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Our Falkirk Moment 18

The largest battle of the Jacobite 45 was not Culloden and not Prestonpans but Falkirk. On 17 January 1746, amidst a howling winter storm, an 8,000 strong Jacobite army routed a similar sized Hanoverian force under Lieutenant General Hawley, which had been marching to the relief of Stirling Castle. By every conventional measure it was a Jacobite victory. They held the battlefield while the Hanoverians retreated pell-mell to Edinburgh, they captured the Hanoverian artillery and baggage, Hanoverian casualties were higher by about four to one. Yet the history books tend to call it a draw.

The Hanoverian force broken at Falkirk formed 80% of the victorious force at Culloden a few months later. Falkirk was decisive because, had the Jacobites chased Hawley’s force as it retreated to Edinburgh in great disorder and with shattered morale, it could have been destroyed. This did not happen, for a variety of reasons. The most important was that Charles Stuart thought it prudent to get all his ducks in the row by capturing Stirling Castle first. The second was that Charles had failed to appoint an overall commander or a commander of the left wing, and spent the actual battle with his senior staff indoors around a fire staying out of the storm, while George Murray, fighting on foot, led the right wing of MacDonalds and Athollmen to victory.

You will gather that the research for my biography of George Murray continues. But unless you are particularly slow today, you will gather that I see a lesson here for the Yes Movement.

This is our Falkirk moment. Both the Tories and Labour are riven by internal dissent over Brexit. The UK is in palpable political chaos, and the prospect of remaining tied to Westminster has never been less appealing. It is not the job of the SNP to “save the UK from a bad Brexit”. It is the job of the SNP to win Scottish Independence, after which Scotland can decide itself on whether it wants to be in the EU or not (and the fact is that when last asked it very much did).

I fumed when the SNP fought the last Westminster election on a “don’t mention Independence” platform, and deservedly lost MPs as a result. I fumed still more when I was not allowed to hold a fringe meeting on Indyref2 at the SNP conference, and the subject was rigorously excluded from the motions before the Conference itself. Now that Nicola Sturgeon is daily putting further and further excuses forward for not moving on Independence, I am inclined to fear that the comfortable fire around which Charles Stuart warmed himself during the Battle of Falkirk, is an apt analogy for the position of the SNP Establishment, who are doing very nicely, thank you, out of their position within the UK, and show no inclination whatsoever to stop warming their toes at the Establishment hearth and move out into the storm and bullets.

I have no more claim to be a strategic genius than the next man. But when I see my sworn opponents, disoriented, in disarray, and fighting fiercely amongst themselves, I cannot help but feel that now is the time to attack them.

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For Once, Theresa May is Very Accurate 382

Theresa May today chose to compare herself with Geoffrey Boycott. For once, she was being very accurate, especially when it comes to relationships with her own team. Boycott’s players hated him so much during his captaincy they actually ran him out on purpose during a test match.

http://www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/604169.html

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Goodbye, and Thanks for all the Fish 177

It is rather disconcerting to be watching the UK continue its disintegration in such spectacular fashion, from as far away as Ghana. I wonder whether events appear quite so ridiculous close up.

It surprises me that, in all the discussion and analysis of the withdrawal agreement, there has been so little analysis of the much more important conjoined Political Declaration, which is about the UK’s prospective relationships once the divorce is over. It particularly surprises me that so very little has been said about fish.

It is very unfortunate for British, and especially Scottish, fishermen that their political leaders are strange right wing bigots of a particularly repellent stamp. This blinds decent people to the truth that the fishing communities of the UK did suffer a dreadful historic injustice, on the same scale as Thatcher’s assault on the miners.

It is seldom remembered now that the UK’s initial entry to the European Communities was achieved against a background of traditional hostility from European states, especially France. Ted Heath’s government decided that the economic benefits of joining the Common Market were so huge, it was for the greater good to sacrifice the fishing community.

As a former Head of the FCO’s Maritime Section, I have an intimate and inside knowledge of the subject. The UK had always opposed the adoption in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea of the 200 mile exclusive economic zone for fisheries, on the grounds that as (then) a maritime nation, freedom of the seas was an overriding priority. Hence the (lost) cod war with Iceland. The UK had therefore never adopted an exclusive 200 mile fishing zone. European Community members states had adopted EEZ’s in 1970.

