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The Magnitskiy Myth Exploded 62

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The World’s Most Important Political Prisoner 180

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Unprincipled – and Potentially Racist – Lib Dems 258

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Dogs in the Street Know 272

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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John Bolton’s Dismissal 219

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

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

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

You can see Fingar’s full talk here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Really a Right Wing Coup 274

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mugabe and the Continuing White Supremacist Narrative 272

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

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

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

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

But consider this.

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

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

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

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

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

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IF YOU LIVE IN THE UK, PLEASE SIGN MY PETITION FOR OFFICIAL INTERNATIONAL OSCE OBSERVERS FOR THE NEXT SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM

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Petition for Official International Observers for Next Scottish Independence Referendum 428

Please sign the petition

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

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

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

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

Not only will the OSCE send a large team to observe the conduct of the campaign and physical balloting and counting process, they will send an advance team of experts with international experience in monitoring media bias in campaign situations, with a particular emphasis on state media. These experts will produce a careful and scientific quantitative and qualitative analysis of the extent of media bias, and this analysis will be presented to all the member states of the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe. The very presence of the international monitoring team will be a strong deterrent to bad media behaviour, and will boost public confidence in the process.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION

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Beyond the Brexit Debacle 592

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Queen’s Active Role in the Right Wing Coup

Our obsequious media is actively perpetuating the myth that the monarch can do no wrong, and is apolitical. In fact the monarchy has been active and absolutely central to the seizure of power from the Westminster parliament in a right wing coup. Yesterday’s collaboration at Balmoral between the Queen and Jacob Rees Mogg is only the latest phase.

The monarch appoints the UK Prime Minister. The convention is that this must be the person who can command the support of the majority in the House of Commons. That does not necessarily have to be from a single party, it can be via a coalition or pact with other parties, but the essential point, established since Hanoverian times, is that the individual must have a majority in the Commons.

The very appointment of Boris Johnson by Elizabeth Saxe Coburg Gotha was a constitutional outrage. Johnson may have been selected by Conservative Party members, but that is not the qualification to be PM. Johnson very plainly did not command a majority in the House of Commons, proven by the fact that still at no stage has he demonstrated that he does. I do not write merely with hindsight.

Johnson’s flagship policy was always No Deal Brexit. Contrary to the monarchist propaganda spewed out across the entire MSM, not only is it untrue that the Queen had “no constitutional choice” but to appoint Johnson, the Queen had a clear constitutional duty not to appoint a Prime Minister whose flagship policy had already been specifically voted down time and again by the House of Commons.

The Queen has now doubled down on this original outrage by proroguing the Westminster parliament in conspiracy with old Etonians Rees Mogg and Johnson, specifically so that the House of Commons cannot vote down Johnson.

The monarchy will always be an extremely useful institution in promoting the political aims of the upper classes, not least because of the ludicrous media promulgation of its infallibility. When you have former Prime Minister John Major, senior Tories like Philip Hammond and Michael Heseltine, and the Speaker of the House of Commons himself all talking of “consitutional outrage”, it is plainly preposterous to insist that the monarchy cannot, by definition, have done anything wrong.

The Queen has appointed a Prime Minister who does not have the support of the House of Commons and then has conspired to prevent the House of Commons from obstructing her Prime Minister. That is not the action of a politically neutral monarchy. The institution should have been abolished decades ago. I do hope that all those who recognise the constitutional outrage, will acknowledge the role of the monarchy and that the institution needs to be swiftly abolished.

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Boris Johnson Crosses the Rubicon: We Must React Now

Boris Johnson has crossed the Rubicon today by announcing the suspension of Parliament at this crucial time, no matter how many days the suspension lasts. The United Kingdom has found itself with the most right wing government in nearly two hundred years. I still find it hard to believe that Sajid Javid, Dominic Raab and Priti Patel hold great offices. Even that minority of those voting who put this Tory minority government in place did not expect that. Now that right wing coup is being doubled down on by the deliberate suspension of the Westminster parliament just as the most crucial and divisive issue in several generations is being resolved.

There is an irony here. Johnson has been able to take over without facing the electorate because of the polite constitutional fiction that it is the same Conservative government continuing and nothing has changed. Yet he justifies the prorogation of parliament by the argument that it is a new government and a new Queen’s Speech is thus needed. Johnson is of course famously in favour of having cake and eating it, but the chutzpah of this is breathtaking.

As countries slip to the far right, the failure of the more decent forces in society to unite and to react with sufficient vigour is crucial. Jo Swinson and others need to stop their caviling and get behind Jeremy Corbyn’s no confidence plans.

Here in Scotland, it ought to be a matter of deep shame if we do not now immediately move decisively to claim Independence. The SNP needs to stop prattling on as if keeping the UK in the EU was the priority. No. The priority is Independence, and Independence Now. If the leadership of the SNP want a referendum, they should move now to hold it within a few months, this year. Otherwise they should dissolve Holyrood and hold a Holyrood election with the declared aim of declaring Independence if there is a majority won for that. It is now inevitable that, if the SNP continues to shilly shally on Independence, a new party will arise in response to public opinion, to outflank and challenge them by prioritising Independence. Hopefully Johnson’s new move will finally kick the SNP to act NOW and make that unnecessary.

