Monthly Archives: September 2019


Heroes, Villains and Establishment Hypocrisy

Trump and Johnson’s populism have shaken the old Establishment, and raised some very interesting questions about who is and who is not nowadays inside the Establishment and a beneficiary of the protection of the liberal elite. Yesterday two startling examples in the news coverage cast a very lurid light on this question, and I ask you to consider the curious cases of Hunter Biden and Brendan Cox, two of the most undeserving and unpleasant people that can be imagined.

The BBC news bulletins led on the move to impeach Donald Trump for, as they put it, his efforts to get the President of Ukraine to undermine a political opponent. To be plain, I think Trump was quite wrong to get personally involved in this, but please park the entire subject of Donald Trump to one side for the next ten minutes.

What I find deeply reprehensible in all the BBC coverage is their failure to report the facts of the case, and their utter lack of curiosity about why Joe Biden’s son Hunter was paid $60,000 a month by Burisma, Ukraine’s largest natural gas producer, as an entirely absent non-executive director, when he had no relevant experience in Ukraine or gas, and very little business experience, having just been dishonorably discharged from the Navy Reserve for use of crack cocaine? Is that question not just little bit interesting? That may be the thin end of it – in 2014-15 Hunter Biden received US $850,000 from the intermediary company channeling the payments. In reporting on Trump being potentially impeached for asking about it, might you not expect some analysis – or at least mention – of what he was asking about?

As far as I am aware, the BBC have not reported at all the other thing Trump was asking Zelensky about – Crowdstrike. Regular readers will recall that Crowdstrike are the Clinton linked “cyber-security” company which provided the “forensic data” to the FBI on the alleged Russian hack of the DNC servers – data which has been analysed by my friend Bill Binney, former Technical Director of the NSA, who characterises it as showing speeds of transfer impossible by internet and indicating a download to an attached drive. The FBI were never allowed access to the actual DNC server – and never tried, taking the DNC’s consultants word for the contents, which itself is sufficient proof of the bias of the “investigation”.

Crowdstrike also made the claim that the same Russia hackers – “Fancy Bear” – who hacked the DNC, hacked Ukrainian artillery software causing devastating losses of Ukrainian artillery. This made large headlines at the time. What did not make any MSM headlines was the subsequent discovery that all of this never happened and the artillery losses were entirely fictitious. As Crowdstrike had claimed that it was the use of the same coding in the DNC hack as in the preceding (non-existent) Ukraine artillery hack, that proved Russia hacked the DNC, this is pretty significant. Trump was questioning Zelensky about rumours the “hacked” DNC server was hidden in the Ukraine by Crowdstrike. The media has no interest in reporting any of that at all.

It is plain in that case that Trump is the media’s villain and the Bidens, father and son, are therefore heroes being protected by the Establishment media. Now let us look at the case of Brendan Cox.

Boris Johnson’s behaviour in the Commons two nights ago was reprehensible. Watching the unrepentant and aggressive braying of the Tory MPs, I was genuinely concerned about the consequences for democracy should these empowered right wingers ever get a majority. Johnson has removed the social restraint which used to cloak their atavistic instincts.

This Tory display also very much reinforced what I have been saying for years, that we will not gain Scottish Independence through a repeat of 2014. We were allowed a referendum with only moderate cheating by the British state purely because they believed there was no chance we could win. They have been disabused. There will never be a Section 30 order an an agreed referendum again. We will have to seize Independence by means which the British state will deem unlawful. Anybody not prepared to do that is not serious about Independence.

I digress. Johnson’s behaviour is appalling and he is at an interesting stage where the Establishment and its media is unsure whether to embrace or repudiate him, the calculation depending on whether they think he will win, and on the impact of Brexit on their personal financial interests. But as with Trump, I ask you to set aside your judgement on Johnson and not think of him for a moment.

Yesterday BBC news programmes brought us repeated appearances of Brendan Cox to comment on Boris Johnson and other MP’s parliamentary behaviour. This Brendan Cox:

One such allegation was that Cox pinned a co-worker to a wall by her throat while telling her ‘I want to fuck you’. Cox left the organisation before being subjected to scrutiny on this and other allegations. However, another woman, a senior US official who met him at a Harvard University event, made similar allegations against him, ‘of grabbing her by the hips, pulling her hair, and forcing his thumb into her mouth’ ‘in a sexual way’. In contrast to Assange’s treatment, and despite a social-media furore, for nearly three years there was largely a media blackout on the story. At last, in February 2018, a right-wing tabloid broke the embargo and reported the allegations, and other news organisations had to follow suit. Finally, ‘Cox apologised for the “hurt and offence” caused by his past behaviour’ and announced he was withdrawing from public life.

I strongly recommend you to read that last linked article. Cox is very much on the wavelength of the Establishment media, a full member of the New Labour neo-liberal elite who shuttled between jobs in the Labour Party and in high paying neo-liberal propaganda organisation Save the Children. Cox was personally pocketing £106,000 a year plus expenses from donations to the “charity”. A serial unfaithful sexual aggressor, his wife’s murder sees him recast by the media as the grieving survivor of a perfect marriage. Precisely his strongest political supporters – Jess Phillips, Stella Creasy etc – are Julian Assange’s bitterest opponents due to far flimsier, hotly denied and less attested sexual allegations than those against Cox. But neo-liberals get a free pass from the modern feminist movement (cf Bill Clinton).

Boris Johnson’s behaviour was a dsgrace. But that is no reason for the BBC rehabilitation of the “retired from public life” sexual predator.

The fascinating thing is the binary, good versus evil, narrative which is being pursued in the liberal media. Trump and Johnson are bad. Therefore Hunter Biden and Brendan Cox must be good. The truth, of course, is much more complex than that. I am afraid to say that if you want an excessive simplification, a more accurate one would be that the entire political elite on all sides are self-serving and venal.

There is a more interesting story inside that, where significant portions of the public have lost respect for the Establishment, due in large part to the vast and increasing wealth gap in society, but this disillusion has been battened on by populist charlatans, and particularly directed against immigrants. This feels like an extremely unstable phase in society and politics. But instability brings the possibility of radical change, which is indeed much needed. We must all work for good from it.

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Johnson Enters Neo-Con Heaven

There has been remarkably little media commentary on the effect of the UK leaving the EU Common Foreign Policy, even though this is a major aim of Johnson, Gove and the Tory Brexiteers. The media appear not to have noticed the existence of the Common Foreign Policy. We saw perhaps the first public glimpse of the UK’s new foreign policy yesterday when Boris Johnson breached the EU Common Foreign Policy to join Donald Trump in denouncing the Iran nuclear treaty. As the UK has not actually left the EU yet, that was bad faith and an illegal act against an EU treaty obligation, but following the law is evidently of no concern whatsoever to Johnson.

