Uncategorized


University Governance 52

I seldom post a reference to somebody else’s article, but I do strongly recommend John O’Dowd in Bella Caledonia on the “Scottish Democratic Intellect”. Long term readers will know that the changing of universities effectively into corporations, and the destruction of the democratic ethos in their governance, is one of my greatest sorrows. Several of O’Dowd’s themes are mirrored in my own Rectorial Address at the University of Dundee. Do read it. It starts with a good deal of knockabout comedy, but then gets serious, which is precisely how life at University should progress.

The University of Dundee refused to place my Installation Address in the University Library, thus ironically proving my entire point. It still is not there, and nor are Murder in Samarkand, The Catholic Orangemen of Togo, nor Sikunder Burnes – all of which proves precisely the point I was making. Long term readers will also be aware that the University Senate, at the urging of the Administration, refused after a debate to give me the honorary Degree routinely given to all Rectors, on the grounds I was “insufficiently distinguished”. They gave Honorary Degrees to Lorraine Kelly and Fred Macaulay, my immediate predecessors, so the yardstick for “distinguished” is somewhat woolly. I think it must mean “acceptable to the Establishment”. I do not crave honours, having turned down a LVO, OBE and CVO from the Queen. But the snub from the university hurt me deeply as I devoted much of my life to it, having been both Rector and President of the students union (twice). I think it is the only one of dozens of snubs from the Establishment to this whistleblower that actually succeeded in hurting.

Finally, I recommend as still very relevant the paper I helped write with Robin McAlpine, Allyson Pollock and Adam Ramsay for the Jimmy Reid Foundation on The Democratic University. I am in fact very hopeful that there is sufficient understanding among Scottish intellectuals of what needs to be done after Independence to root out the neo-liberal model from our universities. In this as in so much else, Independence will not be enough if we do not use it to institute radical government.

View with comments

Labour’s Failure and Institutional Analysis 790

Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to oppose Brexit in Parliament is as culpable as Harriet Harman’s failure to oppose welfare cuts. It will haunt Labour just as much. The job of opposition is to oppose. We currently have a more right wing government than I imagined the UK would ever see in my lifetime, and it is riding a tide of racist populism in England and Wales, barked on by a far right media whose ownership and world view is ever more concentrated. This is no time to drop the duty of resistance.

Corbyn’s view of the EU is ambivalent. Both major English and Welsh parties are led by people who are at least highly sympathetic to Brexit. That is a democratic failure when 47 per cent of the English and Welsh voters supported the EU.

The problem with the EU as a cause is that it is supported by some extremely unpleasant people. Straw (father and son), Mandelson, Osborne. The EU has nobody given media coverage to speak for it in the UK that is not amongst the most despised members of the political class. And in criticising Corbyn’s failure to oppose Brexit, I find myself echoing Blairites, which is uncomfortable.

But there are two major problems with the left criticism of the EU. The first is its willingness to be hijacked to the racist cause with the economically illiterate argument that immigration means competition for the fixed number of jobs, and thus drives down the living standards of British workers. That atavism I dismiss with contempt. Not least because even if it were true, it shows a very narrow lack of concern for workers of the world outside Thanet. Beggar thy neighbour is not a socialist motto.

The second and more subtle trap into which the left falls is to view the EU as a set of policies. It is not a set of policies, it is a supra-national institution. At the moment its policies tend towards the neo-liberal because at the moment Europe, and especially the UK, is dominated by neo-liberal governments. The notion that leaving the EU will bring more social justice under the reality of continual Tory governments is one of the more risible contentions of much of the British left.

The EU can very much be a force for good. I am personally convinced that there are two reasons Scotland is so much more pro-EU than England. The first is a generally more internationalist and communal outlook in society at large. The second is that during the Thatcher years, when Scottish industry was being devastated and there was a deliberate government policy of no action to alleviate suffering communities, EU regional policy provided the only ray of light. I recall personally seeing big signboards at the dualling of the A9 and the construction of Dundee airport, stating that they were paid for by EU Regional Funds. As Corbyn pointed out in the referendum, workers’ rights, the maximum working week, tachometers, many health and safety standards, all came from the EU when doctrinaire right wing Westminster documents were abolishing “red tape”.

This failure to note that the EU is an institution not a policy, is reflected in the Left’s current attitude to trade agreements. Trade is an extremely good thing. Neo-liberal governments around the world have added highly undesirable extras to trade agreements. The role of Investor Protection clauses which allow cabals of lawyers to adjudicate billions of dollars to rapacious corporations is well understood. But it is not a necessary feature of a trade agreement. Nor is it necessary for a trade agreement to forbid state aid. It is a perfectly logical position for two states to trade without tariffs while accepting that the organisation of the internal resources of a state is its own affair. The neo-liberals are in any event inconsistent here. They ought to believe that state aid to one industry is going to cause inefficiencies which will balance out by giving the state traded with comparative advantage elsewhere. Because neo-liberal governments have secured the addition of these unnecessary bolt-ons to multilateral trade deals, does not make the concept of multilateral trade deals in itself bad. And again, the notion that Liam Fox is going to negotiate anything fairer is hysterical.

Corbyn’s failure to oppose Brexit is a symptom of the abandonment by much of the left of the principles of internationalism. Internationalism is not possible without international institutions. To write off those institutions because they are currently controlled by right wing governments is short-sighted to the point of being stupid. That it leaves the left vying for the racist vote with the atavistic right is a plain signal of what a wrong direction it is.

Labour is becoming an irrelevance in Scotland. The latest opinion poll has SNP 47%, Conservative 27%, Labour 15%, Lib Dems 4%, Greens 3%. This continues a trend of Labour bleeding support to the Tories. It is however fascinating that the Tories in Scotland having achieved their highest point, that point is still lower than the lowest point of Labour in the UK under Corbyn. Yet Tory ministers are prepared to take this Tory “popularity” in Scotland as evidence they can ride roughshod over the Scottish people en route to Brexit.

More significant is what is happening at council by-elections all over Scotland, held under Single Transferable Vote. It has become an accepted part of political life here that Tories, Lib Dems and Labour will transfer their preferences to each other. So Labour voters will transfer to Tory rather than to SNP or Green. This everyday collusion with the Tories reveals Scotland’s remaining Red Tories for what they are. It also makes it essential that everybody in the crucial council elections looming in Scotland votes SNP first or at the very least ensures they use all their preferences and include all the SNP candidates.