As part of the political deal behind the UK’s accession to the Common Market, the UK agreed it would adopt an EEZ (called at fist an EFZ), and gift most of the fish within it to the fishing fleets of other member states. As the UK has by far the richest fishing waters in the EU, (most of them Scottish), there is no doubt that the UK got a terrible deal on fisheries, and saw this as a worthwhile trade-off for other benefits. The fishermen were betrayed “for the greater good” in an bit of realpolitik. That is simply true. It is one of the factors behind the terrible decay in coastal communities.

The Common Fisheries Policy is often compared to the Common Agricultural Policy. In fact the two work in completely different ways. The Common Agricultural Policy is at heart a system of taxpayer subsidy to farmers to negate the perverse incentive that, due to demand inflexibility for staple crops, in years of shortage a farmer can make far more money than in a good harvest year, as prices shoot up so quickly.

The Common Fisheries Policy at base is totally different. It pools the physical resources of member states. If the CAP worked the same way, then British farmers would be entitled to take some of the grapes of Champagne or the oranges of Seville. And the UK gives vastly more than it gets in the CFP. Scotland above all.

So the fishermen may lack articulate, credible or even respectable leadership, but they are in fact perfectly correct. The political and media elite has never given them a fair hearing, because the perceived gains to everybody else of single market membership were so huge. Like many of the Brexit supporters, fishermen were dismissed as stupid old men, an opinion sadly many of their self-appointed “leaders” seemed to justify.

Which is why the Political Declaration is so very interesting. After several clauses on future UK access to the single market for goods and services, it then contains a very plain indication that in exchange for all this, the fishermen are yet again to be sacrificed to the wider interest.

Within the context of the overall economic partnership, establishment of a new fisheries agreement on, inter alia, access to waters and quota shares, to be in place in time to be used for determining fishing opportunities for the first year after the transition period.

Either alone, or even more so in the context of the whole document, there is no doubt at all what this means. It is therefore interesting, that conspicuous by their absence among the Tory resignations this morning, are David Mundell and Ruth Davidson, who had both advertised they would resign in precisely this case. But we already knew they are people of no honour.

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea mandates that states must ensure sustainable levels of fishing within their EEZ. Once quotas to enforce the sustainable limit have been set, the state has an obligation to share by agreement any of the sustainable quota it lacks the capacity to fish itself. In fact, the EU has always set overall fishing levels too high, and the UK quota sharing ignored the EU capacity provision, but rather actively enforced a massive downsizing of the British fishing fleet. The Political Declaration not only includes continued quota sharing, but a continued EU role in enforcing levels – eg more over-fishing.

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It seems to me a general election is the most probable outcome of the current turmoil. The Scottish Government should announce that, in the event of pro-independence MPs winning a majority of Westminster seats, Scotland will declare Independence and apply to the United Nations for recognition and admission. That sets out a fair democratic test before the electorate, and is analogous to the way that Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Croatia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic became independent, plus the overwhelming majority of states in Africa, Asia and South America – almost none of which was by referendum.

The unionists are utterly divided. The United Kingdom is teetering as never before. Westminster has shown its contempt for Scotland in its power grab of major devolved areas, its attempt to grant Northern Ireland superior status to Scotland with the EU, and its shunning of the Scottish Government in the entire Brexit process.

It is not the time for Nicola to try to salvage the UK from its own political collapse. It is time for us to end the United Kingdom. It will be a kindness. They can wish us goodbye, and thank us for all the fish.

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Scruton and Soros 1150

One principle of this blog is that I give my views whether they will be welcome or not, either to the general public or to the portion of the public who regularly read this blog. Since we started accepting subscriptions to keep it going, almost every article causes somebody to write to me saying they are canceling their subscription because they did not agree with me. I would much prefer anybody who is kindly giving money in the expectation of agreeing with everything I write, to cancel now. The purpose of this blog is to be intellectually challenging and provide food for thought, with facts and viewpoints not readily available in the mainstream media. It is about intellectual inquiry, not followership.

This is one of those occasions when I know that a significant number of people here will not agree with me. I like George Soros and consider him to be a good man. I should declare an interest; he once bought me a pizza, over 20 years ago. But I considered then, and I consider now, that Soros is a man who has devoted huge amounts of his personal resources, in terms of time and in terms of money, to attempting to make the world a better place, from motives of altruism.

Furthermore I believe that a lot of the work of the Open Society Institute, which I witnessed first hand, in Poland and Uzbekistan and elsewhere, is good work, particularly in the field of human rights and media freedom.