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The Alex Salmond Fit-Up 670

This new report is from a friend of impeccable credentials with whom I am collaborating; it reveals stunning new facts on the Alex Salmond affair:

Begins

I am an investigative journalist who has been researching the Alex Salmond case. I am not alone as there are to my knowledge at least three television programmes doing the same thing. I make no claim to be impartial, partially because of my sympathy towards the independence movement and partially because my previous work has dealt substantially with failings in the criminal justice system. As far as the criminal case against Alex Salmond is concerned I will not be able to publish or comment until it is over. However the expenses settlement last week of Alex Salmond’s successful civil action allows me , without any prejudice, to relate just a few the dramatic and deeply troubling things I have already discovered about the civil case.

This same opportunity for comment was taken up with gusto last week by the mainstream media in Scotland. Their coverage centred on the scale of the legal expenses agreed to be paid by the Scottish Government to Alex Salmond. This was followed up by the Sunday Mail and the Sunday Post last weekend with stories suggesting that Salmond’s lawyers might have been overcharging and blaming the Scottish Government for not having them independently audited.

True to form the unionist press have gloriously and entirely missed the point. The reason that the expenses were an eye watering £512,000 and change is that they were awarded by the Court largely on an “agent and client” basis. “Agent and client” is a punitive award used by the courts when the losing party to litigation has been causing the other unnecessary expense. It means that the victorious party (ie Salmond) is entitled to full expenses as opposed to the normal 60 per cent or so which accompanies victory. Having the expenses audited (or “taxed” in the legal parlance) is a complete red herring. No such process could set aside the decision of the court for that element of expenses which were awarded on an “agent and client” basis.

And so to the real story which is why the expenses were awarded by Lord Pentland in the Court of Session in this punitive manner. The likely reason lies in three equally devastating parts.

First Salmond won the action. The court found on the admission of the Government that the process against him was “unlawful” and “unfair” in that it had been “tainted by apparent bias”. Despite the attempted spin of Scottish Government Permanent Secretary, Leslie Evans, that all the mistakes had been an innocent and inadvertent error of process (a “muddle not a fiddle” as someone else famously said in another context) the statements in open court do not point to that nor does the complete collapse of the Government case. We should look rather to Salmond’s senior counsel Ronnie Clancy QC and his comments in open court that the behaviour of the Government’s Investigating Officer, was “bordering on encouragement”. In lay person’s terms it looks like Salmond was being fitted up by officials in the Government he once led with such distinction.

Second, we know that Lord Pentland in mid December 2018 granted a “Commission and Diligence”. This is a relatively unusual legal process for forcing the recovery of key documents in a case. Pentland did this having previously warned the Government from the bench that as a public authority it would be expected that they would freely produce all relevant documents. That such a Commission was necessary to secure key documents should be a clear warning to the upcoming Scottish parliamentary investigative committee, already concerned with suggestions that e mails may have been deleted. We have no way of knowing what came out of these hearings except that top civil servants were compelled to appear under oath and be questioned. I do know that Evans appeared before the Commission as did Investigating Officer Judith Mackinnon. I also know that Nicola Sturgeon’s Chief of Staff, a Ms Elizabeth Lloyd, was due to appear when the Scottish Government suddenly decided to collapse the case on January 3rd 2019. Finally we know that when Ronnie Clancy QC appeared in the Court of Session he had a large folder of killer documents to underline his case. Incidentally all of the expenses for this Commission and all other court hearings are part of the Salmond expenses award.

Thirdly and finally my researches point to a group within the Scottish Government who had been been established to defend the Judicial Review. I know that it either met with, or conferenced called, external legal counsel a minimum of seventeen times between August 2017 and January 2018. It featured key civil servants familiar with the case. It was this group who likely decided to prolong the legal action when they , by definition, must have known that they would lose spectacularly once the compromising information and revealing documents were forced into disclosure through the Commission process. I believe that the aforesaid Elizabeth Lloyd was a member of this group, an absolutely key issue which , when confirmed, will open a range of pointed questions, the most fundamental of which is what on earth a political appointee was doing on a civil service group charged with the defence of a legal action? The further interesting and devastating question will be what exactly did this group, or others taking the key decisions, possibly hope to gain by prolonging a legal action and running up the clock at such gigantic public expense?

Perhaps the full answer to these questions will have to await developments but answers there will have to be. For the moment let us content ourselves with this observation. Regardless of anything else, how on earth can a Permanent Secretary who, by her own admission and a Court of Session judgement , presided over an “unlawful” process still be in her position and who exactly is to be held accountable for the unnecessary loss to the public purse thus far of a minimum of £600,000?

All of my journalistic life I have campaigned for justice and equality including across race class and gender. However, without proper process there can be no justice. And from what I already know, some of which can print, and a lot more I can’t reveal as yet, this entire process against Salmond, already judged unlawful in the highest court in the land, stinks to high heaven.