There could not have been a more apt symbolism than the fact that on the day of the Supreme Court judgement that he had acted unlawfully in proroguing parliament, Boris Johnson’s major public engagement was a press conference sitting alongside Donald Trump. That is the future of the Tory version of Brexit. Other Lexit options are theoretically available, but this is what the UK’s current government intends you to get.

Of recent years EU foreign policy has been fairly characterised as neo-con, though it has rowed back somewhat from the high water mark of endorsement of the destruction of Libya. But freed from common positions on Iran, Russia, Syria and issues such as climate change, we are going to see a much more full-on neo-con approach from the UK – and one which, as now over Iran, is openly allied with the USA and against Europe. Some of the things Johnson said about the Iran nuclear deal on Monday in New York were jaw-dropping even by Johnson’s standards. “I think there’s one guy who can do a better deal and one guy who understands how to get a difficult partner like Iran over the line and that is the president of the United States,” is but one example.

My reading of Trump is that he is as contemptuous of brown-nosers as he is of opponents, but let that play out. What is plain is that, if Johnson survives as PM and Brexit goes through, Trump is going to have an unquestioning acolyte in Johnson. As I have previously reported, this is crucially going to extend to UK support for Trump’s Israel policy. It will very probably lead to UK support for Israeli annexations in the Jordan Valley – which EU Common Foreign Policy would not allow – and Johnson plans an announcement before Christmas on the moving of the UK Embassy to Jerusalem.

Johnson also blamed Iran for direct involvement in the attacks on the Saudi oil facilities at Khurais and Abqaiq. This is far from proven, and I am utterly confused by the narrative the western government and media complex has been pumping out on the event. We have been treated to an update of the Singapore Gun Myth. My generation and older were brought up to believe that Singapore had fallen in World War 2 because the guns were all fixed pointing out to sea and the attack came by land. In fact this was largely untrue and in any event not the main problem, which was appalling generalship and resulting rock-bottom morale. We are now nonsensically told that all of Saudi Arabia’s air defences only point South towards Yemen and therefore missiles from Iran crept in the side.

This is absolutely untrue. Saudi Arabia’s entire weapons capacity is massively focused on Iran, as are the manifold detection devices of the numerous US bases. Besides modern air defence systems are omnidirectional. The Patriot missile defence system is not the best in the world, though it is the most expensive; however you cannot just creep up behind it and shout “boo!” Not even the Saudis would pay billions of dollars for that.

Nor is it true that the Patriot system cannot detect cruise missiles. While it may have been designed with long range ballistic missiles in mind, it was only ever intended to intercept them in the last phase of their approach and cannot detect at more than 70km away. Saudi Arabia spent $1.57 billion dollars on PAC3 missiles: “A new Patriot advanced capability (PAC-3) missile has increased effectiveness against tactical ballistic and cruise missiles through the use of advanced hit-to-kill technology. Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor, with Raytheon the systems integrator. The PAC-3 has a Ka-band millimetre wave seeker developed by Boeing.”

That drones evaded the defences seems possible. That is a fascinating demonstration of the new possibilities in assymetric warfare. As we witnessed in Gatwick, even entirely non-existent drones can be very effective. That cruise missiles were involved seems unlikely unless a very large number were launched – there has been no claim of any intercepts. The cruise missile claim is of course the grounds for the claim of Iranian involvement. That any substantial number of cruise missiles were launched from Iran into Saudi Arabia and none of them were picked up by the defences of the numerous warships in the Gulf, by the US military bases or by the Saudi air defences is so improbable as to be utter nonsense.

Any event which leads to a massive but very temporary spike in the oil price will have potential beneficiaries aside from where we are being told to look. On present public knowledge, however, a Houthi attack with drones seems the most probable explanation, as indeed the Houthis have claimed. Given the appalling bombardment from the air of Houthi civilians, I would regard such an attack as entirely justified. The addition of cruise missiles from Iran to the story seems to me wildly improbable but an entirely predictable propaganda ploy. It does however give us a glimpse of what the future of Trump/Johnson foreign policy could hold for the UK.

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Judicial Blowback

The Tory government, under both May and Johnson, has made plain its contempt for the rule of law repeatedly, and not only over the prorogation of parliament. In the last few days we have seen the Tories admit to illegal sales of arms to Saudi Arabia, in direct breach of a ruling by the Court of Appeal, for which “accident” Liz Truss gave a completely fake apology.

The Home Office has simply ignored court rulings in several immigration cases. To this must be added the whole “enemies of the people” attitude of the government supporting media towards judges in cases involving Brexit, and the remarkably equivocal noises from No 10 over respecting the Supreme Court on prorogation.

The arguments of today’s Supreme Court judgement were extremely strong. But even Supreme Court judges are human. No matter how much the judgement may be presented as purely the product of rarified intellect, I have no doubt the surprisingly unanimous view of the court was to some extent influenced by the chance to hit back decisively at a political faction which has cast the judiciary as the enemy and attempted to undermine them and to ignore or override inconvenient judgements.

Boris, meet Hubris.

I have expressed at length my view that the idea the Queen was “misled” is a nonsense. David Cameron’s description of the process of getting the Queen to intervene in the Scottish Independence referendum, involving multiple conversations with her private secretary (a senior civil servant on secondment), lifts the lid a bit for those who have not been inside the system. There will have been detailed discussions with the Queen’s private office of the prorogation and its motives, which Buckingham Palace could see as well as any of us. One cheerful thing about today’s ruling is that it states unequivocally that an Order in Council, issued with the authority of the Queen, is void if unlawful. This is as much a poke in the eye for the Queen as it is for Boris Johnson, despite the near unanimous pretence of her immaculate innocence and infallibility.

I had drafted a piece on Boris and Iran, but given today’s overwhelming news focus am leaving that till tomorrow.

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Dedicated to David Allen Green, Joshua Rosenberg, Joan Smith, Hadley Freeman, Jess Phillips, David Aaronovitch and the entire staff of the Guardian/Observer

As of today Julian Assange has finished his jail sentence for missing police bail. There is no Swedish charge or request for his extradition, those risibly flimsy sexual allegations no longer being needed by the state.

As of today, Julian Assange is in prison purely and simply for publishing secrets of the US state, revealing war crimes and the dirtiest of diplomacy. I should like to dedicate this post to all of those in the title and dozens of their colleagues in the British “liberal” establishment, all of whom claimed that Julian’s fears of being incarcerated in the UK or Europe facing extradition for publishing US secrets were entirely bogus and a mere pretext for hiding, and that this would never happen. Those of us who said this was a real fear and a real danger were, myself most definitely included, derided as fantasist, deluded, paranoid and conspiracy theorist.

So now Julian is a political prisoner, a journalist in a maximum security prison, probably for years, waiting for his case to be heard and extradition faced for the grievous crime of doing his job and publishing. While the British liberal establishment simply buries its nose in its perfumed handkerchief and pretends that the fear it derided as imaginary, has not come true.

