Yearly archives: 2022


Trains (mostly), Planes and Automobiles Part 4 211

Having entirely unexpected cause to become acquainted with the subject, I learn that all main railway stations in Germany have their own police stations. At Bochum, you have to walk round the outside to find a door with a buzzer, which nobody answers.

Heading back into the station, I approach the first pair of policemen I come across (the visible police presence on German stations is also remarkable). I explained to them I had a bag stolen and they walked me round to the police station which, once inside, is full of policemen, all carefully ignoring the buzzer.

I am ashamed by my lack of German and very impressed by the police language skills. But unlike his colleague in Frankfurt, this policeman made no pretence at all of interest in actually finding the thief.

He laughed nervously at my suggestion I was being targeted, having had two laptops stolen in four days. He looked at me suspecting I was not quite sane, and said it happens all the time. He just shook his head when I suggested the CCTV on Duisburg or Bochum stations might show the thief with the laptop bag.

He very quickly completed the theft report and gave it to me. I think he suspected I was engaged in a repeated insurance fraud he could not be bothered investigating, and just wanted me out of his hair.

We were staying in a particularly barren Mercure Hotel in a high block just opposite the station. I was on the 12th floor. Once checked in I decided that despondency would not help, and that I should turn the situation around by embracing the chance for laptop shopping.

Bochum is a city with dreadful problems. Leaving the next day we passed on the train a vast Opel plant which extended for miles and was in varying stages of decay. It closed down five years ago. Shortly before that Nokia closed a major plant in the city. Before that the mines closed.

If you go back further, three quarters of all the buildings of Bochum were destroyed by allied bombing in the Second World War. This was ironic because the city was predominantly Polish, one of those isolated populations left stranded by the tides of European history.

Large numbers of Poles were sent to the concentration camps alongside the Jewish population (many of whom were also Polish) and the rest put to forced labour. Additional slave labour was brought from Poland by the Nazis to keep the industries going.

As a centre of Ruhr heavy industry, Bochum was largely obliterated by the allies but most of the victims were Polish. With this horrible history, it seems churlish to note that the current shopping centre is just horribly modern and ugly.

I went to a large chain shop called Cyberport near the hotel. It had a great range of laptops but the prices were very inflated. Every laptop was marked not just with its price but with an interest free credit offer and the price of monthly instalments.

This explained the prices – it was a rip off, never never shop for computers. It was also an indicator of Bochum’s economic woes.

I next went to a flashy store called Gravis, where a very keen and polite assistant was all over me, but sadly they only sold Apple. I explained to him politely that I didn’t use Macs and was too old and tired to want to learn new systems. He replied they sold accessories not specific to Macs, like mouses and keyboards. I politely declined this rather random offer, and went in search of my next shop.

The streets of the centre were closed off for the Christmas Market, with little illuminated wooden kiosks everywhere and crowds it was difficult to get through.

These were in every city we visited, and great fun. But they had changed since I first saw them in Germany in the 1990’s, with much less selling of handicrafts and decorations, and a much higher percentage of alcohol and sausage stalls.

Bunches of people stood around in the freezing temperatures for hours eating and drinking. Bochum was a bit rowdier than most. It was snowing, and I was very much regretting that the thieves had got the Gore-tex gloves that had been a Christmas present from my sister.

Call me a grinch, but half an hour below zero with the Gluhwein is enough for me. Give me a nice warm pub.

Anyway I pushed my way through to Saturn, Germany’s big chain computer store. It was a huge shop, but the actual range of product surprisingly limited and customer service almost non-existent.

They had no model like the one just stolen. Then my eyes were drawn to a laptop with a glowing back and illuminated keys which constantly changed colour.

Colour-changing keys! I had to have it! It was a brand I had never heard of – Captiva – and it was half price because you were buying the display model.

Niels had helped me set up the Laptop of the Four Days with massive security, so I couldn’t even start up the damn thing. (The first stolen laptop had once been secured by Julian Assange with a process involving a gold plated USB stick. That too had been totally beyond me to get into, and much of that had to be removed).

Niels was horrified by my choice. It was a gaming laptop, he said. The money had all gone into graphics. It absolutely was not what I required.

If you can imagine somebody saying “Colour changing keys” in the voice of Homer Simpson saying “Donuts”,  that is how I replied. We bargained them down further from a half price 790 euros to 750 euros, and here I am! The keys were a sexy turquoise when I started that sentence and now they are the deepest ocean blue. What bliss.

Orange! They’ve gone orange!

We then had to get a taxi to the cinema, which was right on the semi-rural outskirts of the city, a lovely little independent venue in an old railway station building. It was a joint screening with Amnesty International, the cinema was full and the audience was not only comprised of committed activists.

I was also pleased to meet Bibi, who had been coordinating these events, and with Irmtrud Wojak, a local campaigner who has written a fascinating biography of Fritz Bauer. He was a great prosecutor who went after not just Eichmann, but the “respectable” Nazis and their enablers, particularly in the legal profession. She gave me an English copy which was to make train journeys pass faster.

The only problem with the location was that it was a long walk to the nearest restaurant and very cold and snowy outside. Niels and I had eaten no lunch or dinner so we were keen to eat while the film was showing, and we ordered pizza delivery.

I was just tucking in to my Hawaiian pizza, amid general comments on my bad taste, when my phone started pinging incessantly.  There was a whole stream of codes for two factor identification. They were from my various email accounts, from Facebook, Twitter, my bank, shops – a plethora of accounts.  All coming through almost simultaneously.

This meant that somebody had got past the password and fingerprint protection on one of the two stolen laptops, and then got through the passwords on the individual accounts (which had all been changed after the first theft).

The question was, had they access to my phone?

I will confess this put me in a state of some shock.  I had been trying very hard not to let the laptop thefts get to me. On the first laptop, I had convinced myself some random thief may have just pinched it when I was in the toilet, even though it was obviously outdated, filthy, cracked and in poor condition.

But the theft today was inexplicable. We had changed into that train at Frankfurt airport station, and that first class compartment was absolutely heaving with expensive luggage.

There were many choices to steal that looked much more potentially valuable than my twenty year old, large and very battered laptop bag. The luggage racks right by the exit doors were overflowing with expensive bags of all shapes and sizes.

The risk and technique required to lift my old bag from the overhead rack right above our heads in the middle of the carriage made no sense as a random theft, when many almost risk free thieving options were available.

At the micro level my bag was next to Niels’ camera bag. The contents of that were ten times more valuable and the bag looked like that would be the case. But it was not taken.

When I blew the whistle in 2005 on extraordinary rendition and torture, I was for a time subject to the very close and obvious attentions of the security services. That died down, but at times flared up again, particularly around interactions with Wikileaks.

In the Spanish case against UC Global for spying on Julian, on his lawyers and on others in the Ecuadorean Embassy, which included spying on me and hacking my phone, and following and burgling several people, Julian’s Spanish lawyer Aitor Martinez has told me that the evidence shows the CIA were “obsessed with” me as a target.

So none of this was new to me. Let me put it this way.

I am an admitted whistleblower of Top Secret information (to compare, nothing Chelsea Manning disclosed was above Secret). I collaborate with Wikileaks. I am at the most hardline end of supporters of Scottish Independence. I reject NATO, nuclear weapons, Israel and neo-liberalism. I have high level friends and contacts across the globe. If the security services are not targeting me, what are they doing?

I know the capabilities of the security services, and I have always assumed that they have access to the entire contents of my laptop anyway. Encryption may work for avoiding some mass surveillance, but not for individual targets when the state are prepared to put in the resource.

I also choose openness to my fellow man. I have no desire to view the world through a fug of suspicion. I have read the comments on previous instalments from the wise people who tell me that they never travel without a moneybag around their waist and their laptop bag tied to their legs.

Well, that is simply not who I am. The seven year laptop that was first stolen had been with me everywhere for hundreds of thousands of miles. It had traveled over much of Africa several times. It had been to the United States more than once. It had been simply all over Europe.

I had left it unattended while going to the loo on a train or in an airport lounge, many scores of times. I had left it sitting in hotel rooms in Washington DC. Once or twice I have checked it in to a flight. It had sat at the back of a bar at Doune the Rabbit Hole.  It has hung from restaurant coat racks. It has sat in the back of a pick-up in Ghana.

That was just that one laptop. I have used a succession of laptops for around thirty years and always acted in the way I describe. I have lived in Russia and Poland and Ghana and left my laptop bag on seats when I go dance, or on a table in a conference while I have some lunch. None had ever been stolen.

I could have spent thirty years with my laptop tied between my legs, but that would not be me.

If you choose to live that way, do what makes you feel happy and safe. But let me point out the logical fallacy that because you obsessively tie yourself to your laptop, it does not follow that anybody would have stolen it had you not done so.

Anyway, while two random thefts of laptops in four days was not impossible, I do not believe it was that, particularly given the quite extraordinary circumstances of the second theft.

This was also particularly annoying because of the loss of the other contents. The gloves I have noted. I had also lost my reading glasses, which are very essential, my phone charger, my bank verification machine, all the receipts from my trip and a variiety of other letters and documents.

With all those two factor verification notices coming through, I needed to get back to the hotel, set up my new laptop and change every password I have. But the audience was now waiting to hear me speak.

I am nothing if not an old trouper, so I went on. I believe it went very well. But frankly my mind was so frazzled I do not remember anything that evening after the phone started pinging.

Back at the hotel, Niels started setting up my new laptop with dizzying layers of disc encryption and self-destruct mechanisms.

Everything now had passwords of enormous length and complexity, containing characters I had no idea existed, from an external random generator.

Presumably, like the monkeys, if you kept it going infinitely you would get the complete works of Shakespeare.

It was 2am before I could actually start getting into my accounts.

There was no evidence that anybody had got past the two factor identification and actually been inside anywhere. As I say, I had always assumed they can remotely anyway, and I suspect most likely the whole thing is just an attempt at intimidation.

Most importantly of all, none of Niels’ security installations had stopped the keys from changing colour.

Merry Christmas Everybody.

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Not a Fit and Proper Person 116

After a two year process, the NUJ Executive have finally rejected the renewal of my NUJ membership based on social media posts I allegedly made which they refuse to show me and of content and subject of which I genuinely have not a clue.

But apparently these social media posts make me not a fit and proper person to be a member of the NUJ.

Murdoch employees are fit and proper persons. The Guardian journalists who produced the front page of lies about Manafort meeting Assange are fit and proper persons.  The security service mouthpieces at the BBC are fit and proper persons.

The NUJ even accepts for membership copywriters for corporations working in PR companies. All these people are fine.

But I am not a fit and proper person because of some things I allegedly said on social media, which I am not allowed to see or to explain.

I am also not a fit and proper person because I published the NUJ’s incredibly deceitful handling of my renewal application, when apparently the NUJ believes it should have been secret (why?).

Finally I have failed to produce evidence of my income from journalism. I provided them with a download from Paypal of my monthly subscription totals. Apparently this was not sufficient, but they refuse to say what would be sufficient.

I have appealed against the decision, but given it is plainly politically motivated I do not expect much joy. There appears to be a universal effort across the political establishment to deplatform and isolate anybody who queries official narratives. Given that mainstream media are such a large part of that, it is perhaps not as surprising as it should be to find the National Union of Journalists an enthusiastic part of the process.

I hardly dare to imagine the long-suffering readers of this blog would support yet another legal case, but in the New Year we may need to try.

 

Craig Murray

Edinburgh

18 December 2022

Thank you for your email of 18 November informing me that my application for renewal of my NUJ membership has been refused, on the grounds that I am not a fit and proper person to be a member, and that I have not provided sufficient evidence of income from journalism.

I wish to appeal this decision.

Point 1 – The Evidence Against Me

The first test of natural justice has been failed by the NUJ. I have no idea at all what are the social media posts and correspondence which you state render me not a fit and proper person to renew my NUJ membership.

I have never seen these. You have never put them to me. I have been given no chance to check if they are genuine nor to explain their context. There are two sides to every story and you have made no attempt at all to hear my side.

I have been very active on social media for 15 years and I have never been suspended nor, to my knowledge, reported for inappropriate content. I genuinely have no idea what you are talking about.

I believe the “fit and proper person test” may here be being used as a tool for an exclusion actually based on difference of political opinion.

I am myself continually subject to unprovoked attacks on social media by mainstream media journalists, many of whom I presume will be members of the NUJ. One that I know is a member is Mr David Leask, because you name him as one of the complainers against me.

Here is a link to just Mr Leask’s latest unprovoked rant against me on twitter, in which he casts aspersions on my linguistic skills for no other reason than to malign me (in fact I passed the FCO’s extremely difficult operational level exams in both Polish and Russian).

https://twitter.com/LeaskyHT/status/1598771344891486209

I am really not certain why Mr Leask remains a fit and proper person if he attacks my output, but it makes me not a fit and proper person if I attack his? I should be grateful for an explanation on this point. To be plain, I see no reason why sharp disagrrement should bar either of us from the NUJ.

I am equally often subject to unprovoked attack by mainstream media journalists in their publications. Here is a link to one one by Mr Paul Hutcheson of the Daily Record, in which he published a photo of my home next to an article inciting against me, and put me in fear for the safety of my wife and infant children.

https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/politics/alex-salmond-blogger-trial-high-21789285

It is highly probable that either Mr Hutcheson or some of the editorial chain who approved doing this to me are members of the NUJ. Why does that behaviour not call into question their fit and proper person status, and how is my alleged behaviour – and I still do not know what it is – worse than that?

Again, that is not rhetorical, it is a question to which I should like to see an answer.

Point 2 – Proper Procedure Wilfully Ignored

The NUJ rulebook is perfectly plain that when an application is received, it should be sent to the applicant’s own branch or chapter for comment by members.

This rule was breached in my case. My own branch, Edinburgh Freelance, has still never had sight of my application, plainly contrary to the rulebook. I was a member for three years quite happily, with zero friction or adverse comment.

Instead what happened was that NUJ officials politically hostile to me circulated my application for comment, not to my own branch as the rules dictate, but only to a secret selected cabal of colleagues of similar political persuasion, in order to generate objections.

The chronology is important here – objections were generated before I published the fact of my application.

Point 3 – Publicising My Application

When an organisation is behaving deviously, maliciously and not in accordance with its own rules, it is of the essence of good journalism to publish it – even when that organisation is the NUJ.

I can see no reason at all why a NUJ membership renewal application should be secret if the applicant does not wish it to be. To claim my publicising the NUJ’s extraordinary handling of my application, as in itself evidence I am not a fit and proper person to be an NUJ member, is self-serving nonsense of a particularly devious kind.

Point 4 – Earnings From Journalism

I am really at a loss here. I do get more than 50% of my income from journalism, from subscriptions and donations to my blog. I have provided you with a printout from Paypal showing a year’s monthly subscriptions.

In response your membership department stated that you need to see payment per article, rather than payment by subscription. Is it really the case that journalists in new media who receive their income by subscribers are excluded from NUJ membership? If so, what is the legal basis for excluding this particular method of payment? It is the most common form of new media operation.

My last letter to your membership department specifically asked what further evidence was required, and volunteered to pay my membership fees based on gross subscription income rather than net if that were easier.

I never did receive any reply to my offer to provide whatever proof you need, provided it is also what is asked of others. To simply state I have failed to satisfy, while refusing to advise what would satisfy, is yet further evidence this has been a politically motivated process aimed at justifying refusing renewal.

Point 5 – The Purpose of the NUJ

The NUJ does not exist purely to provide those with comfortable berths in corporate media, the BBC or PR firms with their press cards, It has a particular responsibility to support journalists with views that are disliked by the political establishment, and to uphold their freedom of speech.

The sub-committee agreed that my output of articles does meet the criterion of journalism. I therefore have a right to join the union. The “fit and proper person test” is not meant to exclude people some members dislike or disagree with.

To pretend that I am in any way more aggressive in dialogue with those members objecting than they are with me is a fake made possible only by the outrageous device of the sub-committee never putting the allegations and evidence to me.

Point 6 – Health

It is true that very occasionally I have made social media posts I subsequently regret. I generally apologise very quickly. It is fairly widely known that I have been diagnosed bipolar my whole adult life, and can therefore sometimes be intemperate. That puts me in a class the NUJ should particularly seek to protect. It may well be relevant to the evidence before the committee – I do not know as I was not shown it. Nor was I given the chance to make this, nor any other, point to the sub-committee.

Point 7 – Late Appeal

I hope you will accept this appeal which is just beyond the 28 day cut-off point due entirely to force majeure. My laptop was stolen two weeks ago while on a month long tour of Germany, Austria, Slovenia and France with the Don’t Extradite Assange Campaign – a cause the NUJ supports.

I lost my draft reply to you when my laptop was stolen. Astonishingly, five days later my replacement laptop was also stolen in extraordinary circumstances. At that point I also lost access to my email accounts, including your email and the sub-committee report. I only recovered the material on return home this weekend .

May I conclude by wishing all the best to you and yours in this the festive season.

Yours,

Craig J Murray

Journalist

————————————–

Dear Mr Murray,

Further to you application for membership of the NUJ I wish to advise that the application was considered directly by the National Executive Council in accordance with Rule 3 (b) of the union’s rules.

At a meeting on Friday 11th November the NEC accepted the report of the panel set up to consider your application.

The panel found that you do not meet the membership criteria in relation to proven earnings from journalism.

The committee also considers objections to the application based on published material in the public domain and your conduct towards NUJ members.

The NEC accepted the recommendation that:

you should be considered not a fit and proper person to be a member of the NUJ within the context of Rule 3 of the NUJ Rule Book, specifically the NUJ Code of Conduct and the obligation under Membership Responsibilities.

If you wish to appeal the determination to the Appeals Tribunal you may do so in writing within 28 working days of the decision.

Please address your appeal to the General Secretary by email to [email protected]

For reference I attach a copy of the report to the NEC.

Membership Application:  Craig Murray

Background: The NEC appointed a subcommittee to consider the membership application of Craig Murray comprising the Honorary General Treasurer, the Chair of Finance Committee, and the NUJ Vice President. The committee held two meetings and reviewed substantial material relating to the application.

Mr Murray’s previous application, in March 2020 was the subject of a number of objections. It was not processed because the application form was not complete, in accordance with the NUJ Rule Book. 

Context: Mr Murray applied for membership on 5th March 2020. In May 2020, the General Secretary appointed the Assistant General Secretary (AGS) to carry out a preliminary investigation into objections to Mr Murray’s application.

Two objectors confirmed that they wished to proceed with their objection in accordance with the provisions of Rule 3 (iii): Chris Diamond and David Leask.

A third applicant had confirmed that they wished to proceed with their objection but

following the decision of the applicant to publish details of private correspondence between himself and the AGS, and the comments made by the applicant in his post and subsequent comments on his social media blog, the third complainant advised the AGS that he wished to request anonymity due to the perceived risk of social media abuse. 

Two other members sought to raise objections but requested anonymity.

The objectors raised concerns that their objections and personal details could be posted on social media and that they may be the subject of online abuse or harassment.

An NEC panel was established to review the applications and to consider the complaint.

Since the application did not meet the membership criteria the complaints were moot and not considered at that time.

It was recommended that the complaints be noted and, in the event of a future application by Mr Murray would be considered by the NEC. 

New application:  A fresh application by Mr Murray was received in February 2022. The application was referred directly to the NEC.

The NEC established a sub committee comprising of the Vice President, Chair of Finance and Hon Gen Treasurer.

The subcommittee considered a significant volume of correspondence between Mr Murray and the Membership Department relating to his application.

The committee also noted correspondence from third parties relating to the application.

It was also obliged to consider previous objections.

The subcommittee was satisfied that, subject to proof of income, Mr Murray would satisfy the requirement for membership in terms of membership criteria.

Mr Murray did not provide sufficient information regarding his earnings from journalism to satisfy the panel as to his entitlement to full membership. On that basis Mr Murray was deemed ineligible for membership.

The subcommittee then reviewed the objections to the original application and the material cited in the complaints, including social media posts and Mr Murray’s blog.

The committee noted with concern Mr Murray’s behaviour towards NUJ members and office holders.

The subcommittee viewed his behaviour towards NUJ members as being inconsistent with the NUJ Membership Responsibilities and the NUJ Code of Conduct.

The committee felt that those who sought anonymity were justified in doing so, given Mr Murray’s published comments and his decision to publish correspondence relating to the investigation while the process was underway.

The committee recommends to the NEC that Mr Murray is not a fit and proper person to be a member of the NUJ within the context of Rule 3 of the NUJ Rule Book.

November 11, 2022

Yours sincerely

Jackie Clark

Head of Finance and Membership

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Trains (Mostly) Planes and Automobiles Part 3 136

It is good to be joined by Niels Ladefoged on this tour. Niels was the Director of Photography on the film Ithaka, and as such a fly on the wall of the Shipton/Assange family for two years. But his commitment to Wikileaks goes back much further. He is a very helpful and calming influence to have around when facing a crisis like a stolen laptop.

It is a crisis. I have much important data stored on a copy hard drive, but that was made some time ago and much else has been lost. I do not maintain sensitive material on the laptop. But the risks of identity theft and the danger to my own access to all kinds of different accounts is very real.

Fortunately Sunday 27 November is a rare day off on the tour. The hotel does not do laundry at the weekend, and Germany allows workers a rest day on Sunday in a way that has been forgotten in the UK – so laundries are shut, and so are laptop shops.

There is another peculiarity. The laptop appears to have been taken out of the laptop bag, but the fairly large sum of cash in the bag was not taken. However what has also vanished is my heart medicines (Apixaban and Digoxin for the medically minded), which were in their boxes and kept in my laptop bag in a ziploc sandwich bag.

By one of life’s peculiar little coincidences, Niels, who arrived on a different train from Erfurt, found his vital prescription medicine had disappeared from his luggage the very same day. So we both need to sort out our prescriptions.

The day is spent in several return trips to the railway lost property office and in making a police report. The lost property office counter alternates between a man in a peaked cap who ignores you, and a woman in a peaked cap who yells at people to go away.

In the police station I am taken upstairs by a very earnest young policeman with a fashionably sparse beard, who speaks excellent English. He takes all the details and determines exactly where I was sitting, which door I exited the train by, what I was wearing and what route I took to the hotel. He says he will look at the station CCTV cameras. There were none on the train.

I tell him I am dubious that a thief would target such an obviously old and cracked laptop. He said he was not at all surprised. Thieves board the train at the station just before Frankfurt and walk up the train. They would take the laptop from its bag in a second, without looking at it.

He said it was not unusual for thieves to take the laptop and not the bag. He smiled at my concern about identity theft, saying that was not their level at all. The policeman seemed genuinely eager to get on to the CCTV footage and start lookiing for the thief.

This left me more open to the idea it was just a random theft, but I had seen nobody moving through the train as he described, and the very few people left in the first class compartment all looked entirely respectable.

In the evening Niels and I went to the old town of Frankfurt, of which there is not a great deal. It is not a good city to spend a Sunday. Everything seemed to be closed. Eventually we found a very local restaurant, where the waitresses wore what looked like football socks over their jeans.

The restaurant was splendidly decorated for advent, with what seemed like half a forest festooned in great boughs all over the place, through which peered the light of big chunky red candles. The place had plainly already survived hundreds of christmases without burning down, but I have no idea how.

I ate roast ham hough with sauerkraut and pan fried potatoes, washed down with a shared litre flagon of local wine. The crackling on the ham hough was superb. We felt a lot better after this, and asked the waitress for a local schnapps. She brought something really sweet and horrible with an alcohol soaked apricot in it. We drank it for research, and even ate the apricots, but I don’t recommend it.

Niels (at this point I shall blame him) then asked if they had a schnapps more like Danish schnapps. They brought us a couple of glasses of Korn. We knocked them back and agreed they did not seem like spirits. No burn and we guessed 20% alcohol. They were only 40ml measures, not 50ml.

So we thought we should have two more. That went quite well so we decided to repeat. After we had knocked back six each, we looked at the bottle and saw it was 32% alcohol. We thought it might be sensible to stop at this stage, but unfortunately the waitresses started to give us free schnapps.

It would have been rude to refuse.

This did not really help with the aim of forgetting my troubles and relaxing. I slept very badly, fretting over my missing laptop. The next morning, I had still lost my laptop and I now had a headache.

I also felt a terrific guilt – which I do most days here – at enjoying myself whilst campaigning for Julian, while he is in terrible conditions in a maximum security prison.

I got up, showered and shaved and went laptop shopping. This was quite fun. It soon was obvious to me I could not afford one as good as the one I had lost.

In the end I chose an Acer Aspire 5, with Intel i5 (the stolen one had i7), 8GB RAM (compared to 16GB) and 512GB SSD (compared to 1TB HDD). Even so this cost me 770 euros. But it is a slim and elegant thing of beauty.

It is a 17 inch, like my old one, but when I slotted it in to my old laptop bag it really came home how radically slimmer it is, taking up far less space. It is also a great deal lighter.