I believe that Roger Scruton’s attack on Soros, particularly in a venue in Hungary where the far right Prime Minister has conducted a truly hateful, state orchestrated, anti-semitic and anti-immigrant campaign against Soros, puts Scruton totally beyond the pale.

Soros frequently is cited in comments below the line on this blog as the personification of evil capitalism. Let me address the obvious elephants in the room. The first is how he made his money. This I make no attempt to defend. He has simply managed assets and traded derivative products, particularly in foreign exchange markets, and either by brilliance or sustained good luck, become extremely wealthy from an activity that provides no societal good. Indeed derivatives trading is a cancerous growth on modern economies, where the financial flows vastly exceed the value of trade in actual goods or genuine first party services.

However, people live and work in the economic situation that exists; to condemn people for not dropping out and going off-grid is to adopt a purist and ineffective position. I do not know how Soros got into the business line he adopted, but I am not condemning every individual working in trading. It is also worth stating that Soros’ ethnicity is utterly irrelevant to his career, and those who hint otherwise are offensive.

The second elephant in the room is that Soros appears aligned to the global spread of neo-liberalism, and to the Clinton camp with its warmongering foreign policy. Leaving aside for two paragraphs the question of whether or not that is true, the most important answer to that is that the man is entitled to his beliefs. To condemn him because his beliefs are not all my beliefs would be wrong. That Soros uses so much of his personal wealth to try to make the world a better place, according to his view of how society might best be structured, makes him a good man and not a bad man. That I may have a different view of how society should be structured is not the test; it is whether somebody is genuinely trying to do good by others.

Soros’ view of how society might best be structured is coloured by his past experience of the Eastern bloc. It is natural that anybody from what was occupied Hungary looks at Russia with a wary and distrustful eye. It is natural that those who understand the real failings of Soviet style central planning are dubious of schemes of socialism. But Soros is in fact fairly mainstream European social democrat with very liberal societal views. I genuinely do not understand his demonisation by large sections of the left. Soros is anathema to the right wing nationalist parties of Eastern Europe.

It is also worth pointing out that Soros’ view of his own profession is by no means straightforward. He argued extremely strongly for greater financial regulation, publishing highly informative and reasoned books on the subject, at the height of the craze for deregulation. He was not a supporter of the Big Bang or of Gordon Brown’s market worship. His 1998 opus, The Crisis of Global Capitalism, argues that financial markets are inherently unstable and swing like a wrecking ball not like a pendulum, and that globalisation is in fact an extension of Imperialism. That someone made so much money, from rules he believed should have been altered to stop him doing it, is a conundrum; but he is altogether a complicated character.

Finally, that Soros is a warmonger and supporter of US military attacks on the Middle East is not true. He opposed the Iraq war, and is generally against military intervention. His funding reaches so many NGO’s, of diverse views, it is always possible to find a tweet by Avaaz, or a report on Syrian human rights violations by Amnesty International, and make the claim “that is Soros shilling for war”. But in fact his influence on the vast array of civil society institutions he funds is extremely light touch, and they encompass widely differing viewpoints. Soros’ strong support for the warmonger Clinton is something I do not attempt to justify, other than to note that many people of liberal views are taken in by the old “liberal” establishment. It is quite a psychological step to accept it has gone full neo-con.

I most certainly do not agree with all of Soros’ views, or actions. But I agree with more of them than you may suppose. That all of his actions are motivated by a desire to make more money for himself or to benefit the ruling class, I am quite sure is not true. That he is a hawk and a warmonger I do not believe. That his efforts do a lot of real good I have witnessed first hand. The demonisation of Soros is lazy, inaccurate and unfair.

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The Price of Peace 531

I have never managed fully to understand the mechanism by which the media and political class decide when to leave a fact, a glaringly obvious and vital fact, completely excluded from public debate. That process of exclusion is a psychological, not an organisational, phenomenon but extremely effective.

Brexit continues to dominate mainstream political discussion, and the Northern Ireland border issue remains at the centre of current negotiations, forced there by the London government’s reneging on the agreement it signed almost a year ago. But there is a secret here, hidden in plain sight, the glaring fact driving the entire process, but which the media somehow never mention.

For the Tory right, the destruction of the Anglo Irish Agreement is a major goal to be achieved through Brexit. In this, they are in secret communion with their friends in the DUP.

Consider the 58 page paper by one Michael Gove, entitled The Price of Peace, published in 2000 by the Tories’ leading “think tank” the Centre for Policy Studies.

