smith, Milan Rai, Hilary Rose, Chris Knight, Krizta Szendroi, Nicholas Allott, Jackie Walker and finally by me; I am genuinely worried about following some brilliant minds. After which Noam Chomsky will respond by video-link. I can’t let this pass without noting my book Murder in Samarkand has an American edition, Dirty Diplomacy, which has strong cover quotes from Harold Pinter and Noam Chomsky commending it. My Edinburgh publisher wouldn’t put the Chomsky quote on the UK edition, arguing that nobody had heard of him!

The perceptive among you may have noted that I face a hell of a dash from Perth to Jaipur. It is however possible. But yesterday I received an email from Jaipur stating that they had changed my talk from 23rd to 20th, when I will get a larger audience. I have replied that this is impossible for me. I am waiting to hear back, but this has potential to go wrong.

When I published my offer to take over Bella Caledonia if the alternative was it folding, I received a surprisingly large number of offers from Independence supporters offering to write. Some – but by no means all – were excluded from writing for Bella because of what many perceived as that website’s rather specific ideological focus. As there are a number of good pro-Independence people anxious to express themselves in writing but with no outlet, I was wondering about starting up a new pro-Indy compendium site that gives a voice to every shade of opinion supporting Independence, providing it is not racist. It would run on the basis of minimal cost and not paying anybody, including me. I probably need friends to talk me out of this venture!

One place I am not speaking is at today’s Scottish Independence Convention. I asked but was turned down. This saddens me as I addressed the SIC by invitation twice when it was a bit in the doldrums, years before the referendum. I fear that this is another example of ideological narrowness taking hold.

I hugely enjoy speaking and the intellectual interaction of discussion with people in a meeting, and please do invite me to talk to your group. I do not charge any fee. I am however horribly disorganised, so do not be scared to keep sending me constant reminders. It is helpful rather than annoying. I am pretty sure for example there are engagements in Lanark and Aberystwyth I have lost touch with. Anybody expecting me do get repeatedly in touch!

View with comments

Good Riddance to Tristram Hunt

Super-posh Tristram Hunt was famously imposed on his Stoke on Trent constituency – with which his only connection is inheriting a lot of fine porcelain – by the Labour National Executive Committee as a “Mandelson ask”. A number of good local candidates were blocked from standing. A scion of Progress, he was the epitome of the decline of the UK political system into a choice between two groups of Tory, with the New Labour Tories being more right wing than the Conservative Tories.

Hunt always did have a sentimental attachment to supporters of political change, and he wrote about them. He liked them as long as they were Victorian and safely dead, plus with some additional attribute. They had to be literary like Thomas Carlyle, or arty crafty like William Morris, or very rich like Friedrich Engels. Hunt sent himself up as a kind of sanitised E P Thompson, writing romantically laced histories of pioneers of Victorian social progress, only leaving out the oiks of whom he found Thompson unaccountably fond.

Now he has resigned from parliament and will be paid £160,000 a year to potter round the Victoria and Albert looking at arty crafty things. I very much doubt we will see him much at the V&A’s new ghetto in Dundee.

Parliament is well-rid of him. A third rate posh historian and a fourth rate right wing politican.

View with comments

How Wikileaks Keeps Its 100% Accuracy Record

When I resigned as Ambassador to blow the whistle on UK/US complicity in torture and extraordinary rendition, I had a number of official documents I wished to leak to prove my story. They were offered to WikiLeaks through two friends, Andrew and Jonathan. WikiLeaks declined to publish them because they could not 100% verify them.

Their reasons were firstly that they were suspicious of me and whether I was a plant; British ambassadors are not given to resigning on principle. Secondly a few of the copies were my own original drafts of diplomatic communications I had sent, not the document as it printed out at the other end.

That is how scrupulous they are. I can vouch for the fact that their record for 100% accuracy is no fluke, it is safeguarded by extreme caution and careful checking.

In the end we launched the documents through mass blogger action on the web, on hundreds of independent sites simultaneously. You can still see them all for example on William Bowles excellent blog, and they are worth a read, even a decade on. I think over that decade I persuaded WikiLeaks I am genuine too!

View with comments

Julian Assange Not Charged With Anything

Contrary to mainstream media fake news, Julian Assange has never been charged with any sexual offence. His status was that he was wanted for questioning. But the questioning by Swedish police and prosecutors took place exactly two months ago in the Ecuadorean Embassy, at length over several days. So he is no longer wanted for questioning, yet is still not charged. The pretence there is any kind of genuine criminal investigation in progress, already transparently thin, is now in shreds.

The Swedish police and prosecutors have had over six years to gather and assess all the evidence. The only missing piece was the further interrogation of Assange, which happened in November. After six years of preparing the jigsaw, they have had two months to slot the last piece into place. Policemen are used to having to prepare a case for charging within days, not months. What is more, the remaining charge (the minor ones having time expired) is a single, extremely simple incident in which there is nothing else left to investigate.

I think we are entitled to conclude that the Swedish prosecutor is behaving in a disgraceful manner.

These are the facts of the incident in question. It is undisputed by anyone that Julian Assange and Sofia Wilen went to bed in Sofia Wilen’s bed and had enjoyable, consensual sex on multiple occasions. What is in dispute is whether, when one of these sex acts commenced, Sofia Wilen was awake, asleep or, as she tweeted to a friend, half-asleep, and therefore whether she was in a position to consent to sex on that occasion.