Having got through the dash to Slovenia, I was now hoping for a period of much more sedate rail journeys. Our itinerary today 28 November was just 11:53 ICE 623 Frankfurt to Munich, arriving 15:09.

The train left on time and sped along at great speed. Nothing seemed untoward, until a man in red uniform walked through the train announcing that the cafe was closed due to a power failure in the kitchen.

Then about 20 miles after Wurzburg the train slowed to a crawl, before finally coming to a complete halt, next to a yard full of rusted excavation equipment. There it stayed for about 45 minutes. An announcement was made that the line was blocked.

Fifteen long minutes later came another announcement that we would go back to Wurzburg, before proceeding to Munich by a different route. So we headed backwards, very slowly, for about ten minutes, before stopping in front of a different yard, also full of rusting excavation equipment.

It was like watching Scrapheap Challenge without the contestants.

Eventually we started to crawl along again, through Wurzburg station and out the other side without stopping. We picked up speed, heading away from Munich. Then another halt for ten minutes, then the train started running in its original direction once more.

Reaching Wurzburg for the third time, the train halted in the station and everybody was told to get off. Another Munich train was expected the other side of the same platform in five minutes.

A platform change, to one substantially further away, was announced just as the train pulled in to the station. Everyone went running off down the stairs with their luggage.

The last second platform change is the favourite game of German Railways.

We had come in on a huge train – two ICEs joined – while the one being changed to was a great deal smaller and arrived already full. We therefore decided to let it go, as there were now three more Munich trains showing as queued up over the next twenty minutes. We got on the first of these, which was comfortable, and arrived in Munich about three hours late.

Ithaka was being shown in the quirky little Werkstation Kino in a courtyard basement. The local organisers were very enthusiastic, and all sixty seats were sold out. People were being turned away. I introduced the film with two brief observations.

Firstly, I pointed out that the CIA had the spy videos of Julian’s meetings with his defence lawyers. Secondly they had all his legal papers, seized when he was removed from the Embassy. There are two parties to the extradition proceedings, the USA and Julian Assange. In any genuine legal proceeding, where one party had stolen the legal documents of the other and spied on their legal conferences, the case would be instantly dismissed.

Plainly the so-called judicial process is a farce, a piece of political theatre.

Niels and I then adjourned to dinner in another very local restaurant in the same building. One of the peculiarities of the “cinema” was that the public entrance was sealed by a very heavy steel door. It was completely blank on the outside and could only be opened from within. This is locked shut during performances, to the bemusement of latecomers.

One lady had driven from Austria to see the film but arrived too late. She joined us for a pleasant meal, and absolutely insisted on paying. Niels knew her as a long term supporter.

Niels is Danish and therefore very low maintenance – give him a plate of rotting fish with a couple of raw eggs on top and he will be happy for days. He explains to our chairpersons that you pronounce his surname, Ladefoged, by not sounding the d’s or the g. If you want to try it at home, I suggest you try making the noise of a vacuum cleaner blocked by a sock.

Niels is a compulsive photographer, as a fortunate result of which this narrative is now superbly illustrated.

Talking to activists after the film, we learnt the inevitable cause for the ruination of Germany’s once legendary railways – privatisation.

Privatisation has been carried out on the British model, with the track run by a private entity and different operating companies running their rolling stock on the track. This has been an unmitigated disaster from day one.

In a refinement of exquisite stupidity, the private network company is responsible for rail maintenance, but the government pays for any rail replacement needed – which is an incentive not to maintain. The activists in Munich explained this as the root cause of the increasingly frequent line closures and derailments.

We were staying in the Moma1890 hotel in Munich, which was really pleasant. We had two days there, which gave me a day to set up my new computer, and to go and see a doctor for a new prescription, as did Niels. Unfortunately the hotel did not do laundry, and an unpleasant odour was beginning to emit from my luggage.

We visited a small winter market behind our hotel. It was delightful, with lights twinkling brightly in the bitter cold and little santa clauses on bicycles zipping around on cables stretched between the trees.

The gluhwein was very welcome, sweet and strong and tasting as though the wine was drinkable per se. It was a very resonable 3.5 euros for a 200ml glass, and for just 1 euro more you could add an extra shot of spirits.

Niels has a theory that adding enough shots of rum to his gluhwein would counter the sugars. I have a theory that adding enough shots of brandy to my gluhwein will counter the sobriety. We both test this.

You pay a 3 euro deposit for a delicate frosted glass with an etching of a stag. I would like to keep mine, but the thought of carrying anything else in my luggage dissuades me.

We found a nearby tapas restaurant for dinner, and discovered such a very good wine that it is best to draw a veil over the rest of the day: El Canto de la Alondra, Ribera del Duero. You can’t say that after you drink it. Lots of forward fruit for a Ribera del Duero but still very soft and full.

The next day 30 November was a straightforward journey, EC114 at 13:32 from Munich East to Stuttgart, arriving at 15:59. The train arrived about one hour late in Stuttgart.

All but the facade of Stuttgart station has been demolished and the entire railway area is being “redeveloped”. Currently you leave the station on a snaking elevated runway above the building site, with MDF floors. It is a 800 metres walk along this from platforms to taxis.

As I was trying securely to balance my laptop bag on top of my wheeled luggage, Niels pointed out to me that there was a velcro strap on the back of the bag, specifically for that purpose. I was amazed. I have had that laptop bag for seventeen years and never noticed that strap. It has traveled hundreds of thousands of miles with me, all round the world.

The bag was given to me by Alex the Geek, a supporter of my anti-war candidacy against Jack Straw in Blackburn in the Westminster general election of 2005. Alex had a little computer sales and repair store in the town.

The bag was already second hand in 2005. It is very well constructed with industrial strength zips, clasps and fabric. It has about eight separate compartments, and the main area for the laptop is enormously wide, because in those days laptops were enormously wide.

Often on short journeys I use it just as a travel bag. It has an airline luggage label flapping from the handle, which for years has resisted all attempts at removal. It now had my slim little Acer tucked safely inside.

And it has a velcro strap to attach it to my luggage handle!

Niels has taken upon himself the role of Passepartout, having plainly been briefed that I am hapless. Even with his help, having to cart the luggage over the vast redevelopment was a real struggle.

We are very often not seeing the best of the cities on this tour. We arrive at the railway station, usually about dusk, and generally stay close to the station. The cinemas tend to be in the same central area.

Certainly in Stuttgart, from station to hotel to cinema was just horrifyingly ugly. Neither poor nor derelict, quite the opposite. Brash, tasteless. and soulless.

Plainly the railway area buildings just demolished all had to die, as they committed the unforgivable sins of not being of grandiose scale, and of being designed for human use. Nothing else I saw in Stuttgart fits that description.

There was an excellent turnout in Stuttgart and very active hosts in a very good cinema. We were buoyed by the news that five major international media groups, the original publishing partners for the cablegate leaks, had come out strongly calling for an end to the persecution of Assange, in the interest of protecting press freedom.

The real joy of this trip is the people we meet. In every venue there are fantastic local activists, who organise vigils, petitions and other actions for Julian. Many have street stalls on a weekly basis.

I am sorry we will not be visiting Aachen, where a lady held a “Free Craig Murray” banner in the town centre, every Saturday of my own imprisonment. That banner was given to me by German activists at the “Hands around Parliament” event for Julian. But I am meeting hundreds of equally doughty souls.

In Stuttgart the event is hosted by Pax Christi and die AnStifter. They were organising a major human rights festival, “30 days in November”, and this was the closing event.

After the screening and talks we went for drinks and snacks with the organisers. All the events have different local organisers and we do this almost every day. I apologise for not noting and acknowledging every one individually.

The next morning we journeyed on to Wiesbaden. I post this picture of the Stuttgart station departures board to illustrate what I have been saying about German Railways. You can see from the station clock top right the photo is taken at 11:23. So every single train on that board is late – the departure times range from 10:51 to 11:11.

That is absolutely typical of Germany’s privatised railway.

Our itinerary this day, 1 December was 11:37 IC 2312 Stuttgart to Mainz then 13:29 SBA35836 Mainz to Wiesbaden. Hurray! We were on time!.

The train to Mainz was not busy, and very comfortable to write on. Here I am working, with my elegant new laptop and my beloved old laptop bag:

The train from Mainz to Wiesbaden was a little commuter hopper, full of young women and their children, and a great deal of laughter. Wiesbaden appears effectively a suburb of Mainz.

Wiesbaden is very lovely. A spa town, it has natural hot springs bubbling up in various parks and hotels. It is difficult for a British person to criticise German cities for ugliness, the UK having been involved in their destruction, but much of Wiesbaden either survived or has been sympathetically restored.

The facade of my hotel, the Schwarzer Bock, had been restored with studious attention to grim ugliness, but there were some surviving details on the lower two floors from the original hotel, including much of the spa pool area.

Goethe had stayed in this hotel for a cure, and so had Dostoevsky, who had lost all the money for his European tour in the casino. He wrote up the experience as a novel “the Gambler”, in which Wiesbaden in Hesse is called Roulettebad in Hesse.

I am afraid the hotel is now run by Radisson Blu and is pretty prosaic. But Wiesbaden had plenty of evocative architecture,  and is plainly very wealthy. Wilhelmstrasse and the streets off it are full of very expensive shops selling top range products.

There are designer furniture shops, designer curtain shops, designer handbag shops. I saw a shop selling nothing but very expensive garden furniture, and another just selling those kind of stupid and pointless objects interior designers love to shove down next to coffee tables. Driftwood painted gold, peacock feathers in improbably shaped vases, roller skates painted electric blue with crystals round the top.

Plainly Dostoevsky was not the only person in Wiesbaden with more money than sense.

It is not generally recalled that, when Cumberland won at Culloden, most of the cities of Scotland were held down for the English by garrisons of mercenaries from Hesse. Cumberland actually disliked the Hessian officers for treating their adversaries according to the rules of war and refusing to commit atrocities.

Almost certainly, all of the Hessian officers occupying Scotland would have been familiar with Wiesbaden and would have walked around the very streets and buildings I walked around now. Doubtless some of them had stayed at the Schwarzer Bock.

I wondered how seriously Hessian archives had been searched for letters home or diaries on their time in Scotland, or what published memoirs there might be. I made a note on my new laptop to pursue the idea next year.

The cinema was beautiful, an art deco marvel. It was also very large, holding over 500 people, so though around eighty came, they did rattle around a bit. It did get fuller than this picture taken before the start, but not enormously.  Now you get to see what Niels looks like.

There was a dead air around Wiesbaden after the meeting, occasioned I think by Germany being knocked out of the World Cup that evening.

I had bought a new wheeled case at Niels’ suggestion, to replace the rucksack I had been struggling with. I found two wheeled cases much easier to manage, and with my laptop bag now velcroed to the handle of one of them and Niels to assist with lifting when needed, my luggage problems appeared to be over.

2 December we had a comparatively easy itinerary. 12:26 ICE 1651 Wiesbaden to Frankfurt Airport, 13:09 ICE 610 Frankfurt Airport to Bochum arriving 15:09.

Bochum was the first destination on our tour that I had not previously known even existed!

The trains were on time. The change at the airport station went smoothly, but the train from there was very packed. The luggage racks by the door at the carriage ends were overflowing with expensive looking bags and suitcases. We squeezed our luggage into any available bit of vacant floor, and then put my laptop and Niels camera bag into the overhead rack above us.

The rack was made of glass, presumably purposely so that you could look up and see your bags through it. Given recent experience, I repeatedly looked up and saw the comforting sight of the green and white baggage label attached to my laptop bag, pressed against the glass.

And then I didn’t.

Shortly before we arrived at Bochum, I looked up again, and it just was not there. It was gone.

I was stupefied. Niels went running down, collecting together our other bags, then looking for my laptop. I started asking everyone on the coach if they had seen the bag, or seen anybody take the bag.

To be fair, this got a much better response in Germany than it might have done in the UK. Virtually everybody stood up and started rummaging around. One large man was particularly helpful and started moving off and getting people searching in adjacent carriages. But all for naught; nobody could find anything and nobody had seen anything.

We pulled into Bochum. Niels stood preventing the door from reclosing while we searched, which got the railway staff involved. In the end he got off with the luggage while I stayed on the train and continued the search until the next station.

At Dortmund I had to give up. A second laptop in five days had been stolen from me.

I returned on a local train to Bochum. I had lost not just my laptop, but a lot of important tickets, receipts and documents in the bag, plus – and this is crucial to me – my reading glasses.

When the first laptop disappeared, I concede it was possible a thief had quickly taken it from the bag, not noticing how old and beaten up it was.

But I had not removed my new laptop from the bag during the journey, and there was no way of knowing a laptop was in there at all. It was next to Niels’ much more valuable camera bag, which was untouched.

The whole carriage was flooded with luggage, presumably because it came from Frankfurt airport. The racks at the carriage ends were overflowing with expensive luggage, right next to the doors, away from their owners and very easy to steal at a station.

Why would a simple thief instead take my beaten up bag, from right over the head of its owner?

It plainly makes no sense at all.

We headed into Bochum as the night closed in.

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Trains (Mostly) Planes and Automobiles Part 2 45

When I agreed to do the tour of Germany, I stipulated that I would need to break off to honour a speaking commitment in Maribor, Slovenia. This turned into a crazy epic.

The straight line distance from Berlin to Maribor is 425 miles, not very different from London to Inverness. Unfortunately the entire Alps are in the way and Maribor is much better connected to Eastern than Western Europe. The distance by road is given at exactly 600 miles. I can’t find a distance calculated by rail, but I think it is well over 900 miles. (I can’t find a site which gives rail distances except on a crow flies basis).

My route on for 25 November was 06:01 ICE 1001 Berlin to Munich, 10:17 EC 217 Munich to Graz, 16:27 RE 157 Graz to Spielfeld-Strass, 18:04 RE 4443 Spielfeld=Strass to Maribor.

I should arrive at 18:20 to give a speech immediately. My talk with Stella had finished around 22:30 in Berlin and my talk the next day in Maribor began at 19:00. Then the following day it was back over the Alps and across the German plain again to speak at Frankfurt at 18:00. If my many political adversaries ever needed hard evidence I must be quite nuts, I guess this is it.

But I had said I would go to Maribor, so I did.

I had hung around after the talk in Berlin to chat with those attending – this is important both to motivate and to recruit activists. Because I knew I had a very early start, I had chosen the Intercity hotel, right next to the railway station. This was a mistake. It was very expensive (260 euros the night) and dreadful value for money. The mattresses were very thin, I have had thicker handkerchiefs than the towels and heavier towels than the carpet. There was nothing but water to drink in the room.

After checking in, I walked to the railway station so I would know exactly where to drag all that luggage in the early morning. I am not in general a fan of modern architecture but I simply loved Berlin Hauptbahnhof and spent a rapt half hour wandering around inspecting it closely. St Pancras is always called a cathedral to rail, and this is the modern equivalent. It is breathtaking in both scale and ambition and in quality and detail.

It speaks the same architectural language as some of London’s newer projects like the London Bridge Station rebuilding or some of Crossrail, but with much more assurance and verve. In London the great glass lift columns would have been square not round, because it is cheaper. The multiple levels of trains are dizzying and, reflected in acres of glass, sometimes illusory. There is just so much of it, all designed precisely to function but with an exact role in the aesthetic scheme.

Returning to the mundane, I was very hungry, having eaten nothing since breakfast on a wildly difficult and tiring day (and that breakfast had been mostly champagne). I found the last food outlet open and bought their last cheese baguette, which had reached the stage that sweat fell from the cheese and the bits outside the bread were many shades darker.

And so to bed.

5am; up, shower, shave, off to the station. Finding it difficult simply to lift the luggage. It is very cold. Pass a long queue of homeless people outside the door of a soup kitchen. Get to the platform on the station’s lowest level.

There is a deeply held belief in the UK that German trains are very efficient. I held it myself.

The Munich train arrived seven minutes after it should have departed and left 13 minutes late. First class had the old fashioned system of six seats in a closed compartment, two banks of three against the walls facing each other, with a sliding door and a single corridor running down one side of the train. But it was a very new carriage, and the traditional design was rendered in attractive light wood panelling and with curves in the large glass walls.

I was in the end compartment in the carriage. Germany has re-instituted the compulsory wearing of masks on trains, which specifically have to be heavy PP2 masks. In flying (unwillingly) from Cologne to Berlin I had not had to wear a mask. They are compulsory on trains in Germany but not on planes, which makes no sense whatsoever.

Whether for fear of covid or because I look like a crazed axe killer, the lady who was also in the compartment where I had my reservation plainly was not happy with my being there. She scowled as I came in, made a fuss about moving her luggage (which was in no way needed), and finally demanded I show her my ticket and seat reservation. She then looked daggers at me for 15 minutes.

As I was obviously spoiling her day, I got up, smiled and said goodbye, and went and found another seat.

After a while I went up to the restaurant car to see what could be done about breakfast. I am embarrassed not to speak any German, but the lady there spoke English. I asked her what was available for Breakfast. She told me I had to choose from the menu, and passed me one. There were a range of options from the Kaiser breakfast, including ham, eggs and cheese, to the Wien breakfast, just a pastry and a coffee.

I asked for the Kaiser breakfast. She shook her head, took back the menu, and put a big cross in red biro through the Kaiser breakfast. So I chose the next breakfast down, and she did exactly the same thing. We worked our way down to the Wien breakfast, and finally she crossed that one out too.

So having eliminated all the breakfast options I switched to the other side of the menu and ordered a plate of ham and sausage. The lady said I could not have that either as they had no bread.

I gave up and asked for a latte. She said they had no milk. I went back to my seat clutching a black coffee.

I had been through exactly the same situation in Poland immediately post Communism, where restaurants would not tell you what they had and insisted you order from a menu of non-existent choices, until you chanced upon something available, like a game of culinary battleships.

Apart from that, this was a very pleasant train. The station indicators in the corridor also had a speedometer, and most of the time it hummed along at a highly impressive 260 kph (160 mph). It actually caught up on time before it got to Munich, which was fortunate as it was a short connection to Graz. This change involved humping the luggage quite a way, but I made it.

This also was a train organised in compartments, but the carriage was much older. I shared a compartment with a delightful and friendly lady, traveling with her partner, who was going back home to Salzburg for a break. She is a chef and has her own Michelin listed restaurant in Munich, doing Austrian cuisine. The restaurant only has 23 covers and you currently need to reserve three weeks in advance.

She had survived lockdown by starting to do takeaway food, and in fact had achieved a bigger turnover, and profit, on takeaway than the restaurant ever had before. But she was pleased to be back to normal and stop the takeaway, which was all of the drudgery and none of the pleasure of being a chef.

We had a long and friendly chat about families and life. It made the journey go very quickly.

It is surprising how quickly the Alps came into view after leaving Munich, and you hurtle towards them for a very long time without their seeming to become appreciably closer. Once we reached the Austrian border an announcement was made that we could take off our masks, which we all did.

We were travelling in coach 12. The guard informed us that at Salzburg we had to change from coach 12 to coach 10, as one of the outside carriage doors would not open. This was not a problem in Germany, but meant the coach could not be used in Austria.

The two ladies were only going as far as Salzburg, but once there they insisted on carrying my luggage for me – all of it – and installing it and me safely in coach 10. They instructed the young gentleman sitting in the compartment that he was to look after me.

The line from Salzburg to Graz was extremely beautiful. My new young travelling companion worked for the Austrian rail network and he was very proud of it. He pointed out to me all the landmarks on the way, particularly mountains, castles and waterfalls, of which he had an encyclopaedic knowledge.

He kept telling me to take pictures and was most disappointed with my lack of photographic skills – with some justice. I took lots of pictures of myself reflected in windows and a variety of different passing poles and gantries. Here instead is Interrail’s picture advertising the route.

It is at least this pretty the whole way.

Austria and Italy will shortly be opening a massive tunnel under the Brenner Pass, 34 miles long. The Semmering tunnel, 17 miles long, will complete in three years time. There has been an incredible burst of tunnel building through the Alps which is revolutionising connections between central and western Europe with northern Italy and the Adriatic.

The Gotthard Base Tunnel, 35 miles long – which is longer than the Channel Tunnel – was finished in 2016. The Ceneri Base Tunnel, also in Switzerland, opened in 2018. Further West a major new tunnel under the Alps between France and Italy is nearing completion.

The reason for my companion’s journey was that he was working on a route for a new over 30 mile tunnel that will replace the highest area of the Salzburg to Graz line. This is still in development stage, and even that fact he said is “hot news”.

This day’s journey of 260 kph trains and information of a whole complex of gigantic rail projects, stood in the starkest of contrasts to the impoverished and neglected infrastructure of the UK. We cannot construct even a single and short high speed line; the road between London and Edinburgh is still not fully dual carriageway and parts of Scotland still suffer appalling communications deficits.

Arriving at Graz I again had a change of platforms to negotiate with all that luggage. Fortunately Graz has mid-platform lifts down to the interchange level, and I made it to an adequate little local chugger. I really can’t tell you much about this, except that it was dark outside and I fell asleep more or less immediately.

A friendly man woke me with a shake of the shoulder at Spielfeld-Strass, which is basically countryside with a shed in it. Here we had a remarkable change of trains, all the more peculiar for taking place in the dark.

We descended on to a normal platform and then walked over a footbridge, where I struggled mightily. The other side of the footbridge led not on to another plaform, but down on to the tracks. Half the people were hurrying off to a train in front of us and on our left, which was alongside a conventional train platform, and half of the people to a train front right, which involved crossing the lines and climbing up from a low wooden bench.

Everybody was running. I stopped a bearded man amongst what seemed like a party of young people and asked “Maribor?”. He pointed to the train on the right. I picked up my pile of luggage and ran after the disappearing crowd, again with an aerobic burst I simply would not have thought I could produce. I threw the luggage piece by piece up into the carriage and climbed up after it. The doors closed and off we went.

We had of course just scrambled across the Austrian/Slovenian border and changed from an Austrian to a Slovene local train, although it is astonishing that these two EU states have not devised a more elegant way of doing it by now. The Slovene train was clean and new, one of those low slung designs with three internal steps up to a raised level at each carriage end above the bogies.

We made a couple of small stops on the way to Maribor, at stations – one very illuminated new and steel glass shiny, and one an old weedy unlit platform next to a cowshed. They had in common that neither had a sign saying where it was. A single person hopped on in each instance. Then we came into Maribor, the lights of which appeared very extensive.

Emerging on to Maribor station, which seems made of precisely the same concrete, glass and steel components as Austrian stations, I contemplated wearily that the short train had stopped as far from the exit on an extremely long platform as it was possible to stop. As I prepared for one last battle with the bags, I was delighted to see a huge bearded man stride forward to greet me. They had come to pick me up, and the man, who introduced himself as Matic, lifted my large suitcase as though it had no weight at all.

We drove to the self-declared autonomous zone of the Pekarna Centre, which was hosting me. This is an alternative culture commune which occupies an extensive site stretching over several former military buildings. It is very active in painting, film and the plastic arts, and functions as a very vibrant music venue and youth centre. It also holds a variety of events aimed at social consciousness and well-being. I had been invited in the context of an annual political teach-in to explain the Assange case.

The commune has rehabilitated several of the buildings on the derelict army base, and like many such groups has been through a process of varying relationships with the state. Originally declared by its founders to be self-governing and free from state law, gradually state regulation and state funding for aspects of the commune’s work crept in. This includes subsidies from various state creative arts funds, local council funding for the modernisation of one of the buildings, and eventually the insertion of an “official” NGO and local authority control of the hostel accommodation.

This process has led to the inevitable conclusion – the state now intends to close the centre down entirely and take over the land and buildings for other purposes. There have been two formal attempts to do so in the last few years, and both candidates in the current mayoral election are pledged to shut down the centre. The council always propose ostensible public sector schemes of popular appeal as their aim.

The latest wheeze is to use the site for a dental hospital, although the local university hospital which will purportedly own it has no knowledge of the plan and no funding for it. The commune of course believe this is all fake and the aim is profit making private housing.

A luta continua.

I had been asked in advance what I eat, and had replied pretty well anything. I have to confess I meant Chinese, Italian, Indian etc, and had not expected to be presented with a bowl of rice and lentils. I had eaten nothing since the old cheese sandwich at the midnight before, so I ate my way through it with surprising gusto. It was very nicely cooled and spiced and would have been perfectly fine on the side of a few lamb chops. There was very decent Slovenian wine to wash it down.

After dinner I had a very quick tour of the grounds, mostly very dark but stumbling upon large groups of young people in surprising places. We also went in to the second hand bookshop, which they claim to be the largest in Europe. I doubt this, but it is certainly very large, over two open floors. While they have a great deal of shelving, there are also great rotundas of books simply stacked from the floor, spines outward, though taking out a lower one might be like a game of giant Jenga. This certainly allows a much higher book density than if everything was shelved.