Ends

The Salmond Affair indeed stinks to high heaven and no aspect of it stinks more than the role in steering the affair, throughout, of Liz Lloyd, Nicola Sturgeon’s Chief of Staff. Lloyd is also known to be personally friendly with David Clegg of the Daily Record who published what were claimed to be leaked details of one of the “allegations” against Salmond.

I am not amongst those who has faith in the fairness of the police and prosecutorial system in Scotland. In my view, the centralisation of Police Scotland made it highly susceptible to political influence. I recall the case of my friend the estimable Michelle Thomson, who was announced by the Police as under investigation for mortgage fraud, which “under investigation” status lasted for over two years, until Thomson was obliged to stand down at the 2017 general election. Yet the facts of the case were extremely simple, and would have taken two days, maximum, to clear up if the investigation had been genuine. After two years of being “under investigation”, in which entire time she was never even interviewed, Police Scotland announced there was no case to answer. By then the job was done and she was out of parliament.

Police Scotland put 22 officers full time into trying to dig up historic dirt on Salmond. I have personally seen a statement from a woman who was astonished to be interviewed by Police Scotland after having been seen, years ago, to have a greeting peck on the cheek from her friend Alex at a public function. This has been the biggest, and most maliciously motivated, fishing expedition in Scottish police history.

The Salmond case aside (phrase inserted on legal advice!), it ought to be a public scandal that the procurator fiscal can arraign and parade a person in public and charge them with grievous offences, then delay matters for months and years while attempting to somehow cobble together the pile of mince they have as “evidence” into some sort of case. Justice delayed is justice denied.

Meantime the parties behind the Salmond case can hide indefinitely from investigation on the pretext that it would prejudice a so-called independent criminal process.

There is one question to the Scottish government which from my own certain knowledge (which I cannot publish pending the never-never trial) would bust the entire Salmond affair wide open:
Could you please detail every contact between Liz Lloyd and Police Scotland anent Alex Salmond?
They will refuse to answer the question so long as the so-called “criminal case” is pending. Expect it to be pending for a very long time.

Meantime, as the above account makes crystal clear, we have a judicial ruling that the Scottish Government engaged in a process that was unlawful and had every appearance of bias. They persisted recklessly in that unlawful course of action and eventually cost the Scottish taxpayer over £600,000. Yet none of those responsible for these unlawful actions – Leslie Evans, Judith Mackinnon and Liz Lloyd – has been sacked. That fact is indicative of monumental arrogance right at the heart of Holyrood.

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Jo Swinson Goes A Funny Tinge 394

My own position on Brexit is more nuanced than is currently fashionable (more below), but I am strongly against a no deal Brexit. Jo Swinson’s successful deflation of Jeremy Corbyn’s proposal for a caretaker administration purely to organise a general election, makes no deal much more probable.

It says a great deal about Swinson that she is emphatically in favour of a caretaker government led by arch Blairite Harriet Harman. Let us remind ourselves of Harman’s voting record:

If the Liberal Democrats are refusing to work with somebody, you would expect it to be the person who shared Cabinet responsibility for initiating illegally the death of millions in the Middle East. It is also worth recalling that while Acting Leader of the Labour Party Harman instructed her MPs to abstain on both Tory benefit cuts and Theresa May’s “Hostile Environment” immigration policy.

Yet Swinson actively promotes warmonger Harman as caretaker PM and would refuse to work with Jeremy Corbyn, who is apparently anathema to Liberals because he espouses social democratic economic policies and rejects neo-imperialist aggression abroad. I am confident my old friend Charlie Kennedy would have taken a different view.

Swinson was one of the Lib Dems who was least uncomfortable in coalition with the Tories, and her attitude now is based entirely on the wishes of Chuka Umunna and other actual and potential Blairite defectors to the Lib Dems. Swinson is more interested in playing to the Blairite visceral hatred of Corbyn than she is in stopping no deal Brexit, and it is proof if any were needed that the arrival of Blairite and Tory defectors is moving the Lib Dems still further to the right. I see not a single hint of the party’s old radicalism or principle.

The SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens have shown maturity and common sense in welcoming Corbyn’s initiative, with due reservations and caveats. Had the Lib Dems done so too, it would have encouraged Tory rebels to join in an all-party initiatvie. Swinson’s refusal to work with Corbyn, on the grounds that Tory rebels would also refuse, was as she well knew a self-fulfilling prophecy. By making it about Corbyn, Swinson made it impossible for Tory MPs to go along when the Lib Dems had refused.

Institutional and personal loyalties are very difficult things to shake off. The Tory Party has become a far right movement whose primary policies are motivated by nothing but racist hatred of immigrants. It is extremely hard for decent people like Ken Clarke and Dominic Grieve to accept that this has happened and it is irreversible.

If Westminster cannot stop hard Brexit and it goes ahead, it will be enabled by Swinson’s ambition, the hatreds of Blairites, and the failure of decent Tories to process psychologically what has happened to their party.