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Beneath Contempt

The ruling caste of Saudi Arabia present the most striking example in world history of the extreme combination of avarice and personal cowardice. They are gagging for a war with Iran so long as somebody else fights it for them. Due to a dispute over who ought to have been Caliph 1400 years ago they are absolutely champing at the bit for somebody to massacre the Shia in the Shia heartland, provided they don’t have to do the massacring. It is not that they object to blood on their pure white robes, they often get that when executing a bound prisoner or raping the housemaid. But the thought of their own blood being spilt is an abomination. Let some helpful young Israelis or Americans risk fighting the Iranians, while the Saudi rulers sniff their cocaine in their London penthouses.

It is not that Saudi does not have its own military – bombing civilian Shia Houthis from a great height with no chance of retaliation is great sport. And there were some actual Saudis in some of the tanks sent in to massacre the unarmed democracy demonstrators of Bahrain. But the world’s greatest spender per capita on weapons systems has no intention that its own elite should do any fighting. No matter how relentlessly Israel, abetted by the United States, persists in the slow genocide of the Palestinian people, Saudi will always remain a firm US and Israeli ally, because the biggest coward always hides behind the biggest bully. From that position Saudi Arabia will use all its money and influence to promote military action against Iran – by others.

The British government, having armed, supplied, trained and lent special forces to the enduring Saudi massacre of Houthi civilians in Yemen, is horrified and full of condemnation that the Houthis have the temerity to hit back at an oil facility. The attack by drones was a brilliant bit of assymetric warfare that shows money is not everything in war. For US Vice President Mike Pence, after meeeting Mohammed Bin “Chopper” Salman, to denounce this attack as “An act of war” is pretty otiose. There are many thousands of mutilated or orphaned Houthi children who could have told him there was a war on, had he bothered to talk to them rather than their oppressor.

It is an act of massive folly for the West to get drawn in to the Sunni/Shia small wars that rage across the Middle East and risk blowing them into something much larger. We do not have a “side” in an Islamic sectarian divide which everybody should be seeking to heal, not to exacerbate. There is no genuine western interest at play here other than a desire to bolster Israel and its Saudi alliance. The demonisation and crippling by sanctions of Iran, with its profound and ancient culture and massive human capital and economic potential, is a major mistake.

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Nations Unhappily Held Together

Media commentary on today’s appeals before the Supreme Court misses entirely the main point – that the highest courts of England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland may each have been legally correct in their differing judgements, because each was judging according to a different legal system. I shall here leave Northern Ireland aside through my personal ignorance of its legal system, for which I apologise.

The legal systems of England and of Scotland have equal status in the Act of Union. The Supreme Court is required to decide on the Scottish (Joanna Cherry) case under Scots law, and required to decide on the English (Gina Miller) case under English law. The Scottish legal tradition has always emphasised the sovereignty of the people, a tradition that can be traced back through the Claim of Right to the Declaration of Arbroath, which four centuries before Hobbes and Locke made the contractual relationship between people and King explicit:

Yet if he should give up what he has begun, and agree to make us or our kingdom subject to the King of England or the English, we should exert ourselves at once to drive him out as our enemy and a subverter of his own rights and ours, and make some other man who was well able to defend us our King; for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule.

It is the last phrase which stirs the blood and is most often repeated; but it is the first part, the claim to a contractual relationship between sovereign and subject, which was way in advance of any other recorded thinking in medieval Europe.

In its appeal today against the Scottish decision the UK government makes an astonishing admission of the Westminster view of Scotland. Notwithstanding the very specific provision of the Act of Union that the legal systems of Scotland and England are equal, the view taken by Boris Johnson’s government in their appeal is that “it would be most astonishingly inconvenient if, notwithstanding that England and Scotland have been united since 1707” the Scottish courts should have the temerity to question the Westminster parliament. There can seldom have been a clearer statement that No. 10 sees Scotland as having de facto colonial status.

Joanna Cherry responds to this point in her pleadings:

The answer to the appellant’s complaint that “it would be most astonishingly inconvenient if, notwithstanding that England and Scotland have been united since 1707” the UK Executive might be subject to greater scrutiny and more readily called to account before court based on the north bank of the Tweed as compared to those on its south bank is simply this: don’t be persuaded by complaints of inconvenient for the Executive that it is even open to this court in the exercise of its appellate jurisdiction to lower Scots law standards, in this regard, to that which is regarded as properly justiciable before the courts of England and Wales. Let English law, if it is deficient in this regard, be brought up to the standards by which the Executive is called to account under Scots law. That is what is required of this court, acting as a constitutional court for the Union as a whole.

In summary, against the foregoing background, the respondents reiterate as follows:
(1)
This court must take full and proper account of the Scottish constitutional tradition in deciding this appeal. There is no necessary correlation between Scots law and English law on the question of what prerogative powers the Executive may claim and how they
might lawfully be exercised.

(2)
Esto there be any difference between Scots law’s and English law’s respective understandings on the limitations which the law imposes on the Executive’s power to prorogue Parliament (which is not known and not admitted), that constitutional tradition within these islands and this Union polity which is more
limiting of the manner in which the Executive may exercise this power to prorogue Parliament is to be preferred, the better to ensure the Executive’s democratic and legal accountability for the use of this power and to prevent its abuse of that power in an unlawful attempt to shift the proper constitutional balance of power among the three pillars of State and allow it unconstitutionally to dominate and so govern without due and proper regard to, Parliament.

Cherry argues that the Scottish legal tradition should be preferred because holding the executive to account is a good thing for the UK as a whole. But this does not really address the question (which to be fair she could not as she is only a party to the Scottish case) that the English judgement in the Miller case might have been correct in English law.

It may seem strange that the same judges decide the Scottish case under Scottish law and the English case under English law, when in each case the panel will have members who trained and practised their whole lives in a different legal system. But that is precisely how British colonialism works. Exactly those same judges, in exactly the same building, but with the different title of “The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council” may hear appeals from British colonies under the legal system of that colony. So for example they may resolve a land dispute under the customary law on landholdings of the British Virgin Isles. It is a remarkable hangover from formal Empire that they remain the Supreme Court of even some independent Commonwealth countries.

The dilemma facing the Supreme Court today is Scotland’s de facto colonial status. This will necessitate a fudge. Despite the submission of Joanna Cherry, if the Court were to find that the English judgement were correct under English law and the Scottish judgement were correct under Scots law, the court would be most unlikely to prefer one over the other – in contravention of the Act of Union. My strong expectation therefore is that the Court will avoid this dilemma by a judgement that either the English judges or the Scottish judges were wrong under the terms their own law. That is to day they will find the English judges incorrectly interpreted English law or the Scottish judges incorrectly interpreted Scots law. They will thus avoid the dilemma of preferring one over the other.

I should be most surprised if the Establishment did not claim the Scottish judges did not understand Scots law, and prefer England and the Executive of Boris Johnson, because that is the Establishment. But Brexit and populism have made life much more difficult to predict.

