Yearly Archives: 2020


The International Criminal Court: Now Simply Indefensible 303

Support for the rule of international law, and for the institutions which uphold it, is one of the principles of this blog. I have therefore always been extremely keen to defend and support the International Criminal Court, despite widespread criticism that it is simply a tool for use against leaders in the developing world and other opponents of the neo-con world order. I maintained that the standard of justice and investigation in the cases it did consider was generally good, and the need was to widen its ambit.

Unfortunately, the decision of the ICC to close down its investigation into War Crimes committed by the British in Iraq is the last straw for me in continuing to harbour any hope that the ICC will ever be anything more than an instrument of victors’ justice. I have read the entire 184 page report which closes down the investigation, and it is truly shocking. It is shocking in the outlining of British war crimes, but what really shocked me is the truly appalling picture that clearly emerges of the attitudes of the International Criminal Court.

I am afraid this article is rather heavy going, and requires you to read some rather lengthy sections of the report to show what I mean. Nothing is so damning of the ICC as the words of their own report, so I do not apologise for this approach. I would say that what I found really did shock me and has completely changed my mind about the value of the International Criminal Court as an institution. As I flatter myself I have a reasonably good grasp of such matters, I am proceeding on the assumption that what was startling to me will probably be startling to you, and you will find this worth reading.

The launching of the Iraq War was itself the most serious single war crime of this century to date, and the ICC had previously ducked it by arguing that the Statute of Rome which founded the Court did not at the time of the war include illegal war of aggression among its list of war crimes. I argued then and I argue now that this did not remove that crime from its jurisdiction. The crime of illegal war of aggression was already firmly a part of customary international law and the very foundation of Nuremberg, so the ICC did not need specific mention in the Treaty of Rome to be able to prosecute it.

The current ICC report on British war crimes in Iraq however simply blandly reiterates the line (para 35):

Finally, although a number of communication senders have also made allegations relating to decision of the UK authorities to launch the armed conflict, the Office takes no position on legality of war given the non-applicability of the crime of aggression at the material time.

It was perhaps always Utopian to imagine that Blair, Straw, Campbell, Scarlett, Dearlove etc would pay for their crimes. But it did seem very probable that the ICC would prosecute at least some of those directly responsible for committing war crimes on the ground. Alas, the ICC has now produced 184 pages of mealy-mouthed sophistry and responsibility-dodging to justify why there will be no further investigation, let alone prosecutions. I have read the full report and frankly it makes me feel sick. But I shall still try to elucidate it for you.

This ICC report does give an account of the origin of the Iraq War, and it is astonishing. At para 36 it states the UK/US case for the invasion as historical truth, as though that were the simple and uncontested fact of the matter.

36. After the January 1991 Gulf War, the Security Council adopted a resolution setting out ceasefire terms, including ending production of weapons of mass destruction and permitting inspection teams on the territory of Iraq. In September 2002, the US and UK argued that Iraq was in material breach of the relevant resolutions and was seeking to develop weapons of mass destruction. UN weapons inspectors stated they had not found any “smoking gun” in their search for weapons of mass destruction, but noted that this was “no guarantee that prohibited stocks or activities could not exist at other sites, whether above ground, underground or in mobile units”. The US gathered a coalition of 48 countries, including the UK, for the stated purpose of searching and destroying alleged weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

That is it. That is the ICC’s entire account of the origin of the Iraq War. The notion that Security Council Resolution 699 of 1991 authorised the 2002 invasion – a position never endorsed by the Security Council – appears to be taken as read despite being the most hotly disputed question in international law of all time. The selectivity of the cherry-picked quote from the weapons inspectors is an audacious bit of sophistry given it is taken from a report in which the weapons inspectors detailed they found no evidence of WMD, that cooperation from the Iraqi authorities was improving, and asked for more time and resources to complete their work. Even more flabbergasting, this ICC report paragraph gives as a supporting footnote the infamous UK government “dodgy dossier” on Iraqi WMD, a totally discredited document, without any indication there is any problem with it.

The truth is, that the paragraph in the report by the ICC prosecutor on the origin of the war is precisely as the UK would draft it, and in its unmoderated presentation of extremely contentious positions and its remarkable selectivity as to what facts are presented, it is entirely tendentious. I suspect that not only could it have been drafted by the UK government, it is very likely it was so drafted. I cannot think of anyone else, not even the current US government at time of writing, who would consider that paragraph a fair or reasonable explanation of the origins of the Iraq war.

This criticism applies to the entire document. It is written entirely in the preferred language of the invaders. For example, Iraqis resisting the foreign occupation are referred to as “insurgents” throughout the document. We first see this in para 43, in the statement that the British forces in Basra faced “an increasingly violent insurgency”. Oh, those poor innocent British forces, sitting at home in Basra, facing invasion from “insurgents” who had surged in from… from… err, Basra. The idea that the invaders were the respectable power and the locals were “insurgents” may be the language of the British MOD and may be adopted by the Daily Mail, but it should not be the language of the International Criminal Court. Here again, the prosecutor simply accepts the entire British framing of the narrative. Insurgents are referred to throughout.

Not only is the entire report written in the British voice, it entirely omits the Iraqi voice. The Prosecutor has written a report on British war crimes against Iraqis. The Prosecutor accepts there is credible evidence that hundreds of such war crimes were committed. Yet nowhere is there one single direct quote from an Iraqi victim. Not one. In the hundreds of references, The Prosecutor has based the entire report on whether to prosecute Brits for crimes against Iraqis, solely on interviews with Brits in official positions.

Everything is seen through the British military lens. To give another small illustration of this point, a skirmish at Majar-al-Kabir, following which captives were grossly mistreated, is referred to as “The Battle of Danny Boy”, which it is called by nobody except the British army. The ICC should not be calling a site in Iraq by the name the British army gave their checkpoint there, nor representing a skirmish involving 100 people as a “battle” because the British army does. “The Battle of Danny Boy” is a good illustration of the way that this report is written entirely through the British military gaze using British, not Iraqi, terms.

This next fact alone sufficiently illustrates my point, and entirely damns both this report and the International Criminal Court. Of the 776 footnotes, not a single one references a document in Arabic or in translation from Arabic. Not one. The vast majority of references are to official British documents. On the rare occasions when Iraqis are mentioned in the report, it is frequently to impugn their reliability as witnesses. The Iraqi individual most discussed – still briefly – is not a victim but a lawyer engaged in collecting testimonies. The Iraqi voice has gone unheard in this ICC decision. The victims are unconsidered.

You will search in vain for the Iraqi voice even where it could easily be found, in the witness statements of Iraqis to the British courts the report so freely quotes. But no, where Iraqi experience is recounted at all it is thoroughly mediated by British judges or other authorities.

Yet remarkably the report accepts that British forces were responsible for war crimes on a substantial scale. The report was written by a team, and plainly the team that was setting out the facts on the ground held rather different views from the politically influenced bosses who were writing the conclusions. The report notes:

70. The UK deposited its instrument of ratification to the Rome Statute on 4 October 2001. The ICC therefore may exercise its jurisdiction, from 1 July 2002 onwards, over alleged acts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed either on UK territory or by UK nationals on the territory of other States.
71. As set out more fully below, on the basis of the information available, there is a reasonable basis to believe that, at a minimum, the following war crimes have been committed by members of UK armed forces:
wilful killing/murder under article 8(2)(a)(i)) or article 8(2)(c)(i));
torture and inhuman/cruel treatment under article 8(2)(a)(ii) or article 8(2)(c)(i));
outrages upon personal dignity under article 8(2)(b)(xxi) or article 8(2)(c)(ii));
rape and/or other forms of sexual violence under article 8(2)(b)(xxii) or article 8(2)(e)(vi)).

Then again:

113. The information available provides a reasonable basis to believe that in the period from April 2003 through September 2003 members of UK armed forces in Iraq committed the war crime of wilful killing/murder pursuant to article 8(2)(a)(i) or article 8(2)(c)(i)), at a minimum, against seven persons in their custody. The information available provides a reasonable basis to believe that in the period from 20 March 2003 through 28 July 2009 members of UK armed forces committed the war crime of torture and inhuman/cruel treatment (article 8(2)(a)(ii) or article 8(2)(c)(i)); and the war crime of outrages upon personal dignity (article 8(2)(b)(xxi) or article 8(2)(c)(ii)) against at least 54 persons in their custody. The information available further provides a reasonable basis to believe that members of UK armed forces committed the war crime of other forms of sexual violence, at a minimum, against the seven victims as well as the war crime of rape against one of those seven victims while they were detained at Camp Breadbasket in May 2003. Where such detainee abuse occurred, this typically arose in the early stages of the internment process, such as upon capture, initial internment and during ‘tactical questioning’.
114. As noted above, the findings set out above are a sample pool of incidents which, while not reflecting the full scale of the alleged crimes relevant to the situation, were sufficiently well supported to meet the reasonable basis standard and allow the Office to reach a determination on subject-matter jurisdiction.

Later the following aggravating factor is considered:

140. The manner in which these crimes are alleged to have been committed also appears to have been particularly cruel, prolonged and severe. Notably, in five cases of deaths in custody, the victims were allegedly tortured – or at least severely and repeatedly assaulted – by UK personnel who detained them prior to their death. In the killing of Baha Mousa in September 2003, the victim was hooded for almost 24 hours during his 36 hours of custody and suffered at least 93 injuries prior to his death.

It is important to note that this appalling catalogue of crimes, where there was a reasonable prima facie case to proceed, represented only a very small sample of the thousands reported to the International Criminal Court. But even this small sample convinced the prosecutor that there was good enough evidence for the investigation to go forward.

So why did it not proceed? The Prosecutor decided to drop the case on the principle of “Complementarity”. This means that the ICC cannot prosecute if the government concerned – the UK government in this case – is itself genuinely investigating or prosecuting. The prosecutor based the decision not to proceed on these provisions of the Statute of Rome:

But none of the catalogue of crimes for which there is good evidence, examined by the ICC, had resulted in prosecution. In fact the report detailed that not a single prosecution had resulted from the work of the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) in the MOD, although they had investigated scores of cases which the IHAT itself – consisting of former military and retired policemen – considered viable. In every single case, the proposal for a prosecution had been knocked back by the Service Prosecuting Authority (SPA).

In fact the ICC only references two cases in which there were convictions for war crimes, and in both cases the conviction was purely because somebody immediately admitted the truth and confessed at the initial investigation stage. The maximum sentence given out was just one year in prison. The report’s account of how one of these convictions from confession came to fruition is extremely revealing:

91. Several notable features stand out from the Camp Breadbasket court martial. First, although multiple military personnel knew about the alleged abuses (including the alleged sexual crimes), each failed in their duty to report them. The conduct only came to light when one of the soldiers involved in taking trophy photographs had the photographs developed in a civilian shop and the shop assistant reported the conduct to civilian police, who made an arrest. Second, during his testimony, when asked why he had not reported alleged criminal conduct at Camp Breadbasket, Corporal Kenyon asserted that, “there was no point in passing anything up the chain of command, because it was the chain of command who was, in my eyes, doing a wrongdoing to the Iraqis to start off with, and they were passing Iraqis down to us, for us to do the same things basically”.

The key fact here is that the MOD’s processes and investigations had nothing whatsoever to do with the conviction. It came about because of the chance of a civilian seeing the photo and bringing in the civilian police, who had plain and undeniable photographic evidence of torture and sexual abuse. Otherwise this would have been entirely covered up by the MOD, exactly like all the other thousands of cases bar one other (in which somebody wracked by conscience insisted on confessing). For the ICC to quote the Camp Breadbasket conviction as evidence the UK investigation processes are working is tendentious. It was very obviously a fluke; I cannot think of a better example of an exception that merely proves the rule.

The International Criminal Court’s decision that there are no grounds to continue investigation, on the grounds the UK’s own procedures are adequate, becomes truly incredible – in the real meaning of the word, utterly lacking in credibility – when you read this passage of the report. It really is worth reading:

380. The Office has pursued a number of lines of inquiry to independently ascertain the veracity of the BBC/Times allegations with a view ultimately to speak with the primary sources of the allegations and other persons directly involved or with knowledge of facts related to the events. Overwhelmingly, those former IHAT staff the Office spoke to indicated that they had concerns about the outcome of IHAT’s investigations. Most considered that the investigative teams did a thorough job, but when it came time for the investigations to progress to prosecutions, there was something obstructing this. The former IHAT investigators were unable to specify what this obstruction was, given their limited access to decision-making, but insisted that such obstruction came at levels higher up within IHAT or the SPA (Services Prosecuting Authority).
381. Several former IHAT investigators reported their frustration at the outcome of inquiries into systemic issues submitted for internal IHAT/IHAPT review, whether in terms of recommendation for further investigative steps or referrals for prosecution, in view of their concern that cases involving superior responsibility were prematurely terminated or that there was leadership pressure within IHAT/IHAPT not to pursue them.
382. Several former IHAT staff were of the view that IHAT’s independence and impartiality was undermined by its relationship with the army and MoD, including: its physical location on a British Army base; IHAT’s use of MoD resources and systems; and requirements that IHAT staff go through the RNP or MoD personnel for certain functions (such as securing custody and travel).
383. Multiple former IHAT staff described difficulties in accessing evidence in the possession of the RMP or the MoD. They described how some RMP and MoD personnel obstructed access to files, in their view unjustifiably; did not permit IHAT staff to locate documents they had been vetted to inspect; and imposed restrictions on access; or were repeatedly told that they had been given all of the relevant material pertaining to a certain matter, only to later discover that they had not. The former IHAT staff described how some storage boxes had been mislabelled, obscuring the discovery of relevant evidence, and their view that the RMP only gave IHAT a fraction of the relevant material they possessed.
384. The former IHAT staff the Office spoke to also conveyed the difficulties the teams encountered in attempting to interview witnesses and suspects and to conduct other investigative steps. They described multiple occasions on which their requests to interview important witnesses were blocked for either unexplained reasons or for administrative ones, such as ‘expenses not allowing’. They described how witness interviews were hampered by IHAT refusing to reimburse witnesses for travel, travel details being changed at the last minute and in one case a potential witness being arrested before meeting with investigators. Some had the impression that IHAT management were trying to put obstacles in their way. Multiple former IHAT staff relayed their impression that there was no will on the part of IHAT management to allow proper investigations which would result in prosecution.
385. Concern was also expressed over the SPA’s involvement in the termination of cases. Several former IHAT staff that the Office spoke to felt that the SPA, as part of the MoD, was not truly independent or impartial respecting the armed forces. Multiple individuals with extensive civilian criminal investigations experience described how the investigation teams built cases which they considered were evidentially strong and ready to proceed, but the SPA refused to lay charges. With respect to certain alleged killing incidents, the view was conveyed that evidence supporting charges of manslaughter or murder, which would have proceeded in a domestic civilian police inquiry, were discontinued by the SPA.