I had a very few minutes but enough to realise there was an extremely productive Slovenian language publishing industry even during the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Upstairs included the English language section, most of which was the worst kind of potboiler fiction. Indeed I wondered how on earth these many thousands of light and romantic fiction titles had found their way to Maribor. Sadly I had no time to find out.

I was equally surprised that the upper floor could support what must have been a great many tonnes of books. Passing back downstairs, I could inspect if from below as there was no plaster ceiling and beams and floorboards were exposed. Both were massive – the beams were about 24 inches square.

It was now time for me to give my talk, and we went over to one of the concert halls, which was gratifyingly full. I hope that I will be able to find a video link so you can watch it if you wish. The format was just me speaking for about forty minutes, and then taking questions and inviting discussion. On this tour I am mostly making a short introduction and then taking questions after showing the Ithaka movie. That is very effective, but personally I always prefer giving longer talks where I can expand, explain and explore my views. I felt very at home doing this before the Maribor audience.

You are going to get very bored if I recount to you twenty very similar talks I am giving on this tour. But each has unique aspects, often in response to questions. I recall in Maribor giving the example of the Panama Papers as illustrating what happens when a whistleblower goes the traditional mainstream media route rather than going for full exposure through Wikileaks.

When the papers were leaked of a law firm representing many thousands of people and enterprises hiding their assets in parliament, the western media filtered the information and hid everything connected to prominent western companies and individuals. Instead they deliberately gave the entirely false impression that the bulk of money laundered through Panama is Russian, and made the headlines entirely about Russian and Russian-linked individuals, including a chef with tenuous connections to Putin as an official caterer.

Out of 10 million documents leaked, about 120 were actually made available as documents by the journalists, and about a number 200 had their contents referred to by mainstream media journalists – how fully and how honestly we have no way of knowing.

We live in a world of fake investigative journalism. Access to the Panama Papers was strictly controlled by a Washington-based entity, the “International Consortium of Investigative Journalists”. Their funders include

Ford Foundation
Carnegie Endowment
Rockefeller Family Fund
W K Kellogg Foundation
Open Society Foundation

Is it surprising they hid all the evidence about corporate America in the Panama Papers? The contrast to the Wikileaks model of giving the citizen access to unfiltered source material could not be clearer.

I was very warmly received by the audience in Maribor, and afterwards we had a party. The following is what I picked up from many conversations. There may be other contrary or balancing information. I am just reporting the views of those I met.

Maribor was Slovenia’s major industrial centre and the main textile manufacturer for the whole of Yugoslavia, integrated into other Eastern European markets. It went through rapid deindustrialisation in the 1990s and had never really recovered. There remains high unemployment, though things have improved a little since EU membership as there is greater integration with Graz in Austria – a city which has been through similar problems. Graz currently has a Communist Party local administration.

Maribor feels cut off from Ljubljana. It is only 70 miles away but transport infrastructure needs upgrading. The train takes two hours and twenty minutes and the road is poor. There is a strong feeling that money from the EU and other international bodies never gets further than Ljubljana. The capital is booming and has significant funding for renovation, the arts and tourism. I encountered a lot of resentment towards the council.

I was very flattered to meet a couple who had journeyed from Graz just to hear me speak having read my books, and that two others had come with copies of Murder in Samarkand for me to sign (one in the US edition, Dirty Diplomacy).

I also took the opportunity of being in Slovenia to discuss the route they took to Independence, where I believe there are vital lessons for Scotland. I shall be discussing this in a Zoom talk to Alba International on 4 December, which I hope will be made more widely available afterwards.

I spent the night in the hostel, which is not a phrase you will hear from me very often. The next morning it was off to talk in Frankfurt.

The train schedule was 26 November was very slightly more forgiving. 07:19 INT 311 Maribor to Graz, 08:26 RJ 74 Graz to Wien Meidling, 11:22 ICE 26 Wien Meidling to Frankfurt.

This arrived in Frankfurt at 17:36 for a 18:00 talk, so there was no room for error. The big worry was a 4 minute change in Graz, with all the luggage. If I missed that, there was no way to make the talk in Frankfurt.

Matic arrived in a car to get me to a very cold Maribor station in plenty of time. Unfortunately, the train arrived 13 minutes late. It was a Ljubljana to Budapest direct train, which underlined the fact Maribor is very much in Eastern Europe. It consisted of only three rather tired carriages, of which the back one was first class, in which I was the only passenger.

Fortunately this train went straight through the border at Spielfeld-Strass without our having to change trains, but the train did change from a Slovenian to an Austrian crew, which took 15 minutes.

I have no idea how, but leaving the border 15 minutes late it still arrived in Graz bang on time. The next train was straight across the platform, so I made that four minute change with the luggage, in two swift trips.

I was now on the train from Graz to Prague. The carriage was Austrian Railjet and it was my favourite so far. Spacious and light, with plenty of tables, and a really helpful attendant who served at the table from a good menu of food and drink that actually existed. I had Goulash soup and a bottle of beer.

The train journey from Graz to Vienna was even more spectacularly beautiful than that from Salzburg to Graz. Not as high and the valleys were a little gentler, but the villages, castles and valleys were like an ever unfolding stream of picture postcards.

At Wien Meidling I changed to the train to Frankfurt. Here I was in an open first class carriage, mostly airline seating and quite full. Seats were three across, two one side of the corridor and one the other. I was in a single seat.

I slept for a couple of hours, and then I folded down the airline style table in the back of the seat in front. I was just about able to balance my bulky old 17-inch laptop on it and started to type this article.

It is a lovely old laptop of a very high spec. It had been all round the world with me for seven years. It has Intel i7, 16 GB RAM and 1 TB HDD. But it looks like rubbish. Far thicker than a newer version, it made a very significant contribution to the weight I was carrying, was very dirty indeed and the case is cracked.

The train wifi being pretty useless, I was using my phone as a portable hotspot. I was confused to note that the phone was displaying “two devices connected”. I tapped on this and found that one was the pairing name I had set for my laptop, and one was a succession of numbers and symbols. I had never seen this before.

(UPDATE I thought it went without saying, but the portable hotspot was protected by a password – I had not changed the strong random one generated by the phone. That is why I was surprised).

The carriage was about half full. Everybody seemed normal. There was one young man, athletic looking with neat short hair, who had been already on the train when I boarded. He was working concentratedly on a small laptop on the table in front of him, and he continued to do so without a break for the entire six and a half hours from Vienna Meidling to Frankfurt.

He never looked at me and there was nothing strange about him other than his levels of concentration. But he was the only passenger near me who went the whole distance from Vienna to Frankfurt.

Indeed, rather to my surprise by the time we approached Frankfurt the carriage was very nearly empty, as people got out stop by stop. As Frankfurt is a huge place I expected the opposite.

As we neared Frankfurt, I packed up my laptop, disconnected the charger, and put both in my laptop bag which I left on my seat after putting the table back up. I then went quickly to the toilet (in a wooden cabinet actually inside the carriage) for a pee.

I came back just as we pulled in. There were only four of us getting off this first class carriage at this final stop. I got down with the bags, put the rucksack on my back, balanced the laptop bag on the wheeled suitcase, and set off down the platform.

At some stage another ICE train had joined us and I was sixteen carriages from the end of the platform. I was panicking a bit as my talk started in half an hour, although both hotel and venue were close.

Hurrying, I dropped the laptop bag from the top of the wheeled case. In picking it up I noticed the zip was partly undone. It just crossed my mind as strange, as I knew I had not left it that way. But I did it up and hurried on.

The Metropolitan Hotel is right next to the station. I checked in and hurried up to my room. Something was nagging at me and I opened the laptop bag. The laptop was gone.

I raced back to the station, but the train was as gone as the laptop. I went to the information desk, and they directed me to lost property. I went to the lost property desk, where a man in a red peaked hat was studiously unhelpful, and told me to go online and fill in a form.

Niels was filling in at the talk. I joined him and it was a disastrous attendance – only twelve people. They seemed subdued by the simple fact of being such a small gathering. I could not understand what had gone wrong.

It was good to see Niels. Given that we had been meant to travel together ever since London, and had not even managed to set eyes on each other these first three days, it was a happy reunion and he cheered me up.

But you lose a huge amount of information when you lose a laptop – including a lot of research for my book on George Murray. You then start to get into all the perils of identity theft. There was a huge task ahead, in warning people, in blocking and securing, and then recovering accounts.

Then on top of this, the comparative failure of the Frankfurt event (and I say that with due respect to the dozen great people who did show).

Oh well, I said to Niels. Things can only get better.

I was very wrong.

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Trains (Mostly), Planes and Automobiles 67

When asked to do a three week speaking tour of Germany in conjunction with the Ithaka movie, I was delighted to finally get an Interrail pass after 50 years of unrequited longing. Hoary old followers of this blog will recall I love trains and used to write about them from time to time.

So it was my intention to do a bit of old fashioned, internet diary blogging to recount the virtues of the Interrail card and how much better European railways are than British. The best laid plans of mice and men oft gang agley.

Let me say now, if you find travel blogs and trains boring this will annoy you in parts. You are not obliged to read further. I warn you that I get very annoyed by people telling me what in their view I ought to be blogging about and not blogging about. Start your own blog and choose your own content.

Having bought my senior Interrail card – the 15 days over two months Global Pass – I was astonished at the value. 591 Euros, first class, and including the trip down and back to London from Edinburgh and the Eurostar. With unlimited travel around Europe on 15 days in the middle.

So I used my first journey on 22 November from Edinburgh to London. The conductor scanned my pass ticket on my phone, and made no comment at all, leaving me comfortably ensconced in first class and eating food from the ever worsening LNER menu (although the wine was good).

The system for using an intermittent days pass like this one is different from using a continuous days pass. There you have just one ticket to show. With the intermittent days pass I had to download against the specific journey and activate on the day I used them 15 effectively separate tickets.

I just had time to check in to my hotel and dash to Stefania Maurizi’s talk at SOAS for her steamroller of a book on the Assange case, called Secret Power.

There was a sparkling panel, including Ewen MacAskill, John McDonnell and Estelle Dehon, so I was rather flattered to be asked to speak too and take questions. The speakers rightly highlighted Stefania’s dogged pursuit of Freedom of Information Act requests as a useful journalistic tool.

Two particular threads are worth serious consideration. The first is that it was Stefania who discovered that the Crown Prosecution Service had been insisting to the Swedish prosecution service that the allegations against Julian must be continued, when the Swedes had wished to drop them for lack of evidence.

She also found that the Crown Prosecution Service had deleted almost all the relevant emails – allegedly because the staff member working on the case had retired.

The CPS had claimed that when anyone retired their records were deleted, even on continuing cases. That is utterly false – government archives are not personal to the individual and case files do not belong to one person.

As a lie it is particularly desperate. It is of course the case that once Julian was actually in custody, the Swedish allegations, which never had any real foundation, simply disappeared.

Three things are being hidden – how far the CPS knew the Swedish allegations were dead meat; how far there was discussion with the Swedes on coordination with the United States over the planned extradition to the USA for which the Swedish fake extradition was a placeholder; and the involvement of the Head of the Crown Prosecution Service, Keir Starmer.

There is no doubt at all that Starmer would have been involved in decision making on his Department’s highest profile case. All the records of emails and critically of internal meetings have been conveniently deleted.

This deletion has happened while Starmer has been an ostensibly an “opposition” MP, embarked on his career of being promoted as the Establishment’s safe “alternative” neoliberal to the Tories.  The deletion of these records to protect an “opposition” leader tells you an enormous amount about how the British state really functions.

Watching John McDonnell try to skate round the question of Keir Starmer’s involvement was quite amusing, but in general John spoke well. As did Ewen MacAskill of the Guardian. He credited Stefania with freely sharing with other journalists the results of her research, which had resulted in two excellent Guardian articles. Ewen ran into some audience reaction when he denied the Guardian had become too close to the security services and claimed Luke Harding as a personal friend.

The second strand of information requests that Stefania had pursued were for the records the Metropolitan Police held on Wikileaks journalists including Kristinn Hrafnsonn and Joseph Farrell. She never obtained any documents, but the key point is that initially the reason the Metropolitan Police gave for not producing the documents was the FOIA exemption for “terrorism”.

Which tells you a lot about how the state views real independent journalism.

The next morning I was up at the Supreme Court for the judgment on the Scottish Independence referendum, on which I blogged immediately. I promised you a more detailed critique, which will follow when I get the chance. I spent the evening going through a lot of personal admin. I was then ready to launch on my European adventure – and the problems began.

To be fair, they began three days earlier when I tried to book the Eurostar.

I discovered that Eurostar only allow a limited number of passes to Interrail ticket holders on each train – and there were no places available at all on the 24 November. I needed to get on the 08:16 to be able to get to Berlin in time for my talk, but not only was this impossible to book on Eurostar, no train on 24 November was possible. Nor was there any availability on 23 November straight after the Supreme Court judgment.

So you need to book more than four days ahead, even at this lowest of low seasons. If you do get the Eurostar pass, there is a 45 euro surcharge on top of your Interrail pass (each way). You can get an actual Eurostar ticket for almost the same price if you book well ahead.

The ever excellent Your Man in Seat 61 blog explains here how the system works. Interrail passes count as in the third pricing “Bucket” for ticket availability, with prices going up as each “bucket” sells out. I can only say that the higher priced “buckets” must be enormous, because there were vast swathes of empty seats, but no Interrail passes for sale.

At this stage I also discovered that I could not have used my Interrail pass anyway, even if there had been places available and I paid the supplement.

The Interrail card allows you one journey domestically to your port of exit from your home country and then from the UK on the Eurostar (and same on return). So I can travel from Edinburgh to London and then by Eurostar from London (if available). But it turns out this all has to be on the same day. You cannot overnight in London and then use the Eurostar.

The one journey to port of exit is explained in the Interrail blurb, but I had not seen the regulation that this has to be the same day you leave the country. Perhaps it is supposed to be obvious, but I only learnt it from Eurostar after I had booked the first Interrail ticket from Edinburgh.

So I had to buy a whole Eurostar ticket. My itinerary for 24 November was Eurostar from St Pancras 08:16, Thalys 9423 from Bruxelles Midi to Cologne 11:25, and ICE 951 from Köln to Berlin 13:42, arriving Berlin 18:10. My friend Graham told me that this would not be possible unless I went Business Premiere on Eurostar. I could not quite understand why, but complied, at a cost of £280.

The next morning I was at St Pancras in good time to check in, but had not allowed for one Brexit “benefit” – enhanced passport checks and passport stamping. Most passengers were being waved away from the electronic gates to join a long snaking queue in front of a very unfriendly French passport officer, who was either working with the world’s slowest loading computer, or pretending to.

Security checks had been a breeze, with Eurostar not enforcing any stupid security theatre over laptops being in bags or your toothpaste in a ziploc. I am delighted to say that the government is proposing finally to end the War on Toothpaste nonsense at airports in a year or two.

I recall that I once got over-enthusiastic with pouring whisky over our Christmas pudding to light it, after several glasses too many of Chateauneuf du Pape with my turkey. The drenched pudding sat there on its elegant Minton plate in a veritable puddle of spirit, and it fired with enthusiastic blue flames. In fact it was so enthusiastic I lost some eyebrow, and it was a rather hurried procession to the dining room.

Once put down, the children cheered. A few seconds later the place mat underneath it started to singe, and then that beautiful and expensive Minton plate cracked rather explosively.

Now after they have checked your toothpaste and taken away your water at airport security, you can waltz into duty free and buy several such bottles of spirits. Soak the airplane seat and carpet and set light, you will pretty quickly bring the plane down.

But at least your toothpaste was in a separate plastic bag.

By the time I finally got through passport control, they had been flashing last call for the 08:16 for a long time. I should explain I can hardly carry my luggage. The three week itinerary of constant traveling has no obvious opportunities for laundry, so I am traveling with 20 shirts, 20 pairs of underpants and 20 socks, as well as jumpers, trousers etc and a lot of books. I had a rucksack on my back, a heavy suitcase and a bulging laptop bag.
I had to make a lung searing run to get on the train before the doors closed. I was genuinely amazed I could still do that.

Niels Ladefoged is traveling and speaking with me. Niels was the brilliant cinematographer on Ithaka and had me wired up for sound literally for hundreds of hours during the shooting of that film. He shot huge amounts of footage of me, including in my home, none at all of which was used.

Niels is still permanently filming everybody in Wikileaks as they go about their business and campaigning; I have no doubt he will be filming me as we travel round Europe. I have no idea why. I don’t like to ask him in case there isn’t actually a reason, and he is just living life under the comforting delusion he is shooting another film.

Niels had booked Standard Premier class on Eurostar, unable to believe I was so extravagant as to book Business Premiere. This meant he was in coach 1 and I was in coach 16. We both made efforts during the journey to walk the 15 coaches inbetween, but both gave up fairly easily.

I got the world’s tiniest cooked breakfast. It was squeezed into a little plate the size of the average mobile phone. All the normal things were there – sausage, bacon, omelette, mushroom etc; only in bonzai. It was very pleasant. Six of them would have been breakfast. Still worse, it was served with mango and banana juice. Bloody middle classes. Suddenly the charm of traveling was diminished.

So I wandered into the kitchen and asked if they were not serving champagne at breakfast. They looked at me as though I had just asked for crack cocaine, as opposed to something which was literally on the menu. But they directed me back to my seat and, two minutes later, a very substantial glass of champagne arrived.

The attendant said that as they had needed to open a bottle, I had better drink all of it. I certainly did my very best. I sent photos of each glass down to Niels. It’s my way of sharing.

That may be why I did not really notice we were running a few minutes late – and with a short connection in Brussels which we had to make to be in Berlin on time. When the Eurostar empties, a huge scrum develops around the single escalator and two lifts at the exit. It takes quite some time to funnel through.

I was again back in that gut busting run with the rucksack, laptop bag and suitcase, down to the below ground level interchange, charging along to platform 8 and rushing up the ramp to the Cologne train. I just made it literally as the door was closing, and threw myself onto the first carriage I came to, ignoring the protests of the chap checking tickets.

Unfortunately Niels did not make it. Being in coach 16 I had arrived right at the exit gate and got out before the crowd developed. Having to walk 13 carriages further, Niels got stuck behind the impenetrable crowd.

So I was now on a Thalys train. This had been my next disappointment with Interrail. Thalys trains also require you to buy a supplementary pass, which had cost 27 euros, which I suspect is not too different from a Brussels to Cologne fare anyway. Certainly the guard only wanted to see my Thalys pass and did not care about the interrail ticket.

What is more annoying is that Thalys trains will only allow you to buy a second class supplementary pass, even if you have a first class Interrail pass. So I was trying to squeeze my mass of luggage into a totally stowed out carriage.

I remember first being on a Thalys train decades ago and thinking it the epitome of French travel chic, with Virgin Atlantic evoked in the high broad backed velvet seating and red lights. It has not aged well. All that red velveteen seems very tawdry, like something taken out of a Turkish brothel – Bransonesque, in fact. The airline style seating is too closely jammed, the broad seat backs block the light. A peculiar air of Stygian damp pervades the train.

Fortunately this did not last too long. Getting down at Cologne – and by now I was struggling just to lift the suitcase – I was delighted to see that the Berlin train ICE 951 would arrive the other side of the same platform, in 25 minutes. Not having the strength to move the luggage further, I decided to stay there and wait. An elderly French couple who I had noticed since St Pancras were also waiting on the same platform.

Hundreds of people had got off the train from Brussels and I had felt surprise not more of them were going on to Berlin. With about three minutes to go, it was plain something was wrong. There were only about 6 people waiting for the express to Berlin. But it was plainly advertised both on the main board and platform board.

Then, with two minutes to go, an announcement came in German and English saying the train was cancelled due to a line closure. Neither the departures board nor the platform board showed it cancelled; they never did, the entry just disappearing after departure time in the normal way.

Niels was still stuck in Brussels. The next train to Cologne from Brussels had also been cancelled because the toilets had failed. So he was in Brussels, I was in Cologne, but had no means of getting to Berlin to give my talk. I phoned Adrian at our Cyberterrorism HQ. He found a flight from Cologne Bonn airport to Berlin that would get me there on time.

I raced to the taxi rank, running with my back bowed horizontally under the luggage. An inexplicable 60 Euro taxi fare (it didn’t seem far) and I was at the German Wings counter being ripped off an amazing 470 euros for a one hour budget flight. That mountain of bags was largely to blame again. So half way through day 1 I was already 530 Euros over budget.

I was still fuming on the plane, made worse by being charged 5.70 euros for a cola after paying so much for the ticket. The seat was a strip of curved plastic with a thin bit of nylon rug glued on top. It was uncomfortable enough to keep me awake to hear the captain announce “Berlin airport has been closed. We could circle here but we shall instead land at Dresden due to our fuel situation”.

“Due to our fuel situation” are not words you ever want to hear from the captain of your plane. But we made it to Dresden, where we sat on the tarmac. The day had taken on an entirely nightmarish quality. It seemed astonishing that the Berlin rail line had been closed and then, after a hectic dash to the airport, the plane had been diverted in mid-air. In a lifetime of flying I had never been on a diverted plane before.

After an hour on that uncomfortable seat waiting on the tarmac at Dresden, I finally managed to doze off a bit. I was awakened by the captain saying that Berlin Airport was closed by an invasion of climate activists. I was a little cheered by this, but the layers of irony were extraordinary. I was doing the whole trip by rail in order to keep down the carbon footprint of this Assange campaigning. The trains had then failed me and I was forced to take to the air anyway. Only to be thwarted by climate activists.

Musing ruefully on the unfairness of life, I managed to doze off again. I must have been exhausted because I was next awakened by our touching down at Berlin Airport some hours later.

Berlin is a large airport and we seemed to be at the furthest possible gate. The dream-like quality of what had become a surreal day was enhanced by the night-time lighting of what was an eerily empty airport – I assume we were the first plane in on re-opening. Long moving walkways stretched out into the distance towards blocks of electronic glass doors across the corridor, which were vividly lit with what seemed to be square shafts of a glaring white light, while all else was pretty dark.

You walked through those doors which snapped open before you with a surprising speed and force, and immediately mounted onto another identical moving walkway that stretched out towards another set of light portals in the distance. Then you went through the same experience again, and again. The whole thing had taken on this dreamlike quality in which my mind had disengaged from the strange world it was being carried through. I was in a trance-like state I find very difficult to explain.

It ended after eight walkways and sets of bright doors, then there was a long actual walk until the luggage carousel. The disruption had of course thrown the airport’s baggage system completely, so there was now another long wait amidst a lot of angst and shouting. Finally I was in to a taxi – also 60 Euros despite seeming about three times as far as the Cologne drive – and straight to the venue for my first talk.

I arrived at the venue and through to the back of the stage area at precisely the second Stella walked on to the stage. I could join her in the walk literally without breaking stride. That seamless quality added to the feeling that somehow this was all not really happening.

Stella spoke brilliantly, outlining Julian’s achievement in making real source material available to citizens so they could make up their own mind, rather than receiving only that information filtered by corporate and state media organisations that pointed you in the direction they wished. Wikileaks was therefore an alternative model to corporate media that threatened their power. Wikileaks gave you the material to form your ideas, it did not tell you how to think. This explained the sometime reluctance of the corporate media fully to engage in defending Julian, despite the fact that the use of the Espionage Act against a journalist and publisher was plainly also a threat to the mainstream.

I did not speak well. Partly for obvious reasons, and partly because the very good moderator unexpectedly (to me) asked me questions about my own whistleblowing rather than about Julian. I explained my history of exposing torture and extraordinary rendition, and was enthusiastically applauded, but it wasn’t really why I was there.

I did make the point that in any other case, the fact that the state requesting extradition had spied on the legal meetings of Julian and his counsel, and had stolen his legal papers after he was removed from the Embassy, would in itself be sufficient to have the case dismissed, even without my recounting the dozens of other glaring legal inconsistencies in the extradition hearings.

Stella said it had become plain there was no genuine legal process here. This was a political process not a legal one, and the answer was political, including by popular action.

There was an excellent audience, mostly very committed people. I had a quick – and excellent – beer with several of them afterwards.

I learnt one fascinating thing from a trade union activist. The Cologne to Berlin line had been closed for a couple of weeks after a major incident. That is why there were almost no people waiting for the train. The extraordinary thing was the trains were still showing on all the departure boards and I had been able to make a seat reservation the day before travelling. The route had never been a possibility.

This had been supposed to be an easy day of travel – my itinerary was about to get much more complicated. I had also intended to blog this as a same day diary, and here we are five days late. I hope to catch up over the next couple of days, when the reason why the delay (for which I apologise) will become clear.

————————————————-

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Electronic Grief 97

My laptop was stolen from me on the Vienna to Frankfurt train on Saturday.