The Supreme Court’s decisions will have a profound effect. Either the power of the judiciary will be reined back in Scotland and there will be a major boost in the power of the Executive, thus changing Scottish legal tradition. Or the power of the Executive will be reined back in England and there will be a major boost to judicial activism, changing English legal tradition. In either case, either England or Scotland will have the right to complain that its legal tradition is not being treated by the UK Supreme Court with the respect it is due under the Treaty of Union. Which is yet a further example of the increasing impossibility of continuing the unhappy and unequal union of countries now so politically and culturally different as England and Scotland.

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The Magnitskiy Myth Exploded

The conscientious judges of the European Court of Human Rights published a judgement a fortnight ago which utterly exploded the version of events promulgated by Western governments and media in the case of the late Mr Magnitskiy. Yet I can find no truthful report of the judgement in the mainstream media at all.

The myth is that Magnitskiy was an honest rights campaigner and accountant who discovered corruption by Russian officials and threatened to expose it, and was consequently imprisoned on false charges and then tortured and killed. A campaign over his death was led by his former business partner, hedge fund manager Bill Browder, who wanted massive compensation for Russian assets allegedly swindled from their venture. The campaign led to the passing of the Magnitskiy Act in the United States, providing powers for sanctioning individuals responsible for human rights abuses, and also led to matching sanctions being developed by the EU.

However the European Court of Human Rights has found, in judging a case brought against Russia by the Magnitskiy family, that the very essence of this story is untrue. They find that there was credible evidence that Magnitskiy was indeed engaged in tax fraud, in conspiracy with Browder, and he was rightfully charged. The ECHR also found there was credible evidence that Magnitskiy was indeed a flight risk so he was rightfully detained. And most crucially of all, they find that there was credible evidence of tax fraud by Magnitskiy and action by the authorities “years” before he started to make counter-accusations of corruption against officials investigating his case.

This judgement utterly explodes the accepted narrative, and does it very succinctly:

The applicants argued that Mr Magnitskiy’s arrest had not been based on a reasonable suspicion of a
crime and that the authorities had lacked impartiality as they had actually wanted to force him to
retract his allegations of corruption by State officials. The Government argued that there had been
ample evidence of tax evasion and that Mr Magnitskiy had been a flight risk.
The Court reiterated the general principles on arbitrary detention, which could arise if the
authorities had complied with the letter of the law but had acted with bad faith or deception. It
found no such elements in this case: the enquiry into alleged tax evasion which had led to
Mr Magnitskiy’s arrest had begun long before he had complained of fraud by officials. The decision
to arrest him had only been made after investigators had learned that he had previously applied for
a UK visa, had booked tickets to Kyiv, and had not been residing at his registered address.
Furthermore, the evidence against him, including witness testimony, had been enough to satisfy an
objective observer that he might have committed the offence in question. The list of reasons given
by the domestic court to justify his subsequent detention had been specific and sufficiently detailed.
The Court thus rejected the applicants’ complaint about Mr Magnitskiy’s arrest and subsequent
detention as being manifestly ill-founded.

“Manifestly ill founded”. The mainstream media ran reams of reporting about the Magnitskiy case at the time of the passing of the Magnitskiy Act. I am offering a bottle of Lagavulin to anybody who can find me an honest and fair MSM report of this judgement reflecting that the whole story was built on lies.

Magnitskiy did not uncover corruption then get arrested on false charges of tax evasion. He was arrested on credible charges of tax evasion, and subsequently started alleging corruption. That does not mean his accusations were unfounded. It does however cast his arrest in a very different light.

Where the Court did find in favour of Magnitskiy’s family is that he had been deprived of sufficient medical attention and subject to brutality while in jail. I have no doubt this is true. Conditions in Russian jails are a disgrace, as is the entire Russian criminal justice system. There are few fair trials and conviction rates remain well over 90% – the judges assume that if you are being prosecuted, the state wants you locked up, and they comply. This is one of many areas where the Putin era will be seen in retrospect as lacking in meaningful and needed domestic reform. Sadly what happened to Magnitskiy on remand was not special mistreatment. It is what happens in Russian prisons. The Court also found Magnitskiy’s subsequent conviction for tax evasion was unsafe, but only on the (excellent) grounds that it was wrong to convict him posthumously.

The first use of the Magnitsky Act was to sanction those subject to Browder’s vendetta in his attempts to regain control of vast fortunes in Russian assets. But you may be surprised to hear I do not object to the legislation, which in principle is a good thing – although the chances of Western governments bringing sanctions to bear on the worst human rights abusers are of course minimal. Do not expect it to be used against Saudi Arabia, Bahrain or Israel any time soon.

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The World’s Most Important Political Prisoner

We are now just one week away from the end of Julian Assange’s uniquely lengthy imprisonment for bail violation. He will receive parole from the rest of that sentence, but will continue to be imprisoned on remand awaiting his hearing on extradition to the USA – a process which could last several years.

At that point, all the excuses for Assange’s imprisonment which so-called leftists and liberals in the UK have hidden behind will evaporate. There are no charges and no active investigation in Sweden, where the “evidence” disintegrated at the first whiff of critical scrutiny. He is no longer imprisoned for “jumping bail”. The sole reason for his incarceration will be the publishing of the Afghan and Iraq war logs leaked by Chelsea Manning, with their evidence of wrongdoing and multiple war crimes.

In imprisoning Assange for bail violation, the UK was in clear defiance of the judgement of the UN Working Group on arbitrary Detention, which stated

Under international law, pre-trial detention must be only imposed in limited instances. Detention during investigations must be even more limited, especially in the absence of any charge. The Swedish investigations have been closed for over 18 months now, and the only ground remaining for Mr. Assange’s continued deprivation of liberty is a bail violation in the UK, which is, objectively, a minor offense that cannot post facto justify the more than 6 years confinement that he has been subjected to since he sought asylum in the Embassy of Ecuador. Mr. Assange should be able to exercise his right to freedom of movement in an unhindered manner, in accordance with the human rights conventions the UK has ratified,

In repudiating the UNWGAD the UK has undermined an important pillar of international law, and one it had always supported in hundreds of other decisions. The mainstream media has entirely failed to note that the UNWGAD called for the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe – a source of potentially valuable international pressure on Iran which the UK has made worthless by its own refusal to comply with the UN over the Assange case. Iran simply replies “if you do not respect the UNWGAD then why should we?”

It is in fact a key indication of media/government collusion that the British media, which reports regularly at every pretext on the Zaghari-Ratcliffe case to further its anti-Iranian government agenda, failed to report at all the UNWGAD call for her release – because of the desire to deny the UN body credibility in the case of Julian Assange.

In applying for political asylum, Assange was entering a different and higher legal process which is an internationally recognised right. A very high percentage of dissident political prisoners worldwide are imprisoned on ostensibly unrelated criminal charges with which the authorities fit them up. Many a dissident has been given asylum in these circumstances. Assange did not go into hiding – his whereabouts were extremely well known. The simple characterisation of this as “absconding” by district judge Vanessa Baraitser is a farce of justice – and like the UK’s repudiation of the UNWGAD report, is an attitude that authoritarian regimes will be delighted to repeat towards dissidents worldwide.