Read that, and then consider that the conclusion of the International Criminal Court report is that their investigation must be dropped as there is no evidence that the UK is not diligently pursuing prosecutions.

The ICC then details a dozen paragraphs of what I would characterise as bland managerial reassurances from the MOD that these concerns are unwarranted, a result of the limited understanding of junior staff, and decisions not to prosecute have always been taken on the advice of external counsel. You are welcome to read that section of the report starting at para 386. The ICC accepts these reassurances and the British Government view as genuine without question, never for example considering that the MOD might have external counsel of notable militarist views and disinterest in human rights. The fact that external counsel is involved in the decisions not to prosecute is taken by the ICC as substantial guarantee that the procedure is genuine.

After the IHAT was closed down its workload was transferred to the smaller Service Policy Legacy Investigations Team, which immediately closed down 1213 out of the 1283 cases it inherited. That this indicates that a genuine process is underway is apparent to the ICC, but not to me. The report also notes something remarkable about the IHAT’s approach in that it categorised cases into three tiers, of which only the first tier was actively pursued. The second tier were cases considered less serious so it was not “proportionate” for them to be pursued. But consider what was in the second tier. This is from para 355 of the report:

Tier 2 allegations are those that may meet the investigative threshold of the SPLI but are dependent upon a further review. They are cases of moderate severity and ill-treatment where no life changing injuries or significant psychological harm has been sustained. Examples of Tier 2 cases could include, but are not limited to, GBH type offences that are not of a life changing nature; e.g. broken bones and or fractures. Tier 2 allegations could also include lower level sexual allegations e.g. intimate searches, and other treatment of a serious nature i.e. mock execution, nonfatal shootings and electrocution.

But as the report notes, this almost all meets the definition of torture: GBH inflicting broken bones and “non-fatal shooting”, as well as “lower level” sexual abuse is pretty serious stuff. If somebody shot you in the knee while holding you captive, would you think it “proportionate” for them to be prosecuted? The MOD would not – subject to an unspecified future review.

The question of the work of the IHAT being frustrated by senior management is one of those instances where the content of the report is at such variance with its conclusions, it is pretty clear that these were not written by the same people. In fact, the report returns to the concerns of IHAT staff again, plainly giving real weight to something earlier paragraphs had already dismissed:

408. The Office spoke with a number of former staff of IHAT who held different levels and functions. This sample of individuals was to some extent self-selected (being persons who were willing to speak to the Office). Accordingly, there may be limits to the representativeness of their experiences as compared with that of former IHAT staff as a whole. The Office nonetheless notes that the views of these individuals were on the whole balanced, as evidenced through their advancement of both praise and critique for various aspects of IHAT’s work. The Office also accepts that these individuals were not natural ‘whistle-blowers’. As former law enforcement personnel bound by confidentiality undertakings with their former employer and liable for penal sanction for potentially breaching protections on classified information, they may have been naturally reticent to speak with the ICC, which also reduces their likelihood of having made frivolous or malicious allegations. On the whole, the information received by the Office corresponds to the reports made in the BBC Panorama programme and in the Sunday Times.
409. The Office views with concern the fact that professional IHAT investigators – drawn from experienced retired officers of civilian police forces or serving Royal Navy Police personnel – would have made allegations of a cover-up or expressed concerns over the fate of the IHAT investigations that they worked on.

The schizophrenic report attempts to reconcile this by constantly referencing only para 2 (a) of the admissibility criteria, and claiming that neither the lack of prosecutions nor the allegations of IHAT staff give conclusive evidence that criminals are being deliberately shielded from prosecution. The report claims on the basis of previous court decisions that for a case to be admissible, “shielding” by the state must be proven to the standard of criminal proof. I am not sufficiently expert in the court’s previous judgements to know if that is true. But on the face of it, it is an extremely curious view of the admissibility criteria, read as a whole. Even apart from that, the evidence of shielding of soldiers by the MOD appears to be fairly compelling; certainly enough to justify further investigation.

The detail of the report gives ample evidence, much of it from UK courts, that cases are not being adequately investigated, that prosecutions are not being properly pursued, and that the military are conspiring – “Closing ranks” as more than one senior judge has put it – to cover up crimes, and getting away with it.

Para 213
The commanding officer referred Baha Mousa’s death for investigation by the RMP’s SIB, which was concluded in early April 2004 and resulted in the court martial of seven soldiers of the QLR. The court convicted Corporal Donald Payne of inhuman treatment but acquitted him of manslaughter and perverting the course of justice. He was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment. Payne appears to have been the first British soldier ever to be convicted in the UK of a war crime. In the case of five other defendants, the Judge Advocate ruled that there was no case to answer due to lack of evidence, while two further accused were cleared by the jury of negligently performing the duty of ensuring that detainees were not ill-treated by men under their command.331 Justice MacKinnon, who presided over the court martial, acknowledged that despite his finding that Baha Mousa’s injuries were the result of numerous assaults over 36 hours “none of those soldiers have been charged with any offence simply because there is no evidence against them as a result of a more or less obvious closing of ranks”.

A similar example:

217. Naheem Abdullah died from a blow or blows to the left side of his head inflicted by one or more soldiers of a section of the 3rd Batallion of the Parachute Regiment while in their custody in Maysan Province on 11 May 2003.346 Naheem Abdullah’s death was investigated by the RMP’s SIB in 2003 and seven soldiers were charged with murder. At a court martial on 3 November 2005, the Judge Advocate found that the evidence did not permit a conclusion to be drawn on the individual responsibility of each defendant. The Judge Advocate criticised the RMP’s SIB investigation as “inadequate” with “serious omissions” by investigators in not searching for records of hospital admissions or registers of burials.
218. During the Ali Zaki Mousa litigation, the UK High Court noted its concern that IHAT had not taken the case forward despite the court martial finding that the death was a result of an assault by the section to which the soldiers belonged.
219. On 27 March 2014, the Secretary of State for Defence announced that an IFI investigation into Naheem Abdullah’s death had been commissioned in order to comply with the High Court’s decision in Ali Zaki Mousa (No. 2) but that “no prosecutions will result”. The IFI made “exhaustive inquiries about the whereabouts of the transcript of the court martial” but concluded it had probably “been destroyed or thrown away”. It further noted that the soldiers had not given oral evidence, been examined or cross-examined and found that the “need for them to give oral evidence” was a “critical aim” of the IFI inquiry.

In what universe is this not an unwillingness or inability of the UK authorities genuinely to prosecute? If this were a stabbing by a group of civilian youths, they would all be banged up under the doctrine of “common purpose”. The difficulties of prosecuting criminals who stick together are by no means the sole preserve of the armed forces, and the days when nobody could be convicted because of the problem of proving which gang member struck the fatal blow are long gone in civilian life.

The sole difficulty here is the prosecutors’ and investigators’ unwillingness to use the toolbox regularly used against gangs or organised crime, against self-protecting groups of soldier war criminals. The criminals are indeed being shielded.

Para 228 further shows the MOD’s failure in this regard is systemic:

As IHAT/SPA set out to the Office: 7 defendants were prosecuted during a six month court martial, with the case against all but 2 being dismissed by the judge at the conclusion of the prosecution case. The reasons for this outcome are complex but relate to the quality of the evidence given by the British soldiers who were called as witnesses by the prosecution. While the defence did not dispute that the detainees in this case had been subjected to serious mistreatment, including acts of violence, during their detention at “BG Main”, the detainees themselves were unable to identify which individual soldiers had been responsible for which aspects of their mistreatment or for which assault. This was primarily because the detainees had been hooded for most of the relevant time. Several of the soldiers who were called as witnesses by the prosecution proved reluctant to provide evidence against those with whom they still served, leading to what the Judge Advocate, a senior judge from the civilian system who had been brought in to try this case, described as a “more or less obvious closing of ranks”. The 2 defendants against whom the case was not dismissed at the conclusion of the prosecution case were subsequently acquitted by the Military Board after consideration of all of the evidence.

Finally, one last paragraph to illustrate that the conclusion of the report is completely incompatible with its internal evidence:

250. The Baha Mousa Inquiry report, published on 8 September 2011, made findings on the death of Baha Mousa in British custody in Basra after several days of abuse in September 2003. Five years prior to the report, seven suspects had been subject to the pre-IHAT procedure described above, which resulted in six acquittals at a court martial and one conviction for the war crime of inhuman treatment (following a guilty plea). The report found that British soldiers had subjected detainees to serious, gratuitous violence and that although doctrinal shortcomings may have contributed to the use of a process of unlawful conditioning, it could not “excuse or mitigate the kicking, punching and beating of Baha Mousa which was a direct and proximate cause of his death, or the treatment meted out to his fellow Detainees”.414 The findings did not inspire new prosecutions. On 8 June 2017, during a hearing to review the progress of IHAT investigations, Justice Leggatt noted that it was “difficult to understand why almost six years after a major public inquiry was finished in 2011 there has been no resolution of the question whether to prosecute anybody in relation to Baha Mousa.”

Yet the International Criminal Court claims not to have sufficient evidence that the UK government is not genuinely pursuing prosecutions: and remarkably states that even the passing now of legislation specifically to give an amnesty to soldiers for historic war crimes, does not radically affect its judgement as to the MOD’s practice and intent.

This report is a nonsense. It is based on adopting the UK MOD gaze throughout, and accepting that everything statted by UK official sources is true and given in good faith, which is never even questioned. The failure even to entertain the notion that the UK is acting in bad faith renders the report utterly pointless. Never can a report have been written on any subject where the internal evidence was so utterly incompatible with the conclusion. The report is the responsibility of prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. I find her motives as baffling as her conclusions.

What is however plain is that I can no longer argue that the ICC is an impartial body. Its protection of the UK not only over the initiation of the Iraq War, but even over the many crimes committed by its working level soldiers, let alone those who commanded them, stands in such stark contrast to the ICC’s treatment of those viewed as the designated enemies of the Western powers, that it has lost all moral authority.

I leave you with Ms Bensouda’s conclusions:

502. The Office recalls that, based on its evaluation of the totality of the information available, it cannot conclude that the UK authorities have been unwilling genuinely to carry out relevant investigative inquiries and/or prosecutions (article 17(1)(a)) or that decisions not to prosecute in specific cases resulted from unwillingness genuinely to prosecute (article 17(1)(b)). Specifically, for the purpose of article 17(2), the Office cannot conclude that the relevant investigative inquiries or investigative/prosecutorial decisions were made for the purpose of shielding the person concerned from criminal responsibility for crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court; that there has been an unjustified delay in the proceedings which in the circumstances is inconsistent with an intent to bring the person concerned to justice; or that the proceedings were not or are not being conducted independently or impartially, and they were or are being conducted in a manner which, in the circumstances, is inconsistent with an intent to bring the person concerned to justice.
503. On this basis, having exhausted all avenues available and assessed all information obtained, the Office has determined that the only appropriate decision is to close the preliminary examination and to inform the senders of communications. While this decision might be met with dismay by some stakeholders, while viewed as an endorsement of the UK’s approach by others, the reasons set out in this report should temper both extremes.

Do you feel a little bit sick too?

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Before the usual appeal for funding to continue this blog, I want to make a brief point. There is only one of me. I am aware that output this past month has been very slight. This has partly been due to exhaustion (and perhaps writers’ block) and partly to a whole series of quite major happenings in my personal life, some good, some bad, but all of them stressful. I am very grateful to those of you who subscribe to keep the blog going, but it does not come with a guarantee of any particular volume of output. It is also the case that some articles, like this one, require rather a lot of work. This blog will always have spells of unusually high and unusually low activity. I am doing my best.

 
 
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The Fake Political and Media Class 323

This blog has been silent for three weeks so nothing would stand between the “bold” predictions in my last article, and the proof that they were true. I am in fact neither particularly prescient nor brilliant. To anybody with serious experience of diplomatic negotiation, it was very obvious a deal was fairly easy. As I predicted, the level playing field mechanism is solved by it not only being a case of the UK following EU standards, but of mutual rights. In the entirely improbable circumstance of Tory UK adopting higher environmental, social or safety standards than the EU, the UK will have resort to a range of measures against unfair competition; just as the EU can in the much more likely scenario of the UK failing to keep up with evolving improvements in these areas. The same goes for state aid. The mutual obligation undercuts the “sovereignty” argument and squares that (silly) circle. Elsewhere, a few tonnes of fish here or there was never going to outweigh the manufacturing interests on both sides. So this very limited agreement, covering the 22% of UK/EU trade that is in goods, was always a shoo-in.

As I also predicted and still predict, the media will now go wild about “Johnson’s Christmas Triumph”.

What I want to discuss with you is not the agreement itself, nor the process of reaching it, but the quite extraordinary fact that a deal which was always going to be made, was the subject of pretend cliffhanger drama and tension by the entire professional media and the entire professional political class, both government and opposition, not just in the UK but right across Europe and on other continents as well.

Sane, sober and alone, any serious professional political journalist knew that this deal would be made and broadly what it would look like. So did Keir Starmer, Nicola Sturgeon, Bill Cash and Nigel Farage. Yet absolutely everyone has been pumping out this false narrative of cliff-hanging tension, as have the national ministers of EU states in the EU Council and the Members of the European Parliament.