I suspect that the chaos caused by hard Brexit would be much less than generally predicted after three weeks, but that the economic situation caused by no deal would be very much worse than generally predicted after three years. Priti Patel’s announcement that free movement will end on 31 October is a nonsense. Over 80% of lorries arriving at Dover have non-British, EU drivers. Instituting immigration controls would be a physical impossibility.

My own euro-enthusiasm was dealt a fatal blow when the Spanish paramilitaries clubbed grandmothers lining up to vote in Catalonia, and all three constituent parts of the EU – Parliament, Council and Commission – rushed to congratulate the Francoist government in Madrid on upholding the Rule of Law.

I would therefore be content to live in a country which had a relationship with the EU similar to Norway or Switzerland, but was politically separate. I am entirely in favour of free movement, which I believe has been one of the greatest advances for liberty in my lifetime, and I support the single market. I also believe in democracy and am strongly convinced that England and Wales ought to leave the EU, because that is how they voted, while Scotland and Northern Ireland should remain in the EU, because that is how they voted.

On second referenda, I do not believe it is democratic to have one before the result has been respected and it has been tried. Thus the result of the Scottish referendum was respected, continuing in the Union has been tried, and proven not to be what was promised. After five years of respecting the result, it is perfectly legitimate to vote again.

The EU referendum is different. The people of England and Wales voted to leave and have not had the chance to try that for five years and see if it works out. I believe it would be undemocratic to have another vote before the result has been respected. Another referendum in England and Wales after five years out of the EU seems to me perfectly reasonable.

I appreciate none of those thoughts correspond with the generally held and remarkably polarised viewpoints of Leavers and Remainers, or sets of positions you might find from a political party or in mainstream media articles. The entire point of this blog is to ask you to consider different ways of thinking about things. I do not in the least insist or expect you to agree with me. But courteous consideration of the arguments is always welcome, even where opinions sharply differ from mine.

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Electoral Commission Obstructionism on Indyref2 is Just a Foretaste

The Electoral Commission has sought to apply the handbrake to the gathering momentum for a new Independence referendum, by a submission to the Scottish Parliament which is a model of bureaucratic obstructionism. This is simply a foretaste of the attitude of the “neutral” and “independent” organs of the United Kingdom state, such as the BBC and Electoral Commission, in the coming struggle for Independence, in which the British state will be using all possible levers to defend its own existence.

It should not be forgotten that it is the Electoral Commission which insists that the postal ballots be mixed with the ordinary ballots before counting, so there can be no record of any discrepancy between the postal ballot result and ordinary ballots. If the ordinary ballot was 60% yes and 40% no, but the postal ballot was 90% no and 10% yes, this information is deliberately and systematically destroyed by the counting method insisted on by the Electoral Commission. I have for years been attempting to get a coherent official justification for this deliberate destruction of obviously vital information in guarding against fraud, and have never received one. So I openly proclaim I do not start here from a position of trust in the Electoral Commission.

The Guardian is reporting triumphantly that the Electoral Commission’s submission to the Scottish Parliament on the legislation for Indyref2 throws a 2020 date into doubt and requires at least a nine month lead period for the referendum. This is (for once) a broadly accurate report from the Guardian.

In particular the Electoral Commission argues at para 7 of its submission for a period of “at least six months” between the passing of the legislation and the start of the campaign. This is so that campaigners and administrators can learn and thoroughly understand the rules before the campaign gets underway.

This is ridiculous bureaucratic bullshit. In the EU referendum campaign, the period between the legislation coming into force in December 2015 and the vote – not the campaign start, the vote, – in June 2016 was six months and one week. For Indyref2 the Electoral Commission is claiming it needs six months before the campaign even can start. Yet we have already had a Scottish Independence referendum and the rule changes proposed by either the Scottish Government or the Electoral Commission are minor. The main rules are already known, we have done it before and I have understood all of the proposed changes within three hours of studying them – it does not need six months. More fundamentally, since when has legislation come into force with a six month grace period while we get used to it? I don’t recall that happening the last time they lowered the drink driving limit.

The Electoral Commission then at para 11 suggests that the campaign period, following the six month “understand the rules” period, is a minimum of ten weeks. This is preceded by a six week period for designating lead campaigners. It is not quite clear if the Electoral Commission thinks the six week designation period can be during the six month know the rules period, but the implication is not. So it appears the Electoral Commission is proposing a minimum of six months plus six weeks plus ten weeks – ie 10 months – between the entry into force of the referendum legislation and the date of the referendum.

But that is not the limit of the Electoral Commission’s obfuscation. It is demanding the right to change the referendum question, in line with unionist demands. The perfectly straightforward “Should Scotland Be an Independent Country?” – which delivered a result the unionists are loudly declaiming as definitive – was approved by the Electoral Commission. They now “firmly recommend” they should have the power to insist on a new question after 12 weeks consultation with focus groups, opinion polls and political parties, which mumbo jumbo the Commission characterises as “new evidence”, which is an interesting definition of “evidence”. What the Electoral Commission means is that it will insist on a question for which the Tories have long argued, as here:

Had the question been more precisely, “Should Scotland leave the United Kingdom?”, the “No” vote would have been much stronger.