I have blogged for some years now about the deep gap in social and political attitudes between England and Scotland. That this gap manifests itself in attitudes to the EU is not surprising, and if that has become the wedge all well and good. That the same gap is resulting in a clear choice between Independence and the Tories – both Tory rule from Westminster and the Tories in Scotland – is the inevitable working out of the same process.

That is why all the Scottish left should now suspend dispute and get behind the SNP until after Independence, provided the referendum happens before the end of next year (which appears happily almost inevitable).

View with comments

As Netanyahu and May Chat, a Large Nest of Israeli Spies in London Exposed 400

The Israeli Embassy has seventeen Israeli “technical and administrative staff” granted visas by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The normal number for an Embassy that size would be about two. I spoke to two similar size non-EU Embassies this morning, one has two and one zero. I recall I dealt with an angry Foreign Minister during my own FCO career incensed his much larger High Commission had been refused by the FCO an increase from three to four technical and administrative staff.

Shai Masot, the Israeli “diplomat” who had been subverting Britain’s internal democracy with large sums of cash and plans to concoct scandal against a pro-Palestinian British minister, did not appear in the official diplomatic list.

I queried this with the FCO, and was asked to put my request in writing. A full three weeks later and after dozens of phone calls, they reluctantly revealed that Masot was on the “technical and administrative staff” of the Israeli Embassy.

This is plainly a nonsense. Masot, as an ex-Major in the Israeli Navy and senior officer in the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, is plainly senior to many who are on the Diplomatic List, which includes typists and personal assistants. There are six attaches – support staff – already on the List.

Masot was plainly not carrying out technical and administrative duties. The term is a formal one from the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, and it is plain from the convention that technical and administrative staff are in official status lower than the diplomatic staff. The majority of support activities are carried out in all Embassies by locally engaged staff already resident in the host country, but a very small number of technical and administrative staff may be allowed visas for work in particularly secure areas. They may be an IT and communications technician, possibly a cleaner in the most sensitive physical areas, and perhaps property management.

These staff do not interact with politicians of the host state or attend high level meetings beside the Ambassador. The level at which Shai Masot was operating was appropriate to a Counsellor or First Secretary in an Embassy. Masot’s formal rank as an officer in his cover job in the Ministry of Strategic Affairs would entitle him to that rank in the Embassy if this were a normal appointment.

The Al Jazeera documentaries plainly revealed that Masot was working as an intelligence officer, acquiring and financing “agents of influence”. It is simply impossible that the FCO would normally grant seventeen technical and administrative visas to support sixteen diplomats, when six of the sixteen are already support staff. The only possible explanation, confirmed absolutely by Masot’s behaviour, is that the FCO has knowingly connived at settling a large nest of Israeli spies in London. I fairly put this to the FCO and they refused to comment.

I asked my questions on 10 January. On 12 January the FCO asked me to put them in writing. On 2 February they finally replied to the first three questions, but refused to comment on questions 4 or 5 about involvement of the intelligence services in Masot’s appointment.

On 2 February I sent these follow-up questions to the FCO by email:

FCO Media Department have replied that they refuse to give me any further information on the subject, and that I should proceed through a Freedom of Information request so the FCO can assess properly whether the release of any further information is in the national interest.

What is it they are always saying to us: if you have got nothing to fear, you have got nothing to hide?

I am confident I know what they are hiding, and that is FCO complicity in a large nest of Israeli spies seeking to influence policy and opinion in the UK in a pro-Israeli direction. That is why the government reaction to one of those spies being caught on camera plotting a scandal against an FCO minister, and giving £1 million to anti-Corbyn MPs, was so astonishingly muted. It is also worth noting that while the media could not completely ignore the fantastic al Jazeera documentaries that exposed the scandal, it was a matter of a brief article and no follow up digging.

This was not just a curiosity, it reveals a deep-seated problem for our democracy. I intend to continue picking at it.

View with comments

Tories Tread a Dangerous Path 793

I have always believed that Theresa May is likely to try to block a new Independence referendum – and it is extremely unlikely her defence secretary, the odious Michal Fallon, would have said this so categorically without prior agreement with May. Fallon, taking a break from supplying weapons to the Saudis for killing Yemeni children, displayed huge arrogance towards Scotland, which the Tories believe is firmly under the heel. They refuse to acknowledge that any difficulty arises from the contradictory referendum results in Scotland, where Scots voted both to remain part of the UK, and to remain part of the EU – the second more recently and by a much wider margin.

The Tory view is that Scotland is but a province of the UK. They are of course right – the UK Supreme Court decision makes quite plain that Scotland’s so-called “parliament” does not derive its power from the Scottish people, but only from what Westminster condescends to hand back. Indeed Westminster could abolish Scotland’s parliament tomorrow. For the Tories, a combination of that Supreme Court decision, their Brexit victory, and the elevation of the Tories to 21% in Scottish elections (Fallon quotes public support for Ruth Davison in his interview), mean that they don’t have to offer Scotland anything.

For God’s sake, let them not be proved right.

Do you remember the scene in Braveheart, where the nobles at Stirling Bridge are planning to negotiate and go home, and Wallace forces them into a fight? Well, I know which Sturgeon reminds me of more at the moment. If she is planning to fight eventually she is masking her intentions brilliantly. The problem that worries me is that the SNP is now the Scottish establishment, and as Scotland is still very much part of the UK, they are part of the British establishment too. A lot of our MPs seem to have their feet under the table very nicely at Westminster. The SNP as an institution has not just its Westminster MPs but their secretaries and research assistants and the group staff, and all the people paid with millions of Westminster “Short money”. That is a major group of party apparatchiks making a fat living out of the current system. Plus of course Holyrood and its power and jobs.

The SNP as an institution is doing very nicely out of the status quo, and that is why there are so many siren voices within the SNP arguing that it is too early for a referendum; “we might lose it”, “leaving the EU is not such a disaster”, “there are a lot of anti-EU Independence supporters anyway”.