Why? I think this really is quite a profound question. And I think the answer is that the professional media and political class – the latter an ever burgeoning number, battening on to the body politic at our ever increasing expense – have become simply a form of entertainment. High politics is no more than a form of reality TV, where both those taking part and those reporting on it know that dramas and crescendos have to be manufactured to keep the plebs interested and keep the golden goose laying. The politicians and the political journalists have a joint interest in putting on a show over artificial crises. The worrying thing is, they manage to convince themselves, at least some of the time, to their own professional gain, that the version they are promulgating of what is happening, is reality.

Let me add a few thoughts to this. The first is that I do not think that anybody except a very few utter nutters really believe, for example, that Jeremy Corbyn is personally a racist. Yet the mainstream political and media classes pump out the anti-semitism slur in a continual stream. This forcefully reminds me of the run-up to the Iraq War, when I asked an FCO colleague working directly on Iraq how he managed to do his job when he knew full well that Iraq had no Weapons of Mass Destruction. He replied to me that he was an avid player of “Football Manager”; while in the game he really was immersed for hours and the manager of Arsenal, once he left the game of course he knew he was not. Walking into the FCO to work was the same. While in the FCO, he believed Iraq had WMD and acted on that basis; once he left in the evening he did not.

In a sense this game, where the political and media class connive at contrived dramatic happenings, replaces and covers for the absence of real differences in politics, as will be illustrated when Starmer’s Labour votes for Johnson’s Brexit Deal. Just as they have failed to oppose even the granting of powers to kill and torture to the security services, or the granting of amnesty to those who commit war crimes. When you do not really have an actual opposition, you will get pretend political events. I am also reminded of those in the SNP who pretend to be absolutely committed to Scottish Independence, while having not the slightest intention of doing anything towards that goal that may jeopardise their comfortable and well-paid political careers.

I stand by my prediction that phasing of implementation of procedures will mean that the non-tariff friction that is, despite this agreement, going to make UK trade in goods with the EU much more logistically difficult, will not have immediate effect, so in the early part of 2021 Brexiteers will be gloating that predictions of doom did not happen. I also stand by the prediction that the real effects will come through slowly and surely and increase both inflation and unemployment in the second half of 2021. This agreement of course covers goods only – the UK financial services industry will become still further oriented towards servicing non-EU clients seeking minimal scrutiny. The EU will now be able to impose a transaction tax as a brake on reckless trading in derivatives. London will become the high risk centre for the dodgy money and the fast buck, to an even greater extent than it is already.

Johnson will now surf a jingoistic media wave and be hailed a great success. Which, for us Scots, makes it still more certain he will never agree voluntarily to an Independence referendum. Anybody who now argues the route to Independence must only lie through the agreement of Downing Street, is arguing the Unionist Case.

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Sorry, Johnson Will Not Disappear 948

It is currently popular among those who make money writing media articles about politics, to argue that Boris Johnson will implode next year and be replaced as Tory leader by someone more rational and conventional. I very much doubt this: the most important reason for that doubt being the power of the atavistic English nationalist forces that Johnson has unleashed in British politics. Astonishingly, despite the UK government’s hideously inept performance in the Covid crisis, and the corruption and looting of the public purse on a massive scale for which the pandemic has been used, the Conservatives still lead Labour in the UK opinion polls.

Partly that is due to Sir Keir Starmer having no apparent policy other than to ensure that no party member ever criticises Israel. But it is mostly due to the fact that Johnson’s supporters do not care what happens to the country, as long as they can see news footage of black people being deported on charter planes and immigrant children washed up dead rather than rescued. The racist brand is very, very strong in England. Cummings and Johnson’s plan to appropriate it and target the areas of England with lowest levels of educational achievement as their new political base still holds up as a political strategy. Look at the polls.

Tory MP’s care about themselves. They will ditch Johnson extremely quickly if he becomes a perceived electoral liability and therefore a threat to their own jobs. But as long as the Tories are ahead in the opinion polls, then Johnson is secure. The idea that there is a norm to which politics revert is a false one. Many of the same pundits who are assuring us now that Johnson will depart, also assured us that his kicking out moderate and pro-EU Conservatives from his party, and removing Remainers from his Cabinet, was a temporary move to be reversed post-election. There is in fact no going back to the norm.

Even the dimmest Labour Party members must now realise that Starmer lied when he promised he would carry on with Corbyn’s radical economic policies if elected to the leadership of the Labour Party. The Corbyn phenomenon was interesting. It arose as a reaction to the massively burgeoning wealth inequality in UK society and the great loss of secure employment opportunity with rights and benefits available to the large bulk of the population. That situation continues to worsen. Brexit was in large part a cry of pain resulting from the same causes. But Brexit in itself is going to do nothing to improve the social position or economic prospects of the working class.

Whether the novelty of Brexit will in the long term continue to be enough to channel the desire for radical change away from actual programmes of redistribution of wealth and ownership, I doubt. I suspect the Starmer project will falter on public reluctance to yet again embrace a choice of two Tory parties, and Starmer will be ejected as Labour leader before he can become the third Blue Labour PM. In the meantime, I can only urge those in England to vote Green. I can certainly see no reason to vote Labour and validate the Starmer purge.

As a former professional diplomat, I am going to be astonished if there is not a Brexit deal announced very shortly. It is plainly highly achievable given the current state of negotiations. The EU have moved very far in agreeing that an independent UK body, as opposed to the European Court of Justice, can be responsible for policing UK compliance with standards regulation to ensure against undercutting. The “ratchet clause” sticking point, where a mechanism is needed to ensure the UK does not undercut future improved EU regulatory regimes, can be resolved with some fudged wording on the mutual obligation to comply with the highest standards, but which does not quite force the EU to simply copy UK regulation in the improbable event it becomes more demanding than the EU regime. By making the obligation theoretically mutual the “sovereignty” argument about UK subservience to EU regulations and standards is met, which is the ultra Tory Brexiteers biggest fetish. Fisheries is even simpler to solve, with obvious compromises on lengths of agreement periods and quotas within easy grasp.

It should not be forgotten that David Frost is not the plain loutish Brexiteer he has so spectacularly enhanced his career by impersonating domestically, but is the smooth and effective professional diplomat he shows when actually interacting with Barnier. It could only be an act of utter lunacy that would lead Johnson to eschew a deal that the Express and Mail will be able to trumpet as a massive victory over Johnny Foreigner. I expect we shall be seeing a union jacked apotheosis of saviour Johnson all over the media by a week from now at the very latest – another reason he will not be leaving office.

It is of course, all smoke and mirrors. By expectation management, a deal which is a far harder Brexit than anybody imagined when Theresa May set down her infamous red lines, will be greeted by a relieved business community as better than actually blowing your own brains out. As I have stated ever since the repression of the Catalan referendum, I can live with leaving the EU and live with abandoning its political and security pillars. I continue to view leaving the single market and losing the great advantage of free movement as disastrous.

One thing that has been very little publicised is that, deal or no deal, the UK is going to fudge the worst consequences by simply not on 1 January applying the new rules at the borders. There will not be immigration checks on the 86% of truck drivers entering the UK who are EU citizens, for the first six months. Otherwise the queues by mid January would scarcely be contained by Kent itself. Similarly, the UK side will not be applying the new customs paperwork on 1 January except on a “random sampling” basis. Those who are eagerly anticipating chaos on 1 January will thus probably be disappointed. In fact the deleterious economic effects of Brexit are quite probably going to take some time to show through in a definite way. I do not believe we will see either empty shelves or major price hikes in the first few weeks.

My prediction is this: Boris will agree his thin deal and at the end of January the Brexiteers will be gloating that the predicted disaster did not happen. Effects on economic growth and employment will take some time to be plainly identified, and it will be mortifying how readily the Tories will twist the narrative to blame the EU, and also to obtain English nationalist support for the notion that this gradual pain is worth it in pursuit of a purer country, with less immigration. That may sound crazy to you. But is it not crazy to you that the Tories are still ahead in UK polls after the last year? Mark my words; hope that Boris Johnson will simply vanish is very misplaced.

There is of course the possibility that Johnson is indeed completely bonkers and will not agree any deal at all, in which case 1 January chaos is unavoidable and all bets are off. I should be very surprised indeed. But then I did not think Trump would be mad enough not to concede the US Presidential election. Trying to predict the irrational mind is a pointless undertaking. I don’t think Johnson is that irrational; but I have been wrong before.

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The State You May Not Criticise 382

In the 15 year history of this blog, I have criticised the Human Rights records of states including Bahrain, Belarus, Brazil, Burma, Cameroon, China, Ecuador, Egypt, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Ivory Coast, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Libya, the Maldives, the Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sweden, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Togo, Turkey, Uganda, the United Kingdom, the United States, Uzbekistan, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

The only country of which criticism has resulted in substantial legal and political action against me and attempted censorship is Israel. Criticism of Israel also immediately results in heavy suppression of traffic to my site from the corporate gatekeepers of Twitter, Facebook and Google.

Now a group of witch-hunting UK MPs has written to Amazon to complain that Alexa has quoted my blog on Israel.

It is worth looking at precisely what the MPs are complaining of in my case. Let’s look at the exact passage:

“Question: Is Israel guilty of war crimes?
Answer: Here’s something I found on the web: according to www.craigmurray.org.uk, ethnic cleansing on a massive scale and serial human rights abuse, including war crimes, yes, Israel is guilty of these atrocities.”

The website in question includes numerous conspiracy theories.

Now the MP’s of the All Party Group Against Anti-Semitism do not attempt to say what is wrong with this answer. They do not say why it is untrue – in fact, they do not even claim it is untrue. They do not say why it is anti-semitic; presumably, although they do not say as much, they must believe it is anti-semitic for the All Party Parliamentary Group on anti-semitism to be complaining about it. In fact, they ground their objection entirely on an unsubstantiated claim that this website includes conspiracy theories.

I maintain that the answer quoted from my website is self-evidently true and highly capable of proof. It states fact which a large majority of the public would recognise as true. Yet I am told by a journalist from the Times who contacted me, that on the basis of this incoherent letter from self-selecting MP’s, Amazon have blocked Alexa from quoting my website. This is only a tiny example of the removal of access to dissenting opinions – dissenting as in not conforming to the wishes of the political Establishment, although not diverging from objective truth. The trend towards this censorship on the internet is massive.

I am particularly concerned that one of the signatories of the letter is Lisa Cameron, an SNP MP. The statement that “ethnic cleansing on a massive scale and serial human rights abuse, including war crimes, yes, Israel is guilty of these atrocities” is completely in line with longstanding SNP policy on Palestine. Lisa Cameron’s part in having my website blacklisted for an opinion in line with SNP policy is shameful.

But it is not isolated. As I feared, the SNP’s large cohort of MPs at Westminster have become very comfortable there with their life of privilege and large income, and they have been almost entirely captured by Britnat standards and Britnat attitudes. Last week, we had the official party paper on defence policy in which Stewart MacDonald MP and Alyn Smith MP directly jettisoned the party’s long term commitment to unilateral nuclear disarmament in favour of “multilateralism” – a long word for no nuclear disarmament ever.

Along exactly the same lines of moving to align with the right wing obsessions of British Nationalism, the SNP’s Stewart Hosie had signed up to the off the wall Russophobic report of Westminster’s Intelligence and Security Committee, a report conditioned by the appalling list of war hawks who were the only ones asked to give evidence.

Land Reform has been reduced to the foundation of a Scottish Land Commission which can put public money towards other funds raised by community groups to buy out great landlords in specific tracts at an assessed “market price”. Yes, the market price. So the great success of the much touted land reform is that it has put £5 million of public money straight into the pocket of the Duke of Buccleuch, for some tiny and insignificant portions of his vast estates, marginal and despoiled moorland he was probably glad to be shot of. The Chair of Buccleuch Estates, Benny Higgins, is also economic adviser to Nicola Sturgeon.

There is much triumphalism at the new “realism” of the Blairite triangulated SNP and its positioning as a “safe” part of the Establishment. How much of the old radicalism of the SNP remains may, in small part, be measured by how many votes I garner in the election for President at the current conference. I fear it may not be a high number.

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Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

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The Route to Independence Leads Through Oban 136

Grassroots Oban are hosting me for a zoom talk on the Route to Independence this evening at 7pm. You are welcome to join us, which you can do by registering in advance (ie now) here:

https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJ0kfuqrpzIrGNLlxVYFLb2z2LlxT6Hx_vFf

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting. I hope that over half the meeting will be open to questions and contributions and I am very happy for these to be wide-ranging. I must confess I don’t like online meetings and I very much miss actually getting round and meeting people. Hopefully we are not too far now from being able to do that again.

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Militarism and the Populist Playbook 297

Why militarism is such a surefire winner for populists is an interesting question, to which the answer is probably an unpleasant reflection on human nature. Atavism and racism are the easiest way to political success, despite the demonstrably catastrophic consequences.

For an economically dominant power to allocate its resources under the influence of militarism, and then project the resulting capability for extreme violence on less wealthy or organised states, is the time-honoured way for populist politicins to satisfy the atavistic urge they have whipped up, while minimising the catastrophic consequences at home. UK military power is not for “defence” and has never been for “defence” since the formation of the UK. It is for the projection of military power abroad. The destruction of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Yemen are all, in varying degrees, the result of the application of UK military force on weaker states.

These countries were unable to offer any significant military response; the major cost to the UK of destroying them has been the cost of munitions, supply and pay. Costs in British servicemen injured or maimed has been terrible for the individuals concerned but politicians don’t care; indeed our casualties are unrelentingly put to the service of whipping up more jingoism and militarism. British killed and maimed is of course a tiny number compared to the killed or maimed which Britain has inflicted.

There are other costs, of course. Almost all the terrorism in the UK has been blowback terrorism from this destruction abroad. There have also been resultant refugee flows which have disturbed the political equilibrium of all of Europe. But remarkably neo-conservative politicians are able to fashion those consequences into arguments for us to invade and kill still more frequently abroad.

Johnson’s announcement of an extra £16 billion of defence spending will be wildly popular with his electoral base, who love a bit of jingoism. It will be wildly popular with his MPs, because nothing lines the pockets of politicians and their close business associates as reliably as “defence” spending – except for Covid spending, but that giant chance to plunder the public purse will run out soon. In a country that could not afford to feed school children, a country that starves asylum seekers and lets kids drown in the channel rather than take them in, £16 billion extra to blow up other countries is no problem.

