Daily Archives: May 7, 2019


The Arrest of Manny Singh

On Saturday, I was an eye-witness to Manny Singh, organiser of the huge pro-Independence demonstration through Glasgow, co-operating efficiently and respectfully with the police in keeping order and protecting public safety, and in making sure the event was a joyous family occasion, successful and enjoyed by everyone. That included Manny liaising regularly with the most senior police officers in charge of the march. Before I made my speech, I asked him how it was all going and Manny volunteered unasked that the Police had been brilliant. From what I witnessed, the respect was mutual.

It is then extremely perturbing that, two days after the march, Police Scotland arrested Manny for organising an illegal procession, a charge that carries a maximum three months imprisonment. Plainly the orders for this radical change of attitude have come from very high. The defence of this draconian measure by SNP Glasgow councillor and ex-BBC intern Rhiannon Spear gives a clue as to where this is coming from.

Still more of a clue is the astonishing four page attack on Yes supporters that took up the the front and four pages of the Herald the day after the demonstration, in which the SNP’s NATO and monarchy enthusiast Angus Robertson and extreme Cold War Russophobe Stewart McDonald vented their spleen at Independence supporters who dare to take a more radical line. It was very thinly disguised as an attack on online abuse – of which in four full pages not one single example was given by them, let alone any qualitative or quantitative analysis.

McDonald in a lengthy rant in the article makes plain that what he really cannot stand is rather people do not accept his Establishment view, who criticise the BBC, and embrace “conspiracy theories.”

This is the essential background to the arrest of Manny. Now the SNP has a highly ambivalent attitude to Manny’s organisation, AUOB. AUOB is the main vehicle for public pressure for early Independence, while Nicola Sturgeon has embraced a strategy of kicking a new Independence referendum ever further into the long grass, while a national consultation is held, or Brexit plays out, or a citizens’ assembly discusses federal solutions, or whatever else excuse comes to hand.

In terms of electoral success for the SNP, Sturgeon’s strategy is undoubtedly brilliant. The SNP stands unchallenged in the polls at 46%, with the Tories in second place trailing woefully behind on 22%. The SNP is an incredibly successful political machine, and one which can keep the highheidyins in a very comfortable living indeed for life. To say that the SNP hierarchy are very comfortable on the UK gravy train would be a massive understatement. They are in no hurry at all to make a bid for Independence that may put their careers and livelihoods at risk.

The only problem is the wider Yes campaign and the wider SNP membership, who had been under the impression that they were putting their hands in their pockets and donating, and were out there in the cold delivering leaflets, because the SNP was the vehicle for Independence, not just to support Scotland’s very own highly paid ruling political class. These people continually applied inconvenient pressure, both online where their criticisms of the BBC and other establishment pillars were an embarrassment to the comfortably ensconced, and by continual street activity as through AUOB.

Nicola has had to make repeated SNP conference speeches and every time been forced to pretend she is interested in pursuing Independence at a future date. Surely, SNP HQ thinking runs, it would be better to take some of the pressure off her by hobbling support for the pesky online Independence supporters and those noisy marchers?

AUOB had applied to Glasgow City Council in September for permission to hold the recent march. As it was a repeat of the entirely peaceful and successful one last year, there was no reason to suppose any problem might arise. Then just ten days before the march, Glasgow City Council called the organisers to a meeting and demanded the start time be moved forward from 1.30pm to 11am because of “potential disruption” and “public order concerns”.

The proposed change was quite openly an attempt to reduce the numbers on the march for “ahem” reasons of public order. The organisers made plain that it was not possible at that late stage to make the change. The march had been widely advertised, coaches had been booked, and people were quite literally traveling from all over Scotland – which of course is what Glasgow City Council were precisely trying to prevent.

A committee of two SNP and one Green councillor, completely ignoring the entirely trouble free experience of the previous year, ruled that the march must kick off at 11am. Manny simply responded that in the interests of free speech, he would ignore the council’s ruling, and he did so, with great success.

The proof of the pudding is of course in the eating. The Council was simply wrong – there were in fact zero public order or safety problems involved in the march, and their pretended concern stands revealed for what it was, a pathetic attempt to hamper free speech and hobble the demonstration of massive public support for Independence. Even the SNP Deputy Leader Keith Brown turned up, though he said pretty well nothing about Independence while introducing the SNP candidates for the Euro elections.

In view that their pretended concerns proved – as everybody always knew – completely unfounded, the councillors involved stand exposed as despicable abusers of the power they were granted by the very people who were marching.