There is a lot of self-fulfilling prophesy here. As there has been virtually no actual campaigning for Independence since 2014 and the media still spew anti-Independence propaganda daily, it is hardly surprising Independence support is not rising in the polls. It is a miracle it is holding steady.

The Tories are banking on leaving the EU being normalised. People are getting used to the idea, and the ill consequences of leaving the single market will not really bite until we do so. This is where Sturgeon’s Fabian tactics play in to the Tory agenda. Instead of a break with Westminster over EU membership, the Scottish government is allowing public interest to evaporate in a series of dull Joint Ministerial Committee meetings. There matters are kicked into long grass and mollifying but insincere words spoken about how seriously the devolved administrations are being taken. I can see no point in continuing with this charade unless the SNP itself intends to allow the issue to fizzle out in a drizzle of EFTA’s, EEA’s, CTA’s and other dull acronyms.

The racist majority in England and Wales are trying to force us out of the EU. The UK Supreme Court has ruled the Sewel Convention has no legal force. Now the Tories are arrogantly refusing the right of the Scottish people even to hold a referendum. I cannot imagine the degree of humiliation the SNP feels is necessary to pull the trigger on another Independence attempt. The time is now.

If the Tories do succeed in preventing another referendum from taking place, they are playing with fire. It is worth noting that there is no requirement for Scotland to hold a referendum to become Independent.

Independence is not an internal question. It is the existence of a state recognised by its fellow states, and that recognition is expressed by the General Assembly of the United Nations. A referendum is not a requirement for that UN recognition. Please note the rest of this paragraph very, very carefully. The majority of States in the world have achieved independence during my own lifetime. The vast majority of those did so without a referendum. Not only is a referendum not a requirement, it is extremely unusual. Of the 194 states recognised by the UN, only a tiny handful featured a referendum as part of the process of the formation of the state. This is also true within the EU. Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Croatia, Estonia, Slovakia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic all recently assumed their current form and none of them had a referendum to do it.

If the Tories refuse a referendum, the Scottish Government should respond by declaring Independence. My preferred method of doing this would be to convene a National Assembly, comprising of all Scotland’s MEP’s, MP’s and MSP’s, and for that National Assembly to make the declaration. This would broadly accord with international norms. Independence should be effective from the declaration, but that Independence could if desired be employed to hold the referendum which the Tories had refused.

I do not posit this as the best way to achieve Independence. My preference would be a new referendum now in the new circumstances of the UK leaving the EU, as fairly presaged in the SNP’s successful manifesto for the last Holyrood elections. I am convinced that once campaigning starts, support for Independence will surge as during the last campaign, only this time starting from a much higher base.

The Tories fought the Holyrood election on a manifesto saying no second Independence referendum. They got 21% of the vote. May and Fallon should be aware as they plan to block a referendum: other options are available.

View with comments

BBC Daily Distortion

The BBC has appointed arch Tory Sarah Sands as editor of the flagship Radio 4 Today programme. She is best known to the public for a leaked policy memo she wrote while at the Telegraph, including memorably advocating

“Play on people’s fears… stop just short of distortion”.

The extraordinary thing is that if Sands does “stop just short of distortion” she will actually be improving the performance of BBC News. The BBC Trust has upheld a decision against Laura Kuenssberg for a most disgraceful piece of lying, a breach of every journalistic ethic. At the time of the Paris attacks, Kuenssberg had this interview with Jeremy Corbyn.

Kuenssberg “If you were prime minister, would you be happy to order people – police or military – to shoot to kill on Britain’s streets?”
Corbyn “I am not happy with a shoot to kill policy in general. I think that is quite dangerous and I think can often be counter-productive.”

Kuenssberg deliberately distorted this to make it appear a response to the Paris attacks, and what was broadcast was the following:

Kuenssberg “I asked Mr Corbyn if he were the resident here at number 10 whether he would be happy for British officers to pull the trigger in the event of a Paris-style attack.”
Corbyn “I am not happy with a shoot to kill policy in general. I think that is quite dangerous and I think can often be counter-productive.”

What makes the malice in Kuenssberg’s dealings still more evident is that she had in fact asked Corbyn a question specifically about Paris, and received a very different answer from Corbyn: “Of course you’d bring people onto the streets to prevent and ensure there is safety within our society.”

But she broadcast neither the actual question nor the actual answer about Paris.

The deceit, malice and deliberate bias could not be more obvious. The BBC Trust really had no choice in its finding, and it specifically noted that Kuenssberg “had not achieved due impartiality.” That is an extremely important word – it was not just a lapse in judgement, it was a clear indication that Kuenssberg is partial in her political affiliations.

That of course has been blindingly obvious to a great many people for a long time. You may recall the petition against Kuenssberg’s bias that was signed by 35,000 people before 38 Degrees took it down on the complete lie that it had attracted a significant number of sexist comments.

My personal favourite remains Kuenssberg’s frenetic anti-Corbyn broadcast of 28 June 2016 in which she prophesied that Corbyn’s confidence of winning a second leadership election was misplaced. I cannot imagine a more blatant example of gleeful bias. The piece is headlined “Jeremy Corbyn’s Support Begins to Show Signs of Fraying” and was, as a matter of provable fact, gloriously wrong about everything.

Being a completely biased charlatan will do no harm at all to Kuenssberg in the modern BBC. I leave you with the Head of BBC news, extreme Zionist James Harding, and his reaction to the decision of the BBC Trust, the body which “ensures” the BBC’s impartiality, about Kuenssberg’s blatant lack of impartiality. “We disagree with this finding” says Harding, adding that BBC News “formally notes it.” It could not be plainer said – the BBC no longer has any intention of not reflecting political bias. Mr Harding is no doubt delighted to welcome his new colleague, Sarah Sands, ex Daily Mail, ex Telegraph, and who as editor moved the Evening Standard way to the right.

View with comments

Clinton Gang Push for War with Iran

So what are the Clinton gang doing while Trump introduces anti-Muslim immigration discrimination? Oh, they are pushing for war with Iran, which might give pause to some who think the world would have been less awful had Hillary won.