It is four times the amount of new money the government pledged yesterday to tackle the actual existential threat of climate change. To be spent instead on tackling a pretend existential threat. The idea that Russia or China wants to invade the UK is an utter nonsense. Neither has any plans to do so, nor has ever had any plans to do so. The UK has not been at war with either Russia or China for 150 years. We are however doing our best to provoke conflict, with billions more going into avowedly offensive cyber capability targeted on Russia and China. You also do not have to be a devotee of Isaac Azimov to understand that the pouring of billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money into the specific purpose of designing artificial intelligence to kill people is not necessarily a good long term goal. The advantage of these areas of spending for Tories is of course that outcomes are nebulous and thus the scope for super-profits and for corruption is simply enormous.

As I said, militarism is a very successful part of the populist brand. You therefore have this vast waste of money on offensive military capability being hailed by Labour under Sir Keir Starmer, the right wing muppet who leads the UK’s laughingly titled opposition. You also have, not coincidentally, a defence paper published on Tuesday by the SNP which tries to outflank the Tories from the right in extreme Sinophobia and Russophobia and proposes continued operations from Scottish bases post_independence by both US and English armed forces.

With the ousting of the left from Labour and the astonishing rightward gallop of the SNP, there is currently no realistic route to oppose militarism available in the UK’s – or Scotland’s – so called democratic electoral system.

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Forgive me for pointing out that my ability to provide this coverage is entirely dependent on your kind voluntary subscriptions which keep this blog going. This post is free for anybody to reproduce or republish, including in translation. You are still very welcome to read without subscribing.

Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

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Where are the Praetorian Guard When You Need Them? 123

Here is Boris Johnson writing on devolution in 2001:

OCH aye, it’s the New Jerusalem! It’s a land of milk and honey they’re building up there in Scotland, laddie. They’ll nae be doing with your horrid Anglo-Saxon d e v i l-t a k e-t h e-h i n d m o s t approach. No, they’re just more socialist than us sour-mouthed Sassenachs.

They want to spend on the puir wee students, provided, of course, that they are poor wee Scottish students, not English ones. They want to shame the tightwads in the Treasury by spending on the puir wee Scottish teachers – in fact, they’ve given them a pay rise of 21.5 per cent over the next three years, far more than the English teachers are getting. And now, just to show how much generally nicer they are than the English, they have decided to spend, spend, spend on the puir wee old folks who need someone to help them open a can of beans.

In the teeth of opposition from the Treasury of what is still laughably called the United Kingdom, the Scots have decided to pay for free personal care for the elderly. Yes, that means all of us, folks. Even if we have assets of more than £16,000, we will be entitled not just to free nursing care – changing our dressings, putting our drips in – but to everything connoted by “personal care”.

If we are so lucky as to live in Scotland, it won’t matter that we could well afford to pay for someone to run our baths, or tie our shoes. There’ll be none of that business about reaching for our own wallets. Not in Scotland, Jimmy.

The BBC have been in overdrive spinning away that Boris is actually a great fan of devolution, and we should all apparently understand that naturally he says entirely different things to different audiences. In fact there is no shortage of evidence that Boris Johnson’s expressed view that devolution is a “disaster” is his genuine view. His premiership so far has all been about the extreme centralisation of power not just in Whitehall but in No. 10, of which more later.

The latest Tory ploy to claw back powers from Holyrood to Whitehall has been the Internal Market Bill. It is more notorious for openly and declaredly breaching international law, but the seizure of regulatory authority by (let us be blunt) England across a broad range of economic activity is just as significant. The Tory response has been, aided by a complicit media, simply to deny that what is happening, is happening.

But Boris’ declaration of war on devolution makes that approach more difficult. It also queers the pitch for the Gove strategy to head off Independence by false promises of more powers for Holyrood. This was done famously with “The Vow”, which promised Scotland the strongest federal parliament in the world. Referendum over, the opposite happened. All the signs are that the people of Scotland already are not stupid enough to fall for that trick again, but Boris has made it impossible for the unionists to even try.

If the Tories offer Maxi Maxi Devo-Maxi Maxi Max again, who will now believe them?

I am strongly of the view devolution has run its course. Undoubtedly it brought great benefits to Scotland. Free personal care for the elderly, no university tuition fees, free prescriptions. It also strengthened the sense of national identity and faith in Scottish competence in self-government.

But after a time, the cumulative effect of Tory austerity and spending cuts over years and years erodes services beyond the ability of even the most competent devolved administration to mitigate them. You then fall into the devolution trap, where you become the body that imposes the cuts, and takes the blame for falling standards, which are caused by the Treasury in London. The time comes when gradualism has achieved all that gradualism can, and it is time to break free from the devolution chrysalis and spread the wings of Independence. That time is now.

In his talk to the Northern Tory MP’s, Johnson called them his “Praetorian Guard”. That chimes with me, because I had been fretting about my inability to write anything useful about developments in Westminster politics. These defy ordinary political analysis, and bear more relation to the account of the courts of Roman emperors by Tacitus than anything that ought to happen in a modern western democracy. There were no great questions of public policy that led Lee Cain and Dominic Cummings to resign. There are vital decisions pending on a basic deal with the EU, but that was not the dispute – in fact nobody in No 10 seems to care about that one way or the other. What the great spat was about, was dinner party jostling for personal advantage among people with names like Allegra, Dominic, Carrie and Dido. Various individuals were “in tears” or “felt disrespected”. The good of the people who are being governed features nowhere at all in the insider accounts of what is happening at the top of the UK government.

It is understandable why Johnson thinks of himself as a Roman Emperor; he governs like Nero. The National Audit Office report yesterday listed £10.5 billion worth of contracts for NHS supply awarded without any proper tender. Many of these were to firms with no history of supplying medical equipment, chosen by the personal influence of MPs and Ministers. It is unsurprising there is so much personal jostling for influence, and the Civil Service has been effectively and deliberately barred from its customary role in decision making, when self-enrichment by corruption has become the primary aim of Westminster politicians.

Boris Johnson appears to have forgotten that the most common death met by Roman Emperors was murder by the Praetorian Guard. I could think of five such Imperial deaths – Wikipedia lists 13! Now where are the Praetorian Guard when you really need them?

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Forgive me for pointing out that my ability to provide this coverage is entirely dependent on your kind voluntary subscriptions which keep this blog going. This post is free for anybody to reproduce or republish, including in translation. You are still very welcome to read without subscribing.

Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

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Paypal address for one-off donations: [email protected]

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Michael Russell, Neo-Liberal 265

Mike Russell is claiming I have in some way misinterpreted or mis-attributed his detailed advocacy of privatisation of the NHS. I therefore bring you the following published critiques, every one of which has evidently “misunderstood” Mike Russell too. First from Iain MacWhirter in the Scottish Review of Books:

I have to say that Russell’s own ideological adventure rather confirms the need for political parties. Grasping The Thistle – even the revised version – is a blueprint for an essentially neo-conservative political revolution in Scotland. He wants to privatise the state, abolish inheritance tax, corporation tax, capital gains tax and introduce the highly regressive flat-rate income tax, which has been introduced in some Eastern European countries like Estonia.

If Russell were in charge, Scotland would be exposed to something like the “shock therapy” that the Friedmanite ideologues imposed on the Soviet Union after the fall of the Berlin Wall. This would imply, not just a rebalancing of public spending, but the wholesale destruction of the welfare state, taking the clock back to Edwardian Britain before Lloyd George’s People’s Budgets.

I’m not sure the Scottish people are prepared for such a Year Zero. Imagine the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh having to close because it failed to make a profit. What would happen to the patients? Scotland is a relatively egalitarian country with much less income inequality than England. Under the Russell/MacLeod revolution it would become a playground for the super-rich, a plutocratic caste with no interest or connection with the ordinary people. Jock Tamson need not apply.

Grasping The Thistle may be independent thinking, but I’m not entirely sure it is rational thinking. Certainly, these ideas are so far removed from the manifesto of the Scottish National Party that it becomes difficult to know how Russell can remain a member of it. It seems to me that he disagrees with just about everything his own movement stands for: social democracy, Europe, independence, parliamentary democracy, progressive taxation, public services free at the point of need, an oil fund – the list goes on and on.

Here is Rob Brown in Bella Caledonia, who obviously also entirely misunderstood Mike Russell:

After years of deifying social democracy, monkish Mike Russell suddenly saw the light and realised that right-wing heresy had to become the new orthodoxy within the national movement.

He devoted all his spare hours – when not praying for a swift return to that most holy of shrines, Holyrood – to reading the ancient runes with a businessman called Dennis MacLeod. Together this Druidic duo co-authored a tome dissing almost everything the SNP had stood for in its modern incarnation. Even that most sacred and patriotic of mediaeval parchments the Declaration of Arbroath got debunked in the first few pages.

The SNP, Russell and MacLeod jointly pontificated, should banish devilish notions of national independence and instead seek to negotiate a “New Union” with England. Once Westminster conferred its blessing on full fiscal autonomy for Bute House, in return for abolition of the Barnett formula, auld Scotia could then be administered all the shock therapy she so desperately required to be jolted out of her zombie state.

Our semi-independent government could then go on the lion rampage against the undeserving poor, the idle and the feckless. Scotland’s welfare state and taxes would be slashed, with vouchers introduced to marketize provision of schools and hospitals – none of which would be supplied through the NHS, since this would be dismantled in favour of an insurance-based health service.

Here is David Gow also misunderstanding Mike Russell:

Already then, however, other, overtly pro-capitalist strands of thinking were developing, often taking on anti-statist blindly pro-market tones (as in Mike Russell’s Grasping the Thistle).

Michael Keating of the University of Aberdeen even failed to grasp the subtleties of Russells “dialogue” on a neo-liberal approach in an academic paper:

There have been advocates of the liberal market strategy in Scotland. While
out of parliament, Mike Russell (later SNP Cabinet Secretary for Education) and
Dennis MacLeod wrote a book promising exactly that, with a drastic reduction in the
role and size of the state and of public spending and taxes (MacLeod and Russell,
2006). This was widely seen as an effort to out-Thatcher Margaret Thatcher and
seems to have riled the SNP leadership sufficiently for them to have had the text
toned down between proof and publication (Macwhirter, 2006).

Gerry Hassan has rushed to Russell’s aid online now, but strangely enough also had failed to understand Russell did not really mean it:

Pre-2007, there was the well-intentioned work of Kenny MacAskill (2004) alongside Mike Russell’s advocacy of a host of predictable right-wing and neo-liberal platitudes (MacLeod and Russell 2006).

While if Mike Russell is not a neo-liberal, it is unfortunate to find him quoted in another academic book called Neo-Liberalism in Scotland:

In his biography of Thatcher, Hugo Young quotes his subject as
saying, “the Scots invented Thatcherism, long before I was thought of”,
dryly adding that this “was believed to be a reference to Adam Smith, the
economist, and possibly the philosopher David Hume”.12 In her
autobiography Thatcher noted with bemusement the failure of her
“revolution” to win hearts and minds in Scotland, “home of the very same
Scottish Enlightenment which produced Adam Smith, the greatest
exponent of free enterprise economics till Hayek and Friedman”.13 The
more openly pro-market figures in the SNP, like Michael Russell, have a
similar view:
“Adam Smith was the father of modern capitalism and it is high time that
his own people rediscovered his genius, particularly as, in his own land,
that genius is currently tarnished by the half-baked economic models
espoused by most of our political parties.14”

Finally, just to remind you how very bad what Russell and MacLeod wrote about the NHS was:

Take health first of all. We would encourage the private sector to compete with established NHS hospitals, clinics and other services. We would encourage NHS management and staff to buy out existing NHS facilities and services under favourable financial terms and join the private sector. We would require NHS facilities that remained in government ownership to be run at a profit however modest. Those that failed to maintain profitability over a reasonable time frame would be privatised. In each geographic area the government would solicit bids from the area’s medical facilities and GPs for the various services it required for its citizens. Fragmentation of services may well see the redundancy of large general hospitals and their replacement with privately run clinics specialising and competing in particular medical procedures and services, at least in the more populated areas.

One idea that is worth further consideration is the possibility that some provision may be supported by “Payment vouchers” made available free of charge to citizens in order that patients would receive treatment wherever they wished. Citizens who wished to make their own arrangements with medical service suppliers would be free to do so. Armed with their voucher they could shop for the fastest and best service and if they so wished add to the value of the voucher.

—————————————————–

 
 
Forgive me for pointing out that my ability to provide this coverage is entirely dependent on your kind voluntary subscriptions which keep this blog going. This post is free for anybody to reproduce or republish, including in translation. You are still very welcome to read without subscribing.

Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

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It’s Only Words 149

UPDATE:

Mike Russell has responded in a tweet that his book is a dialogue between the two authors, implying he did not subscribe to its views on the NHS. Unfortunately, having read the full book, this is demonstrably untrue.

It is certainly true that the Introduction states that not all the ideas are agreed by both the two authors. As the Introduction also notes (p.14), in some places these disagreements are noted in the text. But unfortunately, in the entire section on the NHS, indeed the entire section on privatisation, there is no sign of any disagreement between the authors and certainly there is NO dialogue. No counter-argument is given. In fact the entire text at this juncture is written in the first person plural. The book states:

We would encourage the private sector to compete with established NHS hospitals, clinics and other services. We would encourage NHS management and staff to buy out existing NHS facilities and services under favourable financial terms and join the private sector. We would require NHS facilities that remained in government ownership to be run at a profit.

Here the “We” used at the start of each of those three sentences can only mean the two authors, Dennis MacLeod and Michael Russell. It can mean nothing else in the context of the book. It is not a dialogue. Plainly Mike Russell signed up to these views. If he wishes to say he sincerely recants, I would accept that. But he cannot pretend he did not sign up to it.

I also reject the puerile idea that because the Labour Party criticised him for his views on the NHS, it is wrong for anybody in the SNP to criticise him. As for his outrage at being questioned in this way, this is what democracy looks like. We are in an election. Expect to be scrutinised. Actually, I am just starting.

In the contest for SNP President, you are allowed only 25 words for your electoral statement to voters. Yes, 25 words. Approximately half a tweet. Obviously intellectual debate is not being encouraged. There are no official hustings (though kudos to the SNP trade union group who are trying to organise one).