Gove argues the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement and the Anglo Irish Agreement should be annulled. And Gove concludes:

Ulster’s future lies, ultimately, either as a Province of the United
Kingdom or a united Ireland. Attempts to fudge or finesse that
truth only create an ambiguity which those who profit by violence
will seek to exploit. Therefore, the best guarantee for stability is the
assertion by the Westminster Government that it will defend, with
all vigour, the right of the democratic majority in Northern Ireland
to remain in the United Kingdom. Ulster could then be governed
with an Assembly elected on the same basis as Wales, and an
administration constituted in the same way. Minority rights should
be protected by the same legal apparatus which exists across the
UK. The legislative framework which has guaranteed the rights and
freedoms of Roman Catholics and ethnic minorities in Liverpool
and London should apply equally in Belfast and Belleek…

In such circumstances, resolute security action, the use of
existing antiterrorist legislation and the careful application of
intelligence could reduce the IRA to operating as it did in the fifties
and sixties. Combining such security measures with a political
determination not to allow Ulster’s constitutional status to be altered
by force of arms would rob the republicans of hope.
It can be done. But does any Government have the will?

Gove gets to this position through a statement of root and branch opposition to the Good Friday Agreement motivated by a classic Tory rejection of any role for the state in seeking to enhance social justice, and of affirmation that the rights of the “majority community” to rule must not be limited or mitigated. Gove objects to every measure of the Good Friday Agreement, including promotion of Catholic recruitment into the RUC, support for the Irish language, state support for businesses, prisoner releases and changes to the oath of allegiance to the United Kingdom.

It [The Good Friday Agreement] enshrines a vision of human rights which
privileges contending minorities at the expense of the democratic
majority. It supplants the notion of independent citizens with one
of competing client groups. It offers social and economic rights:
“positive rights” which legitimise a growing role for bureaucratic
agencies in the re-distribution of resources, the running of
companies, the regulation of civic life and the exercise of personal
choice. It turns the police force into a political plaything whose
legitimacy depends on familiarity with fashionable social theories
and precise ethnic composition and not effectiveness in
maintaining order. It uproots justice from its traditions and makes
it politically contentious. It demeans traditional expressions of
British national identity. And it privileges those who wish to
refashion or deconstruct that identity.

This view of Northern Ireland is shared by Gove’s colleagues in the European Reform Group. They may have accepted it was politically not possible to roll back the Good Friday Agreement in the last couple of decades, but Brexit and a hard border fundamentally undermines the Anglo-Irish Agreement and changes their whole calculation.

It is not possible to understand the current state of play in Brexit negotiations, without understanding that those effectively driving the Tory Party position do not view a hard border with Ireland as undesirable. They view it as a vital achievement en route to rolling back power sharing and all the affirmative measures which brought peace to Northern Ireland, in an affirmation of the glory and power of unionism.

It is no accident that Northern Ireland is the rock on which Brexit has foundered. It is considered Tory strategy about which, by that psychological mechanism I will never understand, the mainstream media has chosen not to tell you.

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The Ignominious Death of the United Kingdom 1074

I am in Ghana and had some Ghanaian friends in the apartment here while I was watching the budget. I was ashamed, and they were incredulous, at the sheer crassness of the entire event. Hammond’s manner and delivery were beyond embarrassing. The constant stream of infantile jokes, of which the lengthy stream of toilet humour was just one part, was beyond childish. The worst thing about it is that Hammond apparently genuinely believed he was funny.

But even worse was the petty party nature of so much of it. The obsequious reference to DUP MPs by name, the grovelling towards new Tory “star” Ruth Davidson, the puerile digs at the SNP, the shoehorning in of an anti-semitism reference, the pathetic jibe at John MacDonnell’s accident. The Ghanaians with me observed that it would all have disgraced a school debating society.

Most of the budget’s rehashed public spending announcements and tax cuts for the wealthy are not worth analysis. The condemnation of PFI was very welcome, but it has taken 20 years for the political class – Red Tories or Blue Tories – to acknowledge the blindingly obvious, that they have used it as a device massively to abuse public services to rip off the taxpayer to the benefit of the bankers and wealth managers who funded the PFI schemes.

Hammond made the constantly repeated Tory claim that the income gap between rich and poor in the UK is shrinking. It depends what you are measuring. While it is indeed true that the income gap between the top and bottom deciles is slightly shrinking, the gap between the top centile and the bottom decile – or any other decile, including the between the top centile and the top decile – is expanding very fast. In short, we are taking on the characteristics of a helot society, where distinctions between the upper middle class and working class are reducing, but the gap to the extremely wealthy is growing.