Here is the front page of the resolution introduced into the House of Representatives by Democrat Alcee L Hastings, an extremely close ally of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who had to resign in disgrace as chair of the Democratic National Committee after WikiLeaks published emails establishing her corrupt endeavours to fix the primary elections for Hillary against Bernie Sanders.

The Resolution reads “To authorize the use of the United States Armed Forces to achieve the goal of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.”

There is in fact no evidence that Iran is continuing a covert programme to produce nuclear weapons. British, French and Russian intelligence all assess that Iran is sticking to its agreements and – here is a key point – so do the CIA. But when did politicians ever let facts stand in their way?

Trump’s mad visa ban, which excludes Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States which are the main financiers, armers, ideologues and exporters of Salafist terrorism, turns out to be imposed on the countries which were on Obama’s watchlist. As the Hastings resolution shows, the anti-Iranian and pro-Saudi madness is bipartisan. To include Iran but exclude Saudi Arabia is further evidence of the twisting of US foreign policy to serve the interests of Saudi Arabia and its ally Israel. This infographic has been compiled based on research by the Cato Institute. I would add the caveat that it refers to terrorist attacks inside America.

The full piece it is derived from is well worth reading. I am not in general a fan of the Cato Institute, but they deserve commendation for consistency in their anti-authoritarian line.

These are dangerous times. And with the Democrats vying for “dumb patriot” support and seeking to outflank Trump to the right by roaring him on to a military attack on Iran, and seeking to push through legislation to promote that, there appear few influential voices of reason in the USA at present.

View with comments

Trump’s Crazy Immigration Freeze 214

Baghdad-born Tory MP Nadhim Zadawi has become the media poster boy for British opposition to Trump’s egregious immigration freeze, which May has eventually been forced into opposing against all her profound anti-immigrant instincts. Actually, if I ran a country I would be sorely tempted to ban Zadawi from it too. Founder of blatant Tory push-polling organisation YouGove (sic), the creep charged the taxpayer massively for MP’s expenses including thousands of pounds for heated stables at his second home. Being stinking rich and having children at Princeton is the media’s idea of the sort of person who ought not be banned. I suspect there are more deserving cases.

The stinking rich part is apposite because the world’s biggest sponsors of Islamic terrorism are stinking rich, and are strangely not included in the Trump freeze. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States are yet again excluded from “action against Islamic terrorism” despite being patently the fons et origo of most of it. Trump’s ban would not exclude Osama Bin Laden or the vast majority of the 9/11 cells, which is almost amusing. The reasons for this do not relate solely to the integration of the wealth of the parasitic Gulf State elite with the wealth of the Western elite and banking system. It also relates, as I explained in my talk on the Middle East on Friday, to official American policy to actually promote Saudi backed terrorist jihadi groups against Iranian-backed mainly Shiite interests in the Middle East.

I am not advocating the ban or extending the ban, but it is also worth pointing out that nearly all the recent Islamic terrorist activities against Western, including Turkish, targets were carried out by people from either Tunisia or Central Asia. Those countries are not included either. So plainly the ban or freeze is not really intended to do what it says on the tin. It should be repeated always that the risk from Islamic terrorism to individuals in the West is extremely small, and has always been well less than 1% of the risk of being killed in a road accident.

The most disgraceful aspect of the ban is the notion that it does not apply to religious minority groups in the named countries, such as Christians, Yazidis and Jews. All the countries named are majority Muslim, so in effect it imposes a religious test. It is a ban plainly targeted by religion and not by nationality, and if the US court system had any integrity would be struck down on that basis. This is reinforced by the fact that other non-religious minorities facing persecution, such as gays, are not excluded from the ban.

Trump has certainly startled the Establishment by the extremely unusual expedient of attempting swiftly to carry out his campaign promises. I was among the many who hoped he would forget some of the crazier ones. Apparently not. But his electoral base will be delighted.

View with comments

Chris Law

I am proud to call Chris Law a friend, and I am delighted that the ludicrous police investigation into him has now officially been closed. The rash of daft politically motivated investigations into SNP figures is a peculiar blight on the nation, and the extraordinary length of time the police have taken to examine some totally straightforward cases is inexplicable.

Chris and I both separately spent an awful lot of our own money on campaigning in the Independence referendum. I strongly suspect the basis of the “investigation” was that he modestly downplayed the amount of his own cash he put in to the Spirit of Independence campaign. The “unaccounted donations” alleged never existed, it was always mostly his own cash that funded his fire engine tour.

Meantime, what has happened to the much more real Tory election expenses scandal? Channel 4 were almost alone in covering the massive Tory breaching of expenditure limits. This appears to have gone totally dark.

View with comments

John Hurt

Homosexuality was a criminal offence in the UK until I was nine years old. Attitudes towards gay people remained extremely hostile in much of society even after it was legalised for people over 21 in 1967. At school, I am sorry to say I shared to a large extent in the sneering and intolerant culture that was prevalent at that time.

In an age where there were just three television channels and nobody watched one of them, a new television play was a major event that could reach a mass audience in the way nothing can today. That is partly why Ken Loach had even more political effect with Cathy Come Home than with I, Daniel Blake. I am convinced that John Hurt’s towering performance in The Naked Civil Servant changed society. It brought the individual confrontations Quentin Crisp had engineered his entire life, and expanded them to confront half of the nation with the existence, and right to dignity, of gay people.

Of course Crisp himself was the hero, but John Hurt took a career threatening risk in taking the part and showed great courage and conviction. Hurt’s ability to manipulate the palette of courage, arch wit, and vulnerability that the role required gave the drama its impact, and propelled it with a shocking force I don’t believe any other actor could have managed.

I am not gay, but in a kind of solidarity I immediately adopted as a boy a number of Quentin Crisp’s mannerisms, including the long fingernails, hair and velvet jacket! I persisted with this for a great many years. A group of us at school adopted similar style, though I don’t recall ever discussing the Crisp influence. In 1978 I was delighted to meet Quentin Crisp, still pushing the boundaries by performing to a Dundee pub.

It was always a joy thereafter to see John Hurt appear in anything. We all have to die, and there is no point in getting maudlin about the death of celebrities. But I thought The Naked Civil Servant effect worth recording.

View with comments

Palestine Speaking Tour?