I suspect that the Boris Johnson cabinet has in fact made the prospect of leaving the UK a much more appealing prospect, and this much touted question effect may have radically diminished, but the unionists and Electoral Commission wish to try. If anyone is yet unconvinced that the Electoral Commission is deliberately seeking to postpone an Indyref, note that they state they need a period of 12 weeks to consider the question.

I have one further point to make that has been picked up by neither the Scottish Government’s proposals nor the Electoral Commission’s proposals. That is the restriction on who can fund.

Why is that the UK and not Scotland? The only people who can vote are residents of Scotland. Surely this is a Scottish democratic exercise and the same people should be allowed to donate who are allowed to vote? Why should English residents be permitted to fund and sway the campaign in Scotland? For the purposes of this referendum, England is as foreign to the process as anywhere else, and if English residents can fund a campaign, then why ban French, German, Spanish, American or Russian residents?

The United Kingdom routinely holds its General Elections in five weeks from dissolution of parliament to the new PM moving into Downing Street, and occasionally in less than a month. Those elections feature long and complex manifestos containing myriad policies, generally published about three weeks before the polling date. The notion that a second Scottish Independence referendum would require ten months, and that it would require a new question, is nonsense that further calls into question the motives of the Electoral Commission.

We have become used to the brazen anti-Independence bias of the BBC. It is hard to live with the cognitive dissonance that comes from distrusting the institutions we have been brought up to respect, but we should treat the Electoral Commission with no more trust than the BBC.

There will not be a repeat of 2014. The British Establishment were fairly relaxed about that Independence referendum because they did not believe they could lose – remember Yes started around 30%. They had the fright of their lives, and we saw the ramping up of BBC bias, the breaking of purdah rules with “the Vow”, and some peculiar postal vote turnouts in response. This time all that will be much exaggerated and we will definitely see a far higher presence from the UK government’s online covert players – 77th Brigade, GCHQ, Integrity Initiative etc. We will see more activity from security services including by agents planted inside the Independence movement which could include agents provocateurs and false flag incidents. And we will see state institutions like the BBC and Electoral Commission acting in an increasingly biased fashion.

That is why it is essential that, if we go the referendum route again, we have international observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) who will monitor all of these aspects, crucially including media monitoring. I hope to announce a new initiative on this shortly on which I will request your assistance.

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FCO Speeds Up Planning to Move UK Embassy to Jerusalem

Following US National Security Adviser John Bolton’s talks with Boris Johnson and his ministers in London last week, FCO officials have been asked to speed up contingency planning for the UK to move its Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, with an eye to an “early announcement” post Brexit.

The UK is currently bound by an EU common foreign policy position not to follow the United States in moving its Embassy to Jerusalem. As things stand, that prohibition will fall on 1 November. FCO officials had previously been asked to produce a contingency plan, but this involved the construction of a £14 million new Embassy and a four year timescale. They have now been asked to go back and look at a quick fix involving moving the Ambassador and immediate staff to Jerusalem and renaming the Consulate already there as the Embassy. This could be speedily announced, and then implemented in about a year.

Johnson heads the most radically pro-Israel cabinet in UK history and the symbolic gesture of rejection of Palestinian rights is naturally appealing to his major ministers Patel, Javid and Raab. They also see three other political benefits. Firstly, they anticipate that Labour opposition to the move can be used to yet again raise accusations of “anti-semitism” against Jeremy Corbyn. Secondly, it provides good “red meat” to Brexiteer support in marking a clear and, they believe, popular break from EU foreign policy, at no economic cost. Thirdly, it seals the special link between the Trump and Johnson administrations and sets the UK apart from other NATO allies.

Bolton also discussed the possibility of UK support for Israeli annexation of areas of the West Bank to “solve” the illegality of Israeli settlements on occupied territory. My FCO sources believe this is going to be much more difficult politically for the Cabinet to agree than simply moving the Embassy, due to lack of support on their own backbenches.

This is an insight into the future of British foreign policy if the Johnson government, and the UK, both survive. In the massive defeat of the UK at the UN General Assembly two months ago over the illegal occupation of the Chagos Islands, the UK was in a voting block with only the USA, Israel, Australia, Hungary and the Maldives, against the rest of the world. The Maldives had a particular maritime interest there, but the leadership of the others – Donald Trump, Viktor Orban, Scott Morrison, Benjamin Netanyahu and now Boris Johnson – constitute a distinct and extreme right wing bloc. These are very worrying times indeed.

This article was updated to add the third point above after my source alerted me that I had missed it.

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The Devolution Trap

For the many who expressed kind concern at the bureaucratic impasse involved in Cameron starting his new school, I should update you with the good news. Cameron was able to start on time in the local school, and I am very happy to say that both staff and pupils have been extremely friendly and helpful. Which does not obviate the daftness of the system which makes it impossible to get more than a day’s notice of acceptance, but we are getting over the problems that caused.