This is my best shot at 25 words so far:

2014 no gold standard. Biased BBC, the Vow breaking purdah.
Tories will never agree a referendum they know we will win.
We must take Independence.

Grateful for your suggestions.

In the interests of public knowledge I wish to publish, entirely unedited, some of the writings of another candidate for President, Mike Russell. As I showed, when I announced my candidacy I faced a storm of very unpleasant social media criticism from what I might term the Scottish media and political Establishment, which insofar as it was not purely abuse, centred on the “accusation” that I hold non-mainstream opinions. I am proud to affirm that I do indeed.

I therefore thought you ought to know the opinions of Mike Russell, the establishment’s candidate. There is no trick here. The below passage is complete and unedited from his book, Grasping the Thistle (Argyll Publishing 2006), by Dennis MacLeod and Michael Russell. It is jointly authored and the passage I quote is written specifically as “We”, indicating both authors agree (not true of the whole book, as is made clear in it, but plainly applying to this passage of “We” proposals on the NHS).

I am not attacking Michael Russell. I make no comment on his views on NHS Scotland, other than to say mine are very different. I merely publish his views as the large majority of SNP membership have come into politics since 2014 and may be unaware of them. I should say I had no idea Mike Russell held these opinions, and when first told a week ago, I did not believe it until I bought a copy of his book. He is of course perfectly entitled to his view, and an Independent Scotland will include people of all shades of political opinion. Indeed, he may have changed this opinion, perhaps at the first sight of his Scottish Ministerial limousine. While I shall not comment, you may wish to comment below on what you make of his opinion on the NHS. I encourage you to do so.

MIKE RUSSELL, CANDIDATE FOR SNP PRESIDENT, WRITES ON NHS SCOTLAND:

Take health first of all. We would encourage the private sector to compete with established NHS hospitals, clinics and other services. We would encourage NHS management and staff to buy out existing NHS facilities and services under favourable financial terms and join the private sector. We would require NHS facilities that remained in government ownership to be run at a profit however modest. Those that failed to maintain profitability over a reasonable time frame would be privatised. In each geographic area the government would solicit bids from the area’s medical facilities and GPs for the various services it required for its citizens. Fragmentation of services may well see the redundancy of large general hospitals and their replacement with privately run clinics specialising and competing in particular medical procedures and services, at least in the more populated areas.

One idea that is worth further consideration is the possibility that some provision may be supported by “Payment vouchers” made available free of charge to citizens in order that patients would receive treatment wherever they wished. Citizens who wished to make their own arrangements with medical service suppliers would be free to do so. Armed with their voucher they could shop for the fastest and best service and if they so wished add to the value of the voucher.

Now it is pretty well a certainty that Mike Russell will win the SNP Presidency. The voters at Conference are a very controlled base and these days the payroll vote is a very high percentage of conference votes. There is very little chance I shall get over 20% of the vote. I am standing to give those ordinary members who are free to do so, a chance to express their concern at lack of focus on getting Independence and particularly to protest at the acceptance that Westminster has a veto on Independence via the S30 mechanism. There are also deep concerns at the way the party is being run.

I am standing because this is what democracy looks like, as my friend Clark reminded me.

There is also a third candidate, Corri Wilson, a former MP. I spoke to her and she seems a very decent person.

Dennis MacLeod, Russell’s co-author, was a multi-millionaire Canadian mining magnate and highly respected SNP member and party donor. Mike Russell has a record of decades of impeccable service to the party. They were perfectly entitled to publish their personal opinion on the NHS and indeed they were entitled to argue for a ultra right economic policy, as their book does. These opinions of Russell and MacLeod do not represent SNP policy and are most unlikely ever to represent SNP policy. Just as I have published personal opinions which are not SNP policy nor likely to be.

My point is simply this. As people, including paid SNP staff, have pointed to my opinions and said they make me unfit to be SNP President, I am entitled to point to Mike Russell’s opinions so that people may make a fair comparison before they vote. You can characterise it as you wish, but it is a fairly plain left/right choice.

At the moment we are in the nomination phase which lasts until Friday 13th. Then voting takes place at the virtual conference.

Nomination phase: Any SNP member can nominate me. I need 100 nominations to stand. Go to snp.org and login with your membership number. Then go to My Account top right, then next menu Elections, then next menu Nominations. You will find you have to click the nominate button by my name several times until the “remove nomination” button appears. There have been glitches, so if you have already nominated me I would be grateful if you could check the “remove nomination” button still appears. I know people who have rejoined the party in order to nominate, and been able to do so immediately.

For the actual voting you need to be a conference delegate to the virtual conference. I understand almost all branches still have open slots, so contact your branch secretary and say you wish to be a delegate.

This is the first election of any kind I have ever entered where there is no mechanism at all for the candidate to verify nominations or ballots. You are simply given the results of the electronic polling, as passed through the hands of SNP HQ staff – including some of those directly involved trying to fit up Alex Salmond on false charges and send him to jail. I therefore will feel much more confident of avoiding shenanigans if I receive well over the minimum 100 nominations.

UPDATE Mike Russell has responded in the following tweet:

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Forgive me for pointing out that my ability to provide this coverage is entirely dependent on your kind voluntary subscriptions which keep this blog going. This post is free for anybody to reproduce or republish, including in translation. You are still very welcome to read without subscribing.

Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

Choose subscription amount from dropdown box:

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Trident Must Be Destroyed, Not Given to Westminster 275

There appears to be a presumption that upon Scottish Independence, the Trident submarine fleet and its incredibly destructive WMD’s must simply be handed over to Westminster by Holyrood. That is wrong in international law; if the weapons remain on the territory of Scotland, a sovereign state, it will be for the Scottish Government to dispose of them as it chooses.

The principle is well-established and there is a directly relevant and recent precedent in the nuclear weapons in Ukraine. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the highly mobile tactical nuclear weapons were swiftly taken back to Russia but the Trident comparators, the strategic nuclear weapons with their silos and the Tupolev strategic bomber fleet and its weapons, were destroyed, many inside Ukraine itself, following the Budapest Agreement of 1994 between the US, UK, Russia and Ukraine and separate bilateral agreements between Ukraine and France, and Ukraine and China.


This photo is of a Ukrainian technician dismantling a SS-19 missile at a US government funded facility at Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine. [Russia of course breached the Budapest Agreement when it invaded Crimea, but that does not impact on the legal precedent of Ukraine’s right to dispose of the missiles on its territory].

There is no doubt that in international law, independent Scotland will be under no obligation to hand the Trident system over to Westminster. By taking another route, and seeking the dismantling of the Trident system under international auspices while ratifying the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, START and its protocols and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, Scotland will earn great kudos at the United Nations. Making this intent plain at the time of the Declaration of Independence will help secure for Scotland the developing country votes which Scotland will need at the UN General Assembly, recognition by which is the defining test for a country’s Independence.

Scotland has a moral obligation to the world to destroy nuclear weapons on its territory. It is also the case that it should be a simple matter to mobilise international aid funding for the cost of decommissioning and dismantling the Trident nuclear fleet and its missiles – a process in which China, Russia, the USA, France and Westminster should be invited to participate. In fact, the decommissioning work would take years and would bring an economic boost to Scotland, providing far more work than the simple maintenance and operation of the nuclear fleet ever has.

The United Kingdom is a rogue state. It invaded Iraq in a blatantly illegal war of aggression, killing and maiming hundreds of thousands, displacing millions and setting the economic development of the country back 50 years. It significantly contributed to the similar destruction of Libya. It has brazenly defied the United Nations General Assembly and the International Court of Justice in refusing to decolonise the Chagos Islands. It is passing legislation to grant its soldiers immunity from war crimes charges and its secret service officers and agents immunity for murder and torture. To hand Trident missiles, and the capacity to unleash the destruction of the human race, over to the control of this erratic, declining imperial construct would be grossly irresponsible.

An Independent Scotland must not allow WMD to be operational from its territory for one single minute after Independence. We cannot prevent the UK from moving the Trident system out of Scotland before Independence is finalised – in which case we will at least achieve the system being non-operational for about ten years while a new base is constructed, which will itself be a worthwhile achievement.

We in the SNP have to stop pretending to be anti-Trident while expecting to be complicit in a transition plan to let Westminster keep operating Trident. That is an immoral stance and a grossly hypocritical stance.

You don’t negotiate over WMD. You destroy them.

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Forgive me for pointing out that my ability to provide this coverage is entirely dependent on your kind voluntary subscriptions which keep this blog going. This post is free for anybody to reproduce or republish, including in translation. You are still very welcome to read without subscribing.

Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

Choose subscription amount from dropdown box:

Recurring Donations



 

Paypal address for one-off donations: [email protected]

Alternatively by bank transfer or standing order:

Account name
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Account number 3 2 1 5 0 9 6 2
Sort code 6 0 – 4 0 – 0 5
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Bank address Natwest, PO Box 414, 38 Strand, London, WC2H 5JB

Bitcoin: bc1q3sdm60rshynxtvfnkhhqjn83vk3e3nyw78cjx9

Subscriptions are still preferred to donations as I can’t run the blog without some certainty of future income, but I understand why some people prefer not to commit to that.

View with comments

Internalised Danger 308

We have got so used to the United States being an extremely violent danger to the rest of the world, that the prospect of it internalising its violence is fascinating as well as horrifying. I am hopeful that it is not however likely.

I have to admit I thought Trump was smarter. I expected him to fight for an election result good enough to give him some leverage, and then at a point about about 36 hours ago start to negotiating with Biden for immunity for his family and himself, no tax investigations, and perhaps some continued government boosting of his business affairs, in return for a concession in the election. One thing we know from Burisma and China is that old Joe Biden loves a bung, so I was expecting comfortable understandings to be reached between two immoral and grasping old men. I thought I possessed a fair store of worldly wisdom, but plainly I underrated how crazy Trump is.

The American political system is plainly broken. The Democrats almost managed to fail to defeat Trump, having yet again managed to ensure that the poor electorate was given the choice of two horribly unattractive candidates. The Electoral College system came within an inch of reimposing Trump against the wishes of a large majority of the popular vote.

I do know all the arguments for the electoral college system, that it gives a counterbalance to the huge populations of the cities and coasts and allows rural states to protect their interests. But what it means in the real world is that the votes of conservative white people have disproportionate effect. If Trump had won due to this system, the strain on the fabric of the American body politic would have been – rather like the strain on the UK from Scots being permanently ruled by English Tories. Californian votes in effect are worth less than other votes because they have to be discounted in electoral college representation, because there are so many Californians. Biden having squeaked it removes the acuity of this sore, but the sore is still there waiting to burst out again in 2024.

Having been wrong about Trump backing out, I am reluctant to predict further. My instincts are that Trump’s gun touting fanatics are blowhards and while I fear there may be a few fatalities and incidents, mostly this is going to fizzle out in a series of dead-end lawsuits. I don’t see widespread rioting by “deplorables”, rather long term nursing of grievance. I have no expectation at all that a Biden administration will carry our any meaningful social and economic reform to improve the lives of those whose feelings of alienation were manipulated so adroitly by Trump.

It is typical of the shallowness of the identity politics which have replaced real attempts at social progress and economic improvement for ordinary people, that we are supposed to be celebrating that Kamala Harris will be Vice President on the grounds of her gender and race, when she is a power hungry right winger of the most hardened kind.

America urgently needs a radical dose of social and economic reform as championed by Bernie Sanders. It needs the Green New Deal, and the world needs a real commitment in Washington to environmentalism. One prediction of which I am very confident is that we are not going to see any genuinely significant action on any of this. None of Trump’s poorer supporters will be changing their political minds due to an improvement in their livelihood and prospects over the next four years.

Of one thing I am sure; I am pleased for those who feel released tonight from a regime rooted in racism, and I hope they are right that Trump will now fade away into irrelevance. But as the social and economic position of middle class Americans continues to deteriorate, one thing will be plain in future. Trump was not the cause of America’s problems, he was only a symptom. The future is not bright.

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Forgive me for pointing out that my ability to provide this coverage is entirely dependent on your kind voluntary subscriptions which keep this blog going. This post is free for anybody to reproduce or republish, including in translation. You are still very welcome to read without subscribing.

Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

Choose subscription amount from dropdown box:

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Alternatively by bank transfer or standing order:

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Account number 3 2 1 5 0 9 6 2
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View with comments

Moving Forward 78

AUOB continues its heroic work in trying to weld together the disparate forces of the Yes movement, including the SNP. It is vital that we do pull together as it will take the entire Yes movement to get us over the line to Indy. AUOB is to be congratulated in securing top level SNP support for a virtual Assembly on 14 November, at which SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford will speak alongside wider movement figures such as Lesley Riddoch, George Kerevan and Robin Mcalpine, plus the more open face of the SNP, Kenny Macaskill. The Assembly on 14 November is an online event, and you can sign up for it here. There have of course been a number of efforts to unite the disparate elements of the Yes movement, but I feel this may turn out to be the most hopeful initiative. Neil Mackay of AUOB in particular is to be commended for his indefatigable behind the scenes work and diplomacy.

Less behind the scenes and more front stage, today we must commend another hero of endless perseverance, Martin Keatings, who yesterday won a key procedural ruling enabling his crowd-funded hearing on the legality of an Independence referendum without S30 permission from Westminster finally to go ahead. The case has been subject to massive obstruction not just from Westminster but from the Scottish government itself. No, that is not a mistype. The “respectable” argument the Scottish Government has deployed is that the petitioners are usurping the power of the Parliament in asking for a ruling on the legality of a referendum which the Parliament has not voted to hold. It is for the Scottish government, not the plebs, to ask if it has the power to hold a referendum without Boris Johnson’s permission.

The catch is, of course, that the Scottish government has no intention of asking the question as the status quo gives a perfect excuse to do nothing on Independence while remaining firmly in power on the backs of Independence supporters.

My own view is that Keatings and his backers in Forward as One are absolutely right to try to try to move the prospects for a referendum forward, and to clear up the legal ambiguity. But I should add that, even if the court rules that in UK domestic law Westminster permission is still needed for Scotland to hold a referendum on Independence, that has no effect on international law and the Scottish people’s absolute right of self-determination.