I am back from India today, and will be speaking at the SNP Club in Edinburgh tomorrow (Friday) at 7.30pm on Iraq and Syria (all tickets gone I am afraid, but it is being livestreamed by Independence Live). UPDATE: Live stream in new post The UK, USA and Middle East Conflict

I have invitations from Friends of Palestine in both Bath and Norwich to address them. I was wondering if any other groups are interested and we can put together a little tour. While I think the Shai Masot affair sparked the invitations, I would want to set out also my thinking on why a two state solution is impractical and we should support a single, non-racial, democratic and secular state in Palestine, in which all the peoples living there would be welcome and equal. Any interested groups should contact me via the button at the top of the blog. It is important to add I don’t charge any fee above travel expenses.

I am aware that the last week I have been so busy speaking and travelling I have not been writing except about my speaking and travelling, and Nadira’s new film. I am sorry if this looked self-obsessed to you (it did a bit to me). I hope things will calm down for a while now.

View with comments

With William Dalrymple in Jaipur

William Dalrymple gave an extremely fulsome introduction to my talk on Sikunder Burnes:

“He defied the British Foreign Office magnificently and we should really be having a session on Craig’s own life where he very honorably exposed nefarious Foreign Office dealings in Central Asia and the willingness of the Blair Bush combo to countenance massive human rights abuses in the name of the War on Terror. He stood down from the Foreign Office, an act of considerable honour rarely seen in civil servants elsewhere in the world.”

“Since that made it impossible for him to continue his career as an Ambassador he has returned to Britain, he is of course a Scot originally, and has just produced an extraordinary book about another mischievious Scot with mixed feelings about the British government, Bokhara Burnes as he is known to Great Game enthusiasts. Bokhara Burnes was a travel writer who was actually a British spy, a player of the Great Game, a key player in the rivalry between Britain and Russia, but who again very honourably opposed the invasion of Afghanistan until he was bought out by a Baronetcy and then lost his life in Kabul. It is an extraordinary story and one that Craig tells with great aplomb in his new biography.”

“We had a lot of fun when I was working on the subject in the National Archives and I would meet Craig there and go for a drink afterwards in the Meridien Hotel next door and exchange notes on secret documents which we discovered there. But I will leave him to tell his own story. Ladies and Gentlemen please give a warm welcome to Craig Murray.”

I very much enjoyed making this particular riff while I was talking, at 27 minutes in on the video:

“Alexander Burnes became famous as a spy and what the British call an explorer. I always find this absolutely a fascinating idea. We call him an explorer because he went and met peoples who had been there for thousands of years and didn’t feel they had any need to be discovered and had a culture which was every bit as developed as his culture, but nonetheless he was an “explorer” for finding these poor benighted people who didn’t previously exist because they hadn’t met a British person, which is a very strange concept. The British idea of what an explorer is I think is quite amusing. He was, let’s say, a pioneer in introducing new cultures to the British who had not met the British before, that might be a fairer way of putting it.”

“And of course first encounters with the British could often turn out to be violent and unpleasant, and many were. That is one of the things with which I struggled in writing the book, I think that struggle is obvious in parts of the book, which is how do you write a book, about somebody who in many ways was a good and admirable person, but served an Imperial project which in itself was not necessarily a good thing. And coming to terms with our Imperial heritage is particularly difficult for Scottish people. I would argue that we were actually the first victims of English imperialism. So for us, it’s a particularly complex question.”

View with comments

Locked In

I am very proud to say that the trailer is now ready for Nadira’s debut short film, Locked In. It is a searing exposure of the harshness of immigration detention and the injustice of the fast track system. Locking up asylum seekers in the UK, who have suffered torture and abuse in detention in their own countries, is an appalling practice.

Nadira both wrote and produced the film and directed the post-production. The story is based on a number of true incidents including cases in which I was personally involved. Nadira’s research included interviews with asylum seekers, NGO’s, lawyers, journalists and policemen. The film highlights the work of Medical Justice (recently renamed Freedom from Torture), and organisation for which I have explained before I have the highest regard.

The film is being offered to festivals at the moment and will eventually be released online. The film’s website is here. Nadira has made a serious career change into film, and is now writing her first feature and considering a number of offers to direct.

View with comments

Trump and the Media

With no sense of irony, a “liberal” media which rightly excoriates the President of Gambia for failing to accept an election result, continues to do precisely the same thing in the case of Donald Trump. No invective is too strong to be cast against a man whose election the “liberal” media did everything possible to prevent.

With the happy resignation of Stephen Daisley, a strong contender for worst journalist in the World is now Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian. He takes the irony to an entirely new level. He claims that Trump will destroy the legacy by which smaller nations “long looked to the US to maintain something close to a rules-based international system.” He completely ignores the fact that the greatest single hammer blow against the rules based international system was delivered by Freedland’s idol Tony Blair, when he supported the invasion of Iraq without a Security Council Resolution and in the specific knowledge that, if the matter of force were properly put to the Security Council, it would not merely meet three vetoes but lose a majority vote.

The UN, and the rule of international law, have never recovered from that hammer blow, which Freedland enthusiastically cheered on. Nor has Freedland apparently noticed that the smaller nations rather detest than worship the USA. It has invaded and bombed them, interfered in their elections, supported right wing coups and armies, run destabilising CIA drug rings in them, and armed and even sometimes led dictatorial death squads. Look at all those US Security Council vetoes and the resolutions that never got to a vote because of threatened US vetoes. Look at all those General Assembly votes that were everyone against the USA, Israel and the poor occupied Marshall Islands. Freedland’s hymn to the Pax Americana is a sick joke. For much of the world, a period of American isolationism would be extremely welcome.

I am thankfully too clear-headed to like Trump because of the extraordinary campaign of vilification to which he has been subjected. Freedland has no shame about repeating the lie that Trump kept Hitler’s speeches by his bedside. I was in a position to know for sure that the “Russian hacking” elements of the extraordinary “Manchurian candidate” rubbish which the entire establishment threw at Trump was definitively untrue. I had the background and training to see that the Christopher Steele dossier was not only nonsense, but a fake, not in fact produced seriatim on the dates claimed. The involvement of the US security services in spreading lies as intelligence to undermine an incoming President will go down as a crucial moment in US history. We have not yet seen the denouement of that story.