I had been working on a blog article on the train. Approaching Frankfurt I packed up ready to get off, and went to the loo. When I returned the laptop had vanished from the laptop bag. The charger was still there and so was about 500 euros in cash.

I am on a speaking tour around Germany for the campaign to free Julian Assange. Yes, I am thinking the same as you about who would want a battered and dirty six year old laptop with a cracked case and very little retail value, and not the money.

That laptop had literally been all round the world with me and I think for six years had never left my side except when I was in jail.

My life was on it. Have spent 24 hours cancelling everything and now have to spend a week recovering anything.

It was a monster 17 inch screen because of my awful eyesight and a replacement of the same capacity will probably weigh about a quarter of the kilos. But I feel the absence of the weight on my shoulder like the loss of a limb.

For a while look out for fake communications of any kind from me. This is not one!

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Scotland in Chains 167

I live in the capital of my country. I had to travel hundreds of miles to the capital of a foreign country to hear a bunch of unionist judges, the majority from a foreign country, declare that my country has no right to existence, indeed my country only exists at all in so far as it was incorporated by a foreign parliament in the Scotland Act of 1998.

It was cold and wet, walking to the Supremes Court his morning from Albert Embankment. Londoners were hurrying to their jobs with heads bowed, collars up and gloved hands clutching umbrellas against a driving rain. It was mundane. There was no sense of excitement and no indication anything in particular was happening at the Supreme Court. Arriving at 9am there was no queue, and I was the third person into the courtroom.

The former Middlesex Crown Court is one of the heaviest and most plodding examples of Victorian Gothic architecture in existence. It looks like a set from a 1930s Errol Flynn film of Robin Hood. Courtroom Number One of what is now the Supreme Court has a mock medieval vaulted ceiling, designed to echo that of the ancient Westminster Hall across the square (which is one of the architectural marvels of the world). But the Victorian version fails to soar like the medieval one. It is massive and clumpy and the bosses are like vast excretions of pointless wood. Rather than marvel at its lightness, we fear it will fall on our head.

In Westminster Hall, a pain-racked William Wallace stood his trial before a foreign authority he did not acknowledge, but which insisted it ruled him and had the right to condemn him to death. That same foreign authority was about to come down on our heads again. 700 years later not much has changed; the venue had just shifted three hundred metres.

Inherent in the judgment of the Supreme Court is the proposition, incredibly advanced by Scotland’s Lord Advocate, that Scotland effectively ceased to exist as a nation in 1707 and the Scottish legal principle of the sovereignty of the people was completely replaced by the English legal principle of the sovereignty of the Crown in parliament. Thus Scotland has no authority, power or recourse, in any situation, beyond what is handed down to it by Westminster.

That is in no sense an exaggeration. It is what the ruling is.

It is fair to say – and I published this at the time, long before the judgment – that Scotland’s unionist Lord Advocate got precisely the result her entire presentation of the case was designed to achieve. She did not turn up in court, doubtless having been sent the judgment in advance and perhaps not wishing to be seen to smirk in public.

The Court itself was extraordinarily subdued on an occasion that will be written into every history of the Scottish nation. The public gallery was not crowded, and mostly filled by law students with zero interest in the outcome wither way, turning up as part of some assignment. There were a few gloating members of the state and corporate media. I was there with an old friend from Sinn Fein.

A few of the very best of Scotland’s MPs turned up – Angus Brendan McNeill, Douglas Chapman, Tommy Sheppard, Neale Hanvey, John McNally and Anne McLaughlin (apologies to any I missed). There was a remarkably high correlation between MPs who bothered to turn up to the case, and MP’s willing to be seen to be friends of Craig Murray in public, which I think is not coincidental. Or to put in another way, there was no sign of the troughers who don’t care about Independence beyond the effectiveness of the slogan in getting them elected.

I shall do a proper analysis of the judgment later. It was notable that Reed – whose Scottish accent had once again become almost entirely imperceptible – addressed the international law aspects of the case which had been wrongly and totally omitted by Lord Advocate Bain, but submitted separately on behalf of the SNP. Reed relied heavily on the completely outdated Quebec judgment of the Federal Court in Canada – which is of course apposite because it is a parallel instance of the colonial authority denying democracy. He also very selectively misrepresented the Kosovo Opinion of the ICJ.

So Reed ended up in a situation where this was quite literally the argument of the court.

Scotland is not a colony, Scotland has meaningful access to the political process. No, Scotland certainly does not have the right to hold a referendum.

That he cannot see the glaring contradiction in this is a sign of the effectiveness of Unionist blinkers.

This outcome is precisely what Nicola Sturgeon and her Lord Advocate aimed for. She can now claim she tried to hold an Independence referendum and was blocked, when she plainly never had the slightest intention of holding the referendum in the first place.

We now come to what is known in Scottish politics as “Plan B” – a plebiscite election, which she announced would follow if a referendum is blocked.

A plebiscite election on Independence can only mean an election which, if won by the SNP, will be a mandate to declare Independence. Plebiscite is virtually a synonym of referendum. A “plebiscite election” cannot be an election which will lead simply to a renewed request for permission from Westminster to hold a referendum. A “plebiscite election” is the referendum.

I am pretty confident we will see Surgeon again squirm towards the off ramp and simply try to turn the “plebiscite election” into a demand that we re-elect the do-nothing troughers for a further five years with a new “mandate”. I do believe this ploy is now wearing thin.

We now know Westminster will not grant Independence; we have to take it. We have to take it whatever UK law or the London Supreme Court says. We have to assert the Sovereignty of the Scottish People as an authority that stands, in Scotland, ineffably higher than any parliament in a foreign land.

Independence must be declared in Scotland by Scotland’s people, preferably through Scotland’s government.

Any politician who still argues we must be constrained by Westminster law and bow our heads to London diktats is a unionist. Please see that.

(Correction – I typed Tommy Sheridan for Tommy Sheppard. Both excellent men. Now corrected).

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Strasbourg Cul de Sac 110

Here is the detailed argument we submitted to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg:

IN THE EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS:

CRAIG MURRAY
Applicant
v
THE UNITED KINGDOM
Respondent Government

SUPPLEMENTARY STATEMENT UNDER RULE 47(2)(b) OF THE RULES OF COURT

INTRODUCTION
1. This supplementary statement sets out the relevant domestic law and practice, and then makes supplementary submissions on why there have been violations of Articles 6 and 10 in this case.

2. The following abbreviations are used: (i) the Crown’s petition and complaint regarding the applicant (Additional Document No. 3) is referred to as “the contempt petition”; (ii) the High Court of Justiciary’s Opinion of 25 March 2021 (Additional Document No. 13) is referred to as “the High Court’s Opinion”; (iii) the applicant’s petition to the nobile officium (Additional Document No. 20) is referred to as “the nobile officium petition”; the High Court of Justiciary, Appeal Court’s Opinion dated 25 March 2022 (Additional Document No. 25) is referred to as “the Appeal Court’s Opinion”.

I. FACTS: RELEVANT DOMESTIC LAW AND PRACTICE
a. The Contempt of Court Act 1981

3. The Contempt of Court Act 1981 is a UK-wide statute. Section 11 gives the courts the power to prohibit the publication of information that has been withheld from the public in court proceedings. It provides:
“Publication of matters exempted from disclosure in court
In any case where a court (having power to do so) allows a name or other matter to be withheld from the public in proceedings before the court, the court may give such directions prohibiting the publication of that name or matter in connection with the proceedings as appear to the court to be necessary for the purpose for which it was so withheld.”

4. Section 11 is an ancillary power. The ordinary rule is that court proceedings and documents are public. The courts, however, have various powers, particularly at common law, to withhold names or other matters from the public. When a court orders that a name or other matter should be withheld from the public, it may make a section 11 order so that its order withholding the information is effective (that is, would not be circumvented by the press reporting the information that has been withheld): A v BBC [2014] UKSC 25 per Lord Reed at paragraph 59. Section 15 provides that, in Scotland, the maximum penalties that may be imposed for contempt of court shall be 2 years’ imprisonment or a fine or both.

b. The nobile officium

5. The nobile officium is an extraordinary, equitable power vested in, inter alia, the High Court of Justiciary. It gives the High Court of Justiciary the power to provide a remedy in circumstances where no other remedy or procedure is provided by the law: see Beggs v. the United Kingdom, no. 25133/06, § 178, 6 November 2012; and Mackay and BBC Scotland v the United Kingdom, no. 10734/05, § 15, 7 December 2010. A petition to the nobile officium is, in practice, the standard route of appeal for a person who seeks to challenge a finding of contempt made by a High Court bench of 3 judges: Express Newspapers, Petitioners 1999 JC 176 at 180; Murray v HM Advocate [2022] HCJAC 5. In that sense, while the jurisdiction is described generally as an equitable one, it is, in the context of contempt proceedings in the High Court of Justiciary, a standard domestic remedy. The nobile officium procedure is invoked by presenting a petition for its exercise to the High Court of Justiciary.

c. The Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993

6. The Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993 regulates the early release of prisoners in Scotland. Section 1(1) provides that a short-term prisoner (defined in section 27 as a person serving a sentence of imprisonment of less than 4 years) must be released as soon as he has served one-half of his sentence. Section 3AA(1) and (2) further provides that the Scottish Ministers may release on licence, among others, any short-term prisoner who is serving a sentence of imprisonment for a term of 3 months or more, after that prisoner has served a quarter of his sentence. Generally, when prisoners are released under section 3AA they are made subject to home detention curfew (or ‘tag’), requiring them to remain at their home address for a specific period each day. However, section 5 of the Act provides that section 3AA does not apply to, among others, those serving a sentence of imprisonment for contempt of court. Thus, while a prisoner serving an 8 month sentence of imprisonment, in relation to a criminal conviction, will generally be released on licence after 2 months’ imprisonment (and will be released unconditionally after 4 months), the earliest a prisoner serving the same sentence for contempt of court can be released is after 4 months.

II. STATEMENT OF VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 6
a. The applicability of the criminal limb of Article 6

7. It is settled in domestic law that the criminal limb of Article 6 applies to contempt of court and thus that the respondent in a contempt case enjoys the protections of Article 6 § 3: In re Yaxley-Lennon [2018] EWCA Crim 1856, [2018] 1 WLR 5400 per Lord Burnett CJ at § 66; Robertson and Gough v HM Advocate 2008 JC 146 per the Lord Justice Clerk (Gill) at §§ 41, 64 and 65; Re K (Children) (Contact: Committal Order) [2003] 1 FLR 277, [2002] EWCA Civ 1559 per Hale LJ (as she then was) at § 21.
8. This is compatible with the Court’s own approach that the criminal limb of Article 6 applies to contempt of court when, applying the third of the Engel criteria, there is a risk of a custodial sentence: Gestur Jónsson And Ragnar Halldór Hall v Iceland [GC], § 83, nos. 68273/14 68271/14, 22 December 2020. That applies a fortiori to cases where, as here, a custodial sentence is in fact imposed: Kyprianou v. Cyprus, no. 73797/01, § 31, 27 January 2004, where the criminal limb of Article 6 was found to apply, when the applicant was sentenced to 5 days’ imprisonment. For these reasons, it is submitted that it is uncontroversial that the criminal limb of Article 6 applied in the present case and the Court is respectfully invited to find that it does.

b. The applicable standards in relation to the applicant’s Art. 6 claim

9. The nub of the applicant’s Article 6 complaint is stated in the application form: in finding him in contempt of court for his article of 18 March 2020, the High Court of Justiciary went beyond the terms of the Crown’s petition and, in effect, convicted him of something that he was not charged with.

10. The general principles that apply in such a situation are clear:
(i) The particulars of the offence or the indictment against an accused play a crucial role in the criminal process, in that it is from the moment of their service that the suspect is formally put on written notice of the factual and legal basis of the charges against him: Pélissier and Sassi v France [GC], no. 25444/94, § 51, 25 March 1999; Kamasinski v. Austria, no. 9783/82, § 79, 19 December 1989.
(ii) Information concerning the charges made, including the legal characterisation that the court might adopt in the matter, must either be given before the trial in the bill of indictment or at least in the course of the trial by other means such as formal or implicit extension of the charges. Mere reference to the abstract possibility that a court might arrive at a different conclusion from the prosecution as regards the qualification of an offence is clearly not sufficient (I.H. and Others v. Austria, no. 42780/98, § 34, 20 April 2006).
(iii) Sub-paragraphs (a) and (b) of Article 6 § 3 are connected in that the right to be informed of the nature and the cause of the accusation must be considered in the light of the accused’s right to prepare his defence (Pélissier and Sassi, cited above, § 54; Dallos v. Hungary, no. 29082/95, § 47, 1 March 2001).

11. These are principles that the United Kingdom courts have recognised must apply in contempt of court proceedings. In Yaxley-Lennon, cited above, the Lord Chief Justice (Lord Burnett) observed (at paragraph 29):
“Procedural fairness has always been a requirement in contempt proceedings, including the need to particularise the alleged contempt at the outset. An alleged contemnor must know what it is he has done which is said to amount to a contempt of court so that he can decide whether to accept responsibility or contest the allegation. Whilst that is a common law requirement, it chimes with article 6.3 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms…”
His Lordship went on to observe at §66:
“In contempt proceedings, touching as they do on the liberty of the subject, there is a need for the contempt in question to be identified with precision and the conduct of the alleged contemnor identified with sufficient particularity to enable him, with the assistance of legal advice, to respond to what is a criminal charge, in all but name.”

12. The same principle applies in Scottish contempt of court proceedings. As Lord Hope observed in Byrne v Ross 1992 SC 498, at 506:
“[I]t is necessary in the interests of fairness that the alleged contempt should be clearly and distinctly averred and that the proceedings for contempt be confined to the averments.”

13. The High Court of Justiciary recognised this, in terms, at § 62 of the High Court Opinion, where it rejected the Crown’s submission that articles published by the applicant before the section 11 order could amount to contempt, even though the Crown had not made that assertion in its contempt petition. The High Court of Justiciary quoted Lord Hope’s dictum in Byrne v Ross with approval and itself observed that:
“The petition is the basis upon which the Crown makes its assertions that the respondent has been guilty of contempt, and by which it provides notice to him of the way in which that contempt has been effected. The court, and more pertinently the respondent, is entitled to expect that the basis for the allegations of contempt will be set out clearly and specifically in the petition …”

14. It is submitted that these principles are correct and, as the Lord Chief Justice observed in Yaxley-Lennon, they chime with the requirements of Article 6 § 3. In Scottish contempt of court proceedings, the petition functions as the indictment does in a normal criminal process. Its averments set out what are, in effect, the “charges” against the alleged contemnor. As such, the petition has the same crucial role that an indictment does in that, at moment of its service, the alleged contemnor is formally put on written notice of the factual and legal basis of the charges against him or her (see Kamasinki,supra), and the court deciding on the question of contempt is limited to the allegations set out in the petition.

c. The Appeal Court’s approach to this issue

15. If the High Court of Justiciary had applied those principles, there could be no complaint under Article 6. However, what happened was that the High Court of Justiciary simply did not apply those principles to its examination of the 18 March 2020 article. Instead, it erred in finding that this article amounted to contempt of court by identifying Women A, B, F/J and H: High Court’s Opinion §80-84. That is so notwithstanding that the Crown in its contempt petition made no such allegations and only alleged that the article identified Woman D: contempt petition at §38. The consequence of that error is that the applicant has been convicted of something he was not charged with and, applying the clear and well-established principles set out at paragraph The general principles that apply in such a situation are clear: above, there has been a violation of Article 6 § 1 read in conjunction with Article 6 § 3 (a) and (b) of the Convention.

16. The Appeal Court deals with this aspect of the applicant’s case in §§71-73 of the Appeal Court Opinion. While superficially acknowledging the importance of fair notice at §71, the tenor of the Appeal Court’s decision is that the summary nature of the proceedings against the applicant justified an abridged approach to the issue of fair notice:
[71] The process of petition and complaint is intended to be a summary one, requiring a swift determination of the court. It is not one in which extensive written pleadings are desirable, since the process is not an adversarial one between the Crown and the alleged contemnor but a method by which the Crown can bring to the court’s attention instances of possible contempt.

[73] In the context of a summary process, in which the article was not found to be a contempt per se and, as the court explained in its opinion on permission to appeal, the court was not confined to the specific averment involving Ms D, it could look at the article as a whole and determine, as it did, that it did constitute a breach of the order when read along with the other articles.

17. The approach of the Appeal Court is misconceived. There is nothing within this Court’s jurisprudence to suggest that the requirement for charges to be carefully and clearly set out to an accused is curtailed by the fact that the proceedings take place in the context of a summary procedure. In the domestic criminal context, it is necessary for the charge to fully set out with sufficient notice the allegations that the accused requires to meet: Renton & Brown’s Criminal Procedure (6th ed) §8.01-8.02.1. It is an essential of any criminal verdict that its terms must be consistent with the charge as set out in the indictment or complaint: Renton & Brown’s Criminal Procedure (6th ed) §8-85. Indeed, as noted above, the case of Byrne v Ross 1992 SC 498 (which was referred to in favourable terms by the Appeal Court), is clear that in contempt proceedings “the proceedings for contempt must be confined to the averments”. To the extent that the Appeal Court relies upon the summary nature of the proceedings before it, such a reliance is entirely novel, unsupported by authority and inconsistent with the applicant’s right to fair notice in terms of Art. 6. (3) of the Convention.

18. The only other justification relied upon by the Appeal Court is a general averment in § 39 of the contempt petition, which states:
It is respectfully submitted that the details included in the Articles of 12, 16 and 18 March about the complainers could lead to their identification as witnesses in the criminal proceedings, contrary to the section 11 order imposed by the Court.

19. Such an averment is plainly insufficient to give notice to the applicant of his alleged contempt. At its best, the averment amounts to a warning of “the abstract possibility that a court might arrive at a different conclusion than the prosecution” as was described as insufficient in I.H. and Others v. Austria, no. 42780/98, 20 April 2006 at §34. More reasonably, it can be interpreted as a peroration in relation to the preceding paragraphs which ought to be seen as summing up the position already set out in §§ 33-38 of the contempt petition. In such circumstances, it is plainly devoid of any independent meaning and cannot amount to fair notice that the applicant could be found in contempt in relation to the 18 March 2020 article on a basis other than as set out in §38 of the contempt petition. The Appeal Court Opinion notes at §72 that “it is odd that the respondent did not make specific reference in the petition and complaint to A, B and F but the article as a whole was before the court”. It may or may not be odd but it is the approach which the Crown had taken in its pleadings. It is not the role of the court to fill in any perceived blanks in the contempt petition by, in effect, alleging (and then finding proved) further charges against the applicant. To do so would blur the necessary distinction between prosecutor and adjudicator.

20. By, in effect, convicting the applicant for something which he had not been charged with, the High Court of Justiciary’s finding is plainly contrary to Article 6 § 1 read in conjunction with Article 6 § 3 (a) and (b). The applicant invites the court to make such a finding.

III. STATEMENT OF VIOLATIONS OF ARTICLE 10

21. The applicant makes 2 complaints under Article 10: (i) that the finding of contempt was not prescribed by law because the test used by the High Court of Justiciary in deciding whether there would be a breach of s. 11 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 was imprecise and unforeseeable and gave rise to arbitrariness; and (ii) that the restriction on the applicant’s freedom was not necessary and proportionate in a democratic society, for a number of reasons.

a. Interference with Art. 10 ECHR

22. As a preliminary issue, it should be uncontroversial that the applicant’s actions fell within the scope of Art. 10 of the Convention. This is implicitly acknowledged both in the High Court’s Opinion at §§ 48-53 and the Appeal Court’s Opinion at §70 and §76. Similarly, it ought not to be controversial that there has been an interference with the applicant’s Art. 10 rights; he was found in contempt of court as a result of articles he had published and was sentenced to an 8 month sentence of imprisonment. Such conduct plainly amounts to an interference with his right to freedom of expression.

b. Prescribed by law

23. The High Court Opinion at §58 found that, to breach a s. 11 order, it was not necessary that the material published would be likely to identify a complainer to the public at large; rather, it would be sufficient for a breach of a s. 11 order if the material published were likely to enable a “particular section of the public” to identify a complainer. This test was expressly upheld in §67 of the Appeal Court’s Opinion.

24. It is well established in this Court’s jurisprudence that for an interference to be “prescribed by law” it must be adequately accessible, sufficiently precise, and foreseeable (see, in the context of contempt proceedings, The Sunday Times v. the United Kingdom (no. 1), 26 April 1979, § 49, Series A no. 30 and, as more recent, general authority, Satakunnan Markkinapörssi Oy And Satamedia Oy v. Finland [GC], no. 931/13, §§ 142-145, 27 June 2017). A norm must be formulated with sufficient precision to allow a citizen to regulate his own conduct. The purpose of the lawfulness test is to avoid all risk of arbitrariness: Medvedyev and others v France [GC]. No. 3394/03, 29 March 2010 at §80. The test of “a particular section of the public” is too imprecise and unforeseeable to meet the prescribed by law requirements of Article 10 § 2.
i. Lack of precision and lack of foreseeability

25. The phrase “a particular section of the public” is imprecise. A “particular section of the public” can be of any size or complexion. It need not be fixed or stable in membership. It need not be confined to any defined geographical area, nor to any defined social group, nor to any defined category, community or class of persons. It is thus impossible for any publisher to know what “particular section of the public” the court will have in mind when assessing whether published information will identify someone and thus place the publisher in contempt of court, with all the penal consequences that may have. The Appeal Court Opinion notes, with some irony, at §69 that “there is nothing difficult to understand in this”, without providing any assistance in interpretating what is plainly an imprecise test. Although it is not for this Court to interpret domestic law, it is noteworthy that none of the authorities discussed by the High Court of Justiciary at §56 of the High Court’s Opinion support the test being a “particular section of the public”. In each of those cases, the terms used were the “community” or “the local community”, not a particular section of the public: A Woman v Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser, IPSO Ruling, 9 May 2019 at §9.

26. The phrase “particular section of the public” is also unforeseeable. Without any further definition, a “particular section” of the public could be so small that it is no longer “the public” in any meaningful sense. There will always be someone who knows a complainer. For instance, when an accused is convicted of sexual offences against a series of ex-partners, particularly over a long period of time, the reporting of the case will often name the accused and report that he has been convicted of offences against his ex-partners. Many people may know the accused and his ex-partners, through social networks, work, and so on. On the High Court of Justiciary’s test, that information would be sufficient to allow people who know the accused to know, with a high degree of likelihood, who the complainers are. In those circumstances, no media organisation could report the barest details of the case without risking identifying a complainer to someone who might know her or the accused. That is too slender a basis to find a breach of a s. 11 order and thus to interfere with the freedom of expression that the media enjoys. It is also too broad a test to meet the foreseeability requirements of Article 10(2). Finally, this is a step too far from the necessary link that a s. 11 order must have to making effective any order to withhold information from “the public”.

27. Such an imprecise and unforeseeable test gives rise to 2 key concerns: (i) arbitrariness; and (ii) a chilling effect on reporting of matters in the public interest. The test promotes arbitrariness because its parameters are unclear. Contempt proceedings may be taken against some individuals and not others in relation to reporting on the same matters. That is because those who take the decision to initiate proceedings may have different understandings as to the scope of the test. It appears to the applicant that this arbitrariness has arisen in practice: Affidavit dated 25 August 2020, Additional Document No. 10, at §117-119.

28. The approach of the High Court is also conducive to create a chilling effect on the reporting of matters which are plainly in the public interest which relate to trials regarding sexual offences. Faced with an imprecise, ambiguous test in relation to contempt proceedings (and the prospect of a prison sentence if one falls on the wrong side of that test), it is natural for journalists to adopt a low-risk approach to reporting matters such as this and to, in effect, “under-report” to protect their own interests. In doing so, the approach of the High Court deprives the public of fearless reporting, which is necessary for the press to play its role as a public watchdog. This Court has previously warned against such a chilling effect: Cumpana and Mazare v. Romania [GC], no. 33348/95, § 114, ECHR 2004-XI. That chilling effect is likely to be all the greater on journalists in new media who: (i) might be thought to have a greater level of independence in their reporting, without the vested interests of large media companies; but (ii) do not have access to the same level of legal protection or advice as those in the traditional media.

ii. Jigsaw identification

29. The imprecision and lack of foreseeability of the High Court of Justiciary’s test become particularly acute in cases, like the present case, of “jigsaw identification” (that is, cases where someone is not directly named, but where the information published, when pieced together with other “pieces” of information, could lead to their identification). If the test is a “particular section of the public” rather than the public in general, it will be impossible for a publisher to know what the other pieces of the “jigsaw” might be and whether a particular section of the public has those pieces..