Her decision to commit Assange to continuing jail pending his extradition hearing was excessively cruel given the serious health problems he has encountered in Belmarsh.

It is worth noting that Baraitser’s claim that Assange had a “history of absconding in these proceedings” – and I have already disposed of “absconding” as wildly inappropriate – is inaccurate in that “these proceedings” are entirely new and relate to the US extradition request and nothing but the US extradition request. Assange has been imprisoned throughout the period of “these proceedings” and has certainly not absconded. The government and media have an interest in conflating “these proceedings” with the previous risible allegations from Sweden and the subsequent conviction for bail violation, but we need to untangle this malicious conflation. We have to make plain that Assange is now held for publishing and only for publishing. That a judge should conflate them is disgusting. Vanessa Baraitser is a disgrace.

Assange has been demonised by the media as a dangerous, insanitary and crazed criminal, which could not be further from the truth. It is worth reminding ourselves that Assange has never been convicted of anything but missing police bail.

So now we have a right wing government in the UK with scant concern for democracy, and in particular we have the most far right extremist as Home Secretary of modern times. Assange is now, plainly and without argument, a political prisoner. He is not in jail for bail-jumping. He is not in jail for sexual allegations. He is in jail for publishing official secrets, and for nothing else. The UK now has the world’s most famous political prisoner, and there are no rational grounds to deny that fact. Who will take a stand against authoritarianism and for the freedom to publish?

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The Unprincipled – and Potentially Racist – Lib Dems

One might hope the role of the monarchy in the prorogation plot, and then Theresa May’s cronies getting honours in her resignation list, might do enough to undermine public confidence in some of the systems that define the British establishment. But the honours list will shortly be further devalued by political muck as Jo Swinson’s office is proffering peerages and knighthoods in the dissolution honours to candidates and their constituency chairmen in winnable seats, if they are willing to make way for Blairite entryists like Chuka Umunna and Luciana Berger.

The difficulty is that a Lib Dem candidate in South West London or South West England has a very good chance of becoming an MP in the next election. It is not obvious to many why they should make way for a right wing war hawk with no connection to liberalism who has only just joined the party. Swinson sees the certainty of the Lords in exchange for a prospect of the Commons as a fair offer. Many ordinary party members would see this as beyond words sordid.

One person not being offered a peerage is Clareine Enderby, the Lib Dem candidate for the normally no LibDem hope seat of Finchley and Golders Green. There has been massive media speculation that she will stand down for Luciana Berger to replace her, and to be fair, Ms Enderby has been making plain that, so far as she is concerned, there is no vacancy.

As the Jewish Chronicle points out, it is by no means certain that Berger would want to stand in Finchley as opposed to a more normally winnable Lib Dem target, if Swinson can promise to boot an incumbent candidate into the Lords to make way for her.

The entire shenanigans leave an extremely bad taste in the mouth. Abuse of the honours system and pandering to the desires of the most unprincipled career politicians in the country are just the start of it. The Blairites repeatedly justified their hostility to Corbyn by saying that they had a personal mandate from their constituents. Yet at the first opportunity they are running like rabbits from the judgement of their constituents in the hope of finding more malleable ones.

If Ms Enderby is indeed replaced by Luciana Berger she will be a victim of racism, as the sole grounds on which Ms Berger is being touted as preferable for that particular constituency is her ethnicity. Victims of racism do not always themselves wish to complain due to societal or personal pressures. But I should certainly be entering a formal complaint about it.

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The Dogs in the Street Know

There are some very obvious facts in British politics which nobody seems to be saying.

Joanna Cherry stated in her successful court case that “the dogs in the street know” that the real reason that Boris Johnson had prorogued parliament was to prevent parliament from having an effective say on the outcome of Brexit. The documents that the government was forced to produce to the Scottish Courts proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that was indeed Johnson’s motive.

So why are we expected to believe that what you knew and I knew, what Joanna Cherry knew, what the very dogs in the street knew, was not known to the Queen? Do we really believe that the Queen was “misled” and that she and her courtiers were the only people in the entire country who actually believed that Johnson just wanted the longest prorogation for 89 years to prepare a really good Queen’s speech? Are we really expected to believe that the Queen had not noticed that Brexit was at a crucial stage and the effect that prorogation would have on parliament’s say in the process?

This is obviously complete and utter nonsense. The Queen has better sources of information than any of us and knew exactly what was happening. She was not “misled” by Boris Johnson, she was his ally in a common purpose. She absolutely understood both the context and the effect of the prorogation. All this utter nonsense about the Queen being “lied to” and “misled” is part of this strange myth of the ultimate goodness of authority which is a recurring theme in human societies. Peasants died under the knout while building the Trans-Siberian railway thinking “if only the good Tsar knew.” The Queen is not a naive figure of Christ like innocence taken in by Boris Johnson, she is an ultra wealthy woman of very conservative views embedded in a social circle dominated by very rich and reactionary people.

To repeat what I have repeatedly explained, it was unconstitutional for the Queen to appoint Boris Johnson in the first place when it was plain as a pikestaff that he could not command a parliamentary majority. That initial crime (and I use the word advisedly) was compounded by the decision to prorogue parliament to enable her no majority Prime Minister to govern. In a sane world we should be getting out the pitchforks. Instead people are tut-tutting about the poor Queen being misled.

The next fact that is plain as a pikestaff is that Tom Watson is seeking to throw the election. One of the few true things Boris Johnson said in his knockabout performance in Parliament’s last sitting was that there were some on the Labour benches who were worried that Labour might win the next election.

Make no mistake, the Tories are in trouble. They need to pile on millions of votes in Northern English Labour constituencies before they actually start to win any, and they have thrown away existing liberal Tory support in London and southern England in order to pursue that goal. First Past the Post is very capricious, and once the leading party falls to 35% results become fickle even where there is a decent plurality. Regional concentration is actually an advantage in FPTP and in effect the Tories are in danger of evening out their support across England too much. They will certainly be down to a maximum of two seats in Scotland. They will have large losses to Labour and Lib Dems in London and the South West. All that is before we get in to the campaigning period and Jeremy Corbyn’s ability to solidify the Labour vote.

So with the prorogation row, the parliamentary defeats, the lost court cases and the Yellowhammer documents, Boris Johnnson was looking on sticky ground. The Labour Party had finally arrived at an apparently workable stance on Brexit: a general election followed by a second EU referendum with options of a viable deal and remain. Jeremy Corbyn, who had succeeded in helping build an opposition consensus on parliamentary tactics, has been looking in his strongest position for some time.