But none of that makes Trump a good person. He could be an appalling monster and still be subjected to dirty tricks by other very bad people. There is much about Trump to dislike. His sensible desire for better relations with Russia is matched by a stupid drive to goad China.

Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric did tap in to the populist racism which is unfortunately sweeping developed countries at the moment. The very wealthy have succeeded in diverting justified anger at the results of globalisation on to immigrant populations, who are themselves victims of globalisation. By shamelessly tapping in to the deep wells of popular atavism, the elite have managed the extraordinary trick of escaping the wrath their appalling profiteering and extreme levels of wealth should bring. His words on race in his inauguration address were good, but does he really mean them? His anti-Muslim rhetoric remains deeply troubling. His ludicrous boast yesterday that he would end radical Islamic terrorism is precisely indicative of the counter-productive stupidity that feeds it.

I am a free trader and dislike the march of protectionism. But on the other hand, international trade agreements have become routinely not about tariffs but much more about the allocation of resources within the states concerned, mandating a neo-liberal model and giving extraordinary legal status to multinational companies. The collapse of the current model of international trade agreement, if that is what Trump really heralds, has both its positive and negative aspects.

It is of course a major question whether the establishment and his own Republican party allow him to do anything too radical at all. My own suspicion is that after all the huffing and puffing, nothing much is going to change. The key intra-party battle will probably be over the only policy he affirmed in any detail yesterday, the return of New Deal type state infrastructure spending. The idea of a massive state funded programme of national infrastructure, particularly in transport, to get heavy industry back on its feet, is the very antithesis of neo-liberalism. I think yesterday cleared up the question of whether Trump really meant it – he does. Will he be allowed to do it by a party committed to small state and balanced budgets, is a huge question. As Trump is also committed to tax cuts, it implies a massive budget deficit – with which Trump might well be comfortable. If Trump does succeed, it could fundamentally shift the way western governments look at economics, turning back the clock to the happier days before the advent of monetarism.

So that is Trump. Much that is bad but some fascinating things to watch. I suppose the reason I can’t join in the “it’s a disaster” screams, is that I thought it was already a disaster. The neo-liberal, warmongering orthodoxies did not have my support, despite Obama’s suave veneer. The pandering to racist populism of Trump is bad, and we must keep a watch on it. He may turn out not really to be different at all. Like all politicians, personal enrichment will doubtless be high on his agenda. But I do not start from the presumption the world is now a worse place than it was last week. I shall wait and see.

View with comments

Talk on Alexander Burnes in Montrose Tonight 7.30pm

UPDATE: Video now available

My talk from the George Hotel Montrose will be livestreamed here this evening courtesy of Independence Live.

I feel quite emotional to be giving a talk tonight on Alexander Burnes, just across the road from the home where he was born. At the time of his birth his grandfather, mother and father, three aunts, an uncle and four siblings all lived in the house. The aunts and uncle all died in their early twenties without ever marrying or leaving home. Alexander was to have eleven siblings who survived into adulthood. He used to tend the garden and keep a pet cat and a pet crow(!) along with his favourite little brother Charlie, nine years younger. His proudest moment was when he secured Charlie a cadetship to join the East India company. They were to die together, hacked down in a Kabul garden.

Alexander Burnes and his great-uncle Robert Burns both died at the tragically young age of 37. Robert of course left the greater legacy, but Alexander certainly inherited some of that genius, and in his lifetime had greater fame (and sold more books!) I spent eight years of my life in digging up old records to try to rescue Alexander’s memory from neglect and even malice, and give a fair assessment of his life and tarnished reputation. The great difficulty was the disappearance of so many prime sources.

I shall not be repeating the contents of the book in my talk this evening, but rather talking about my quest and why I thought it was important. I shall be explaining some of the extraordinary things I discovered about the key role of the small burgh of Montrose in the development of British India. And examining why the themes of Burnes’ life keep recurring, and governments fail to learn from the mistakes of the past.

Being a sentimental old fool I like to think Alex and Charlie – who have no known grave or memorial – will be standing at the back of the room smiling with approval.

View with comments

Stunning Admission from Obama on Wikileaks

In his final press conference, beginning around 8 minutes 30 seconds in, Obama admits that they have no evidence of how WikiLeaks got the DNC material. This undermines the stream of completely evidence-free nonsense that has been emerging from the US intelligence services this last two months, in which a series of suppositions have been strung together to make unfounded assertions that have been repeated again and again in the mainstream media.

Most crucially of all Obama refers to “The DNC emails that were leaked”. Note “leaked” and not “hacked”. I have been repeating that this was a leak, not a hack, until I am blue in the face. William Binney, former Technical Director of the NSA, has asserted that were it a hack the NSA would be able to give the precise details down to the second it occurred, and it is plain from the reports released they have no such information. Yet the media has persisted with this nonsense “Russian hacking” story.

Obama’s reference to the “the DNC emails that were leaked” appears very natural, fluent and unforced. It is good to have the truth finally told.

Liked this article? Please share using the links below. Then View Latest Posts

View with comments

Chelsea Manning Adds a Glow to the Day

I cannot tell you how delighted I am that Chelsea Manning is going to be released. Having done so much to reveal the truly sordid nature on the ground of the USA’s neo-Imperial aggression, Manning is a true hero. It is a shame that Obama is forcing her to undergo another five months of a truly hellish prison sentence, but still there is now an end in sight.

All of which adds to the mystery of Obama. He launched the most vicious War on Whistleblowers ever in American history. Obama’s people even went for whistleblowers like Bill Binney and Tom Drake of the NSA, whose whistleblowing happened pre-Obama but who Bush had not sought to persecute. So freeing a whistleblower is the least likely act of clemency to be expected.

Of course this all feeds in to the question of whether Obama is a good man frustrated or a charlatan all along, as a tick in the good man frustrated column. I still tend to the man with decent instincts who at the end of the day didn’t care enough to really fight for them.

The other good news is that Abdel Hakim Belhadj has been granted permission by the Supreme Court to sue Jack Straw and Mark Allen for his extraordinary rendition and torture. The unanimous dismissal of the argument of sovereign immunity is extremely important, as it rolls back the assertion that we have no protection from the state.