I suspect if Keatings wins his case, the Tories will immediately move to change the law at Westminster specifically to make referenda on Independence, or on all reserved matters, illegal. But that in itself would precipitate a crisis to which the Scottish Government would be obliged to respond. In short, I continue to see no downside to Keatings’ actions and plenty of upsides.

Finally may I ask any SNP members who have not yet done so to nominate me to stand for party President. You need to go to SNP.org and log in with your membership number. Then go to My Account top right, then elections and then nominations.

It is a two stage process. Those who receive 100 nominations go forward for election. Any party member can nominate but only Conference delegates will be able to vote. To vote you need to contact your branch secretary and say you wish to be a conference delegate (it is an online event). I believe almost all branches have plenty of spare delegate slots available. I understand it is also still possible to join or rejoin online to support me. Many thanks indeed to all those who have done so to date.

—————————————————–

 
 
Forgive me for pointing out that my ability to provide this coverage is entirely dependent on your kind voluntary subscriptions which keep this blog going. This post is free for anybody to reproduce or republish, including in translation. You are still very welcome to read without subscribing.

Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

Choose subscription amount from dropdown box:

Recurring Donations



 

Paypal address for one-off donations: [email protected]

Alternatively by bank transfer or standing order:

Account name
MURRAY CJ
Account number 3 2 1 5 0 9 6 2
Sort code 6 0 – 4 0 – 0 5
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BIC NWBKGB2L
Bank address Natwest, PO Box 414, 38 Strand, London, WC2H 5JB

Bitcoin: bc1q3sdm60rshynxtvfnkhhqjn83vk3e3nyw78cjx9

Subscriptions are still preferred to donations as I can’t run the blog without some certainty of future income, but I understand why some people prefer not to commit to that.

View with comments

American Presidents 373

I have hardly blogged on the US Presidential elections for two reasons. Firstly the debate is so polarised that many people are oblivious to rational argument that moves outwith the few favoured memes of each side, and I have more than enough abuse in my life already. Secondly, it is some years since I spent any substantial length of time in the USA, and it is a country I find that I understand less and less. I prefer to blog about things where I bring not just judgement, but an extra store of knowledge.

I am very frequently chided for not posting on a subject; a number of people have approached me asking me to post on Nagorno-Karabakh, and indeed I have been offered money to post here on the subject, an offer I suspect would have turned out to be accompanied by conditions as to what I wrote. I will never accept such offers. I am not a corrupt shill like the highly respectable mainstream media journalists receiving secret UK government cash for propaganda from the Integrity Initiative. But also Nagorno-Karabakh is an ancient and tangled dispute with roots that lie deep in history, with complex modern consequences, and which would require a huge amount of reading before I was ready to take a considered view. It is part of a region of which I do in fact have a very deep knowledge, but on Nagorno-Krabakh not specific enough.

I think it is important not to become an all-purpose pundit who fires off unconsidered views on everything that occurs. Such pundits are two a penny in the mainstream media

On the US election I showed my limitations with a tweet yesterday evening predicting Biden would win fairly comfortably, and Trump would concede with good grace. I was wrong. I think Biden will win, but not comfortably and with margins in the key “rust bucket” states close enough for Trump to have every right to question in court aspects of the United States’ rickety voting practices. I still expect to see President Biden at the end of it all.

I know that many of my readers will be triumphant at the departure of Trump. I can understand that. From the viewpoint of US domestic policy and particularly attitudes to social division, race and immigration, the end of Trump’s cynical manipulation of atavistic instinct among the electorate will be in itself a good thing. This has not been a healthy period in US politics.

But Trump has not been defeated by a Bernie Sanders; he has been defeated by a corrupt political hack backed to the hilt by the large majority of the billionaire owned media, financed out of Wall street and with no intention of pursuing anything other than neo-liberal economic policies. It is also the firm re-establishment of the rule of the security state and the military-industrial complex. Trump’s instinctive isolationism made him an enemy of the security state interest which spent a great deal of time in trying to undermine its President.

With Biden we will return to business as usual, and that means war and invasions. Under Trump we have had no new wars started, even if he continued old ones with little control. Without Trump, I have not the tiniest doubt that Syria would have been bombed back to the Stone Age, exactly like Libya, and millions more people would have been killed. Irrespective of the undoubted damage Trump has caused inside the United States across many fronts, Hillary would have killed a lot more people. Just not Americans.

I pause to note that the terrorist in Vienna had attempted to go as a jihadist to Syria and fight against Assad. If he had not been prevented from doing that, he would have been financed by the Saudis, fed and clothed by the Turks, armed by the CIA, trained by the SAS and given air support by the Israelis. He might even have got to be a TV star posing in a White Helmet, or employment artfully placing chlorine bottles on beds for pictures by Bellingcat. Unfortunately, having been prevented from joining the western sponsored insurgency, he ended up killing Austrians instead of Syrians and now is a “terrorist”, whereas jihadist killers of Syrians are “heroes”. A strange world. The Manchester Arena bomber was of course physically brought in to the UK by the British military after fighting for “our side” in Libya. You do indeed reap what you sow.

I hope that those who consider themselves of the left enjoy their relief when the electoral process finally puts to bed the extraordinary populism of Trumpism, and returns the USA to the smoother control of the regular media and political classes and their billionaire controllers. Because anybody who believes any more than that is happening is a fool. I said that I did not blog about the US elections because of the appalling partisan nature of debate. The truth is the system threw up, again, two truly obnoxious candidates entirely antithetical to the real interests of ordinary people in the USA. Biden will do nothing to tackle the appalling wealth and resource inequality which is the most startling problem the country faces. He will hopefully resolve social tensions in the short term. But the cause of those social tensions is a system of gross exploitation of the middle and working classes which is not sustainable in the long term, and which was the root of the Trump political eruption.

Kamala Harris was of course the most right wing possible Vice-Presidential pick. Her advance into power, despite being entirely rejected in the Democratic primaries, is in itself a huge condemnation of the system. I believe I am right in saying that Harris’s Primary campaign was so disastrous she managed to obtain zero delegates at all to the Democratic National Convention. Zero, None. Absolute bottom of the pile. Rejected by Democratic voters as the candidate in toto. Attempting to confirm this zero delegate fact, I just looked up the Wikipedia page on her primary campaign, which turns out to be the most entirely false, hagiographic and manicured Wikipedia page I have ever seen, on any subject, which is saying a lot. Apparently her Presidential Primary bid was in fact a tour de force of brilliant debating and political strategy, recounted in enormous detail, not an abject failure resulting in no delegates. The extraordinarily dishonest Wikipedia page is not perhaps in itself hugely important, but it is emblematic of the sinister manipulation behind the scenes of Kamala Harris’s rise to power.

Let us put a note in our collective diaries to look again in two years and see whether the USA has entered a period of renewed social progress, or just reinvigorated its position as a violent threat to the world. I am looking forward to the period when Biden’s mainstream cheerleaders have to find something positive to say rather than just respond “But Trump is evil”. I predict most of the responses below will say nothing much more on analysis than “But Trump is evil.” Knock yourselves out.

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Defence Fund and Contempt Case Update 105

I have transferred £10,000 from my defence fund to Mark Hirst’s defence fund, which needs money immediately. If anybody who donated objects, your donation can be refunded if you use the contact button top right to send a message.

This does not mean that my own defence fund has more money than it needs – quite the opposite, as the Crown seems to be continuing its policy of spinning out the case as long as possible, with multiple procedural hearings, to drain our funds and ability to fight. The Crown has still not produced the new argument on how it proposes to prove “jigsaw identification”, which we strongly deny and have produced considerable evidence to disprove. The Crown was ordered at the last procedural hearing to come up with new substantive argument, and we are yet to see this. The Crown’s only tactic to date has been to argue that all of our witnesses and evidence are inadmissible, even most of my own witness statement, and the Crown refuses to produce any of the documentation requested by my defence.

The requested documentation included the messages from Peter Murrell to Sue Ruddick, Chief Operating Officer of the SNP, stating that “it was a good time to be pressurising the police” to take action against Alex Salmond, and another to get the Metropolitan Police to act because “the more fronts he is having to firefight on the better”. Incredibly, even though these messages are now firmly in the public domain, the Crown Office still refuses to release the original documents to my lawyers for use in my defence.

Those messages are the tip of the iceberg. It is some months since I saw them, but others include a message from one of the SNP’s most senior officials in which they explain that the police were saying they did not have sufficient evidence to act on some of the complaints. There then follows a line that had me springing up from my chair when first I read it. It was to the effect that if the police would only specify what evidence they need, then they could get it for them.

My sworn statement, given to the High Court in August, names that official. I am not permitted to tell you the name before the trial.

There is much more of this that I could tell you. Either the Crown Office will release these documents for my defence, or from the witness box I shall recount them (which is the reason they seek to stop me giving evidence). To prove to you that I really do know this material, here is an extract from my twitter direct messages detailing the famous Murrell one, written two months before it was leaked to Kenny Macaskill and given by him to the press.

The trial keeps slipping backwards due to Crown procrastination. I am in the peculiar position of facing a potential jail sentence yet being impatient for them to bring it on. Currently scheduled for 20 and 21 January in the High Court, Edinburgh. Please put it in your diary.

For those asking how can I stand for President of the SNP while exposing this kind of dirty laundry, the answer is very simple. This is a part of why I am standing. This kind of appalling behaviour by party officials has nothing to do with party members, nothing to do with Independence, and we have to stand up to put a stop to it, before it does still more damage to the party. Hushing it up would eventually explode in the face of the Independence campaign.

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Virtue Signaling Over Corpses 79

I was sent this lovely anecdote of Sean Connery today by a successful Hollywood screen writer. They said I could publish but did not want to be named.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, I was involved in a series of movie projects with Sean Connery. He was everything you’d like a Hollywood star to be in person: charismatic, gregarious, intelligent, very focused in meetings, a great raconteur. He’d often remind you of his Scottishness and in case you’re wondering, he was more attractive in real life than he was onscreen.

One day we were in a meeting in his office, discussing whatever was our latest venture. The phone on his desk kept ringing. He’d pick it up, put it back down to end the call, then the phone would start ringing again. Then his mobile phone started to ring and ring and ring. Annoyed, he buzzed the outer office on the intercom.

Sean: What’s going on? I’m in a meeting.
Office person: It’s Tony Blair.
Sean (exasperated sigh): I can’t talk to HIM right now.

Then he looked at us, shaking his head and said ‘Sorry about that.’ And we carried on with our meeting.

He will be missed but when Scotland is independent, he can be in your pantheon.

I have also been deluged with social media postings about Sean Connery’s reported views on slapping women.

Do we have to do this?

What he said is not defensible: but are there really people out there who have never in their life said or done anything wrong? The worst thing I ever did in my life (which was not at all criminal but was wrong) still gives me nightmares of remorse, quite literally. I wake up thinking about it. I hope and believe it is outweighed as a single incident in a life in which I generally tried to do good. But I would not want it dragged up for public gloating when I die.

Every single human has made mistakes. I don’t think there is any reason to believe that Sean Connery was a generally bad man like Jimmy Savile. His first marriage was unhappy but his second was very happy and lasted forty years. Connery was born the same year, into the same class and the same city, as my own father. Ten minutes walk between their homes. My father would have shared Connery’s views on women – some of my father’s views were very worrying. They were the views of a working class man brought up in Edinburgh in the 1930s and 1940s.

I am not a moral relativist. I think that Connery’s view was plain wrong, just as my father talking of people coming “off the banana boat” or “having a touch of the old tarbrush” was plain wrong. But I also know why my father did not understand it was wrong, and why by contrast I did know it was wrong. Part of the reason I knew it was wrong is that my father worked so hard to lift his family out of poverty and enable us to benefit from the great free educational opportunities the state then gave us – opportunities he never had, leaving school at 13. Who was I to sneer at him?

I recognise the vicious circle of destructive macho that led Connery to repeat the claims when challenged. I should say that pretty well all my father’s closest friends were black, he actively helped several refugees and there was an extraordinary gap between his extremely kind and completely colour-blind personal behaviour, and the horrible views he used to state. It was a peculiar kind of defiance or assertion of identity, not something real.

Even today, I wish I understood this better of my father. Likewise Connery: I suspect that by the time he was repeating in the 1980’s his obnoxious views of the 60’s, Connery was doing something similar. He was defending the remembered tropes of his class and community, no longer what he was actually living by. And did not know how to back down.

I like to think that in seventy years time, people will look back at today’s virtue signaling students who are swamping the internet with anti-Connery memes, and be horrified at the completely unacceptable views that today’s students hold in tolerating massive wealth inequality.

I repeat that I found Connery’s view on violence against women absolutely obnoxious. It is a good thing that such views are now beyond the pale. But that a ninety year old man expressed a single obnoxious view in 1969 and 1984 does not invalidate him as a human being. It is not the most important thing about him. We are mourning one of Scotland’s most talented sons, and perhaps the most famous. He did not have to be perfect; nobody does.

It is possible to bury the dead without virtue signaling over their still warm corpse.

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Craig Murray for SNP President and Independence in Two Years 188

The party hierarchy decided members should not be allowed to vote on routes to Independence that do not depend on the permission of Boris Johnson. To give party members a chance to register their concern, I have decided to go forward as a candidate for President. I do so not in the hope of winning (I won’t beat longstanding party servant Mike Russell), but because the ordinary members need to be able to show that they are not happy with the lack of focus on Independence and the closed nature of the party establishment – which two things are related.

Every vote for me is a vote for early Independence and no veto for Boris Johnson. Independence must be obtained within two years. It will not be given, we must take it.

The party appears to have no plan that could deliver Independence before 2026 at the earliest. Instead of conference being allowed to debate Plan B, there will be a “discussion” on “Independence in the Future”. It is plain that for many of the party’s very well paid elected officials and functionaries, that future is some far off optional destination, not an immediate arrival.

Obviously I shall be writing more on this in the next month. My opening shot is here, as an advert in the National newspaper.

My announcement has brought a great deal of twitter vituperation from the pillars of the political class – mainstream media journalists and SNP paid staff and leadership acolytes. Plainly democratic choice is not high on their agenda. Some are absolutely astonished that a candidate not approved by the leadership should have the temerity to stand, and not only that, but actually have the nerve to ask people to vote for them.