30. That is all the more so when the particular section of the public in question is a small one such as a complainer’s immediate personal or professional circle. The consequences of the test established by the High Court of Justiciary is that a publisher will breach a section 11 order if he or she publishes information that would not allow a member of the general public to identify the person, but would nevertheless suggest the person’s identity to people in her immediate circle or confirm that person’s identity to those who already know it. On that test, the publication of any new information allows a section of the public to identify a complainer —however small that section of the public is and however much other information that section of the public already holds — would be sufficient to establish a breach of a s. 11 order. That does not meet the foreseeability requirement of Article 10(2). The journalist in question also cannot be expected to know all of the other pieces of the jigsaw which may have been published in disparate articles across a variety of publications. To punish the journalist who inadvertently publishes the final piece of the puzzle is, again, to promote arbitrariness in the law.

31. For all these reasons, it is respectfully submitted that the test that the High Court of Justiciary applied in the applicant’s case does not meet the prescribed by law test in Article 10(2).

c. Necessity and proportionality

32. It is further submitted that the High Court’s approach is contrary to Art. 10, for the following additional reasons with regards to necessity and proportionality:

i. The failure of the domestic courts to balance competing interests in the application of the s. 11 order

34. The Alex Salmond trial and the alleged conspiracy on which the applicant reported were undoubtedly of great public significance and interest. It attracted unprecedented levels of domestic and international publicity. The trial, the Scottish Government’s handling of the allegations that came to be at the centre of it, and the manner in which the prosecution was brought and conducted were all matters of legitimate and considerable public concern. They have been the subject of an inquiry by the Scottish Parliament in which Mr Salmond, his successor as First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and the then Lord Advocate (the head of public prosecutions in Scotland), the Crown Agent (the executive head of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service) had to give evidence. The trial and its wider political context featured prominently as issues in the most recent Scottish Parliament elections, held in May 2021, for which Mr Salmond formed a new political party. The trial has had, and continues to have, ramifications for the Scottish National Party and for the Scottish independence movement. That remains so, thirty months after the end of the trial. Reporting on the trial, and on the details of Mr Salmond’s defence, was undoubtedly in the legitimate public interest.

33. The applicant does not dispute that protecting the privacy of individuals who claim to have been the victim of sexual assault also serves important legitimate interests. The High Court’s opinion at §50 quoted a passage from this Court’s inadmissibility decision in Brown v United Kingdom, No. 44223/98, of 2 July 2002, in which the Court “recognises that the relevant provisions of the [UK Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1976] are designed to protect alleged rape victims from being openly identified”; that “[t]his in turn encourages victims to report incidents of rape to the authorities, and to give evidence at trial without fear of undue publicity”; and that “[t]he Court considers that it must pay special regard to these factors when examining the proportionality of the restrictions at issue in the present case.” However, the High Court’s approach to this issue was incomplete. It failed to have regard to the passage in Brown immediately following, where the Court noted that “the prohibition under the Act against the identification of alleged rape victims is not absolute. In particular, section 4(3) requires trial judges to lift the prohibition in certain cases where the public interest so requires”; that a defence of unintentional disclosure was in place; and that the applicant had only been given a small fine.

34. By contrast, the High Court at §§51-53 accepted the submission of the Crown that “anonymity may be viewed as necessary in a democratic society” without apparent qualification, and apparently took the view that therefore any order imposing anonymity was always compatible with the Convention, as was enforcement of the order in all circumstances. Consequently, “[i]f the material in question is found by the court to breach the order, any specific circumstances, including the assertion that a breach was unintentional, may found [i.e., be raised] in respect of a decision as to any potential sanction, but not in our view otherwise”: High Court Opinion at § 53. Implicit is the suggestion that the public interest in reporting can never be relevant in relation to whether the s. 11 order has or has not been breached, or the test which ought to be applied in determining whether there has been a breach. The Appeal Court Opinion falls into the same error at §§ 27 and 28.

35. This refusal of the High Court to balance the competing legitimate interests in its application of the s. 11 order is incompatible with the Convention. The need to balance competing legitimate interests in freedom of expression cases is firmly established, especially in defamation cases and/or when the issue that is reported on is a matter of legitimate public interest: cf., e.g., Thorgeir Thorgeirson v Iceland, no. 13778/88, 25 June 1992, which concerned alleged police brutality. In such a context, it is not required that the reporter proves that the alleged public interest facts are true; it is sufficient that there are credible underlying facts to the story, and that the reporter acted with integrity and due diligence.

36. The answer to this issue does not lie in the fact that the court had already balanced the competing interests in making the s. 11 order, as suggested in the contempt petition and in the High Court’s Opinion at §17. The Appeal Court Opinion also relies on the applicant’s failure to attack the s. 11 order itself, to suggest that there was an acceptance that the order reached the correct balance in relation to the various interests: Appeal Court Opinion at §67. However, this court’s jurisprudence is clear that an interference with the right to freedom of expression that takes the form of a criminal conviction requires detailed judicial assessment of the relevant conduct and of whether sanction is necessary in the circumstances. It is not sufficient that the interference is imposed because its subject-matter falls within a particular category or is caught by a legal rule formulated in general terms; what is required is that it is necessary in the specific circumstances: Perinçek v Switzerland, no. 27510/08, 15 October 2015, at §275.

37. The High Court and Appeal Court fell into the same error as warned against in Perinçek. The s. 11 order was a rule formulated in general terms, addressed to the world at large. The domestic courts ought still to have considered whether a finding of contempt was justified in these specific circumstances, where: (i) there was no specific identification; (ii) jigsaw identification was only likely to identify to an imprecise, hazily defined, section of the public; (iii) and where there was a significant public interest in the reporting of the Salmond trial. Had it done so, it could not have failed to conclude that a finding of contempt was not necessary when balancing the various interests. That conclusion is further vouched for in the submissions below. The approach taken by the domestic courts is incompatible with the applicant’s Art. 10 rights.

ii. The test of “jigsaw identification” as applied in the applicant’s case breaches the substance of Article 10

38. The way in which the “jigsaw identification” was applied in the applicant’s case was not only unforeseeable, it also breached the substance of Article 10, in that it substantially curtailed the applicant’s ability to report on the salient details of Mr Salmond’s defence.

39. A review of the High Court Opinion is sufficient to indicate that even reporting of Mr Salmond’s defence at a relatively abstract level was sufficient, in the High Court’s Opinion to fall foul of the s. 11 order. In particular, the applicant was held to have breached the order by suggesting: (i) that a complainer CENSORED (that position not having actually been identified), §74; (ii) that a complainer was closely involved in CENSORED, §74; (iii) a complainer was CENSORED, §75; (iv) that a complainer had CENSORED, §77; (v) that a complainer CENSORED.

40. Of very significant relevance, the substance of Alex Salmond’s defence during his trial (and of the applicant’s reporting in relation to that trial) was not simply that the complainers had coordinated their accusations against Mr Salmond. It was relevant – and a matter of great public interest – that those individuals included high-ranking members of the Scottish Government and the SNP. In preventing the applicant from reporting even the relatively oblique details referred to above, the High Court rendered it effectively impossible to report on this matter in a manner which would be intelligible to the general public.

41. This was obliquely acknowledged by the High Court at §62 of the Appeal Court Opinion:
He states that in writing the Yes Minister Fan Fiction article it had been a challenge to work out how to tell the public of the identities without being in contempt. It was not a challenge, it was an impossibility, since doing so would be a breach of the plain terms of the order.

42. The Appeal Court’s paraphrasing is not an accurate representation of the applicant’s statement at §54 of his first affidavit: Additional Document No. 10. No reference is made to an intention to tell the public of the identities. Read in context, it is plain that the applicant was seeking to be careful to avoid being in contempt while revealing the alleged conspiracy. As apparently accepted by the Appeal Court, it was indeed impossible to report details of the alleged conspiracy and of the involvement of high-ranking members of the Scottish Government and the SNP without falling foul of the excessive application of the “jigsaw identification” doctrine by the domestic courts.

43. Accordingly, the s. 11 order, as excessively broadly applied in this case, violated the substance of Article 10.

iii. The granting of less protection to the applicant as a new media reporter than the courts granted to what they deemed to be “bona fide” mainstream journalists

44. The applicant accepts at the outset that journalists and others who exercise their freedom of expression have duties and responsibilities, and that they cannot be released from their duty to obey the ordinary criminal law on the basis that Article 10 affords them a cast-iron defence (Pentikäinen v. Finland [GC], no. 11882/10, § 91, 20 October 2015). Those duties and responsibilities apply equally to those using the internet to disseminate news and ideas, and the potential impact of the medium of the internet will be an important factor in considering those duties and responsibilities (see, for instance, Delfi AS v. Estonia [GC], no. 64569/09, §§ 133-134, 16 June 2015; Magyar Tartalomszolgáltatók Egyesülete and Index.hu Zrt v. Hungary, no. 22947/13, § 56, 2 February 2016).

45. But the corollary of that principle is that if journalists using the internet have the same responsibilities as those in the print or broadcast media, then they also have the same rights. That is now the clear and established case-law of this Court: see Delfi AS and Magyar Tartalomszolgáltatók Egyesülete and Index.hu Zrt, both cited above; Magyar Helsinki Bizottság v. Hungary [GC], no. 18030/11, § 168, 8 November 2016; Ahmet Yildirum v. Turkey, no. 3111/10, §§ 49 and 50, 18 December 2012; Cengiz and Others v. Turkey, nos. 48226/10 and 14027/11, §§ 51-52, 1 December 2015). That case-law makes clear that just as internet bloggers and other popular users of social media have the same duties that the established press has, they also enjoy the same protections under Article 10. The protections afforded to the freedom of expression of journalists apply even in circumstances where the publication expresses “hard-hitting criticism”: Sürek v Turkey, nos 23927/94 and 24277/94, 8 July 1999, §61. Equally, expression is protected if it is made in a “polemical and even aggressive tone”: De Haes And Gijsels v Belgium, no. 19983/92, 24 February 1997, §48.

46. Notwithstanding this clear jurisprudence, the High Court of Justiciary held that the applicant was not entitled to the same protections as “mainstream” journalists (whatever that may mean in the contemporary media landscape): Statement of Reasons for Refusing Permission to Appeal to the Supreme Court, Additional Document No. 17 at §4. The Appeal Court Opinion adopts the same approach, noting at § 77:
The petitioner attempts to portray himself as a journalist “in new media”, thereby securing what may be thought to be the added protections afforded to the press where a contempt of court has occurred. This is unconvincing. A journalist is a person who writes for or edits a newspaper or periodical; whether in hard copy or on-line. The petitioner is not such a person, nor is he an NGO or campaign group. An individual does not become a journalist merely by publishing his or her thoughts on-line, whether by operating a website, running a blog or tweeting. If it were otherwise almost everyone would be a journalist. That is not the case.

47. The distinction drawn by the court between “bona fide journalists” and those such as the applicant who are “purporting to be journalists” is entirely inconsistent with international human rights standards. As the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion noted in their Report on Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression (11 August 2010) at §65, those in new media, who lack the formal protections afforded to those in the mainstream press by their employers, require greater not lesser protection by the law:
As citizen journalists are by nature more isolated, they are more vulnerable to attack than professional journalists. However, citizen journalists enjoy less protection than their counterparts in traditional media, as they do not have the support of media organizations and networks, in particular the organizational resources, including lawyers and financial resources, which can help shield them from harassment.

48. The granting, by the domestic courts, of less protection under Article 10 than is accorded to mainstream journalists, is a further violation of Article 10.

iv. The diligence of the applicant’s research and his acting in good faith

49. Having taken a descriptive, rather than functional approach to the question of the applicant’s status as a journalist, the High Court did not consider it necessary to assess the nature or extent of the applicant’s journalistic work. Had it done so, it should have concluded that the works in question amounted to responsible journalism, carried out in good faith and on the basis of diligent research, which is subject to the protections afforded by the Convention. In particular:
(i) The applicant has in fact published a substantial body of so-called “traditional journalism” in the mainstream press (a representative sample of his journalistic work is produced as Additional Documents Nos 26 – 31);
(ii) The applicant gave unchallenged evidence in his affidavits (Additional Documents Nos 10 & 11) of the information which he had obtained relating to the circumstances leading to the Salmond trial and the reasons why he considered it to be in the public interest to publish that information. His research was clearly detailed. He sought to verify matters as between different witnesses and assessed their reliability in accordance with UK Foreign Office criteria. The court ought to give weight to the diligence with which the journalistic work was carried out, whether or not the court agrees with the conclusions reached by the applicant: Braun v Poland, no. 30162/10,4 November 2014 at § 40. On the basis of this research, the applicant’s articles cannot be said to be completely without foundation: Timpul Info-Magazin And Anghel v Moldova, no. 42864, 27 November 2007, §36;
(iii) The applicant had made attempts to verify much of his research during the contempt proceedings by seeking an order for the Crown to disclose copies of messages between various high-ranking officials in the SNP which spoke to the coordination of witnesses in relation to the Salmond trial and which he had seen or the content of which he had been told from reliable witnesses: Additional Document No. 6. That application for disclosure was refused by the High Court: Additional Document No. 8;
(iv) The applicant also gave unchallenged affidavit evidence that his intention was to make this information available in a manner which did not fall foul of the s. 11 order by identifying any complainers.

50. The applicant’s reporting of the trial was motivated by his genuinely held belief that the prosecution of Mr Salmond was unwarranted and by his awareness of the wider political context in which the trial took place. As this Court stated in Cumpana and Mazare, at paragraphs 113-114:
Investigative journalists are liable to be inhibited from reporting on matters of general public interest … if they run the risk… of being sentenced to imprisonment or to a prohibition on the exercise of their profession.
The chilling effect that the fear of such sanctions has on the exercise of journalistic freedom of expression is evident…”

51. Had the Appeal Court considered the functional test in relation to the applicant’s status as a journalist, it ought to have concluded that the applicant had carefully and in good faith obtained and presented information from a number of sources with regards to a matter of significant public interest. The applicant was, in other words, carrying out responsible journalism. Whether the court considered his conclusions to be true or not, such expression is worthy of protection. The applicant was denied that protection, in violation of Article 10.

v. The sentence of imprisonment was excessive

52. The protection that should have been accorded to the applicant includes the Court’s consistent protection against the imprisonment of journalists for press offences. The sentence imposed by the High Court of Justiciary – believed to be the first imprisonment of a British journalist for a press offence in modern history- is plainly wrong, as it appears to have been based on a distinction which finds no support in this Court’s case-law and is in fact contrary to it, as set out above.

53. There are additional reasons why the sentence is disproportionate. Where freedom of the press is at stake, the national authorities have only a limited margin of appreciation to decide whether there is a pressing social need to take measures against the media: Stoll v. Switzerland [GC], no. 69698/01, § 105, 10 December 2007. For that reason, such measures against the media call for particularly close scrutiny, and a measure imposed by the national courts will not be proportionate if there are other means of achieving the same end that would interfere less seriously with Article 10. That principle applies where the press or others publish confidential information in the course of reporting on criminal proceedings or other matters of public interest. In such cases, any decision to impose a fine instead of custodial sentence (and particularly a fine at a relatively modest level) is always a weighty factor in this Court’s finding that the sanction is proportionate: Bédat v. Switzerland [GC], no. 56925/08, 29 March 2016 at § 81; and Stoll, cited above, §§ 153-161. The Court’s case-law in fact goes further. It is now clear in that case-law that the imposition of a prison sentence for a press offence will be compatible with journalists’ freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 10 of the Convention only in exceptional circumstances, notably where other fundamental rights have been seriously impaired, as, for example, in the cases of hate speech or incitement to violence: Cumpana and Mazare v. Romania [GC], no. 33348/95, § 115, ECHR 2004-XI.

54. A finding of contempt of court against a journalist – including a journalist working in the new media – is clearly a “press offence”, as the Court has used that term in Cumpana and Mazare et al. The High Court of Justiciary should therefore have only imposed a custodial sentence on the applicant in exceptional circumstances, notably if other fundamental rights had been seriously impaired. “Seriously impaired” is a high standard and the examples given in Cumpana and Mazare, of hate speech and incitement to violence, reinforce that. That high standard was not met in this case, notwithstanding the comments at §79 of the Appeal Court Opinion. Whatever its effect on the fundamental rights of the complainers in the Salmond trial, the applicant’s conduct does not reach the exceptionally high level contemplated by this Court before a sentence of imprisonment will be justified, still less the 8 months’ sentence imposed in his case. Responsible journalism, such as that carried out by the applicant (in which there was an avowed intention not to identify the complainers), cannot amount to conduct comparable to hate speech or incitement to violence. To the extent that the Appeal Court implies that it does, it has fallen into error.

55. There are 2 further markers of the disproportionality of the applicant’s sentence: (i) The first is that, as a consequence of the Scottish legislation on release of prisoners, the applicant had to serve more of his sentence than if he were an ordinary prisoner. Reference is made to the application of the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993 at §6 of this Supplementary Statement. In effect, he served a longer sentence as a journalist than a prisoner given the same sentence for an ordinary criminal offence. (ii) The second additional marker of the disproportionality of the sentence is that the applicant is in poor physical health. The medical report obtained in the course of the domestic proceedings from Professor Kopelman is included with this application. It sets out the applicant’s various medical conditions and that the applicant suffers from recurrent pulmonary hypertension, an ultimately fatal condition which gives rise to sudden losses of consciousness. He also suffers from bipolar disorder and depression. The effect of imprisonment on this particular applicant was thus greater than it would have been for another journalist in sound physical health.

CONCLUSIONS

56. For these reasons the applicant respectfully invites the Court: (i) To declare the application admissible; (ii) To find that there has been a violation of Article 6 § 1 read in conjunction with Article 6 § 3 (a) and (b) of the Convention; and (iii) To find that there has been a violation of Article 10 of the Convention.

We are shocked that the case has suddenly been dismissed by the Armenian judge at the European Court of Human Rights, sitting alone, essentially in a single sentence.2211101700 JUDGMENT from ECHR Registry (2) (1)

And that is the end of that. To say my legal team were stunned would be to put it mildly. Having perhaps seen more of the workings of international institutions from the inside, I was possibly a little less surprised. We had not been expecting anything to happen for probably a year, and had understood the Court had accepted the eligibility of the application. Those on the legal team with expertise in the ECHR wonder how this case came to be given to the Armenian judge – the court’s general practice is to hand cases to judges from a broadly similar legal milieu.

It appears the case never reached the stage of the Scottish authorities being required to respond. What is particularly worrying is the dismissal of the arguments at para 44 to 54 of our argument. It is now set in law that “journalists” are only those who work for the state and corporate media (there are resonances to the Assange case here), and that those in new media cannot expect the protection from long jail sentences.

The extremely wide definition of jigsaw identification as addressed in our argument at paras 38 to 43 is also now set in law.

While this road is now closed, the ramifications are so important that others are now taking up these issues, independently of me, and it is not the end of the affair. I shall let you know more when I can.

In the meantime, the unexpectedly sudden closure of the case has left me holding unexpectedly sudden legal bills. The difference between what we raised from the defence fund and the final total is about £47,000 (which may vary slightly as the last bill to come in is an estimate at present).

I shall forever be grateful to all those who contributed to the fight, and now that the fight is lost I realise it is much harder to expect people to help meet the costs of a failed cause. I also realise these are difficult times. But if anyone does feel able to help meet the final bills that would be hugely appreciated.

My work continues. I shall be heading down to London to cover the Supreme Court ruling on Scotland’s right to hold an Independence referendum, and then be off on a three week speaking tour of Germany, Austria and Slovenia, talking on the Assange case. If you subscribe to the blog you support both the articles and my activism.

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Your Man in Saughton Jail Part 3 57

The Scottish Parliament is under the untrue impression that Scottish prisons run under the fairly liberal Prisons and Young Offenders Institutions (Scotland) Rules 2011 laid before parliament by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill MP on 14 September 2011. In fact the Scottish Prisons Service totally ignores them and is absolutely a law unto itself.

I intend to prove this to you. Let me start with a very basic rule: the availability of the rules to prisoners. This is plainly set out in the rules themselves.

This was specifically continued in the covid update:

This law – and it is a law – is deliberately ignored by the prison authorities. On entering the prison, I was asked to wear prison uniform. I had been told by my lawyers that civil and remand prisoners have the right to wear their own clothing. I therefore asked to see the prison rules.

I was not shown the prison rules. First I was told they were held on a different level and arrangements would have to be made. Then several days later I was told they were in the prison library but the library was closed because of covid. Then some weeks later I was told they were unavailable to prisoners.

Prisoners have no internet access, but I had asked my lawyers to send me a copy of the Rules and they eventually arrived, including many documents of amendments. I then took up the matter of wearing my own clothing. This is very important because it affected a third of the prisoners in Saughton, who were on remand – “untried” in official parlance.

It also mattered to me because it was upsetting for my family when visiting to see me in prison clothing. Avoiding This indignity is precisely why civil and untried prisoners – who are entitled to the presumption of innocence – have for centuries been entitled to their own clothing.

Continuation of that centuries old tradition, except in unusual circumstances, is undoubtedly what the Scottish Parliament believed was being laid before them here:

But the Scottish Prisons Service completely ignores the right, established here in law, for civil and untried prisoners to wear their own clothing, claiming that it only applies inside the prison cell (which appears nowhere in the legislation).

I actually took this issue through the complaints process in the prison, to a prison tribunal of three prison officers held on 30 August 2021, the result of which was the tribunal claimed that under para 32 (4) the Governor had the right to instruct civil and remand prisoners to wear prison clothing for the security and management of the prison.

I pointed out that those provisions are clearly meant to apply to any problematic qualities of the particular clothing of an individual prisoner. 32 (4) could not be intended to abolish the entire right that it qualified. 32 (5) plainly reserved to Scottish ministers the power to make any more general cancellation of the right for whole classes of the prison population.

No Scottish minister has ever canceled the right of civil and remand prisoners to wear their own clothes. The Scottish Prisons Service has simply done it contrary to the law laid before Parliament.

This meant nothing to the prison staff forming the tribunal. They did not, at the tribunal, have a copy of the The Prisons and Young Offenders Institutions (Scotland) Rules 2011 available to them either. What they were going by was Scottish Prison Service memos which totally ignore the Rules – which is to say, totally ignore the law.

Rights which parliament believes to have been granted to prisoners are again and again severely circumscribed by the Scottish Prison Service.

The right to have books is circumscribed in Saughton jail by a rule that prisoners may only have books purchased and sent direct from Blackwell’s in Oxford. “Other means of amusement” is circumscribed to a very small list of articles but only if they are purchased through the prison, at a much higher price than commercially.

I bought from the jail an Akai radio for the eye-watering price of £34.95. It took seven weeks to arrive. You can buy a Playstation from the jail, or a choice of just three jigsaws, but you cannot buy a chess set. When you are locked in your cell for 23 hours a day, these things are very important.

The right to correspondence in para 54 of the the prison rules is circumscribed by strict arbitary limitations set by the prison governor on the number of stamps you may purchase. The right to use the telephone at para 62 is circumscribed by the stipulation that you may only call a list of phone numbers you must register in advance. So if you need unexpectedly to talk to your children’s school or to the taxman, for example, you cannot do it.

In short, the prisoners’ rights contained in the law are systematically reduced, again and again and again, by the Scottish Prison Service. Some times this is probably legal, using provisions related to security in the prison rules, at other times it appears simply illegal, as in denying the right for civil and remand prisoners to wear their own clothing.

What is plain is that the Scottish Prison Service cares not one jot for the legal framework under which it is supposed to operate, either in letter or in spirit.

How has this situation arisen? Well, the most important factor is complete neglect by ministers and a lack of any political control over the Scottish Prisons Service.

Following the excellent MacAskill, who established the legislation, Scotland has had two total duds as Justice Minister – firstly Humza Yusuf, who is lazy and feckless, and then Keith Brown, who is lazy and stupid. The SPS has therefore been able to do what it likes.

The second problem is that there is nobody to stand up for the rights of prisoners. As I explain in the first two parts of my prison memoir, the large majority of the prison population have come from lives of deprivation, institutionalisation and addiction. They are not conscious of their rights.

Most prisoners are dependent on legal aid for their legal representation – which is often peremptory at best as the entire system is straining to breaking point. There is no legal aid available for bringing cases on prison conditions. All the actors – prisoners, their lawyers and prison staff – are imbued by the same sense of hopelessness and absolute cynicism.

Those managing the prison have, on a day to day basis, two overriding priorities to which everything else is subordinated. The first is reducing the flow of drugs into the jail. The second is keeping different classes of prisoners separate.

Therefore prisoners’ access to stamps – and thus their ability to communicate with their friends and family – is limited because allegedly stamps are used as currency inside prison to buy drugs. Access to books is limited because the pages of books can be impregnated with drugs. For the same reason prisoners are not permitted photographs of their families, which is particularly cruel.

The extraordinary thing is that the banning of anything and everything in the aim of stopping the flow of drugs has no effect whatsoever. Drugs in prison are available with a freedom you cannot believe. Not one day passed of my time in prison when I did not witness druges passing between prisoners.