But I have also to say that I am genuinely shocked that Cameron took the 33rd place in his class, which is now full. Class size is a very major factor in pupil achievement and I am perplexed to find these Victorian levels of pupil/teacher ratio still surviving in 2019.

This is illustrative of the trap that is devolution within the UK. The SNP devotes the large majority of its resource as a party to attempting to manage vital services within the UK settlement through government in Holyrood, and does so with competence and professionalism. But a decade of austerity and budget squeeze, and still more the profound economic malaise caused by the sucking out of Scottish capital and human resource by London over centuries, make it an impossible task.

Within the UK, Scotland will never have the economic resources at the disposal of its government which will enable it to provide public services of the standard its people ought to expect.

If you look at nations comparable to Scotland, these are the primary school pupil teacher ratios

Denmark 10.7
Sweden 12.1
Norway 9.01

The reason the devolution trap is so deadly is that it seduces the SNP into expending its energies in genuinely well meaning attempts to mitigate the disastrous public sector climate of Tory UK. It is very easy in these circumstances for Scottish ministers to become over-proud of tiny achievements in making life better for people, and miss the big picture.

The big picture is that within the UK Scotland will never escape the drain on its economic resources and subsequent impoverishment, and will never fulfill its economic potential. Meanwhile, in trying to run public services within the context of Tory austerity, those services are simply bound to be inadequate and the SNP ends up taking the blame for failures created deliberately in Westminster.

Devolution has run its course. There is no devo-max solution that will make things better. It is time to forget all ideas of making the UK less disastrous, and to concentrate all energies on one thing and one thing only: Independence.

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Assange Must Not Also Die in Jail

The highly dubious death of Jeffrey Epstein in a US maximum security prison is another strong reason not to extradite Julian Assange into one – particularly as many of the same people who are relieved by Epstein’s death would like to see Assange dead too.

But there is every reason to fear Assange is already in danger, in Belmarsh maximum security prison, where he is currently incarcerated. As the great journalist John Pilger tweeted six days ago:

Do not forget Julian #Assange. Or you will lose him.
I saw him in Belmarsh prison and his health has deteriorated. Treated worse than a murderer, he is isolated, medicated and denied the tools to fight the bogus charges of US extradition. I now fear for him. Do not forget him.

There is no official explanation as to why Julian’s health has continued to deteriorate so alarmingly in Belmarsh. Nobody genuinely believes him to be a violent danger, so there is absolutely no call for him to be imprisoned in the facility which houses the hardcore terrorist cases.

Assange is fighting major legal cases in the UK, Sweden and the United States, yet is permitted visitors for only two hours per fortnight, inclusive of time spent with his three sets of lawyers. All of his visitors have been alarmed by his state of physical health and many have been alarmed by his apparent disorientation and confusion.

It is because of Assange’s draconian one year sentence for “bail-jumping” on claiming political asylum that he can be kept in such harsh conditions and with so little access to his lawyers. That is why his sentence was so unprecedentedly stiff for missing police bail. Otherwise, as a remand prisoner awaiting extradition hearing his conditions would ordinarily be less harsh and his access to lawyers much better. The Establishment has conspired to reduce his ability to defend himself in court. I am not convinced it is not conspiring to destroy him.

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Epstein’s Death Must Be the Start, not the End, of the Investigation

There are a number of royal palaces and grand residences of former Presidents and Prime Ministers where the inhabitants have a little bit more spring in their step following the death of Jeffrey Epstein. The media is rushing to attach the label “conspiracy theory” to any thought that his death might not have been suicide. In my view, given that so many very powerful people will be relieved he is no longer in a position to sing, and given that he was in a maximum security jail following another alleged “suicide attempt” a week ago, it would be a very credulous person who did not view the question of who killed him an open one.

There has been a huge amount of obfuscation and misdirection on the activities of Epstein and his set. To my mind, the article which remains the best starting point for those new to the scandal is this one from Gawker.

Two days ago a federal court unsealed 2000 pages of documents related to the allegations against Epstein. Of these the most important appears to be a witness statement from Virginia Giuffre alleging that while a minor she had sex at Epstein’s direction with Senate Majority leader George Mitchell and former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, plus a variety of senior foreign politicians.

Epstein’s sexual activities and partying with young girls were carried out in full view of key friends, his domestic and office staff, his pilots and of course the participants. There is no shortage of potential witnesses. Several of these really ought to be taking great care – though if I were them I would certainly eschew any protection involving US security services or law enforcement. Ghislaine Maxwell might take heed of her father’s fate and avoid swimming for a few years.

(I am probably not the only one old enough to compare the many similarities between Robert Maxwell’s asset stripping career and that of Philip Green. The progress of society after thirty years of Thatcher, New Labour and returned Tories meaning that Green by contrast got no criminal charges and much bigger yachts.)

In the UK, Ms Giuffre’s alleged relationship with Prince Andrew has been mentioned in the media. In fact the evidence that she had a relationship with Prince Andrew of some sort is overwhelming. Here is some of the actual evidence from the court documents.