It appears from Ms Spear’s tweet that it is SNP run Glasgow Council – and I would bet after consultation with SNP HQ – who have now doubled down on their stupidity and arbitrary repression by ordering police to effect Manny’s arrest. Well, there are 100,000 of us at least who would happily stand beside him in the dock.

The man who has organised the most successful pro-Indy campaigning since 2014 has been arrested, just for doing precisely that. Yet so far there has been not a single gesture of support for Manny, public or private, from any of the SNP hierarchy. Why do you think that is?

The attempt to hobble and limit the AUOB march, and the extraordinary four page entirely unprovoked attack the next day on “cybernats”, form part of a coordinated effort by the SNP leadership to control the wider Yes movement and subdue the demand for early Independence. They failed with AUOB due to Manny’s courage and integrity – hence the vindictive order for his arrest.

UPDATE

I wrote this before seeing this excellent article from Paul Kavanagh, which makes precisely the same arguments. Paul commands much broader respect than I do across the Independence movement, peculiarly enough because it took him two years longer to spot, or at least speak out about, the problem with Sturgeon and Murrell than it took me. But if you read the comments on his article, you will see that there is massive agreement on this from numerous long term SNP members.

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Huawei Hypocrisy

Theresa May almost certainly sacked Gavin Williamson not just on the basis of a telephone billing record showing he had a phone call with a Telegraph journalist, but on the basis of a recording of the conversation itself. It astonishes me that still, after Snowden and his PRISM revelations, after Wikileaks Vault 7 releases, and after numerous other sources including my own humble contribution, people still manage to avoid the cognitive dissonance that goes with really understanding how much we are surveilled and listened to. Even Cabinet Ministers manage to pretend to themselves it is not happening.

The budget of the NSA, which does nothing else but communications intercept, is US $14.2 billion this year. Think about that enormous sum, devoted to just communications surveillance, and what it can achieve. The budget of the UK equivalent, GCHQ, is £1.2 billion, of which about 10% is paid by the NSA. Domestic surveillance in the UK has been vastly expanded and many taboos broken. But the bedrock of the system with regard to domestic intercepts is still that legal restrictions are dodged, as the USA’s NSA spies on UK citizens while the UK’s GCHQ spies on US citizens, and then the information is swapped. It was thus probably the NSA that harvested Williamson’s phone call, passing the details on. Given official US opposition to the UK employing Huawei technology, Williamson’s call would have been a “legitimate” NSA target.

Mass surveillance works on electronic harvesting. Targeted phone numbers apart, millions of essentially random calls are listened to electronically using voice recognition technology and certain key words trigger an escalation of the call. Williamson’s call discussing Huawei, China, the intelligence services, and backdoors would certainly have triggered recording and been marked up to a human listener, even if his phone was not specifically targeted by the Americans – which it almost certainly was.

Williamson of course is relying on the security services’ secrecy about their methods to maintain his protests of innocence, secure in the knowledge that the recording of him would not be produced. The existence of the recording – of which I am extremely confident – is the only possible explanation for May’s degree of certainty and swift action against one of her very few loyal allies.

All of which of course throws into stark relief the stunning hypocrisy of those who are worried that Huawei will be used for electronic eavesdropping, when they are up to their ears in electronic eavesdropping themselves. One of my heroes is the great Richard Stallman, who put it this way six years ago:

RMS: Well, it’s perfectly reasonable suspicion to me. I don’t think the US government should use operating systems made in China for the same reason that most governments shouldn’t use operating systems made in the US and in fact we just got proof since Microsoft is now known to be telling the NSA about bugs in Windows before it fixes them.

RSS: I was just going to bring this up exactly, so I was saying that the NSA recently received notifications about the zero-day holes in advance and [incomprehensible] the NSA and the CIA to just crack PCs abroad for espionage purposes.

RMS: Now, [incomprehensible] that this proves my point, which is that you have to be nuts if you were some other country and using Windows on your computers. But, you know, given that Windows has a universal back door in it, Microsoft would hardly need to tell the NSA about any bugs, it can tell the NSA about the mal-feature of the universal back door and that would be enough for the NSA to attack any computer running Windows, which unfortunately is a large fraction of them.

All the major western tech companies cooperate with the western security services. In Murder in Samarkand I gave the first public revelation that the government can and does listen through your mobile phone microphone even when the phone is ostensibly switched off, a fact that got almost no traction until Edward Snowden released documents confirming it six years later. China is full of western devices with backdoors that are exploited by western intelligence. That the tables turn as Chinese technology advances is scarcely surprising.

Personally I do not want the Chinese, Americans, Russians or British eavesdropping on me, or on each other, and I wish that they would stop. The spy games will of course continue, as they make money for a lot of well-connected people. But for any side to claim moral superiority in all of this is just nonsense.

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