The statement Julian Assange gave to prosecutors two months ago states:

91. This is false. I was certain “SW” was not asleep. I was also certain she expressly consented to unprotected sex before such intercourse started. This is also evidenced by “SW”’s own text messages. For example, my lawyers refer me to the following text message to her friend:
— 17 August, 08:42 am: JA did not want to use a condom.
92. Then a day later she explicitly texts her friend that she had not, in fact, been asleep.
— 18 August, 06:59 am: I was half asleep.

You can read the full text of Assange’s statement here.

Sofia Wilen did not view what had happened to her as rape and was to text on 20 August 2010 at 14.26 that she “did not want to put any charges on Julian Assange” but that “the police were keen on getting their hands on him” (14:26) and at 22:25 that it was “the police who made up the charges”.

Unsurprisingly on 25 August 2010 the Chief Prosecutor of Stockholm Eva Finne announced that “The conduct alleged disclosed no crime at all and that file (K246314-10) would be closed”.

In Sweden’s extraordinary justice system, a second prosecutor then took up the case, crusading third wave feminist Marianne Ny. For six years, Ny has milked all the political capital possible out of the case while refusing actually to question Assange to move it forward. After the Swedish Supreme Court ordered her to get on with the questioning, she now stands at the Rubicon where she has had more than enough time to try to build credible charges from the situation outlined above, yet plainly no credible prosecution is possible.

The senior international lawyers of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded with good reason that Assange was being illegally detained – and further rejected the appeal by the UK – because there is no real case and no real investigation in progress against Assange. But the mainstream media will never give you any of the flavour or facts outlined above, being interested in nothing but character assassination of Assange who is perceived as a threat to the neo-liberal world order.

View with comments

The Lobby

36 hours after I first asked the FCO Media Department for a statement clarifying Shai Masot’s immigration and visa status, given that he was not on the Diplomatic List, the FCO has still not responded, despite my putting my request in writing as they asked. I am going to phone the FCO again in a few minutes, and I am very much afraid I may become heated and impolite.

Part 1 of Al_Jazeera’s excellent documentary on the bribing activities of the Israeli Embassy is absolutely essential viewing.

UPDATE The FCO told me they did not receive my questions in writing, and on checking that appears to be true, though I don’t know why. I have resent and they confirm they have now received.

View with comments

Bella Caledonia Continues

I am genuinely delighted that the Bella Caledonia website is continuing and my offer to take it over is not needed. We need all the resources arguing for independence that we currently have and more.

We are however entitled to be somewhat perplexed by their statement today that

“Bella is not in debt, there is no prospect of bankruptcy, and there is no immediate appeal planned for cash. Any new donations will be transferred into the new company.”

This appears completely incompatible with an entire series of desperate appeals for cash immediately prior to the apparent closure, which stated in terms that unless large and urgent amounts of cash were stumped up the website would have to close. Just three days ago they published:

“The Advisory Board of Bella Caledonia confirms we are going to have to make the decision to close, unless an urgent fundraising appeal can be met. Mike Small has advised that despite his commitment to Bella, he will have to step down as editor as the position is too financially precarious and he is actively seeking other work. The Board is looking at other funding models.”

These two statements do not match. One of them is untrue.

My friendly advice is this. Folk are extremely committed to Independence, and many folk in Scotland are extremely committed to radical politics. Committed to the extent they will put their hands in their pockets to support you. But if you give the impression you are not being entirely straight whilst asking them for money, you are in great danger of seeing future funds dry up, especially where the money is being asked to pay your own salary.

If the “other funding models” means a search for state or institutional sources of cash, you will soon find that he who pays the piper…

Anyway, best of luck to Bella and I hope it goes serenely on and from strength to strength. I also hope that this episode has taught a little humility and a little less antagonism in their attitude to other independence campaigners and independence websites who do not share their precise viewpoint. No fellow campaigner for Independence anywhere in the broad range – including Stuart Campbell, James Kelly, Tommy Sheridan, Angus Robertson or even just me – should be attacked until we have defeated our real enemies.

View with comments

International Observation for Indyref2

I believe international observation to be absolutely essential to another independence referendum. This is the submission I just submitted to the Scottish government’s consultation on rules for the next referendum. I do urge everyone to contact their MSP and support it.

I believe it is essential to add an element of independent international observation of the referendum process.

The referendum is about the creation of a new nation state. Neither the referendum itself can create a nation state, nor the subsequent negotiation between Scotland and Westminster. The nation state is only created by recognition by the United Nations. The international community therefore has a strong interest in the process.

There was a great deal of disquiet in Scotland over the fairness of the referendum campaign in 2014, and particularly the role played by the broadcast and print media, and especially the state media. There is significant public perception of BBC bias against Independence.

Electoral monitoring of the referendum should be undertaken by the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The Scottish Government should write to ODIHR and OSCE and request such monitoring, and at the same time write to the UK government and ask them to support such request. The request must be supported by the UK government to be accepted by OSCE, but it would be politically very difficult, and look suspicious to members of the international community, if the UK government refused it when the Scottish government believed it to be necessary.

Not only will the OSCE send a large team to observe the conduct of the campaign and physical balloting and counting process, they will send an advance team of experts with international experience in monitoring media bias in campaign situations, with a particular emphasis on state media. These experts will produce a careful and scientific quantitative and qualitative analysis of the extent of media bias, and this analysis will be presented to all the member states of the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe. The very presence of the international monitoring team will be a strong deterrent to bad media behaviour, and will boost public confidence in the process.

I wish to strongly commend this work by the ODIHR and I believe this proposal is essential to another referendum campaign.

http://www.osce.org/odihr/92057?download=true

View with comments