At this crucial moment enter Tom Watson with an entirely uncalled for intervention before a luvvies conference on the creative industries, trailed for all it was worth by the Blairite publicity machine. It was boosted to all the media specifically as Tom Watson taking on Jeremy Corbyn, and given wall to wall media coverage, carried live on the major broadcast news channels. What Watson had to say was simply a reiteration of Tony Blair’s article in the Evening Standard three days earlier; that there should be an EU referendum before a General Election.

What was the point of this Watson intervention? The first thing to say is that the real point was not the apparent purpose stated in the speech. Tom Watson knows full well there is no chance whatsoever of a new EU referendum ahead of a general election. The current parliament will never agree it. The expelled Tory rebels were almost all supporters of May’s deal and have almost all specifically ruled out a second referendum. At least 30 Labour MPs, led by figures like Stephen Kinnock, John Mann and Caroline Flint, would not agree to it. The DUP would never agree. It is a complete non-starter.

Why then would Watson deliver it? And not just deliver it quietly as a think piece, but deliver it with all the media hullabaloo that could possibly be mustered? The answer is quite simple. At Blair’s behest, Watson did it quite simply to damage Corbyn. At a time when the government was in deep trouble, when Corbyn had just addressed the TUC conference to applause with a finally coherent Brexit position, Watson’s aim was simply to damage Corbyn.

Watson sought to damage Corbyn in two ways. To damage him by staking out a more extreme Remainer position that might put a wedge between Corbyn and the new expanded Labour Party membership. And to damage Corbyn by giving headlines about Labour splits, taking the heat off the Tories and cutting at Labour’s standing in the polls just as it looked set to improve.

Because the one thing the Blairites detest most of all is the prospect of a Labour victory and a Corbyn government, implementing comparatively left wing policies that might prove popular and cause a real change in political discourse in England and Wales. Because that would be the death knell for the Blairites and their corporate sponsors.

Just as we are supposed to believe that the Queen is a naive waif innocent of Johnson’s schemes, we are supposed not to notice that Tom Watson seeks to damage Labour and ensure Corbyn does not come to power. We live in times when the media and the political class inhabit a world of polite pretence; a world where outsiders like me have a duty to point to the actual glaring facts, whether people listen or no.

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John Bolton’s Dismissal

The power of identity politics as a tool of the Establishment to divert and derail opposition to the wealthy elite was demonstrated to me in a stunning and graphic way back in January 2013. I was entering the Oxford Union to attend the presentation of the Sam Adams award for Integrity to Tom Fingar, a senior American intelligence officer who had successfully blocked a push for military action against Iran by insisting on the barring from assessments of highly exaggerated accounts of Iran’s nuclear programme. A person of integrity in the right place had been able to stop a repeat of the extreme horrors of war engendered by the Iraqi WMD scam perpetrated by Blair and Bush.

You would hope that some of the points Fingar made would be of interest to Oxford’s students. One point that struck me was that he said he was extremely glad if his actions had prevented a war but that:

“Preventing a war was not the goal. Our only goal was to present a full and accurate assessment of Iran’s nuclear capability. Decisions about what to do were for the policy makers.”

You can see Fingar’s full talk here:

You can see a fascinating series of very brief contributions by major whistleblowers made at the event here. I had not really watched my own speech since giving it; I have to say I think it is one of the most powerful I ever made.

More interestingly, there was an extremely thoughtful and insightful talk by Julian Assange, delivered by videolink.

It is worth watching that, not only for the fist rate content, but also to remind ourselves of the quiet and questing actual personality of my friend, who has been demonised by the media on a massive scale.

Which brings me to my point on identity politics. I had to push my way into this event through a crowd of angry students who were picketing the event in protest against the appearance of Julian Assange.

Yet the very night before, serial war criminal John Bolton, one of the most evil men of power in the world, had spoken on the very same platform in the Oxford Union and not one single student had demonstrated against him. His reception inside was also on the fawning side. (Remember this is the venue that spawned the careers of David Cameron, Boris Johnson, William Rees-Mogg and others).

That incident is to me is a microcosm of the use of identity politics by the state. Through self-evidently flimsy allegations, the state can mobilise feminists to silence the world’s most important dissident voices, while warmongers are feted. Enough “progressives” favoured Clinton’s faux-feminism to help ditch (aided by some cheating) Bernie Sanders’ bid for a better life for the mass of people. Here in Scotland the energies of the SNP are routinely diverted into gender and trans issues instead of getting on with Independence, while precisely the same tactics are employed against Alex Salmond as against Julian Assange, to take another major threat to the status quo out of the political game.

I am delighted by Trump getting rid of Bolton as National Security Advisor. The warmonger always appeared entirely at odds with Trump’s professed isolationism, and it appears that Trump no longer feels the need to appease the part of the Republican Party establishment who were placated by Bolton’s appointment. I know that my failure to see Trump as the incarnation of pure evil upsets some people, and I do detest many of his domestic policies. But it remains the case that Trump has not destroyed a state nor initiated nor escalated a war, and by recent US standards that makes him a big improvement. The dismissal of Bolton gives hope that may remain the case.

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Really a Right Wing Coup

Just because it is not written in a single document does not mean the UK does not have a constitution. But it does mean it has a particularly bad one.

If like me you were awake until 2am watching the remarkable scenes in Parliament last night, as opposition MPs stayed and protested in the Commons as Speaker Bercow, having himself entered a formal protest, led the Tories to the dissolution ceremony in the Lords, you were probably struck by the ridiculous flummery of it all. The three Queen’s Commissioners sat before the golden throne in silly hats, which the gentlemen doffed formally and very slowly three times, while the lady did not, and the Speaker and Commons staff bobbed low each time in response like a row of overdressed ducks.

This ludicrous pantomime is intended to reinforce the majesty of the monarch in the minds of the plebs, and indeed as an example of monarchical power it is effective. The prorogation, which Bercow objected to as an “executive fiat”, is just that and had it been made in the name of Boris Johnson, it is extremely probable that Bercow, with the strong support of the majority of the Commons, would have resisted the prorogation and carried on sitting. But because it is done in the name of Elizabeth Saxe Coburg Gotha, the most outrageous and undemocratic acts are suffered out of a misplaced sense of personal loyalty to the 93 year old monarch.

While Rees Mogg and his racist Brexiteer stormtroopers from the Commons turned up eagerly to grovel, it was very notable that only a dozen Tory peers bothered to show – something else totally unprecedented about this prorogation. Last week I was again up till 2am watching parliament and the much touted (esp on Guido Fawkes) Tory filibuster to stop the anti no deal Act. On a series of ridiculous procedural motions, on which counted votes were insisted despite obvious massive defeat by acclamation, the Government vote fell from in the low 100s until eventually they were being defeated every time by margins of approximately 250 to 60, and they gave up the filibuster in embarrassment. There was a remarkable contrast between the breathless excitement with which the mainstream media trailed the filibuster, as the BBC here, and the brief and sordid reality. Johnson’s repeated defeats in the Commons have rather overshadowed the utter contempt in which he is held in the Lords.