Trying to stop the stuff getting in is plainly hopeless. A much more sensible approach would be to look at why people whose basic problem is addiction form the majority of prisoners, when prison does absolutely nothing to cure addiction.

Remand prisoners are not allowed to wear their own clothing because the prison’s priority is the distinction of different classes of prisoners. Personally I have my doubts about a system of which the practical effect is to put sexual offenders in maroon so other prisoners know who to kill, but there you are.

The Scottish Prisons Service is not driving a coach and horses through the Prisons and Young Offenders Institutions (Scotland) Rules 2011 legislation out of gratuitous cruelty. It is doing so as it views that as the best way to fulfil its operational plan, and because nobody seems to care enough about prisoners to note that it is illegal.

So we have a massive dichotomy between what the law says about the governance of Scotland’s prisons, and what actually happens.

I should make plain that I did not suffer, at any stage, from any cruelty or unpleasantness from prison officers (bar one brief and minor incident). I was personally treated with kindness and courtesy, and in view of my status as a civil prisoner a number of Saughton’s practices, for example on books, were altered for me to be more in line with the actual law.

I am writing from concern for those now in jail, and for the highly unsatisfactory situation where the administration of the punitive force of the state is itself carried out illegally.

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FTX 93

This is what I think of as a signpost article – it points you to something the mainstream media is deliberately not giving the prominence it needs, but I have no personal expertise or inside knowledge to give you. I am just giving you a start to get going. Several readers will have a much better understanding than I, and I encourage you to give your thoughts in comments below.

It is also worth noting that only the immediate improvement to freedom of speech on Twitter by Elon Musk has brought this to my attention. Several sources – particularly Citizens for Legitimate Government – have suddenly appeared in my feed again after being entirely suppressed.

My own tweets are, for now, less suppressed – my own family have been receiving notifications from me after they were stopped for over a year. I am not in general a fan of billionaires like Musk, and I do not know where Twitter will settle, but there is undoubted initial improvement.

The FTX story seems truly remarkable. From being founded only in 2017 it rose to be a “partner organisation” of the World Economic Forum and the second largest donor to Biden and the Democrat’s mid-term election campaign. It has now gone completely bust, taking every penny of its depositors money with it.

That is some trajectory.

The World Economic Forum has deleted its FTX page, but the Wayback machine has it:

I suppose it is inevitable that dodgy chancers would create derivatives markets for gambling on crypto, but I confess I had not given the matter much thought. It goes without saying that in those five years the founder of FTX had managed to take a huge personal fortune out of the company before it went bust.

FTX was a one man company belonging to Sam Bankman-Fried. The board consisted of him, an employee and the company lawyer. Over US$20 billion of investors’ funds from FTX were funneled to a fund management company, Alameda Research, also owned by Sam Bankman-Fried.

$37 million was donated by Bankman-Fried to the Democrats for the 2022 elections. Every penny of that originated with duped FTX investors. That is in addition to the $5 million given to the Biden 2020 campaign. FTX, of course, crashed instantly after those mid-term elections, which is interesting timing.

The BBC and the Guardian were constantly bombarding us with the term “democracy denier” in their coverage of the US elections, strangely not in reference to Hillary’s ludicrous claims that Russian interference was the cause of her loss in 2016.

I view as a joke any notion that the USA is a democracy. Democracy is about giving citizens a choice of political direction. The 2022 elections saw a simply incredible campaign spend of US$ 9.7 billion. Yes, nearly ten billion dollars. This is not democracy, it is a huge exercise in corporate control from which the ordinary citizen is frozen out.

Despite an aggressive tribalism which has stalemated the political system for decades, the difference in policy platform between Democrats and Republicans is highly marginal, with no alternative on offer to rampant and uninhibited commercial exploitation of the population by the super-wealthy.

The Democrats are marginally more keen on attacking other countries; the Republicans are marginally more against measures to curb carbon emissions. Vaunted differences on immigration and welfare turn out to be very small indeed, with very little changing when the White House does.

American elections are simply about the super rich funneling in vast donations, expecting to benefit when their team gets its nose in the trough, or often donating to both sides to benefit either way.

I am not sure what the connection to democracy is supposed to be.

One simple fact illustrates the true nature of the bribery fest. By far the majority of the funds channeled through Political Action Committees (PACs) are given to incumbents who face no serious threat to re-election anyway. The PAC’s are interested in bribing those in power, not changing those in power. They are simply lobby groups with an opportunity for legal bribery. To illustrate that, the largest donating PACs are:

National Assn of Realtors
National Beer Wholesalers Assn
American Israel Public Affairs Cmte
Credit Union National Assn
Blue Cross/Blue Shield
American Crystal Sugar

It is worth noting that Bankman-Fried donated ten times as much as the largest PAC donation. This brought access – he and his brother had meetings inside the White House on 7 March, 22 April and 12 May.

It is perhaps unsurprising therefore that FTX was involved in Ukraine, offering to exchange cryptocurrency for fiat and send it to Ukraine in an official partnership with the Ukrainian government. This from their press release

Aid For Ukraine is cooperating with the cryptocurrency exchange FTX which converts crypto funds received into fiat and sends the donations to the National Bank of Ukraine. This marks the first-ever instance of a cryptocurrency exchange directly cooperating with a public financial entity to provide a conduit for crypto donations. Earlier this month, FTX already converted $1 million worth of SOL and transferred it to the National Bank of Ukraine.

The collapse of the Bankman Fried scam was allegedly caused by hackers stealing what should have been a comparatively small portion of the assets of FTX, had they not been hived off elsewhere. Doubtless we will shortly hear from state salaried conspiracy theorists that this was Russia/Guccifer/an ISP address traced by Bellingcat to inside the Kremlin.

What we really have here is an Allen Stanford for 2022, with added political connections.

We would do well to heed the advice of crypto developer Nikolai Mushegian, who had as his Twitter profile: “Larpers who self-style as CEOs or CTOs or VCs are a bigger problem than the establishment. They can’t build anything and will sell you out in 2 seconds.”

His final tweet was posted on 28 October:

The next day he drowned in the sea off a beach in Puerto Rico, where he lived. He was fully clothed including a jacket. The police are not treating it as homicide so presumably their theory is suicide by wading out to sea.

States of course have a massive incentive to destroy non fiat currencies, or convert them into a new category of regulation. I am interested in the current discussion on smart state digital currencies where the state can track, control and block any transaction and know in real time exactly where each citizen or entity is spending or keeping every penny.

It occurs to me this is the wrong way round. The state belongs to its citizens, not the citizens to the state. We should be able to track online every single penny of public money in real time and see how it is spent. Imagine being able to follow every penny of the billions the Tories spent on fraudulent PPE contracts, for example.

The only people whose personal currency should be able to be tracked are those who hold, or have held, positions of power in the state. Their wealth and dealings should be available in great detail to public view. As for the rest of us, our money is ours and we are entitled to privacy.

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Acadia 88

Intellectual curiosity can takes us in unexpected directions. This particular journey started with my learning that the word “Cajun” is a contraction of “Canadian”.

Nine years after Culloden, 300 British troops under Lt Col John Winslow entered the town of Grand Pre in Acadia, Nova Scotia. They constructed a palisade fort which enclosed both the church and cemetery. They then summoned all males aged ten and over to the church to hear a proclamation. Disarmed and surrounded, the Acadians were all registered, then told they were to be deported immediately.

Here is that register. Remember many of these were children as young as ten years old. About a quarter did not survive the brutal deportation.

Pierre ALIN
Jean APIGNE
Oliver AUCOIN
Claud AUCOIN
Charles AUCOIN
Jean AUCOIN
Renez AUCOIN
Joseph AUCOIN
Alexandre AUCOIN
Jean Batiste AUCOIN
Charles AUCOIN
Pierre AUCOIN
Simon AUCOIN
Abraham AUCOIN
Simon AUCOIN
Charles AUCOIN
Martin AUCOIN
Oliver AUCOIN
Jean a Pierre AUCOIN
Charles AUCOIN
Aman BABIN
Battiste BABIN
Charles BABIN
Feler BABIN
Jean BABIN
Joseph BABIN
Joseph BABIN
Joseph BABIN
Joseph BABIN
Paul BABIN
Pierre BABIN
Rener BABIN
Simon BABIN
Simon BABIN
Johanes BABBIN
Jacques BELMERE
Joseph BELMERE
Renez BELMERE
Oliver BELFONTAINE
Oliver BELFONTAINE
Francois BENOIST
Joseph BENOIST
Joseph BLANCHARD
Pierre Ilasis BLANA
Pierre BOBIN
Joseph BOUDRO sits
Joseph BOUDRO
Pierre BOUDRO
Michel BOUDRO
Michel BOUDRO Jr.
Ettime BOUDRO
Charles BOUDRO
Marin BOUDRO
Paul BOUDRO
Abraham BOUDRO
Jean BOUDRO
Jesepah BOUDRO
Pierre BOUDRO
Joseph BOUDRO
Norez Michel BOUDRO
Benois BOURG
Francis BOURG
Michel BOURG
“Old” Rener BOURG
Joseph BRASSIN
Cherussin BRAUX
Commo BRASSEAUX
Charles BRAUX
Pierre BRAUX
Vicar Francis BRAUX
Paul BRUN
Joseph BRUN
Pierre BRUN
Aman BRUN
Joseph BRUN
Paul CAPIERE
Pierrs CARETTER
Antoine CELESTIN
Joseph CELESTAIN
Norez CELESTINE
Paul CELESTINE
Charles HEBERT
Etimme LANDRY
Renez LANDRY
Simon LEBLANC
Etair LANDRY
Jean LANDRY fils
Paul LEBLANC
Simon LANDRY
Paul LANDRY
Jean LEBLANC
Jean LANDRY
Jos. LANDRY
Francois LEBLANC
Michelle LANDRY
Jean Pos LEBLANC
Francois LEBLANC
Michelle LANDRY
Bernard LEBLANC
Jean DOUCET
Martin LANDRY
Jacques LEBLANC
Jean DOULET
Jean LANDRY
Pieurs LEBLANC
Antaine HEBERT
Germain LANDRY
Jean Pauque LEBLANC
Igneiff HEBERT Rener LANDRY
Oliver LEBLANC
Simon Pierre HEBERT
Charles LANDRY
Allin LEBLANC
Jean Battiste HEBERT
Rener LANDRY
Joseph LEBLANC
Paul HEBERT
Pierrs LANDRY
Felix LAURENT
Francois HEBERT
Le Petis Clauds LANDRY
Paul LEBAR
Paul HEBERT
Etim LANDRY
Jean LEBARE
Pierre HEBERT
Pierre LEBLANC
Norez LEBARE
Francois HEBERT
Pierre LEBLANC
Margaret LAPIERRE
Alexandre HEBERT
Jean Battiste LEBLANC
Delene LEURON
Aman HEBERT
Benois LEBLANC
Jean LEPRINCE
Jos. HEBERT
Charle LEBLANC
Joseph LEBOUS
Bonnos HEBERT
Jacques LEBLANC
Brounos LE GRANGER
Guilljaums HEBERT
Simon LEBLANC
Pierre LE CLANE
Benonis HEBERT
Pierre LEBLANC
Pierre LEBLANC
Joseph HEBERT
Joseph LEBLANC
Pierre Jean LEBLANC
Simon HEBERT
Oliver LEBLANC
Norez LEBLANC
Alexis HEBERT
Charle LEBLANC
Jean Baptiste LEBLANC
Charle HEBERT
Joseph LEBLANC
Michelle LEBLANC
Charle JEANSONNE
Oliver LEBLANC
Pierre LEBLANC
Alexandre LANDRY
Joseph LEBLANC
Charle LABLUN
Pierre LANDRY
Jean Charle LEBLANC
Pinions LEBLANC
Jean a Pierre LANDRY
Michelle LEBLANC
Auguste LEBLANC
Charles LANDRY
Blesse LEBLANC
Baptiste LEBLANC
Antoine LANDRY
Simon LEBLANC
Piere NOALIS
Bonaumturs LEBLANC
Antoine PITREE
Pierrs a GOUITIN
Jean LEBLANC
Dominque PITRE
Aman LANDRY
Francois LEBLANC
Simon PITRE
Jean LANDRY
Battistes LEBLANC
Simon PITRE
Former LANDRY
Daniell LEBLANC
Bour QUETTE
Francois LANDRY
Alin LEBLANC
Michelle QUETTE
Jos. LANDRY
Joseph LEBLANC
Basil RICHARD
Charle LANDRY
Simon LEBLANC
Renez RICHARD
Pierre LANDRY
Jeanmer LANDRY
Germain RICHARD
Jose LANDRY
Alexis LANDRY
Joseph RICHARD
Charle LANDRY
Charle LANDRY
Joseph RICHARD
Germain LANDRY
Germain LANDRY
Jean RICHARD
Battiste LANDRY
Jean LANDRY
Jean RICHARD Joseph BABIN
George CLOATRE
Jean DUPUIS
Simon BABIN
Pierre GRANGER
Antoine DUPUIS
Jos. BABIN
Jean Battis GRANGER
Francois DUPUIS
Rener BABIN
Jean GRANGER
Jean DUPUIS
Feler BABIN
Sorans GRANGER
Alexandre DUPUIS
Charles BABIN
Simon GRANGER
Michelle DUPUIS
Joseph BABIN
Charles GRANGER
Suprian DUPUIS
Jean Robs CHOC
Joseph GRANGER
Charle DUPUIS
Clotis ——-
Rener GRANGER
Germain DUPUIS
Finmi CHELLE
Charle GRANGER
Antoine DOUCET
Pierre COMMO
Francois GRANGER
Tunuislaps FORREST
“le Vieuc COMMO”
Jean GRANGER
Oliver FORREST
Joseph COMMO
Joseph GRANGER
Josses inferms
Jean Louis BOUDRO
Ansemine GRANGER
habitant in formis
Jean Battiste BOUDRO
Joseph GRANGER
Charles JEAN SONNE
Charle BOUDRO
Francis GRANGER
Joseph GOTRO
Pierre BOUDRO
Charle GRANGER
Alexxis GOTRO
Claude BOUDRO
Aman GRANGER
Jean GOTRO
Anseleme BOUDRO
Joseph GRANGER
Pierrs GAUTRO
Pierrs BOUDRO
Vestache COMMO
Paul GOTRO
Paul BOUDRO
Jean Battiste COMMO
Charle GOTRO
Joseph BOUDRO
Esteeme COMMO
Jean GOTRO
Pierrs BOUDRO
Alexis COMMO
Joseph GOTRO
Paul BOUDRO
Oliver COMMO
Paul GOTRO
Joseph BOUDRO
Pierre COMMO
Alexis GOTRO
Pierrs BOUDRO
Simon COMMO
Aman GOTRO
Paul BOUDRO
Norez COMMO
Joseph HEBERT
Joseph BOUDRO
Bassil COMMO
Aman GRANGER
Pierrs BOUDRO
Dominque COTE
Pierre HEBERT
Paul BOUDRO
Jean Beautiste DAIGREE
Joseph HEBERT
Joseph BOUDRO
Jean Baxirles DAIGREE
Manuel HEBERT
Alexandre DUON
Charle DAIGREE
Pierre HEBERT
Joseph DUPUIS
Norez DAIGRE
Oliver HEBERT
Fabien DUPUIS
Oliver DAIGRE fils
Jean HEBERT
Silven DUPUIS
Oliver DAIGRE
Joseph HEBERT
Simon DUPUIS
Brener DAIGRE
Norez HEBERT
Germain DUPUIS Joseph DAIGRE
Etimme HEBERT
Jean Batiste DUPUIS
Astaches DAIGRE
Pierre HEBERT
Aman DUPUIS
Battistes DAIGRE
Augustin HEBERT
Charle CELESTINE
Alin DAIGRE
Renez HEBERT
Pierre CELESTINE
Charles DAIGRE
Aman HEBERT
Jacques CELEVE
Pierrs DAIGRE
Jacques HEBERT
Jacques CLELAND
Norez DAIGRE
Oliver HEBERT
Pierre CLEMENSON
Jean Battiste DAVID
Augustin HEBERT
Lewis Pierre CLOATRE
Joseph BOULET
Joseph HEBERT
George CLOATRE
Pierre BOULET
Joseph HEBERT
Jaque RICHARD
Joseph LEBLANC du
Sour
Maturin LEBLANC
Pierrs LEBLANC
Charles LEBLANC Cems
Paul LEBLANC
Jean Pierrs LEBLANC
Germain TERRIOT
Oliver TERRIOT
Pierre TERRIOTE
Jean TERRIOT
Charles TERIOT
Jacwue TERIOT
Brunois TERRIOTE
Charls TIBODO
Joseph TIBODO
Paul TIBODO
Germain TIBODO
Joseph TRAHANE
Pierre TRAHAN
Claude TRAHAN
Michelle TRAHAN
Charle TRAHAN
Pierre TRAHAN
Jean TRAHAN
Renez TRAHAN
Francis ROUS
Charles ROBICHOCT
Jean Le SOUR
Francis ROUS
Antoine MAJET
Baptiste SAPIN
Jeanm Batptiste MASIER
James SAPIN
Battis MASSIER
Joseph SEMER
Amans MASSIER
Charle SONIER
Battistes MASSIER
Pierre SOSONIER
Paul MELANSON
Renez SOSONIER
Baptistes MELANSON
Marcelle SONER
Pierre Jane MELANSON
Pierre TERRIOT
Battistes MELANSON
Janis TERRIOT
Jean Battis MELANSON
Charle a Claude TERRIOT
Joseph MELANSON
Pierre MELANSON
Suprien TERRIOT
James MELANSON
Charle TERRIOT
Pierre Jean MELANSON
Pierre TRAHAN
Aman MELANSON
Joseph TRAHAN
Pierre MELANSON
Joseph TRAHAN
Jacques MELANSON
Jean TRAHAN
Joseph MUNIER
Charles TRAHAN
Anselmer ales MANGEAN
Jean Batistes TRAHAN
Pierre RICHARD
Pierre TRAHAN
Jos. RICHARD
Joseph TRAHAN
Charles RICHARD
Charle TUNOUR
Paul RICHARD
Joseph VINCENT
Paul RICHARD
Antoine VINCENT
Joseph ROBICHAUD

In the next year 40% of the 15,000 population of Acadia were forcefully deported, deliberately dispersed to British colonies around the globe, in such dreadful conditions that over 1,200 died on the journeys. Males over ten, and females and small children, were bundled into separated random groups and those groups sent off to different destinations.

In Grand Pre itself, the British troops burnt down the church and destroyed the homes, and then smashed the system of dykes and sluices that the Acadians had built for their highly productive agricultural system.

Almost all of the remaining Acadians were dispersed over the next few years. Traveling through the wilds, some who left “voluntarily” eventually found their way to Louisiana. Hence “Cajun”. In 1758 it was made illegal in Nova Scotia for Catholics to own land. In 1759 a further Act was passed:

“An Act for the Quieting of Possessions to the Protestant Grantees of the Lands, formerly occupied by the French Inhabitants, and for preventing vexatious Actions relating to the same.” The legislation prohibited “any troublesome or vexatious Suits of Law” by Acadians trying to recover their lands and made it illegal for any courts in the province to hear cases brought “for the Recovery of any Lands” by “the former French Inhabitants.”

The preamble to Act recounted the “Manifest Treasons and Rebellions” of the Acadians against a British crown to which they had never in truth had the slightest duty of allegiance.

The Acadians had arrived in modern Nova Scotia from 1608. There were three unusual things about them.

i) From the start they had been focused on land reclamation in the coastal marshlands, rather than moving inland cutting down forests for agricultural land as was the prevalent pattern across North America. Historians have calculated they reclaimed in total 5,261 hectares of land. Their achievements in land reclamation were quite startling, especially as in the Grand Pre marsh they were dealing with tidal flows in the Bay of Fundy of over 15 metres, said to be the world’s highest.

Acadian reclaimed marshland at the town of Saint Pre

Modern scholarship has emphasised that their land reclamation skills were brought with then from the Western French seaboard, and then developed in a local vernacular. The unique feature of Acadian land reclamation, as opposed to French or Dutch, is that it was a communal effort and not dependent on central finance and hierarchical organisation. That is because of their second special feature:

ii) The Acadians arrived as individuals or families with no hierarchy. They acknowledged no nobility and crucially they did not acknowledge any Crown. Occasionally they were obliged temporarily to pay lip service to the French or British crown when military forces passed through, but until their deportation they were never successfully subjected to any central authority.

iii) They enjoyed consistently friendly relationships with the local Mik’maq nation and intermarried without apparent prejudice on either side, developing a large Creole component. Historians have generally explained this as due to Acadian agriculture being on reclaimed land and thus not competing for resources. However that ignores the fact the salt marshes they were reclaiming were themselves a very valuable source of food for the Mik’maq – birds and eggs, fish shellfish and crustaceans, samphire etc.

I rather tend to the view that it was the lack of hierarchy and crown allegiance that also led to good relationships with the native people. The Acadians made no claim to conquer the land, impose a new king or create a state. They were just settling non-aggressive farming communities.

Historians are at pains to counter the idyllic portrait of the Acadians. We are told they were very poor, lived in squalid conditions, tended to inbreed, left no cultural legacy and were often led by their Catholic priests. There is validity in all those points, but in the historical context such criticisms cannot help but come over badly. The imperfections of a society do not justify genocide.

In reading about the Acadians, I was struck by this passage:

“When the first New England colonists came to Nova Scotia five years after the Acadians were expelled, they encountered a landscape littered with bleached bones of livestock and burned ruins of houses.”

Anyone who has hill walked in the Highlands of Scotland knows just how frequently you come across the low walls of the base of old homes, often grouped together in small settlements, and sometimes in desolate moor many miles from the nearest habitation or cultivated land. These of course date from the Highland Clearances, some contemporary with the genocide of the Acadians.

One obvious fact had leapt out at me since childhood. The depopulation of the Highlands was a political choice, and the vast managed hunting estates were perfectly capable of supporting large populations through livestock and arable in the past. The notion they can only sustain grouse and small numbers of deer is evidently nonsense.

I am currently researching a biography of the Jacobite General George Murray, and was looking at a journey he took from Blair Atholl to Braemar. There is absolutely no public road there any more – not within twenty miles of most of his route – and the places he stayed including manses seem to be wiped from the map. There was a population – indeed he later raised troops there.

Go to google maps, trace a straight line Blair Atholl to Braemar (yes, obviously you can get there the long way round) and see what you can find today in the middle. But this is not wilderness, it is completely habitable and was populated.

I could recount a thousand or more atrocities across the history of the British Empire as bad as the Acadian genocide. Many are completely forgotten, like the massacre of the Murree tribe in Balochistan under a flag of truce, or the Sierra Leone Hut Tax war. Some are startlingly recent, like the Chagos Islands. But I recount the Acadian story because of its resonance to the Scottish Highlands, with that justification of treason and rebellion, and because of the furious denial in recent days after Scottish colonisation was asserted in the House of Commons.

The tone of much of that reaction is essentially that white people were not the victims of Empire. Well, I give you the Acadians. It is also worth pointing out the very basic fact that there was never the kind of expulsion and depopulation anywhere in England that occurred in both Scotland and Ireland. What happened to the Gael was much worse than effects of agricultural enclosure.

It is Armistice Day today and Remembrance Sunday shortly. What was in my childhood an occasion for reflection, grief and thanksgiving for peace has been turned into an orgy of militarism.

We are supposed to think of those who “gloriously” gave their lives for Britain, perhaps while shooting up Afghan civilians in a village or destroying the infrastructure of Iraq. Have a look through that list of names from the town of Grand Pre, and wonder which ones were ten year old boys separated from their mothers. Ponder which died on their hideous deportation journeys. The victims of Empire deserve remembrance too.

————————————————-

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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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Rampant Deprofessionalisation 122

It is not controversial to say that the UK’s immigration system is utterly broken. The reason is very plain but seldom noted – decades of cuts in which the cheapness of the system is crazily prioritised over the system working.

The costs to the economy of the system not working are simply enormous.

I have line managed the managers of two of the UK’s largest visa departments abroad. Over twenty years I witnessed first hand the systematic deprofessionalisation of the immigration service, which has continued apace since I left.

The plain truth is this: while governments driven by a desire to cut public spending are unwilling to fund the administration of immigration with reasonable levels of professionalism and expertise, it really does not matter what the policy is. The tool to carry the policy into effect was degraded long ago.

It is not that the system has collapsed under the weight of applications. Ever increasing applications are a complete myth. To take asylum applications as an example, do you know in what year asylum applications peaked? 2002. Yes, twenty years ago. 2022 is seeing something of a surge on 2021, but that surge will take 2022 to about 50% of the levels we were seeing twenty years ago.

The problem is not increased volume of applications. The problem is the wanton destruction of the machinery to cope with them.