The age of heterosexual consent in England is 16 and there is no indication that Prince Andrew is doing anything illegal in this photograph in which Ms Giuffre is 17. Nor is the photo in itself evidence of sex, though it certainly is intimate. The notion however that Ms Giuffre was “lent out” to Andrew may have legal implications as she was flown into the country, allegedly for the purpose.

No satisfactory alternative explanation has been offered as to what might have been happening here, as Ms Guffre’s lawyers noted.

No further details appear in the documents to amplify Ms Giuffre’s claim that she was forced to have sex with a “well known Prime Minister”, other than to repeat the claim. But what is plain is that her tale is not entirely invention. Just how much more did Epstein know, and who might he have taken down with him?

The truth is that sexual abuse by the rich and famous transcends all political boundaries. Bill Clinton was very frequently on Epstein’s plane and Epstein joins the very long list of those connected to the Clintons who died in dubious circumstances.

Two coincidences – the first being the bruise marks on the neck sustained in Epstein’s first “suicide attempt” in jail – remind me of the case of John Ashe, the senior official very close to the Clintons who died with bruise marks on his neck, when he accidentally dropped his barbell on his throat while bench-pressing alone at home.

Ashe was charged and awaiting trial for receiving corrupt funds from businessman Ng Lap Seng while Ashe was serving in the USA’s turn as President of the UN General Assembly. Ng Lap Seng, a six time visitor to the Clinton White House, had previously been accused of making very large illegal donations to Clinton campaign funds, and was subsequently arrested while entering the USA with over US $4 million in cash. Unlike the Clintons, Ashe was charged with taking Seng’s money and rather like Epstein may have had an interesting song to sing while going down, had he not conveniently dropped the barbell on his throat.

I said that the first thing that jogged me to link the Epstein/Clinton and the Ashe/Clinton cases was the bruise marks on the throat. The second is that both stories have been debunked by self-proclaimed “conspiracy-busting” website Snopes – in a manner which shows that Snopes has no regard for the truth whatsoever.

In the case of John Ashe, Snopes wrote an utterly tendentious piece of “myth-busting” which stated that it was a myth that Ashe’s death occurred shortly before his trial and that he was not due to testify against the Clintons. Snopes failed to mention that Ashe, a very senior Clinton appointee, was charged with taking corrupt money from precisely the same man who had been very widely accused of giving corrupt money to the Clintons. And while it was true his trial was not imminent, his pre-trial deposition was.

In the Epstein/Clinton case Snopes wrote a piece debunking the notion that this is a photograph of Bill Clinton on Epstein’s private jet.

Snopes sets out to prove that this is not Epstein’s private jet but that of another billionaire, and that the girl is not Rachel Chandler. For the sake of argument I am prepared to accept what they say on both counts. But is the sensible reaction to that photo to say “Oh that’s OK it’s another billionaire’s jet” or to say “Why is Bill Clinton on a billionaire’s private jet in an intimate pose with a worryingly young female”? As with the Prince Andrew photo, although it has been circulating for years no alternative innocent explanation is on offer.

And the fact that this is another billionaire’s plane should open again the much wider question of networks of the rich and the powerful indulging each other’s passion for sexual exploitation of the young. It is a great shame that in the UK, the Establishment has been able to characterise the falsifications of Carl Beech as discrediting the entire notion of historical child sexual abuse. It is as though one person making up stories about a Bishop would mean there was never child exploitation in the Catholic Church.

The deeper question is why such a significant proportion of the rich and powerful have a propensity to want to assuage their sexual desires on the most vulnerable and powerless in society, as opposed to forming relationships among their peers. I suspect it is connected to the kind of sociopathy that leads somebody to seek or hoard power or wealth in the first place.

It is not necessary to develop that idea further, to understand that the Epstein case had given us a glimpse of criminal sexual behaviour which beyond doubt involves many powerful people. It is essential that the threads that can be grasped are now worked on assiduously to uncover the entire network.

I am afraid to say I suspect the chances of that actually happening are very slim indeed.

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The Unanswerable Case

Simon Jenkins gets it with this simple and unanswerable argument.

Scots are now very significantly poorer than the Irish, the Norwegians, the Swedes, the Danes, the Icelanders or any of their obvious comparators. Every one of those nations is in the top 10 of the UN Human Development Index. The UK is not, and Scotland is below the mean for the UK. It is not because Scots are stupid or feckless, it not because of climate and it is certainly not a lack of natural resources. It is because of the draining away of human and physical resource by London over centuries.

Against that fundamental fact, the cloud of stupid obfuscation around the minutiae of transition is a mere distraction, and a deliberate one at that. Countries which are far poorer than Scotland successfully run on their own currencies – scores of them. Why would people believe Scotland is unique among nations in being incapable of having a currency? Yet such pathetic shibboleths are pounded out by the media, and particularly the BBC, on a daily basis to make a significant number of Scots believe that what is possible for every nation that has tried it, is uniquely impossible to them.