The monarchy is not a neutral player in all this. By the monarchy I mean not only the Queen, but the professional courtiers who surround her, each paid by the taxpayer. It is almost twenty years since I last held a conversation with the Queen, and I just do not know how sharp her faculties remain at 93, but I have not heard she is not still making her own decisions.

Boris Johnson should not be Prime Minister. It is not the constitutional duty of the monarch to appoint as Prime Minister the leader of the Conservative Party, and not even the leader of the largest party in the House of Commons, but a person who can command a majority in the House of Commons. For example, in 2010 Gordon Brown tried to put together a “rainbow coalition” to get a Commons majority and be reappointed Prime Minister. Had he succeeded in putting together such a coalition with a majority, the Queen would have had to appoint him even though David Cameron’s party had more seats than Labour. This was universally accepted as the constitutional position. It did not happen in the end as the Lib Dems preferred the Tories.

Nothing in the Fixed Term Parliaments Act alters the constitutional position that the Prime Minister must be able to command a majority in the House of Commons.

It was unconstitutional of Elizabeth Saxe Coburg Gotha to appoint Boris Johnson as Prime Minister when it was absolutely plain at the outset he had no majority in the House of Commons. This is not hindsight, I said so at the time. Now it has been proven that he has no majority in the House as he has been defeated six times out of six on major votes on the most important issues of the day. He has never won an important vote on anything as Prime Minister. Whether or not these are characterised as “confidence issues” is irrelevant. The man Johnson has never had a Commons majority. I can think of nothing more unconstitutional – and I think it can absolutely be characterised as a coup – than for the Queen to appoint a Prime Minister who has no majority support in the Commons, and then prorogue Parliament precisely because the executive has no majority. This is not even a government which has lost its majority – it has never had one and ought never to have been appointed.

Rather than prorogue Parliament, the Queen should have obliged Boris Johnson to resign and asked the Leader of the Opposition to see whether he could form an administration that could command a majority. That would be the constitutionally correct course of action. The monarch is not neutral in this and is acting unconstitutionally, abusing her power.

Let me put it this way. Does anybody seriously contend that Jeremy Corbyn would be appointed Prime Minister by the Queen in a situation where he had no parliamentary majority, and would remain in No. 10 despite losing 6 successive Commons votes and never winning one, and that the Queen would prorogue Parliament for him to get round the fact that he had no majority? Of course not. It is unthinkable. We are witnessing a right wing coup specifically in favour of Boris Johnson.

It is particularly worrying that so many people are happy to see dictatorship established so long as it expedites Brexit. This demonstrates the folly of introducing elements of direct democracy into a representative democracy. I am perfectly content for England and Wales to be outside the EU, though I regard extending that to being outside the customs union and single market as economic madness driven by xenophobia. I am sorry to say I do not maintain a romantic view of the electorate, having for a considerable while dwelled amongst a remarkable percentage of open racists in Ramsgate, a UKIP hotspot where Farage chose to stand. The idea that the crowd should directly wield unmediated power of executive action is almost as repugnant to me as the continued existence of the monarchy. As so often, I appreciate my views do not fit into a standard and easily labeled set of opinions and many of you may disagree. They are however my opinions and I present them with no insistence you agree, but in the hope that you will consider and discuss.

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Mugabe and the Continuing White Supremacist Narrative

Robert Mugabe makes an easy hate figure for the right wing media, and the cruelty, corruption and absurdities of the latter part of his overlong rule justify much of the hate. But the slightest analysis of the media expression of this hatred reveals it to feed a variety of British imperialist tropes which persist to an alarming degree into the 21st century – that Africans cannot govern themselves and were better off under white rule and even that black people cannot farm.

The justified criticisms of human rights abuses perpetrated by Mugabe very seldom recount the atrocities perpetrated by white rule in Zimbabwe. Mugabe himself was incarcerated without trial for over ten years, in dreadful conditions, merely for speaking out against the colonial government, a fact that must have had a major psychological impact. It is also worth emphasising that Mugabe was imprisoned without trial by the British authorities of Souther Rhodesia, before the declaration of UDI – a fact I struggle to find in any of the MSM obituaries.

The accepted narrative on Mugabe in power is that for over ten years he governed well, following western economic norms and rubbing along with the white population as though they were all fine English gentlemen together, notably patronising cricket and crucially making no effort to redress white economic privilege. Yet it was this “good” Mugabe who turned on the minority Ndebele tribe, massacring over 10,000 and ousting his Ndebele deputy, Joshua Nkomo (who had arguably contributed rather more to the liberation struggle). But as this did not especially annoy the IMF or compromise the interests of British American Tobacco, western criticism was very muted. To be fair, Mugabe’s government did make notable advances in education and in healthcare in this period.

Mugabe had to stop playing the English gentleman when popular discontent at the failure of Independence to improve the economic position of the ordinary Zimbabwean led to the unthinkable possibility of electoral defeat. The dual strategy of harsh repression of critics and a populist and highly corrupt programme of land seizures was a panicked response that ushered in two decades of spiraling decline for the country.

But consider this.

In Zimbabwe, as in highland Kenya, the sub-tropical climate was suitable for white colonists and their agriculture. All of the best arable land had been ruthlessly seized by white colonists from the African population. At the time of Independence, over half of the seizures and enclosures were still within the living memory of elders.

In Zimbabwe as in Kenya, a prime cause of the tribal conflict, in Zimbabwe principally between Shona and Ndbele, was that white land seizures had broken traditional boundaries and had forced migration of peoples onto each other’s land, the parcels of which unoccupied by white farmers were ever shrinking. For the west to sneer at African tribalism when brutal western settlers were at the root of much of the conflict, is ludicrous hypocrisy.

Land reform was, and is, essential in Zimbabwe. Mugabe’s tragedy was that his desire to ingratiate with Western elites led him to accept for far too long their insistence that the white colonists keep their massive land holdings. The popular demand for the land was a perfectly natural desire for justice. That there was no dynamic land reform programme for the start, and pent-up resentment was allowed to explode into an unplanned wave of violence, destruction and massive corruption, was Mugabe’s greatest failure. Mugabe saw in the resulting situation only opportunities for personal enrichment and to consolidate his power.

Land reform in both Zimbabwe and South Africa is an urgent priority. I do not accept the argument that because it was a white settler’s grandfather or great grandfather who seized the land, legally under racist colonial land grab legislation, that the descendants now have a right to it. I also do not accept the notion that Africans cannot farm. I discuss this subject quite extensively in The Catholic Orangemen of Togo (which almost nobody has read but I strongly believe is my best book). It is ironic that climate awareness now brings more of an acceptance that traditional African smallholder farming techniques, with their emphasis on intercropping, embody thousands of years of wisdom and are much more sustainable in Africa than the western monocrop techniques of clearing and leveling vast tracts and replenishing the soil through massive use of industrial fertiliser.