It is worth recalling Jack Straw lying through his teeth to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee on 24 October 2005. Every single statement on the substantive issues which Straw makes here is now known to be an outright lie:

Q105 Sandra Osborne: I would like to ask you about the issue of extraordinary rendition. In response to this Committee’s report of last year on the war against terrorism, the government said that it was not aware of the use of its territory or air space for the purposes of extraordinary rendition. However, it appears that there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that the UK air space is indeed being utilised for this purpose, albeit mainly in the media. Some of the suggestions seem to be extremely detailed. For example, the Guardian has reported that aircraft involved in operations have flown into the UK at least 210 times since 9/11, an average of one flight a week. It appears that the favourite destination is Prestwick Airport, which is next to my constituency, as it happens. Can you comment on that? What role is the UK playing in extraordinary rendition?

Mr Straw: The position in respect of extraordinary rendition was set out in the letter that the head of our parliamentary team wrote to Mr Priestly, your Clerk, on 11 March; and the position has not changed. We are not aware of the use of our territory or air space for the purpose of extraordinary rendition. We have not received any requests or granted any permissions for use of UK territory or air space for such purposes. It is perfectly possible that there have been two hundred movements of United States aircraft in and out of the United Kingdom and I would have thought it was many more; but that is because we have a number of UN air force bases here, which, under the Visiting Forces Act and other arrangements they are entitled to use under certain conditions. I do not see for a second how the conclusion could be drawn from the fact that there have been some scores of movements of US military aircraft – well, so what – that that therefore means they have been used for rendition. That is a very long chain!

Q106 Sandra Osborne: The UN Commission on Human Rights has started an inquiry into the British Government’s role in this. Is the Government co-operating fully with that inquiry? Why would they start an inquiry if there were no reason to believe that this was actually happening?

Mr Straw: People start inquiries for all sorts of reasons. I assume we are co-operating with it. I am not aware of any requests, but we always co-operate with such requests.

Q107 Mr Keetch: They are not flying under US military flags; these are Gulfstream aircraft used by the CIA. They have a 26-strong fleet of Gulfstream aircraft that are used for this purpose. These aircraft are not coming into British spaces; they are coming into airports. Some are into bases like Northolt, and some into bases like Prestwick. Whilst it is always good to have the head of your parliamentary staff respond to our Clerk, Mr Priestley, could you give us an assurance that you will investigate these specific flights; and, if it is the case that these flights are being used for the process of extraordinary rendition, which is contrary to international law and indeed contrary to the stated policy of Her Majesty’s Government, would you attempt to see if they should stop?

Mr Straw: I would like to see what it is that is being talked about here. I am very happy to endorse, as you would expect, and I did endorse, the letter sent by our parliamentary team to your Clerk on 11 March. I am happy, for the avoidance of any doubt, to say that I specifically endorse its contents. If there is evidence, we will look at it, but a suggestion in a newspaper that there have been flights by unspecified foreign aircraft in and out of the United Kingdom cannot possibly add up to evidence that our air space or our facilities have been used for the purpose of unlawful rendition. It just does not.

Q108 Mr Keetch: I accept that, but if there were evidence of that, you would join with us, presumably, in condemning —–
Mr Straw: I am not going to pre-judge an inquiry. If there were evidence, we would look at it. So far there we have not seen any evidence.
Q109 Richard Younger-Ross: Our former Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, has stated in a document to us: “I can confirm it is a positive policy decision by the US and UK to use Uzbek torture material.” He states that the evidence is that the aircraft that my colleague referred to earlier, the Gulfstreams, are taking detainees back to Uzbekistan who are then being tortured. Is that not some indication that these detainees are being transferred through the UK?

Mr Straw: It is Mr Murray’s opinion. Mr Murray, as you may know, stood in my constituency. He got fewer votes than the British National Party, and notwithstanding the fact that he assured the widest possible audience within the constituency to his views about use of torture. I set out the British Government’s position on this issue on a number of occasions, including in evidence both here and to the Intelligence and Security Committee. I wrote a pretty detailed letter to a constituent of mine back in June, setting out our position. As I said there, there are no circumstances in which British officials use torture, nor any question of the British Government seeking to justify the use of torture. Again, the British Government, including the terrorist and security agencies, has never used torture for any purpose including for information, nor would we instigate or connive with others in doing so. People have to make their own judgment whether they think I am being accurate or not.

Q110 Mr Illsley: Foreign Secretary, the letter which you supplied to the Committee in March which gave the conclusion that the British Government is not aware of the use of its territory or air space for the purpose of extraordinary rendition was taken at face value by most members of the Committee at that time, before the election. We took that to mean that we were not aware of any extraordinary rendition, and that it was not happening. The press reports were therefore something of a surprise. Would our Government be contacted by any country using our airspace, taking suspects to other countries? Would we be asked for permission or would there be any circumstances where we would be contacted; or is it the case that it could well be happening but that our Government is not aware of it simply because we have not been informed, or our permission is not necessary?

Mr Straw: Mr Illsley, on the precise circumstances in which foreign governments apply for permission to use British air space, I have to write to you, because it is important that I make that accurate. What Mr Stanton on my behalf said in the letter is exactly the same: why would I, for a second, knowingly provide this Committee with false information, if I had had information about rendition? We do not practise rendition, full-stop. I ought to say that whether rendition is contrary to international law depends on the particular circumstances of the case; it depends on each case, but we do not practise it. I would have to come back to you on that question.

Chairman: We will expect a letter. Thank you very much

Yesterday, we had Theresa May’s unremitting hard Brexit speech, which made plain that pandering to racism on immigration was going to be the priority over every possible interest in her approach to negotiations on leaving the EU. The pound stirred slightly on hopes that her announcement that Parliament would be given a vote on the final deal, could give hope that the whole thing might be avoided. However it is plain that she meant that Parliament could vote on a leaving with a deal or just leaving with no deal.

I feel pleased with May’s speech on two grounds. The first is that its contemptuous dismissal of the views of the 2 to 1 majority in Scotland which wishes to remain in the EU, brings Scottish Independence palpably closer. Even after three centuries of subservience, at some stage a natural reaction to having your face ground into the dog food must set in. A second Independence referendum is now inevitable.

