Monthly Archives: November 2018


The Murky Sea of Azov

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Grouse Beater

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signed (28 November 2018):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Officers and Agents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Syria: A Moment to Reflect

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

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

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

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Know Your Limits

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

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

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

I am here considering Brexit only as it affects Independence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Our Falkirk Moment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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For Once, Theresa May is Very Accurate

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

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

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Goodbye, and Thanks for all the Fish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Scruton and Soros

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Price of Peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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