Mostly though it is just intellect free vituperation, on quite a wide scale:

That was just the first little period. There are huge amounts more of this stuff, much of it from paid SNP staffers. For those of a morbid mind with plenty of free time, the linkages between SNP staffers and unionist journos on twitter are really quite interesting to trace.

I should point out that I have said nothing in the least critical of Mike Russell or Corri Wilson. This is all entirely unprovoked.

A party where the Chief Executive is married to the leader and has a secret salary kept from members is not a healthy party. Particularly when he is then seeking to pressurise police into taking action against the last leader. This is not good.

I leave you with a last thought. Only rebels from the Establishment have ever won Independence, anywhere. We will never be given Independence, we will have to take it. Who is the most likely to play a useful role in that?

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Forgive me for pointing out that my ability to provide this coverage is entirely dependent on your kind voluntary subscriptions which keep this blog going. This post is free for anybody to reproduce or republish, including in translation. You are still very welcome to read without subscribing.

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Time to Stand Up and Be Counted 348

Today, nothing is more important than to say that we will not be silent on the dreadful oppression of the Palestinian people; the daily beatings, killings, humiliations, demolitions, expropriations and destruction of groves that are the concomitant of Israeli illegal occupation.

We will never be browbeaten into silence on the slow genocide of the Palestinian people.

Nobody with any grasp on the location of their right mind believes Jeremy Corbyn to be an anti-Semite. Nobody with any grasp on their right mind believes the Labour Party is now anything but the substitutes’ bench for the Neoconservative team. Under Keir Starmer, the Labour Party has failed to oppose the granting of legal powers to the security services to kill, torture, entrap, forge and fake with impunity. It has failed to oppose the limitation of prosecution of British soldiers for war crimes. The Labour Party now seeks to erase all trace that it might once have been a party that offered an alternative to the right wing security state.

As Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer pressurised Swedish prosecutors who wished to drop the case against Julian Assange, to persist in order that he might be rendered to the USA. He further persuaded them not to interview Julian here, which is standard practice when he was never charged but only wanted for questioning, and which would have reduced Julian’s ordeal by four years.

Starmer received £50,000 in personal donations from lobbyist Sir Trevor Chinn to fund his leadership bid.

It is perfectly plain that Starmer’s aim in suspending Corbyn is to drive the mass membership that Corbyn attracted out of the Labour Party, and make it a reliable arm of the right wing security state. He wants the Labour Party to be financially dependent not on its members, who have annoying principles, but on donors like Chinn.

The media and political elite have attained their aim; there is no longer any point in voting in Westminster elections. A right wing government supporting the neo-con status quo and the ever tightening security state is now firmly guaranteed and cannot be influenced by a Westminster election.

 
 
Forgive me for pointing out that my ability to provide this coverage is entirely dependent on your kind voluntary subscriptions which keep this blog going. This post is free for anybody to reproduce or republish, including in translation. You are still very welcome to read without subscribing.

Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

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The Circle of Amnesiacs 161

Today was a particularly interesting meeting of the Holyrood Inquiry into the mishandling of the Salmond affair, with two senior civil servants, Judith Mackinnon and Barbara Allison, who both had very convenient and complete failures of memory, about key points which just happened to be the very points on which the committee had previously been lied to.

To take Barbara Allison first, she had been happily on holiday in Mauritius. I am sure it is of great comfort to the ordinary people of Scotland that, as has been clear from this inquiry, the Scottish Government employs an extraordinary plethora of officials, nearly all of them female, in non-jobs with silly titles at salaries that enable them to spend their vacations at the most expensive and exclusive spots on the planet.

Now Ms Allison, Director of Communications, had forgotten that, on the day Alex Salmond won the judicial review case against the Scottish Government, she had immediately texted from Mauritius to Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans, and that Leslie Evans had instantly replied “Battle may be lost but not the war.” She denied it had happened under oath to the committee when she gave evidence on 15 September 2020. She only remembered it when the Crown Office subsequently handed over the text – which police Scotland had taken from her own phone – to the Committee. She then was forced to write to the Committee correcting her evidence, which if the text had never been produced, presumably she would never have done.

The remarkable thing is, that Leslie Evans’ message had been famous ever since the Alex Salmond trial. It had featured quite literally scores of times in the media after being mentioned in the evidence at Alex Salmond’s preliminary hearing (where it was among the evidence the defence were banned from using at trial) and after being quoted from the steps of the court room by Alex Salmond after his complete acquittal. It is the subject of this column by Iain Macwhirter, for example, and features in the title. Presumably as part of her job Ms Allison must have followed all this, but none of it jogged her memory that she had received the message. Even when Leslie Evans gave evidence to the Inquiry on 8 September that she had sent the message, that did not remind Ms Allison that she had received the message before she explicitly denied, under oath, receiving it to the committee exactly one week later.

It is plain from the messages that Evans and Allison are close. Civil servants do not normally add kisses to work related texts. We are asked to believe that on 8 September Evans gave evidence on this text message to Allison, and did not mention it to Allison before her own appearance before the committee the following week. That is ludicrous.

But remarkably, the fog of Allison’s memory still has not cleared. Nothing has yet been jogged. The infamous text from Evans is evidently a reply to one from Allison. Evans’ reply begins “Thanks Barbara”. Yet Allison today told the committee, again under oath, that she had no recollection of sending Evans her initial text and no recollection what she had said in it. In fact she testified she had no recollection of the event at all.

Let us dig a bit further into that. Imagine you are in Mauritius on holiday. It is a wonderful place.

You are there on holiday. You are relaxing by the sea in the magnificent scenery and enjoying a drink or a meal. You receive immediate notification of the result of the Salmond civil case judicial review, thousands of miles away. How? It did not make the Mauritian or the international media. Plainly somebody has contacted you to give you the news instantly. Had you organised for that, or had someone thought it so important as to bother you on your holiday?

[As a former senior civil servant myself, I can tell you for certain that an event would have to be considered extremely significant, and requiring indispensable involvement of a particular civil servant, for them to be interrupted when away on a holiday. Plainly, this was not casual.]

Your tropical idyll has been interrupted. You then immediately initiate an exchange of texts with the Permanent Secretary. You now cannot – just eighteen months later – recall any of this happening at all.

I just do not buy it. I do not believe it. I do not accept it. It is my opinion (cf Dugdale vs Campbell libel case) that Barbara Allison gave a very strong impression that she is a liar.

The content of Barbara Allison’s text is of course very important, because of Leslie Evans’ wildly improbable explanation to the committee, that when she said “battle may be lost but not the war”, with reference to the judicial review case against Alex Salmond, the “war” to which she referred was not the war against Alex Salmond, but rather a wider struggle that government should have “equality at the heart of what it does”. In this (frankly unbelievable) context, the missing Barbara Allison text message becomes very important indeed.

Did Allison text that day from Mauritius “God that bastard Salmond won. We have to nail him”, to which Evans replied “Thanks Barbara, the battle may be lost, but not the war”? Or did Allison text from Mauritius “I am in full support of the effort to incorporate equality and women’s rights at the heart of all we do”, to which Evans replied “Thanks Barbara, the battle may be lost, but not the war.” As I hope you see, it makes a major difference which it is.

Unfortunately, of course, Allison has (ahem) forgotten what her text message said. And here is the extraordinary thing – she had deleted that key message before she handed her phone over to the police. Now, she had not deleted her messages with one of the accusers from months earlier. Also she had not deleted the reply from Lesley Evans to her deleted text, nor had she deleted her reply to Lesley Evans’ reply to her missing text. We are left with this:

Text X – deleted
“Thanks Barbara. Battle maybe lost but not the war. Hope you are having lovely and well deserved break. L”
“Thanks Lesley. It is lovely here. My mind and thoughts are with you all there tho. Best wishes B. x ”

Now why did text X get deleted and not the other two? Allison told the committee that she routinely deletes texts to unclutter her phone.

Is that not rather strange? We all know how text messages work – your phone shows you the most recent message in a conversation first. So scrolling back, Allison decided to keep the last two but to delete the third one back? Why that one? Why not the whole exchange? It is very hard to think of any logical explanation for that selection – unless the deleted text happened to say something like “God that bastard won. We have to nail him”, which might be incriminating given the subsequent (ahem) organisation of complainants for the criminal case. But as Allison cannot remember writing or deleting that text message, we may never know.

Except of course, we should know. Police Scotland took the messages from the phone to give to the Crown Office. Unfortunately the interest of Police Scotland was in conspiring with Peter Murrell to fit up Alex Salmond. Had they not been otherwise fixed on a corrupt intent, Police Scotland would have been able to deploy their resources to recover the obviously missing deleted text, either from the iPhone or from the service provider.

Let us leave the unpleasant Ms Allison to stew in her own mendacity, and move on to another unreliable witness with a very poor memory, Judith McKinnon. Now I have to refer here to an earlier witness, civil servant Mr James Hynd, who had evidently been selected to take upon himself the responsibility for having devised a procedure to investigate ex-ministers. He had testified it was entirely his own idea, that he had never discussed it with anybody at all, and that it had first existed in a draft policy he had alone written.

Unfortunately this attempt to sanitise the genesis of the “get Salmond” policy quickly collapsed as documents have slowly been squeezed out of the Scottish government showing that a procedure against ex-ministers had been discussed by civil servants and special advisers before Hynd “first” thought of it, including by Judith McKinnon, who had gone on to coach the initial complainants against Alex Salmond. In fact, Mckinnon had produced a “flowchart” of the new procedure including ex-ministers, dated before Hynd’s document which he claimed was the first time the idea had been thought of. Hynd was another one forced to write to the committee to “clarify” his evidence under oath.

Today McKinnon was pressed on why she had included ex-Ministers in her flowchart before Hynd had thought of it, and McKinnon replied that it had been generally discussed and was generally agreed. Pressed by committee members as to who she had generally discussed it with, and whether this included Leslie Evans or the First Minister’s office, McKinnon replied that – she had forgotten who she discussed it with.

Now there is a shock.

Scotland employs, on very high salaries, a quite fascinating number of women with very poor memories.

The members of the committee were most excited about another point. They questioned both women on the fact that the new procedure which the court had found unlawful and tainted by apparent bias, under which McKinnon could both coach complainants and be the investigating officer, was still in place. There was, huffed Alex Cole Hamilton, the possibility the same mistake could be made again and the taxpayer again lose a great deal of money.

Silly Mr Cole Hamilton. He has not yet understood that the “new procedure” was only ever a single shot, designed to “get” Alex Salmond. There was never any chance it would be used against anybody else. So why bother to amend it now?

Finally and perhaps even more interestingly, today a letter has been released which Alex Salmond wrote to James Hamilton, who is conducting the investigation into whether Nicola Sturgeon broke the ministerial code. This entire letter is well worth reading, but this bit is truly stunning. Alex Salmond points out that Hamilton’s remit was written by Sturgeon’s deputy John Swinney, and he suggests it is a “straw man”, deliberately misdirecting Hamilton to areas where Sturgeon probably did not break the ministerial code.

Salmond instead suggests other areas where Sturgeon did actually break the ministerial code, and asks Hamilton if he is able to investigate them or just carrying out the Swinney defined charade. This is the first direct and public attack by Alex on Nicola since she conspired to have him jailed, and it is extremely significant. I am hopeful it may be the starting point of a change towards a Scottish government that will actually use its popular mandate to act on Independence.

UPDATE I have been informed it wasn’t Mauritius, it was the Maldives. Which is, of course, even more spectacularly exclusive and expensive.

 
 
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Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

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Covid-19 and the Political Utility of Fear 746

The true mortality rate of covid-19 remains a matter of intense dispute, but it is undoubtedly true that a false public impression was given by the very high percentage of deaths among those who were tested positive, at the time when it was impossible to get tested unless you were seriously ill (or a member of society’s “elite”). When only those in danger of dying could get a test, it was of course not at all surprising that such a high percentage of those who tested positive died. It is astonishing how many articles are published with the entirely fake claim that the mortality rate of Covid-19 is 3.4%, based on that simple methodology. That same methodology will today, now testing is much more widely available to those who feel ill, give you results of under 1%. That is still an overestimate as very few indeed of the symptomless, or of those with mild symptoms, are even now being tested.

The Guardian’s daily graphs of statistics since January 1 illustrate this very nicely. It is of course not in fact the case, as the graphs appear to show, that there are now vastly more cases than there were at the time of peak deaths in the spring. It is simply that testing is much more available. What the graphs do indicate is that, unless mortality rates have very radically declined, cases tested on the same basis they are tested today would have given results last spring of well over 100,000 cases per day. It is also important to note that, even now, a very significant proportion of those with covid-19, especially with mild symptoms, are still not being tested. Quite possibly the majority. So you could very possibly double or treble that figure if you were looking for actual cases rather than tested cases.

I do not believe anybody seriously disputes that there are many millions of people in the general population who had covid and survived it, but were never tested or diagnosed. That can include people who were quite badly ill at home but not tested, but also a great many who had mild or no symptoms. It is worth recalling that in a cruise ship outbreak, when all the passengers had to be compulsorily tested, 84% of those who tested positive had no symptoms.

What is hotly disputed is precisely how many millions there are who have had the disease but never been tested, which given the absence of widespread antibody testing, and inaccuracies in the available antibody tests, is not likely to be plain for some time, as sample sizes and geographical reach of studies published to date have been limited. There is no shortage of sources and you can take your pick. For what it is worth, my own reading leads me to think that this Lancet and BMJ published study, estimating an overall death rate of 0.66%, is not going to be far off correct when, in a few years time, scientific consensus settles on the true figure. I say that with a certain caution. “Respectable” academic estimates of global deaths from Hong Kong flu in 1968 to 70 range from 1 million to 4 million, and I am not sure there is a consensus.

It is impossible to discuss covid-19 in the current state of knowledge without making sweeping assumptions. I am going here to assume that 0.66% mortality rate as broadly correct, which I believe it to be (and if anything pessimistic). I am going to assume that 70% of the population would, without special measures, catch the virus, which is substantially higher than a flu pandemic outbreak, but covid-19 does seem particularly contagious. That would give you about 300,000 total deaths in the United Kingdom, and about a tenth of that in Scotland. That is an awful lot of dead people. It is perfectly plain that, if that is anything near correct, governments cannot be accused of unnecessary panic in their responses to date.