Secondly, the EU is actually an extremely successful union and the euro an extremely successful currency, perceptions which a rabid nationalist UK media have successfully distorted. It is impossible that the UK will find replacement relationships in fields from trade to external relations to security to education and scientific research, which are anything like as economically beneficial. It is not just internal EU trade – the EU’s external market access will never be bettered by the UK, and the common external tariff is much more liberal than commonly realised. For example there are effectively no tariffs on manufactured goods from Africa. I confidently predict a Brexit Britain will both impose and face higher external tariffs than the EU.

My optimism arises from the fact that the May thesis is so barmy – that all of this should be sacrificed to pander to the daft xenophobia of the English and Welsh who don’t like “foreigners coming in” – that I still cannot believe that the political system will allow it to happen. The idea that the basis of the country’s economy can be destroyed on the basis of the sloganizing of the semi-educated, will meet institutional resistance. I want Scotland independent, but I also want England to avoid the self-harm of leaving the EU. I am farily confident both options are simultaneously achievable.

View with comments

Speaking Engagements

I am happy to say a busy time ahead:

18 January in Aytoun Village Hall, Berwickshire at 7pm for Yes Berwickshire documentary film London Calling talking about BBC Bias in the Independence Referendum, and how to prevent and counter it next time.

19 January Montrose, George Hotel, 7.30pm talking about Alexander Burnes just fifty yards from the family home where he was born

21 January 2pm Perth, Soutar Theatre, for Yes Perth City. London Calling, post film discussion also with Alan Knight and Allan Grogan. Register here.

23 January 2.30pm Jaipur India Sikunder Burnes. Talk at the Jaipur Literature Festival – the World’s largest with 330,000 visitors.

27 January 7.30pm Edinburgh for Edinburgh SNP Club. Talk on the situation in Iraq and Syria.

As I visit London, frankly, as seldom as possible, I thought I might give an early shout out for what seems to be an excellent event on 25 February at University College, London, a colloquium entitled “Noam Chomsky: The Responsibility of Intellectuals”. Half hour papers will be presented by Neil Smith, Milan Rai, Hilary Rose, Chris Knight, Krizta Szendroi, Nicholas Allott, Jackie Walker and finally by me; I am genuinely worried about following some brilliant minds. After which Noam Chomsky will respond by video-link. I can’t let this pass without noting my book Murder in Samarkand has an American edition, Dirty Diplomacy, which has strong cover quotes from Harold Pinter and Noam Chomsky commending it. My Edinburgh publisher wouldn’t put the Chomsky quote on the UK edition, arguing that nobody had heard of him!

The perceptive among you may have noted that I face a hell of a dash from Perth to Jaipur. It is however possible. But yesterday I received an email from Jaipur stating that they had changed my talk from 23rd to 20th, when I will get a larger audience. I have replied that this is impossible for me. I am waiting to hear back, but this has potential to go wrong.

When I published my offer to take over Bella Caledonia if the alternative was it folding, I received a surprisingly large number of offers from Independence supporters offering to write. Some – but by no means all – were excluded from writing for Bella because of what many perceived as that website’s rather specific ideological focus. As there are a number of good pro-Independence people anxious to express themselves in writing but with no outlet, I was wondering about starting up a new pro-Indy compendium site that gives a voice to every shade of opinion supporting Independence, providing it is not racist. It would run on the basis of minimal cost and not paying anybody, including me. I probably need friends to talk me out of this venture!

One place I am not speaking is at today’s Scottish Independence Convention. I asked but was turned down. This saddens me as I addressed the SIC by invitation twice when it was a bit in the doldrums, years before the referendum. I fear that this is another example of ideological narrowness taking hold.

I hugely enjoy speaking and the intellectual interaction of discussion with people in a meeting, and please do invite me to talk to your group. I do not charge any fee. I am however horribly disorganised, so do not be scared to keep sending me constant reminders. It is helpful rather than annoying. I am pretty sure for example there are engagements in Lanark and Aberystwyth I have lost touch with. Anybody expecting me do get repeatedly in touch!

View with comments

Good Riddance to Tristram Hunt

Super-posh Tristram Hunt was famously imposed on his Stoke on Trent constituency – with which his only connection is inheriting a lot of fine porcelain – by the Labour National Executive Committee as a “Mandelson ask”. A number of good local candidates were blocked from standing. A scion of Progress, he was the epitome of the decline of the UK political system into a choice between two groups of Tory, with the New Labour Tories being more right wing than the Conservative Tories.

Hunt always did have a sentimental attachment to supporters of political change, and he wrote about them. He liked them as long as they were Victorian and safely dead, plus with some additional attribute. They had to be literary like Thomas Carlyle, or arty crafty like William Morris, or very rich like Friedrich Engels. Hunt sent himself up as a kind of sanitised E P Thompson, writing romantically laced histories of pioneers of Victorian social progress, only leaving out the oiks of whom he found Thompson unaccountably fond.

Now he has resigned from parliament and will be paid £160,000 a year to potter round the Victoria and Albert looking at arty crafty things. I very much doubt we will see him much at the V&A’s new ghetto in Dundee.

Parliament is well-rid of him. A third rate posh historian and a fourth rate right wing politican.

View with comments

How Wikileaks Keeps Its 100% Accuracy Record

When I resigned as Ambassador to blow the whistle on UK/US complicity in torture and extraordinary rendition, I had a number of official documents I wished to leak to prove my story. They were offered to WikiLeaks through two friends, Andrew and Jonathan. WikiLeaks declined to publish them because they could not 100% verify them.

Their reasons were firstly that they were suspicious of me and whether I was a plant; British ambassadors are not given to resigning on principle. Secondly a few of the copies were my own original drafts of diplomatic communications I had sent, not the document as it printed out at the other end.

That is how scrupulous they are. I can vouch for the fact that their record for 100% accuracy is no fluke, it is safeguarded by extreme caution and careful checking.

In the end we launched the documents through mass blogger action on the web, on hundreds of independent sites simultaneously. You can still see them all for example on William Bowles excellent blog, and they are worth a read, even a decade on. I think over that decade I persuaded WikiLeaks I am genuine too!

View with comments