Robert Mugabe was a man who did terrible things. But he had suffered greatly in struggling against white rule and the great evil that was the imperial legacy in Africa. His life and memory must not be allowed to feed a racist meme of African cruelty and incompetence.

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Petition for Official International Observers for Next Scottish Independence Referendum

Please sign the petition

This UK Government cannot be trusted to behave democratically. We have seen that in the prorogation of the Westminster Parliament and in tricks like not providing tellers to count votes against an amendment, causing it to pass. Ian Blackford, SNP leader at Westminster, described Boris Johnson as behaving “like a dictator, not a democrat”.

It is highly likely that the Scottish people will shortly be voting on whether to become an independent nation again. It is essential that process be scrutinised by formal international invigilation, to make sure the conduct of the referendum is fair.

Please sign the petition for international observers to the next Scottish Indyref. Only the UK government can request an OSCE observer mission (it must be a current member state that asks), therefore the petition must be addressed to Westminster, not to Holyrood.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, through its Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, is the organisation specifically charged with monitoring democratic processes in Europe, and in which the UK government is an active participant in monitoring other countries’ elections.

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.

In the 2014 referendum there was massive anti-Independence bias through all the privately owned media and also, blatantly and demonstrably, within the BBC.

There was a crucial and highly significant breaking of the rules of the referendum when the Unionist parties combined to issue the (since spectacularly broken) promises of “The Vow” during the official purdah period of the last week. Suspicion was attached by many to some extraordinarily high postal vote turnouts in certain localities. All events of this kind would be subject to real time scrutiny were an OSCE observer mission present.

We are frequently told by the government that, when it comes to their programmes of mass surveillance of the population, “if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear”. Those who wish to claim that it is axiomatic that both the media coverage and the physical process of an Independence referendum would be fair, have nothing to fear from OSCE scrutiny. It is an organisation of which the UK is a contributing member anyway, so there are no grounds to objection to its monitoring.

The OSCE handbook on the media monitoring they will undertake is well worth reading and gives a valuable insight into how thorough they are. They do not just measure crudely the amount of time given to each side. They assess the quality of coverage of each side, the inferences and body language of the presenters. They look at the legal, institutional and ownership framework in which journalists operate and the pressures on them to self-censor, as opposed to just considering whether there is formal state censorship.

It is essential that all sides in a future Independence referendum have trust in the fairness of the process. There is every reason to believe that British state institutions, including both the BBC and the Electoral Commission, need to be subjected to outside scrutiny.

Wherever you are in the UK, and whatever your stance on Scottish Independence, please sign and support this petition for strengthening confidence in the fairness of democratic process. The restoring of Scottish Independence and the break-up of the UK state is a major step; it is essential that the process involved in the decision is accepted by all as fair.

Obviously an observer mission takes some time to organise and needs to be in place right from the start of any campaign period, or even before. Like all international organisations, the OSCE’s processes take some time to agree between members. Therefore it is essential to launch this petition now rather than wait until a referendum is called.

PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION

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Beyond the Brexit Debacle

If we focus only on the near term and on Brexit, we are doing precisely what Boris Johnson wishes. But the ramifications of the last few weeks will have effects on politics on the British Isles that are far more far reaching than even the question of EU membership. Let us think about those.

In a remarkably short period of time, the Conservative Party has radically changed. Seven year Conservative Prime Minister John Major is today taking this Conservative government to court, alleging ill intent in advice given to the Queen. Figures like Ken Clarke and Phil Hammond, who to this date have been real senior figures in Tory history, are actually threatened with expulsion.

Even Thatcher accepted that the Tory Party had a wing that tended to be closer to liberal or social democratic ideas, and never tried to throw her “wets” out of parliament. Dominic Grieve told the BBC today that he did not recognise what No.10 is doing as within the traditions of the Conservative Party. That perception is correct. What Boris Johnson is doing is changing the Conservative Party into something fundamentally other.

One fascinating development is Johnson and Javid’s rhetorical break with the traditional Tory right, instead to make populist public spending promises. Promises of 20,000 more policemen, and oodles more funding for schools, colleges and the NHS, are not the usual watchwords of the Tory right. It may surprise you to learn that I am inclined to think that these promises may not just be empty rhetoric, but this bit of populism may have real intent behind it. How this squares with more traditional Tories on public spending like McVey or Patel, or with Johnson’s promises on tax cuts, remains to be seen. But the switch to a more statist right in the economic as well as the civil sphere – something moving closer to the classic fascist model – might be one of the changes we are seeing.

My expectation is that this circle will be squared by a rigorous “good spending/bad spending” divide. Police, prisons, border control agents and of course the military will all be “good” public spending. So will education and the NHS because they are popular. This will be balanced by vigorous attacks on “bad” public spending – especially on welfare benefits, but also overseas aid, devolved administrations and local government.

How this will work out for the Tories electorally is a conundrum. The Tory base rural vote is predominantly Brexit and will probably be little affected. Johnson appears to be prepared to write off the more urbane and middle class vote and thus simply give up on Tory chances places likine Richmond or Bath. His hope must be that the combination of popular public spending messages on the NHS and education, plus the continued harnessing of anti-immigrant xenophobia, will win enough urban votes in Birmingham, Sunderland and Blackburn.

That seems to me very high risk. To take on Jeremy Corbyn in a general election on the basis of who can most credibly promise increased public spending seems strange ground to choose. Plus no matter how much you ramp up the xenophobia or how many upgraded hospitals you promise, the cultural obstacles to getting the people of Hartlepool to put their cross against a Tory remain enormous. The pundits talk as though the Brexit Party vote and the Tory Party vote are interchangeable and it all hinges on whether Farage stands candidates. That is simply wrong. There are many thousands of people in Hartlepool and towns like it who would vote Brexit but won’t vote Tory.

I suspect Johnson and Cummings have blundered into a first past the post trap by being too clever. They have alienated enough educated and liberal Tory voters to lose seats, while replacing them with voters who respond to the populism, but in areas where they won’t be able to take many seats. Tory gains will be limited largely to the Midlands, but outbalanced by losses. In essence, they may get a plurality of the vote but spread too evenly, and FPTP will see them losing ground to the SNP in Scotland, Labour in the bigger cities and the Lib Dems in rich suburbs and county towns.

That analysis stands whether the election is next month or any time to 2022.

If you choose to change a political party fundamentally, you need to be sure that the new version is more popular. Concentrating on the one issue of Brexit, and calculating that he could hoover up all Brexit voters, is likely to be Johnson’s downfall. He appears engaged in a colossal act of hubris.

In Scotland, all of this is still more reason to get out of the toxic politics of the United Kingdom. Nicola Sturgeon should announce now that if there is an early Westminster election, the SNP will fight that election on the basis that victory will result in a declaration of Independence, and Scotland will not then be exiting the European Union at all. The SNP desperately needs to focus on Independence and not on the position of the UK within the EU or on the powers of the Westminster parliament.

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