When I first worked closely with immigration officers, in the British High Commission in Lagos over thirty years ago, this was the system:

All visa applicants had their case initially reviewed by a member of locally employed staff, but still a UK government employee of UK nationality. They would carry out an initial sift. Obvious visa grants – people who had previous visas and had never overstayed – would be put in a pile for rubber-stamping. All others would be granted an interview.

There were 22 visa officers to do the interviews, half from the Immigration Service and half from the Foreign Office. They would interview the applicants who required it. These officers were all well paid and well housed, enjoyed diplomatic status, and were highly trained and frequently very experienced. They would serve three or four years in the country and many took real pains to develop expertise in its culture. There were two Chief Immigration Officers in charge.

I remember one wise CIO impressing on their staff to judge the person in front of them. You give a visa to an individual, not to a document. Paperwork could be forged, or a genuine applicant may have difficulty getting the mound of papers together. Conversing with the individual and asking them questions, making due allowance for nervousness, was the most important part of the process.

The system had not substantially changed when I was Deputy High Commissioner in Accra 20 years later, except that rather more responsibility was given to the locally engaged staff, and the FCO insisted that we should no longer employ British local staff but could hire much cheaper Ghanaian staff for the initial sifting.

I viewed this as crazy; the pressures brought on local Ghanaian staff by extended family and friends over visa issue was immense, and it was pretty well socially impossible for them to avoid what we would view as corruption.

Now the system has changed completely. It has been privatised – almost everywhere in the world, Visa departments are outsourced to private firms with a slim layer of official management. Most visa decisions are taken by very low paid agency staff working through a computer checklist. Very few applicants get interviewed at all – it is done almost entirely on the documentation.

There are no appeals against refusal of a visit visa. If you are turned down, you are turned down.

Businesses in the UK suffer massive damage from important export customers being inexplicably refused visas, with no right of appeal. Equally very large numbers are allowed in on the basis of entirely fraudulent applications and forged documents. We liberals are not supposed to admit that side of the equation, but it is true.

Furthermore the number of visa departments abroad has been radically reduced. Visa decisions are now often taken by a minimum wage person, working for a private company, operating from a computer checklist in a completely different country to the home of the person being judged. The person taking the decision almost certainly knows nothing about the education system, economy, social systems or corporate structures of the country the applicant is applying from.

Rational, evidenced decisions are simply impossible in this situation. The excuse for cutting back visa departments to “regional hubs” was – wait for it – the cost of the machines that print out the high technology visas. This is symptomatic of the crazed accountancy of the whole system – for the price of about £3 million in capital expenditure the UK abandoned all local knowledge and expertise in its visa issuing process.

Let me give you an example of the effect of this. Visas for Uzbekistan are now processed in Istanbul. Two years ago I was shown an instance of a visa refusal where the minimum wage drone writing the reason for refusal, believed Tashkent to be in Turkey.

The UK Immigration Service I used to work alongside was a service, regulating immigration. That was abolished in favour of the “UK Borders Agency”, a title more suited to the privatisation agenda. It then got changed to the macho “UK Border Force”, a paramilitary sounding body that conjures images of lantern jawed heroes holding back Suella Braverman’s “invasion” of foreigners.

The Tories change the name regularly, and I am not sure what it is this week. But all the time the administation is sliced and cut, farmed out for profit, and run on cheaper and cheaper lines, with contempt for any notion of professional expertise.

There are still experienced and good immigration officers in the service of the Border Force, but these are now heavily concentrated at UK ports of entry. When there was a professional and competent visa service operating abroad, the visa officers at ports of entry had a relatively easy task, looking out for forged visas and passports, or applying intelligence material on smuggling etc.

Now, however, the person arriving from India with an entirely valid visa in his entirely valid passport, is being scrutinised at Heathrow for the very first time by somebody with skills and experience; after being given the visa by a 18 year old at a private company who never laid eyes on them.

The immigration officers at ports don’t trust the visas their own government has issued in its crazy cheap system. So in effect you have immigration interviews being conducted at the arrival airport desk, while thousands of passengers are queued up behind. That is the reason for periodic immigration chaos at airports – and results in immigration officers effectively being instructed not to do their jobs. Morale is at an all time low.

Asylum is a related but different issue. The Observer today reports that Home Office staff are being recruited to decide asylum cases in the UK who have no relevant experience and have come straight from working in supermarkets or cafes, being empowered to decide cases after three days of training. The report confirms that the grade of such staff has been reduced to Executive Officer, again to save money over using more senior staff.

The UK does not receive disproportionate numbers of asylum applications. Asylum applications per head of UK population are just half the level of the EU average. This from a UK parliamentary library briefing:

In 2020, 72% of all asylum applications were accepted as genuine at first decision by the Home Office. About one third of the remaining 28% were accepted on appeal. So 81% of all asylum applications are ultimately judged genuine. The Patel/Braverman line that most are “economic migrants” is a plain lie.

The mass arrival of Albanian citizens by boat is a relatively new phenomenon. I am sceptical that the numbers are as large as being put out. It seems to me wildly improbable that 2% of the adult male population of Albania is crossing the Channel in small boats. But it is worth noting that over 40% of Albanian asylum applications are accepted as genuine at first decision by the Home Office. The shameful painting of all Albanians as criminal is plain wrong.

Let me again upset some of my “own side” by saying that the Home Office is so denuded of well paid, expert staff that the bad decisions are not all one way. There are horrible instances of refugees being returned to torture and death after a bad asylum decision. But equally, there are bad decisions the other way, with frauds and criminals also gaining asylum.

The government simply refuses to pay for the degree of knowledge and expertise to make good decisions. I represented (without fee) a number of asylum applications at Immigration Appeals Tribunals – and never lost a case. The reason that so many appeals succeed is that the tribunals are before a real judge, and the Home Office officers have an embarrassing lack of basic knowledge and expertise, often depending for country information on publications or – very frequently – denials of human rights abuse by the particular despotism in question. It just does not cut ice with a judge.

Personally I am pleased that the system in general errs towards generosity to asylum seekers, once they get out of the hideous limbo of years of waiting for the application to be decided, frequently effectively in prison, and even when allowed into the community denied the right to work and support themselves.

It is now illegal in UK domestic law to arrive in the UK for the purpose of claiming asylum – contrary to international law and the UK government’s obligations under the Refugee Convention. At the same time, there is no provision to claim asylum outside the UK. In effect, the Conservative government has made it impossible to claim asylum other than by the desperate measure of pitching up in a small boat.

They then claim astonishment that people pitch up in small boats.

There is nothing in either the 1951 Refugee Convention nor its 1967 Protocol that stipulates that refugees must claim asylum in the first safe country they reach. That is a peculiar right wing canard. There is an obligation to treat refugees humanely, assist with housing and allow to find employment. The UK is failing in all of these duties.

At the risk of diluting the impact of this article on why the UK’s immigration system does not function, I cannot refrain from noting that this is part of a much wider trend in neoliberalism.

Twenty years ago a visa applicant facing refusal would have an interview with a real, experienced and properly paid immigration officer. Now the decision is taken by a low paid employee with a computer checklist who does not see the applicant.

This is for precisely the same as the reason I cannot normally see my GP as I would simply have done twenty years ago, but have to explain my symptoms instead to somebody with little or no medical qualification working their way through a computer checklist.

It is precisely the same reason I cannot see a bank manager, in the branch I have used for forty years but which no longer has a manager, about a loan for my company. Instead I have to speak to a low paid person in a call centre working their way through a computer checklist that simply applies a formula related to historic turnover and profit, with no experience or understanding of start-ups and investment periods.

We have had decades to get used to the replacement of the skilled working class through automation. What we see now is the replacement of the professional middle classes through automation. Be they local bank managers, immigration officers, or GPs a computer checklist and unskilled operator is cheaper.

In all cases, the delivery of the service which is the reason for the process is massively undermined, but that is ignored in favour of very short term financial benefit.

I expect this trend will attack higher education soon, with the need for face to face interaction with students denigrated and mass redundancies among lecturers in favour of computer learning. That is one of my dystopian predictions for the next couple of decades.

To return back to immigration, the Tories have destroyed the system meant to implement their flailing policies. The policy levers have no viable implementation mechanism at the end of them. It could be fixed, by substantial investment, reversing privatisation, and re-establishing a worldwide expert immigration service again.

If you add that to a genuine and effective legal mechanism for accepting and processing the European average of refugee applications and a sensible policy to admit the workers the UK economy desperately needs, the benefits would far outweigh the cost. But in a mad universe where all public spending bar defence is effectively viewed by the Tories as loss, it will not happen.

————————————————-

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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Braverman Loses the Dressing Room 79

The only thing more remarkable than the number of classified documents the Home Secretary leaks to her mentors, is the number of civil servants leaking to the newspapers about Braverman leaking the documents.

In her brief period(s) as Home Secretary, civil servants have separately leaked to the papers:
the fact of her emailing classified documents to backbench Tory MPs and others;
that Cabinet Secretary Simon Case was furious at her reappointment;
that civil servants were disquieted by her briefings of backbencher John Hayes inside the Home Office;
that Braverman ignored legal advice over responsibilities at the Manston detention centre;
that Braverman vetoed planned hotel bookings for Manston detainees because the hotels were in Tory areas.

Those are just the stories I happen to have picked up. I have never seen anything approaching this volume of civil service leaks against a minister. Clearly Braverman has completely lost the Home Office dressing room.

For decades, the position of Home Secretary has been used by both Labour and Conservative parties simply as a platform for winning votes through right wing populism. The last reforming Home Secretary in the UK was Roy Jenkins in 1976. Since then the only liberal tenure was the brief one of Kenneth Clarke. The rest have been a nightmare of slogans on fighting drugs, terror, crime and immigration.

The massive social disaster of the counter-productive “war on drugs” is but the most glaring example of the practical result of a fifty year Home Office policy of aggressive stupidity when faced with any problem.

Given the consistent anti-liberal bias of the Home Office, it naturally attracts civil servants to work there who tend to side with the Department’s underlying stances. You do not get what Braverman herself calls “the Guardian reading, tofu eating wokerati” at the Home Office. You get a lot of people who think like Theresa May and rather enjoy creating hostile environments for people – yet that is the kind of audience Braverman has managed to alienate.

By all accounts Braverman has done it largely by what she would call iconoclasm and I would call being unnecessarily rude to staff members who ask you to consider why, from their experience, there is another way of doing something worth considering. Braverman is substantially hated by her senior staff.

I do not know how the civil servants are coping. When Braverman talks in parliament about an “Invasion” of immigrants just after one of the terrorist followers of her philosophy attempted to kill specifically children of migrants with petrol bombs at a reception centre, it creates a dilemma for the civil service – practical as well as ethical.

Speeches for ministers – and carefully crafted compendia of replies to possible questions that may arise – are written by civil servants. They are not drafted by the Institute of Economic Affairs or by the Centre for Policy Studies. They are written by civil servants.

I did this job for years. You inherit many pages of past speeches and prepared answers, encapsulating the agreed official wording on the subjects you cover. You amend the wording only where a minister signs off new wording in response to a written submission (that may entail copying in other government departments affected, who have also to agree any new wording), or where a minister themselves institutes new wording in amending a draft letter or utterance you have prepared for them.

Minor alterations of phrase with no difference in meaning or practical effect can just get added in without fuss.

The minister’s job is to stick to the agreed wording they have been given as the official government line, cleared within Whitehall and in line with policy agreed in writing. 99.9% of the time ministers do this, bar the odd retort or witticism which they understand, if on subject, has to stick within the official lines. Even Boris Johnson, who would generally reply to questions or interventions by an attack on another subject entirely, would normally stick to official government lines when discussing the matter in hand.

Braverman however careers dangerously off piste at will. Referring to migrants as an “invasion” is inflammatory and liable to incite violence against them.

There had been no government agreement to characterise migrants in this way, her own media department did not know it was coming and were not ready for the backlash. Her casual characterisation of Albanians per se as criminals had not been cleared – as it should have been – with the FCO. She is the loosest of loose cannons.

In the normal course of events, civil servants preparing Braverman’s speeches and briefings would now have to incorporate the new lines on migrant invasion and Albanian criminals into the material. Personally I never had to try retrospectively to clear with other government departments very stupid language my minister had used. At a minimum the foreign office,the ministry for local government and the cabinet office should have been consulted in advance on what Braverman said. They were not.

Where civil servants cannot agree language between departments, the matter is referred up to their ministers. Where they cannot agree, it is sent to the Cabinet Office where, in cases of real dispute, a committee will meet and prepare a report, and ultimately the Prime Minister will decide. I have been through all these processes personally.

I suspect Braverman has by now been less formally told to tone it down. But stirring up racial hatred is the right wing Tories’ basic weapon. I fear more will follow very quickly.

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A Response to James Kelly 100

The ever excellent Scot Goes Pop blog of James Kelly has posted an article disagreeing strongly with my contention that the Alba party should fight the SNP at the next Westminster election, should the SNP renege on its commitment to a “Plebiscite election” that determines Independence.

As James is a person for whom I have great respect, I am taking the time to respond to his points.

We both agree that if the SNP declare a genuine plebiscite general election, where victory leads directly to Independence and not to just another referendum request to Westminster, then Alba should not stand candidates against the SNP (leaving aside the question of Alba’s two sitting MPs).

Where we differ is on whether Alba should stand against the SNP, in the event that the SNP resile on their promise of a plebiscite referendum, and seek to define it as just the seventh election since 2014 where they ask people to vote for them on the grounds they will then ask Westminster for a referendum.

This is not all very hypothetical – I am quite certain that will happen. I suspect James is too.

In that event, I think Alba should stand against the SNP and James believes very strongly we should not. Let me reply to his arguments.

Firstly, he sets up a straw man in knocking down an argument I have never made, that Alba might win seats or overtake the SNP at the next general election.

No, Alba will not be replacing the SNP as the largest party any time soon. We will not even be getting close to doing that.

Of course. My article clearly discusses Alba support at hopefully 4%. It makes the comparator to Sinn Fein, who like Alba had two MPs defected from Redmond’s IPP in 1906, lost them in 1908, and Sinn Fein did not go on to supplant the Redmondites until 1918, twelve years later.

That is about how long I think it would take. It took only slightly longer for the Labour Party to supplant the Liberal Party as the opposition to the Tories in the UK. Because of FPTP, when the switch comes, it comes fast. But that does not mean it comes tomorrow.

We are talking of how we get to Independence in a situation where the SNP leadership has thrown away our best chances and has every intention of continuing to do so.

Of course, I would much prefer a drastically quicker solution where the SNP leadership genuinely make a move for Independence, defy Westminster and stop thinking about their personal careers and bank balances.

Please call me when that happens.

Where I disagree most strongly with James is his notion that Alba would be “humiliated” in an election. I have stood twice as an independent, anti-war candidate in parliamentary by-elections. I gained 5% of the vote in Blackburn and 2.7% of the vote in Norwich North – the top end of the Alba range.

I was not in the least humiliated. I had the chance to express my beliefs, against all the might of the big party machines, and thousands of people listened to what I said and cared enough to go out and vote for me. Honest presentation of your beliefs, as a choice for the electorate, is never humiliating.

Every vote won against the big battalions of the state is a small victory for independent thought.

James’ great error is repeatedly throughout his article to count SNP seats as pro-Independence seats. Independence will never be achieved with Westminster agreement. It must be taken as a right asserted in international law.

Any MP not prepared to defy Westminster for Independence is a Unionist. That is every SNP MP.

My question to James is this. For how many decades is he prepared to assert that we should vote for SNP MPs, who will never make any move for Independence? Why would we vote for people for whom their career, their bank account, and their respectability within the British Establishment are all more important than Scottish Independence?

Unless the SNP are opposed at the ballot box by real Independence supporters, their false flag Independence stance will remain unchallenged. Doubtless Alba would receive fierce criticism from SNP supporters for splitting the Independence vote. Doubtless Alba could enable a few Labour gains from SNP, causing short term unpopularity.

But how else will you get a platform to point out the SNP are not a real Independence party? How else will you ever impact the troughing charlatans?

James’ argument suffers from the fundamental flaw that it treats SNP MPs as pro-Independence MPs, when every single one of them is a Westminster bootlicker, grovelling for “permission” that will never be given.

I am genuinely perplexed as to why James left the SNP at all if he wished to campaign for them. I certainly will not myself remain in the Alba party if it sees itself as not a real alternative for Independence, but simply a bolt-on to the SNP for the Holyrood list vote elections.

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A Real Plebiscite Election, or Fight the SNP 88

A “plebiscite election” on Scottish Independence can only mean an election fought on that issue with the understanding that, if the election is won, Independence will be declared. It cannot mean anything else.

In particular, a “plebiscite election” cannot possibly mean an election which, if won, results in a request for a referendum. We have had lots of those elections already. A “plebiscite election” is not an election about holding a plebiscite. It is the plebiscite.

Plebiscite elections are not a new idea in the UK, and are generally on constitutional issues. The accepted historical narrative is that the 1832 General Election was over the franchise and led to the Great Reform Act. The 1910 elections were on reform of the House of Lords. In both cases victory was taken as an unanswerable mandate on a fiercely resisted constitutional reform.

It is worth noting that electoral victory in UK general elections has always meant winning the most seats under the first past the post system. It is a terrible system, but those are the rules. It is 91 years since any party has gained more than 50% of the popular vote in a UK general election (the Tories in 1931). All Westminster government have been elected in the range of 37 to 43% of those voting.

Nobody has ever argued – at the time or since – that the “plebiscite election” on Lords reform in 1910 needed a majority of the popular vote to be valid, as well as the majority of MPs.

In fact if you took the Liberal Party, Labour Party and Irish Parliamentary Party together you get 47.7% of the vote in December 1910 for parties standing on the platform of abolishing the legislative veto of the House of Lords. Yet the election of 399 MPs between them meant both King and Lords gave way. So don’t let the Establishment now con you into accepting vote share rules for a “plebiscite election” in Scotland.

There is no reason a general election in Scotland won by a majority of pro-Independence MPs should not give a similar mandate to action, and lead to a Declaration of Independence. That is the mechanism by which the majority of countries on the globe have won their Independence. Actual referenda are not only not mandated in international law, they are very rare and often distrusted.

Unionists routinely use the argument that one side cannot fairly declare a plebiscite election when voters are concerned about other things. But that argument does not survive thirty seconds of serious thought. If you fairly and squarely say this to the electorate:

“We are standing on the issue of Independence. If we win we will declare Independence”

then the electorate have fair warning and obviously anybody who does not want Independence can and should vote for somebody else.

If the opponent says

“That is nonsense. I do not accept this is an election about Independence. Vote for me because imposing long jail sentences for climate protestors is a much more important thing to do”

then the electorate have a choice. But if the majority vote for the first proposition, it is self evidently true that the less popular second proposition cannot outweigh the electoral victory, by a denialism which the electorate rejected.

It is a nonsensical argument, even if one beloved of the mainstream media.

Now Nicola Sturgeon announced, as a cloth pressed to the haemorrhage of exiting party members, that if the Supreme Court ruled against the Scottish Parliament having the power to hold a referendum, then the next general election would be a “plebiscite election” on Independence.

Having, through her specially appointed Unionist Attorney General Dorothy Bain, done everything possible to ensure Scotland loses the case at the UK Supreme Court, the ruse has got Nicola through a party conference attended largely by the payroll vote and bought her four months in which to wriggle her way out of the plebiscite election pledge.

Sturgeon pressed hard for a Westminster election now, before the Supreme Court judgement comes in. That would be perfect for her because it would provide a plausible argument that it is too early for the election to be treated as the promised plebsicite.

What precisely would be achieved for Scottish Independence by a UK General Election now? Nothing. It would however keep SNP MPs’ bums on the green benches at Westminster for a further five years. In return, it would lose the chance of a plebiscite election after the Supreme Court judgement.

It is however now clear that we will have to endure two full years of a Sunak government. The state and corporate media will unite in promoting the genuinely far right Sunak as a genial technocrat striving to save the UK economy, as it sails into the headwinds of a disastrous world economic situation utterly portrayed as outwith his control and entirely the fault of Vladimir Putin.

Back in the real world, Sunak’s only difference from Truss is one of sequencing – he wants deep spending cuts first and tax cuts for the rich next. She wanted to do it the other way round. With a wave of deep cuts and public spending rises being planned to be well below inflation, we are about to be hit by an austerity shock that will make George Osborne look like Santa Claus.

In that period, having lost the chance to extend their MPs’ lucrative employment contracts to 2027 with an early election (not to mention extend those of their MPs’ staff and get all the Short money), the SNP will now continue to swivel away from the promised “plebiscite election”.

They are already doing that with multiple party figures close to Sturgeon explaining that a plebiscite election is no different to any other election and not actually to be used as a plebiscite. It was just a figure of speech, with no meaning. “Plebiscite” here apparently just means “mandate to hold a plebiscite should Westminster agree to it.”

It is notable that there is zero SNP campaigning going on, in the streets or even online, for a referendum on scottish Independence they claim will be held on October 19 2023. If they did anything to mark one year to the referendum – which you would think would be a key campaigning moment – I could not find it.

For a pro-Independence political activist like myself, the question is now whether genuine Independence supporters should oppose the SNP candidates at Westminster elections. To do so under the first past the post system could lose SNP seats at Westminster to the Unionist parties.

The question is primarily one for the new Alba Party, of which I am a member. Alba has, through membership votes at party conferences, fleshed out a policy platform different to that of the SNP.

Alba wants immediate Independence, and it wants an Independent Scotland to be a republic, outside NATO, in EFTA/EEA rather than the EU, and to have its own Scottish currency from the outset. In addition to these there are a raft of more progressive taxation, nationalisation and spending policies, so Alba has defined its positon well to the left of the neoliberal captured SNP.

What Alba does not have is any significant number of voters. This is a major failing for a political party. But then it is only two years old, contains almost all the people actually campaigning for Independence, and is starting to be picked up as a blip in the opinion polls at up to 4% in Scotland.

Electorally that would not elect any Alba MPs but it is ten per cent of the SNP’s vote.

There is the question of Alba’s two existing MPs, Kenny MacAskill and Neale Hanvey, who under the super vindictive Sturgeon will almost certainly be opposed by the SNP. But leaving that important question to the side, should Alba stand against the SNP in Westminster elections, when this could cost the SNP seats and there appears no realistic chance of Alba winning any?

If the SNP declare an actual plebiscite election, in which a SNP majority will lead to a declaration of Independence, then Alba should not stand against them. It would complicate matters unnecessarily and confuse the electorate. In those circumstances, I would call on all Independence supporters to get behind the SNP, putting aside all differences until after Independence is achieved.

But if the “plebiscite election” tag is purely a ruse to describe a normal election, in which the SNP plan nothing more than to ask Westminster again for permission to hold a referendum (which they know will be refused), then most certainly I shall be arguing that Alba should stand in every single constituency.

If this causes the SNP to lose a handful of seats to Unionist candidates, I shall shed not a tear. Frankly I prefer to argue against open Unionists to the closet Unionists of the SNP, who have betrayed those who voted for them believing they were voting for Independence.

Westminster will never willingly cede Scottish Independence. Never.

The 2014 referendum was only agreed because Independence was at 28% in the opinion polls and Cameron believed a referendum would be easily won. Scotland gave the British establishment the shock of their lives in 2014, and they will not repeat it. Scotland’s economic resources are invaluable to the British elite.

If the British Establishment believed they would win a second referendum, they would not sacrifice so much democratic credibility by refusing it.

Scotland therefore needs to take Independence, not wait to be given it. We have seen moments of great vulnerability for the British state – the Brexit vote and the moment of leaving the EU against the wishes of the overwhelming majority of Scots, the Johnson premiership, the disintegration of Westminster ministerial structures this anarchic Tory autumn – massive opportunities for a bold move on Independence all spurned by Sturgeon.

Opportunities spurned in favour of a legal strategy designed to lose.

Those SNP MPs and MSPs who enable Sturgeon are fast coming to the end of the period where they could claim they were duped.

The SNP MPs at Westminster are achieving nothing whatsoever that advances the cause of Independence. They increasingly get immersed further and further into the processes of legislation for the whole UK, failing to differentiate the interests of Scotland, particularly in the areas of defence and foreign policy.

Unless Sturgeon is ousted in short order, and the plan ditched to please MI5 with a handover to the Robertson power couple, re-electing SNP MPs will continue to do nothing other than to ensure the continued swelling of the bank balances and the pension pots of the MPs themselves, funding for their staff and Short money for the SNP’s smug office bureaucrats.

Independence has not been advanced an inch by these highly paid British state collaborators of the SNP these last five years. That will not change.

Since 2014 the SNP has managed to achieve Scottish Labour levels of both corruption and of incompetence in administration. I once believed that impossible. There are many causes, including crazed over-centralisation where everybody is terrified to take a decision which may displease the dictator, or even to discuss unapproved options.