It is particularly galling to see those that have made us poor tell us we cannot be independent because we are poor. Particularly when the entire system of government accounting has been manipulated over decades to ascribe Scotland’s revenue to the wider UK, to ascribe a portion of infrastructure projects in SE England such as Crossrail as Scottish expenditure, and to present an entirely distorted picture of the Scottish fiscal position.

I am entirely at the end of my patience. It really is time that we claimed our Independence and stopped this slavish adherence to the laws of the Imperial state which seeks to continue its leeching out of our resources.

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40% of Scottish Labour Voters Support Independence

The headline from the major new Ashcroft poll of Scottish public opinion is that Independence now has 52-48 majority support, and that is excellent news. Ashcroft himself is a Machiavellian Tory but his polling effort involves much larger samples than regular newspaper polls and has a generally good record. For me, the most interesting point in his new Scottish poll is that fully 40% of Scottish Labour voters in 2017 now support Independence.

This has important repercussions. The Labour leadership will no longer be able to portray Independence as beyond the pale for decent thinking people, or to portray Scottish nationalism as akin to Viktor Orban, without alienating a huge swathe of its own support. It certainly ought, at the very least, to encourage the Labour Party in supporting the Scottish people’s right to a new referendum, against Tory attempts to block it.

But it also has ramifications for how the SNP and wider Yes movement conduct ourselves, particularly online. Nationalists must stop automatically writing off Labour supporters as unionists. There remains a Blairite rump still powerful in Scottish Labour who are rightfully despised, but we need more readily to acknowledge how much we have in common with a great many ordinary members of the Labour Party, both in terms of supporting Independence and in terms of the more socially inclusive Scottish state we wish to build.


The dates in brackets indicate that the affiliation refers to how people voted in the election or referendum of that date.

It is not surprising that many more Labour voters are looking to Scottish Independence as a reaction to a historically extreme right wing government in London. But as I blogged at the time, already in 2017 25% of Scottish Labour voters supported Independence and a significant number who had voted SNP in the 2015 General Election had reverted to Labour in the 2017 General Election. The reason for this was simple – the SNP showed little sign of pushing on with Independence anyway and our dreadful, lacklustre 2017 GE campaign was conducted entirely on the basis of “don’t mention Independence and deny we are pushing for it whenever the Tories bring it up.” No wonder some Indy supporters drifted away.

As ever I looked to the estimable James Kelly for his interpretation of the latest poll, and found that I had beaten him to it. I did however find his last article touching on precisely the subject of whether the SNP should put Independence at the forefront of their campaign in the likely event of an early General Election. As James puts it:

“But we’ve all heard the mood music from the SNP leadership: in a snap pre-Brexit election, they’re more likely to emphasise their plan to stop Brexit, albeit with a pledge to hold an independence referendum.”

I too have picked up that mood music, and I have also picked up the massive groundswell of discontent with it. The SNP must put Independence right at the forefront of a general election campaign, and I entirely endorse the Angus MacNeil option of declaring the general election a de facto Independence referendum if the Tories persist in their refusal to countenance a formal one.

For the SNP yet again to put Independence on the backburner and to lead their campaign on Brexit would be a massive mistake. Firstly the surest way for Scotland to remain in the EU is to become an Independent country. It might end up with more SNP MPs at Westminster, but for those of us whose object is to have Scotland out of the UK and no SNP MPs at Westminster at all, the SNP is looking more and more like an organisation over-interested in its own institutional strength and in highly paid UK jobs for its highheidyins.

In short, Tommy Sheppard’s brilliant 2015 quote “We came to Westminster to settle up, not to settle in” is in danger of turning Tommy – for whom I have high regard – into a liar if they don’t rediscover the sense of urgency that quote conveyed.

Secondly it is not our right to keep England and Wales in the EU if they wish to exit. If we genuinely believe Scotland should be an Independent country, we have to accept that we have no right to interfere in English politics and no right to force them to stay in the EU, against the democratic wish of English voters, just as they have no right to drag us out of the EU, against the democratic wish of Scottish voters.

The SNP seems to have its heart set on being heroes on the UK stage and beloved of the Guardian and Alastair Campbell by thwarting Brexit for the UK. Well, bugger that. I want to destroy the UK and I want Scottish Independence. The rest is detail.

Whether England remains or leaves the EU is a decision for the residents of England, not for me.

Thirdly, an all out bid for Independence will attract back to voting SNP many of those Independence supporting 40% of Scottish Labour voters, many of whom voted SNP in 2015 but not 2017. I can see no especial reason they should change their vote if the SNP does not look a great deal more serious about Independence than it does today.

Finally, if you can’t achieve Independence while Boris Johnson and his bunch of ghouls are lurking around No. 10, when can you? Forget waiting for a better time.

If the SNP fails to strike all out for Independence now, and gets further distracted by the effort to stop Brexit for the whole UK, I shall not be alone in wondering how many of the 8% of SNP voters in the Ashcroft poll who do not support Independence, are at or near the top of the party.

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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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