Whether they are the best responses is quite another question.

Because the other thing of which there is no doubt is that covid-19 is an extremely selective killer. The risk of death to children is very small indeed. The risk of death to healthy adults in their prime is also very marginal indeed. In the entire United Kingdom, less than 400 people have died who were under the age of 60 and with no underlying medical conditions. And it is highly probable that many of this very small number did in fact have underlying conditions undiagnosed. Those dying of coronavirus, worldwide, have overwhelmingly been geriatric.

As a Stanford led statistical study of both Europe and the USA concluded

People <65 years old have very small risks of COVID-19 death even in the hotbeds of the pandemic and deaths for people <65 years without underlying predisposing conditions are remarkably uncommon. Strategies focusing specifically on protecting high-risk elderly individuals should be considered in managing the pandemic.

The study concludes that for adults of working age the risk of dying of coronavirus is equivalent to the risk of a car accident on a daily commute.

I should, on a personal note, make quite plain that I am the wrong side of this. I am over 60, and I have underlying heart and lung conditions, and I am clinically obese, so I am a prime example of the kind of person least likely to survive.

The hard truth is this. If the economy were allowed to function entirely normally, if people could go about their daily business, there would be no significant increase in risk of death or of life changing illness to the large majority of the population. If you allowed restaurants, offices and factories to be be open completely as normal, the risk of death really would be almost entirely confined to the elderly and the sick. Which must beg the question, can you not protect those groups without closing all those places?

If you were to open up everything as normal, but exclude those aged over 60 who would remain isolated, there would undoubtedly be a widespread outbreak of coronavirus among the adult population, but with few serious health outcomes. The danger lies almost entirely in spread to the elderly and vulnerable. The danger lies in 35 year old Lisa catching the virus. She might pass it on to her children and their friends, with very few serious ill effects. But she may also pass it on to her 70 year old mum, which could be deadly.

We are reaching the stage where the cumulative effect of lockdown and partial lockdown measures is going to inflict catastrophic damage on the economy. Companies could survive a certain period of inactivity, but are coming to the end of their resilience, of their financial reserves, and of effective government support. Unemployment and bankruptcies are set to soar, with all the human misery and indeed of deleterious health outcomes that will entail.

There is no social institution better designed than schools for passing on a virus. The fact that schools are open is an acknowledgement of the fact that there is no significant danger to children from this virus. Nor is there a significant danger to young adults. University students, the vast, vast majority of them, are not going to be more than mildly ill if they catch coronavirus. There is no more health need for universities to be locked down and teaching virtually, than there would be for schools to do the same. It is a nonsense.

The time has come for a change in policy approach that abandons whole population measures, that abandons closing down sectors of the economy, and concentrates on shielding that plainly defined section of the population which is at risk. With this proviso – shielding must be on a voluntary basis. Elderly or vulnerable people who would prefer to live their lives, and accept that there is currently a heightened risk of dying a bit sooner than might otherwise be expected, must be permitted to do so. The elderly in particular should not be forcefully incarcerated if they do not so wish. To isolate an 88 year old and not allow them to see their family, on the grounds their remaining life would be shortened, is not necessarily the best choice for them. It should be their choice.

To some extent this selective shielding already happens. I know of a number of adults who have put themselves into voluntary lockdown because they live with a vulnerable person, and such people should be assisted as far as possible to work from home and function in their isolation. But in general, proper protection of the vulnerable without general population lockdowns and restrictions would require some government resource and some upheaval.

There could be, for example, a category of care homes created under strict isolation where no visitation is allowed and there are extremely strict firewall measures. Others may have less stringent precautions and allow greater visitation and movement; people should have the choice, and be assisted in moving to the right kind of institution for them. This would involve upheaval and resources, but nothing at all compared to the upheaval being caused and resources lost by unnecessary pan-societal restrictions currently in force. Temporary shielded residential institutions should be created for those younger people whose underlying health conditions put them at particular risk, should they wish to enter them. Special individual arrangements can be put in place. Public resource should not be spared to help.

But beyond those precautions to protect those most in danger, our world should return to full on normal. Ordinary healthy working age people should be allowed to make a living again, to interact socially, to visit their families, to gather together, to enjoy the pub or restaurant. They would be doing so in a time of pandemic, and a small proportion of them would get quite ill for a short while, and a larger proportion would get mildly ill . But that is a part of the human condition. The myth that we can escape disease completely and live forever is a nonsense.

Against this are the arguments that “every death is a tragedy” and “one death is too many”. It is of course true that every death is a tragedy. But in fact we accept a risk of death any time we get in a car or cross a road, or indeed buy meat from the butcher. In the USA, there has been an average of 4.5 amusement park ride fatalities a year for the last 20 years; that is an entirely unnecessary social activity with a slightly increased risk of death. Few seriously want amusement parks closed down.

I genuinely am convinced that for non-geriatric people, the risk of death from Covid-19 is, as the Stanford study suggested, about the same as the risk of death from traffic accident on a daily commute. The idea that people should not commute to work because “any death is a tragedy” is plainly a nonsense.

The problem is that it is a truism of politics that fear works in rendering a population docile, obedient or even grateful to its political leaders. The major restrictions on liberty under the excuse of the “war on terror” proved that, when the statistical risk of death by terrorism has always been extraordinarily small to any individual, far less than the risk of traffic accident. All the passenger security checks that make flying a misery, across the entire world, have never caught a single bomb, anywhere.

Populations terrified of covid-19 applaud, in large majority, mass lockdowns of the economy which have little grounding in logic. The way for a politician to be popular is to impose more severe lockdown measures and tell the population they are being saved, even as the economy crumbles. Conversely, to argue against blanket measures is to invite real hostility. The political bonus is in upping the fear levels, not in calming them.

This is very plain in Scotland, where Nicola Sturgeon has achieved huge popularity by appearing more competent and caring in managing the covid-19 crisis than Boris Johnson – which may be the lowest bar ever set as a measure of political performance, but it would be churlish not to say she has cleared it with style and by a substantial margin.

But when all the political gains are on the side of more blanket lockdowns and ramping up the levels of fear, then the chances of measures tailored and targeted specifically on the vulnerable being adopted are receding. There is also the danger that politicians will wish to keep this political atmosphere going as long as possible. Fear is easy to spread. If you make people wear face masks and tell them never to go closer than 2 metres to another person or they may die, you can throw half the population immediately into irrational hostility towards their neighbours. Strangers are not seen as people but as parcels of disease.

In these circumstances, asking ordinary people to worry about political liberty is not fruitful. But the new five tier measures announced by the Scottish government yesterday were worrying in terms of what they seem to indicate about the permanence of restrictions on the, not really under threat, general population. In introducing the new system, Nicola Sturgeon went all BBC on us and invoked the second world war and the wartime spirit, saying we would eventually get through this. That of course was a six year haul.

But what really worried me was the Scottish government’s new five tier system with restrictions nominated not 1 to 5, but 0 to 4. Zero level restrictions includes gatherings being limited to 8 people indoors or 15 people outdoors – which of course would preclude much political activity. When Julian Assange’s father John was visiting us this week I wished to organise a small vigil for Julian in Glasgow, but was unable to do so because of Covid restrictions. Even at zero level under the Scottish government’s new plans, freedom of assembly – an absolutely fundamental right – will still be abolished and much political activity banned. I cannot see any route to normality here; the truth is, of course, that it is very easy to convince most of the population inspired by fear to turn against those interested in political freedom.

What is in a number? When I tweeted about this, a few government loyalists argued against me that numbering 0 to 4 means nothing and the levels of restriction might equally have been numbered 1 to 5. To which I say, that numbering the tiers of restriction 1 to 5 would have been the natural choice, whereas numbering them 0 to 4 is a highly unusual choice. It can only have been chosen to indicate that 0 is the “normal” level and that normality is henceforth not “No restrictions” but normal is “no public gathering”. When the threat of Covid 19 is deemed to be sufficiently receding we will drop to level zero. If it was intended that after level 1, restrictions would be simply set aside, there would be no level zero. The signal being sent is that level zero is the “new normal” and normal is not no restrictions. It is both sinister and unnecessary.

UPDATE I just posted this reply to a comment that this argument amounts to a “conspiracy theory”. It is an important point so I insert my reply here:
But I am not positing any conspiracy at all. I suspect that it is very easy for politicians to convince themselves that by increasing fear and enforcing fierce restriction, they really are protecting people. It is very easy indeed to genuinely convince yourself of the righteousness of a course which both ostensibly protects the public and gives you a massive personal popularity boost.

It is argued that only Tories are worried about the effect on the economy in the face of a public health pandemic. That is the opposite of the truth. Remarkably, the global lockdowns have coincided with an astonishing rate of increase in the wealth of the richest persons on the planet. That is an effect we are shortly going to see greatly amplified. As tens of thousands of small and medium businesses will be forced into bankruptcy by lockdown measures and economic downturn, their assets and their markets will be snapped up by the vehicles of the super-wealthy.

I am not a covid sceptic. But neither do I approve of fear-mongering. The risk to the large majority of the population is very low indeed, and it is wrong that anybody who states that fact is immediately vilified. The effect of fear on the general population, and the ability of politicians to manipulate that fear to advantage, should not be underestimated as a danger to society.

There has been a substantial increase in human life expectancy over my lifetime and a subsequent distancing from death. That this trend should be permanent, in the face of human over-population, resource exhaustion and climate change, is something we have too readily taken for granted. In the longer term, returning to the familiarity with and acceptance of death that characterised our ancestors, is something to which mankind may need to become re-accustomed.

In the short term, if permanent damage to society is not to be done, then the response needs to be less of an attack on the entire socio-economic structure, and more targeted to the protection of the clearly defined groups at real risk. I greatly dislike those occasions when I feel compelled to write truths which I know will be unpopular, particularly where I expect them to arouse unpleasant vilification rather than just disagreement. This is one of those times. But I write this blog in general to say things I believe need to be said. I am very open to disagreement and to discussion, even if robust, if polite. But this is not the blog to which to come for comfort-reading.

 
 
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Magic Novichok 235

The security services put an extraordinary amount of media priming effort into explaining why the alleged novichok attack on the Skripals had a delayed effect of several hours, and then failed to kill them. Excuses included that it was a cold day which slowed their metabolisms, that the chemical took a long time to penetrate their skins, that the gel containing the novichok inhibited its operation, that it was a deliberately non-fatal dose, that rain had diluted the novichok on the doorknob, that the Skripals were protected by gloves and possibly only came into contact in taking the gloves off, or that nerve agents are not very deadly and easily treated.

You can take your pick as to which of those convincingly explains why the Skripals apparently swanned round Salisbury for four hours after coming into contact with the novichok coated doorknob, well enough to both drink in a pub and eat a good Italian lunch, before both being instantaneously struck down and disabled at precisely the same time so neither could call for help, despite being different sexes, ages and weights. Just as the chief nurse of the British army happened to walk past.

So now let us fast forward to Alexei Navalny. Traces of “novichok” were allegedly found on a water bottle in his hotel room in Tomsk. That appears to eliminate the cold and the gloves. It also makes it possible he ingested some of the “novichok”. I can find no suggestion anywhere it was contained in a gel. So why was this deadly substance not deadly?

There seems no plain allegation of where Navalny came into contact with the “novichok”. Assuming he spent the night in his hotel room, then the very latest he can have come into contact with the deadly nerve agent would be shortly before he left the room, assuming he then subsequently touched the bottle before leaving. This is true whether the bottle was the source or he just touched it with novichok on his hands. After poisoning with this very deadly nerve agent – which Germany claims is “harder” than other examples, he then checked out of the hotel, went to the airport, checked in for his flight, had a cup of tea and boarded the flight, all before being taken ill. This after contact with a chemical weapon allegedly deadlier than this:

Which of course is aside from all the questions as to why the Russians would use again the poison that was ineffective against the Skripals, and why exactly the FSB would not have swept and cleaned up the hotel room after he had left. All that is even before we get to some of the questions I had already asked:

Further we are expected to believe that, the Russian state having poisoned Navalny, the Russian state then allowed the airplane he was traveling in, on a domestic flight, to divert to another airport, and make an emergency landing, so he could be rushed to hospital. If the Russian secret services had poisoned Navalny at the airport before takeoff as alleged, why would they not insist the plane stick to its original flight plan and let him die on the plane? They would have foreseen what would happen to the plane he was on.

Next, we are supposed to believe that the Russian state, having poisoned Navalny, was not able to contrive his death in the intensive care unit of a Russian state hospital. We are supposed to believe that the evil Russian state was able to falsify all his toxicology tests and prevent doctors telling the truth about his poisoning, but the evil Russian state lacked the power to switch off the ventilator for a few minutes or slip something into his drip. In a Russian state hospital.

Next we are supposed to believe that Putin, having poisoned Navalny with novichok, allowed him to be flown to Germany to be saved, making it certain the novichok would be discovered. And that Putin did this because he was worried Merkel was angry, not realising she might be still more angry when she discovered Putin had poisoned him with novichok

There are a whole stream of utterly unbelievable points there, every single one of which you have to believe to go along with the western narrative. Personally I do not buy a single one of them, but then I am a notorious Russophile traitor.

The eagerness of the Western political establishment to accept and amplify nonsensical Russophobia is very worrying. Fear is a powerful political tool, politicians need an enemy, and still more does the military-industrial complex that so successfully siphons off state money. Many fat livings depend on the notion that Russia poses a serious threat to us. The nonsense people are prepared to believe to maintain that fiction give a most unpleasant glimpse into the human psyche.

 
 
Forgive me for pointing out that my ability to provide this coverage is entirely dependent on your kind voluntary subscriptions which keep this blog going. This post is free for anybody to reproduce or republish, including in translation. You are still very welcome to read without subscribing.

Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

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Account number 3 2 1 5 0 9 6 2
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Subscriptions are still preferred to donations as I can’t run the blog without some certainty of future income, but I understand why some people prefer not to commit to that.

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