The limitations of making appointments on the dual bases of personal loyalty and identity politics quotas have also been exposed. There remains a huge amount of talent in the SNP but it has been marginalised and driven from the centre by a leadership that only sees talent as a threat.

Scottish Labour has for decades marginalised any real socialists in the party. But unlike Sturgeon’s continued abuse of state police and prosecution systems systematically to jail or attempt to jail real Independence supporters, at least Scottish Labour did not imprison its internal dissidents.

I have consistently argued that the SNP remains the only realistic vehicle for Independence, it is just a question of changing the driver. But as it continues merrily on the path of Unionism with the passengers apparently too comfortable to care, there comes a time when true Independence supporters simply have to drop the SNP from their calculations as a lost cause.

I believe we are finally there.

So I shall be arguing for Alba to fight the SNP in all constituencies at the next Westminster election, excluding a real plebiscite election. I shall also argue for Alba to fight the SNP everywhere in the next Holyrood election, on both the constituency vote and on the list vote in the d’Hondt system.

This is a hard road. But not an impossible one. There is an extremely close parallel.

The Irish Parliamentary Party of John Redmond was even more dominant in Ireland than Sturgeon’s SNP is in Scotland. In 1906 just two of its MPs, like the two Alba MPs we have now, deserted as a result of lack of progress towards Home Rule. One retired at the next election and one stood and was defeated as a Sinn Fein candidate in 1910.

In the 1910 election the Redmondites continued to be utterly dominant electorally, taking 78 Irish MPs to the Unionists 27. Sinn Fein got nil.

But in the course of just 8 years, by the 1918 general election, Sinn Fein had 71 Irish seats to the Redmondites 6. Simply put, people worked out that the once triumphant Redmondites were not serious about Independence, and they switched to a political party that was. The Redmondites changed their name to the National Party, and quickly descended into irrelevance.

Westminster first past the post is a brutal electoral system. It makes change extremely difficult. But when change does come, it enables it to be exaggeratedly swift and dramatic.

The SNP needs to be opposed simply because it is doing nothing about Independence and has no real intention of doing so. Put bluntly, my patience with the grifters, who grow fat on the backs of betrayed supporters of Independence, has snapped completely.

They need to be shaken hard. If that results in a small temporary increase of open unionists in Westminster, that will be a necessary step in opening the eyes of the Scottish people.

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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 Primrose Path 161

Rishi Sunak’s career reminds me of another spoiled child of fortune who became UK Prime Minister without having to fight an election, Archibald Primrose, the only previous PM almost as rich as Rishi.

Primrose, Lord Rosebery, became Prime Minister in 1894 when William Ewart Gladstone, old and now blind, retired after his fourth (non-consecutive) term in office. Primrose had stood by Gladstone in support of Irish Home Rule, but was well to the right of the Liberal Party and really had nothing relevant to offer in a new democratic and urbanised society. He retired from politics permanently after losing the subsequent general election in 1895.

I strongly expect Sunak will follow a very similar political path.

Sunak attended Winchester College, a private school where fees are currently £46,000 per year. From there it was easy to get into Oxford. 32% of Oxford admissions are from private schools (known as public schools in England) and only 68% from state schools. But only 6% of the population attend private schools whereas 94% attend state schools.

So private school pupils are over five times more likely to get into Oxford than state school pupils.

Elite networking is far more important as the social advantage of attending the “right” school and university, than anything learnt in class. With his Winchester and Oxford background it was a matter of the right contacts for Sunak to get into Goldman Sachs and earn his first millions in investment banking, and then move on and up into the world of hedge funds and private wealth management, with money sticking to him like… use your own analogy.

Marriage to the daughter of a billionaire was only natural. Sunak’s path has been gilded. The notion that his elevation is some sort of victory for equality is the reductio ad absurdum of identity politics.

Like Rishi Rich, Archibald Primrose had started life from a position of great privilege, as heir to the coal rich Rosebery estates around Edinburgh. He went to Eton and Oxford. He too held a variety of ministerial offices and enhanced his wealth spectacularly by marrying a great heiress – Hannah Rothschild, who had the advantage of being an only child.

Dalmeny House, family seat of Archibald Primrose Lord Rosebery

We will have plenty of time to talk about Sunak, so I want to concentrate today on Archibald Primrose, Lord Rosebery. As a historian, it always fascinates me which parts of history have entered national consciousness and which have not, and indeed which are explored by historians and which ignored.

Rosebery acquired Mentmore Towers on marrying Hanna Rothschild

Most people know something of Oscar Wilde’s affair with “Bosie”, Lord Alfred Douglas, son of the Marquis of Queensberry, which ultimately led to the trials that destroyed Wilde. Far less well known is what was widely believed to be the related affair between Archibald Primrose, Lord Rosebery and Lord Alfred Douglas’ elder brother, Lord Francis Douglas.

The Marquis of Queensberry followed Rosebery to the spa at Bad Homburg to confront him over what Queensberry believed to be the sexual relationship with his son, and in a remarkable scene was only restrained from attacking Rosebery by the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII).

40 Piccadilly, Rosebery’s London home

Rosebery’s name cropped up from time to time in the Wilde trial, which fact was reported in continental newspapers but not in British ones. Rosebery was Prime Minister at the time of Wilde’s trial in the election year of 1895 and had wanted to help Wilde, both financially and possibly in giving evidence, but was warned by Arthur Balfour “if you do, you will lose the election”. Rosebery refrained from helping Wilde, but lost the election anyway.

Villa Rosebery, his Italian home, now the country palace of the President of Italy.

Rosebery when Foreign Secretary had installed Francis Douglas as his Private Secretary, and as Prime Minister arranged Douglas’s elevation to join him in the House of Lords as Baron Kellhead. Rosebery also created him a Lord in Waiting to Queen Victoria, which made it possible for Francis Douglas to be at royal venues when Rosebery was present. It also elevated Francis above his father, whose Scottish title of Marquis of Queensberry did not carry a seat in the Lords.

Lord Francis Douglas then had been shot to death in a “hunting accident” at Quantock Lodge in Somerset a few months before Wilde’s trial began. Rosebery was Prime Minister at the time.

It was almost certainly not an accident. Francis may well have committed suicide. It also must be possible that he was murdered to avert a massive gay scandal (homosexuality was highly illegal) involving the British Prime Minister.

The incident is almost entirely unexplored by historians – I have on my shelves Robert Rhodes James’ life of Lord Rosebery which does not mention his being gay at all. You can find bits and pieces in lives of Oscar Wilde; much of this comes from that by Richard Ellman. Ellman notes that the prosecutor decided to retry Wilde after the original jury came to a hung verdict, telling Solicitor General Lockwood “I would not, but for the horrible rumours against Rosebery”.

The events of 1894/5 – Francis Douglas’ suicide, the Bad Homburg incident, Wilde’s trial and then general election defeat – completely unnerved Rosebery. He had a breakdown and retired from public life aged only 48. He was a reclusive depressive the rest of his life.

History simply drew a veil. Few people today know Britain’s wealthiest Prime Minister ever existed.

One small foonote on Primrose/Rosebery. He had stuck with Gladstone in the disastrous split of the Liberal Party over Irish Home Rule, and Rosebery also advocated for a degree of Home Rule for Scotland. Rosebery had campaigned strenuously for the creation of the post of Secretary of State for Scotland, and introduced a Bill to do so in 1885. This fell with that Gladstone administration but Rosevery’s bill was reintroduced by the succeeding Conservative government and passed into law.

Modern nationalists rightly see the post of Secretary of State for Scotland as an instrument of alien rule, but this was the first political acknowledgement for nearly two centuries of any kind of separate Scottish political administration.

Together with the independence supporting Marquis of Bute and others in an aristocratic circle in the late nineteenth century, Rosebery contributed to the revival of the idea of Scotland as a separate political identity and helped lay the foundations of the future nationalist movement.

On the surface, Archibald Primrose was a hugely successful figure – wealthy beyond imagining, Prime Minister at 45 years old. Yet his career is always presented, when remembered at all, as one of failure – almost of Liz Truss dimensions. Sunak will probably be a similar one time PM who never wins an election.

I am drawing Sunak/Primrose parallels with respect to extreme wealth, an easy life and unelected one term PMs. I am absolutely not drawing any parallels on the sexual front.

Yet the failure of history and collective memory to this day to come to terms with the anti-gay prejudice that destroyed Primrose is really interesting. Primrose knew Wilde personally, was Prime Minister during his trial, had to be dissuaded from helping him, like Wilde had been threatened with physical assault by Queensberry, after having an extremely close relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas’ brother which many, including Queensberry, believed was sexual. Yet even the great many books and films on Wilde’s downfall barely begin to explore it.

This is a strangely deferential country.

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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 Inquiry Mystery 206

There is still no explanation as to why the judge chairman Lady Poole, the lead counsel Douglas Ross KC and three other lawyers have all quit the public inquiry into the handling of Covid in Scotland. This is an astonishing event. The inquiry currently is not happening. But nobody in the media seems particularly to care.

Word being put around the Edinburgh establishment is that there is nothing to report, it is nothing to do with remit or evidence, just about terms of service and the length of the inquiry. But that really does not wash. If the inquiry has collapsed over such issues, either the Scottish government has starved it of resources or the lawyers have behaved disgracefully and unprofessionally, abandoning an important public responsibility midway.

Either way, this cannot simply be shrugged off as nothing. And that is assuming it is true that there is no dispute over substance.

On that substance, obvious mistakes were made – such as the release of patients with covid back into care homes – but plainly they were not malicious. What was extremely malicious was the profiteering – for example over PPE, and Pfizer’s price maximisation on their vaccine. But these are outside the scope of this inquiry. I do not know why.

As regular readers know, I have avoided commenting much on covid on the grounds of lack of expertise. My instincts are libertarian – I would have concentrated more on enabling robust (but voluntary) shielding of the vulnerable rather than locking down healthy young people at low risk. Some things made no logical sense at all – like closing the universities when the schools were open. But I do not share the radical opinions many people genuinely hold, both for and against the lockdowns.

One major issue I have not resolved in my own mind is whether covid-19 was a natural development or an escape from a laboratory of a man made variant. The problem is that the experts best able to determine this are of course themselves in this research industry, which could be at fault in inflicting enormous human suffering.

If it were determined that covid-19 were human engineered, the backlash would result in massive closure of labs and defunding of the industry. I therefore don’t expect the scientists to tell us that any time soon.

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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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Bank address Natwest, PO Box 414, 38 Strand, London, WC2H 5JB

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The Party is Over 225

The highly paid political class in charge of each of the UK’s three major political parties detests, despises, distrusts and seeks to discard their own party membership.

The Conservative, Labour and SNP elite all view their party members as a potential embarrassment.

The Tory Party MP’s appear to have worked out how to get rid of Truss , the hopeless leader the membership lumbered them with, and to put in place a replacement – crucially – while minimising their own rules on including a vote of party members in the process.

All Candidates will require 100 MP nominations to stand – which should eliminate member favourites Suella Braverman and Kemi Badenoch. This makes it impossible for there to be more than three candidates nominated, as there are under 400 Tory MPs. MPs will then hold one or two rounds of voting until a winner is announced.

Only then will the candidates be put to the membership, with information on who the MPs chose. It is plain there will be huge pressure on  candidates to step down after the MPs’ vote, so the election does not go to the membership at all.

There is a precedent. Andrea Leadsom was a kind of proto-Truss, with a similar ideological stance. Leadsom did not get to be Prime Minister because she was made to stand aside by pressure from senior MPs before the vote was put to the membership, where polls showed she might well have beaten Theresa May.

Given the chance, Tory Members would bring back Boris Johnson – that remains their number one choice. Alternatively they would, given the chance, be more likely to vote for populist right wingers like Suella Braverman or Kemi Badenoch, than more Establishment friendly figures. The new rules are designed to ensure they won’t get that chance.

Johnson however appears to be hoovering up more MP nominations than expected. Careerist Tory MPs will be worried about the impact on their own prospects of not backing him.

Many members entered the Tory Party from the winding up of UKIP. Opinion polls show that, after the economy, immigration remains their next highest priority, even after free movement from the EU has ended. In short, the Tory membership will vote in any nutter who promises rough treatment for immigrants.

It is fascinating that both the Tory and Labour parties have now adopted exactly the same mechanism to prevent the membership electing a leader again with views outside the narrow Establishment consensus – in both parties that mechanism being an increase in the number of MPs who have to nominate, before a candidate can get their name before the party membership.

The professionals are to radically limit the options of the members.

The Labour Party had under Jeremy Corbyn the largest mass membership of any political party in Europe. The current leadership has succeeded – quite deliberately – in losing half of them. The Labour members elected Keir Starmer on the basis of ten pledges to carry out the kind of left wing policies the Labour membership support. Almost all of those pledges have been summarily broken.

We have witnessed the Labour leadership refuse to endorse strikes which are the main avenue for working class resistance, ban its MPs from the picket lines, and refuse to oppose massive Tory attacks on civil liberties at home, while vying to be the most enthusiastic zionists and warmongers abroad. Labour members are summarily expelled for connection to legitimate socialist organisations.

This is what Labour Party members voted for:

This is typical of what they got:

Keir Starmer’s Shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves, not only wants to deport more immigrants than the Tories, she has for a decade been proclaiming that Labour will cut more benefits than the Tories. The disjunction between what Labour Party members want – and were promised by Starmer to get elected – and what Labour MPs want, could not be clearer.

The SNP, like Labour, has been shedding loads of members. The 2022 SNP Conference took place at the same conference centre in Aberdeen where I attended the 2015 SNP Conference. On that 2015 occasion the entire main hall was used, and full with some 7,000 delegates. In 2022 attendance had fallen to about 10% the number of delegates, with an equivalent fall in the hall space used:

By inviting non-delegates to attend for the leaders’ speech, the party managed to get 1,000 people for its big showpiece, which with complicit broadcasters using tight camera angles, looked pretty good.

The SNP is both paranoid and fundamentally dishonest about membership numbers. The 2022 election results for National Secretary are illuminating, an election in which the large majority of conference delegates might be expected to vote. A total of only 822 delegates voted in that election.

To give some indication of the rate of decline in participation in the party, that is about a third of the delegates who voted in the election when I stood for Party President just two years ago.

If you take alone the SNP MPs, MSPs, their paid staff, and SNP headquarters staff, SPADs etc, that gives you over 400 payroll votes. Hundreds of paid SNP councillors also automatically qualify as conference delegates. In short, the 900 odd delegate SNP conference is now almost totally devoid of the thousands of ordinary party members who used to be delegates.

Crucial past party conference decisions – including that an independent Scotland must have its own currency and central bank – are simply ignored by the party leadership which has announced this week that its proposal for an “independent” Scotland involves still using sterling for several years, and accepting some of the UK’s sterling denominated national debt; a simply disastrous proposition.

About 5,000 SNP members have defected to the small Alba Party, which now includes Scotland’s own currency, no NATO membership, and a republic as policies on Independence clearly different to the SNP. With its radicals gone, the SNP has become ever more neo-liberal, with an annual 1% reduction in the state sector share of GDP as a policy. The SNP leadership openly briefs the media against its own membership.

Here follows the perception, I believe very important, which led me to start writing this article four days ago. I have needed constantly to rewrite it because of the astonishingly fast developments with the Truss government collapsing; but originally the article was nothing to do with that, except for the fact the Tory party professional elite also hate their own membership.

I live in Joanna Cherry’s constituency and was an SNP member here. All of the stalwarts in this constituency have left the party. There was a system of 16 individuals who received the leaflets for distribution, and then gave them out to local volunteers in their area (I presume the 16 are by ward, but that’s a guess). All 16 key individuals left to join Alba.

The universal motive of members quitting was the Sturgeon SNP’s failure to make any move towards Independence despite multiple successive electoral mandates. This member insistence on Independence was deeply annoying to the large professional class in the SNP making excellent personal money out of the positions they occupied within the devolution settlement.

That is the same all over Scotland. The average Alba member is not just ex-SNP (and over 90% are), but were the heart and soul of SNP membership, the people who chapped the doors and delivered the leaflets. A year ago, it was being suggested the SNP would be seriously damaged without these people.

That turns out to be completely untrue. Because those who lead political parties – and here comes my promised perception – believe they don’t actually need members any more. Almost nobody attends hustings meetings, nobody reads leaflets and nobody engages with canvassers. Elections are now fought almost entirely through the mainstream media, and online.

For the modern campaign, parties need paid PR practitioners and they need paid troll farms. They don’t need little old men and women going door to door, other than once or twice for a candidate photocall.

The members, bluntly, are redundant old nuisances in the eyes of the political class. Nobodies who presume a right to have a say in party policy which should be dictated by the professionals.

Nor do they need the members’ subscription money. Starmer is delighted to have shed hundreds of thousands of Corbyn supporting members, to pursue instead corporate and billionaire money. The SNP Conference in Aberdeen was simply a festival of corporate lobbying. The Tories have always run on dark money in huge tranches.

Then there is the ever increasing largesse of Short money – taxpayer funds which the political class have awarded themselves to fund their party administrations. This state funding of political parties is one of the very worst innovations of my lifetime and fundamental to the development of our careerist and unprincipled political class.

The UK’s political parties are becoming uniformly right-wing organisations which represent a very narrow spectrum of views – those of the corporate sector and billionaire donors; who also of course own the mainstream media, which thus has precisely the same narrow spectrum of view.

This is a fundamental change in what a political party is – it no longer is a free association of citizens holding a common political outlook and working to elect representatives to support that philosophy. This great change in society – which renders western “democracy” entirely meaningless – is being consolidated before our eyes.

The destruction of Corbyn and his member-supported left-wing programme is mirrored in the destruction of Truss and her member-supported right-wing programme.

Nobody is allowed any longer to put forward any programme that is not within the narrow and entirely unimaginative confines of the professional political class.

An election that pitched Corbyn against Truss would offer voters a real choice between two radically different visions of society, with the Lib Dems as an option for those who liked neither. That would be a real democracy. But it is not to be permitted to voters.

Irrespective of what Labour and Conservative Party members would like to offer, the electorate is likely to be presented with Sunak or Starmer, two people so close in political outlook and policy there really is little point in turning up to vote. In Scotland you can choose the SNP, with the same basic economic policies and no genuine desire to change much on the constitution.

This of course links to the ease with which the “markets” were able to destroy the Truss/Kwarteng mildly radical economic policy. Be in no doubt the “markets” would have done precisely the same to Corbyn/McDonnell. Again, no actual political choice that deviates from our unseen masters is to be permitted.

That is a much larger subject, for another day.

To end on a happier note, I am not sure the professional politicians can so safely write off the power of ordinary people campaigning in the real, not virtual, world. Both climate chance activists and union strikes are showing a way forward, while the feeling of social solidarity at the Assange protest in London recently reinvigorated me.

I will never forget the genuine social mobilisation behind the major unexpected and still sustained advance in support for Scottish Independence in 2014. I don’t think troll farms and PR firms can replace genuine popular movements, and I believe those are still possible, drawing on – but not dominated by – modern communications technology.

————————————————-

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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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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Winners at Raindance 17

UPDATE: Wow

The UK has submitted Hassan Nazer’s Winners as its entry for best international feature at the Oscars.

Nadira’s first feature film as Producer, Winners, won the Audience Award for best film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival to our (frankly surprised) delight. It will play in London at the Raindance Film Festival on Saturday 29 October at 8.30pm, at the Genesis Cinema in Bethnal Green.

Other than sometimes making coffee for Nadira and a lot of babysitting, I had no hand in the film, so I feel entitled to say it is most enjoyable on a number of levels. Set in Iran and in the Farsi language (with English subtitles), it can be enjoyed as a simple amiable comedy. But for those with a knowledge of Iranian cinema it is a fest of references and hommage shots.

There is also a great deal of social commentary for those with an eye to pick it out – remember the film had to pass Iranian state censors. The entire basis of the plot is founded on Trump’s travel ban, which led to an Oscar having to be delivered to Iran rather than the winner receiving it at the ceremony.

Then there are deeper levels of observation of socio-economic conditions in Iran – the action centres around children who literally scrape a living from a landfill site – and of the conditions under which the artistic community has to live and work.

There are currently several important Iranian directors in prison – in watching the film, bear in mind that certain visual references were perhaps not apparent to the state censors who approved the script!

All in all it is a triumph for the Director Hassan Nazer. I do commend it to you as well worth watching. You can buy tickets here.

Here is a link to the trailer. At Raindance there will be a Q & A after the film in which Nadira will take part.

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The Great Crossing 210

The logical outcome of the UK’s current political situation is for a large section of Conservative Party MP’s to defect to Keir Starmer’s well right of centre, pro-Brexit, New Labour Party.

Every now and then a number of Westminster MPs change party, to long term political effect. In 1886 The Liberal Unionists, opposed to Gladstone’s policy of Irish Home Rule, crossed the floor en masse and allied with the Conservatives. This led to Tory rule for 17 of the next 20 years, and after a while the alliance became one as the Conservative and Unionist Party.

In 1981 just four MPs, but very senior, left the Labour Party, principally in opposition to nuclear disarmament, to form the Social Democratic Party and ally with the Liberal Party. This resulted in 16 years of consecutive Tory government. Eventual merger formed the Liberal Democrats.

Tory MPs are currently in an incredible funk as they face almost certain loss of their jobs at the next general election. Keeping their job, perks and salary is the overwhelming preoccupation of almost all current MPs. Tory MPs are actively considering ditching the chaotic Truss experiment after a few weeks, and feverishly telling any passing journalist about it.

But there is a much simpler way they can keep their jobs. Cross the floor and join the Labour Party, after negotiating with Starmer that they will be accepted as the Labour candidate in their constituency at the next election.

There is no ideological obstacle. The Labour Party’s current slogan is “Make Brexit Work”. If you stood on “Get Brexit Done”, it is not a big switch.

Sam Tarry MP has just been deselected as a Labour candidate for being a little bit left wing and for disobeying Starmer’s order not to appear on an official RMT picket line.

Red Wall Brexiteer Tory MPs need not worry about losing the racist vote. Starmer’s party are more than happy to pander to anti-immigrant racism.

Here is the Labour Party’s impeccably right wing Shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves, calling for more deportation:

(I can’t embed that video, here is the link)

I am not aware that it is possible to be too right wing for Keir Starmer’s New Labour. I know personally a number of people who have been kicked out for being too left wing. Has anybody been kicked out for being too right wing? Serious question.

The Forde Report said there was a “Hierarchy of racism” in the Labour Party, and that while anti-semitism led to immediate expulsion, Islamophobia and prejudice against BAME people were not taken seriously enough. I can therefore see no reason why Tory MPs would feel in the least uncomfortable.

Or take the case of John McTernan. This is from the famous Leaked Report on the Labour Party:

“John McTernan, meanwhile, formerly involved in New Labour and a delegate to 2016 party conference, was repeatedly reported from 25 July onwards for abusive language on Twitter and elsewhere, including describing Labour MPs who nominated Corbyn as “morons”; tweeting twice that Corbyn was a “traitor”; describing “Corbynistas” as racist; telling an SNP MP that he should “Come down to Peckham and try saying that, mate”; calling Corbyn a “Putin-hugging, terrorist-loving, Trident-hater”; and writing in the Daily Telegraph that all of Corbyn’s supporters were “online trolls”.”

“No action was taken, and McTernan received the staff decision “No action – removed at referral”. On 18 August, however, Dan Hogan did report a member of McTernan’s CLP, Omar Baggili, who – in response to an article by McTernan in “The Telegraph” urging the Conservative government to “crush the rail unions once and for all” – tweeted at him “seriously John why haven’t you got yourself a Tory membership card. They’re anti unions & pro privatisation like you.” Baggili was suspended for “abuse”.””

In addition to writing in his Telegraph column that the Tory government should “crush the rail unions once and for all”, McTernan produced gems like this one:

Despite formal complaints, Labour HQ staff refused to take any action against McTernan’s membership for being too right wing: and that was while Corbyn was leader.

So in crossing the floor, Tory MPs safeguarding their jobs could respectably console themselves that they are not joining any kind of left wing project.

For Starmer, there would be a big attraction in accepting the Tory MPs. There is a danger that Labour candidates in some Tory seats may be residual left wingers. As Starmer’s main focus is to protect his leadership against the pro-union, pro-immigration and pro-EU elements in his party (aka the membership), a good accession of fellow right wingers from the Tory Party would be welcome to him.

It would of course be terrific publicity for the Knight of the Realm, and may hasten the general election. If he sends out signals the doors are open, he might even get enough Tory MPs coming over to destroy the Tory majority in the Commons.

Perhaps none of this will happen. Logic and politics are uncomfortable bedfellows. But I expect the term “crossing the floor” will be bandied about a fair bit by political journalists over the next six months.

————————————————-

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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Bank address Natwest, PO Box 414, 38 Strand, London, WC2H 5JB

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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.

View with comments