In Ghana this last week I have made a point of asking a large number of Ghanaians, from drivers and students to businessmen and senior ministers, whether, in exchange for a higher standard of living and free immigration to the UK, they would give up Independence and become a colony again. I have been met with incredulity and outrage that I would even ask such a question, and even anger from those who misunderstood my motive in asking.

Ghanaians are of course quite right. Any nation should be outraged at the idea it would voluntarily become subservient, or that its allegiance can be bought for money. Which is why I am incapable of understanding the mentality of unionists in Scotland, many of whom were swayed in 2014 by arguments their pension might be reduced or their currency depreciated.

As everybody who canvassed in the 2014 knows, and opinion polls confirm, it was not those on the breadline who were influenced by these arguments. The worse off were solidly pro-Independence (except for the Orangemen, whose thought processes are not rational). It was the bungalow dwellers of suburbia who were swayed by the fear that they might not be able to trade in their Nissan Qashqai after three years as they intended.

In fact, I think the arguments Scotland will be worse off after Independence are demonstrably nonsense. But even were they true, I cannot express the degree of my contempt for those who value national freedom in pennies, and weigh self-respect against gold.

Independent states which are geographically, climatically, and in population and demographics closest to Scotland – Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland – are all markedly wealthier than Scotland, despite Scotland’s terrific endowment of national resources. Why do some Scottish people believe they are inferior to the inhabitants of these countries, and would be unable to run their own affairs and economy?

The fact that Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Sweden are all markedly wealthier than England, but that Scotland is poorer, should be sufficient indicator that the Union has not brought the claimed historical benefits, compared to those small independent states. So should the fact that, in 1707, the population of Scotland was a quarter that of England, and after three hundred years of union it is a tenth, while the population of the Highlands has only just returned to the original level. The fact that the A1 is, amazingly, still not much dualed north of Morpeth, while Crossrail is a national UK expenditure; the fact that high speed rail – like Crossrail accounted for in GERS as a national UK expenditure – will not come north of Leeds; the massive concentration of central government functions in London, and the long term effect of that on economic development: given all these indicators, you have to be slightly crazy to believe an independent Scotland would not be better off.

Astonishingly, this collection of untalented careerists that constitutes the “government of the United Kingdom” is managing currently to extend its lead in the UK wide opinion polls, while falling back again into third place in Scotland. I have sympathy for friends in England who do not wish Scotland to be independent, because the Tories have such a majority in England. But they have no right to force Scotland to live under a succession of Tory governments, which it has not voted for in over 60 years. Similarly, the Scots have no right to prevent the English from living under Theresa May – or even under Jacob Rees Mogg – if the English continue inexplicably to wish to do so.

I have expressed for many years the hope that I will see Scottish Independence and a United Ireland before I die. I am happy to say I am now convinced that I will do so. That the end of the UK would be marked by such a squalid, incompetent and dysfunctional political leadership I could not have dared to hope. Thank God the UK will soon be over.

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The Destruction of Central Edinburgh Communities

Of the three flats on the corridor where I rent my current Edinburgh home, just off the Canongate, two were lived in and one a holiday let. As of this month, only we are resident and there are two holiday lets. Before this I lived in the Holyrood Park apartment block. Of the 14 flats on the stair we lived on, only 3 were inhabited. Eleven were holiday lets and holiday homes. Our rent was raised every six months until eventually we we were forced out by rent reaching over £1500 a month. A taxi driver taking me home once told me he had never taken an actual resident there before, only holidaymakers; he did not know there were residents.

One Edinburgh website alone boasts that over 2,000 Edinburgh apartment owners use its short term letting service – and presumably a significant percentage of those 2,000 own multiple apartments. The authorities simply cannot know how many Edinburgh flats are holiday lets. It is a huge black market, avoiding income tax, fire, safety and other regulations and very often involving illegal sub-letting. Certainly in the apartment block I now inhabit there are flats used for holiday lets which are supposed to be social housing. The extent of it may be gauged by the fact that, with parking in great demand in Central Edinburgh, we have an underground car park with just one narrow space per flat, but that outwith the festival I have never seen the car park more than 20% full.

It is partly, but not just, an airbnb phenomenon. There are many other websites. A search for “apartments only” in Edinburgh from booking.com for 6-8 November shows an astonishing 877 apartments available – in addition to those already let, or available from a plethora of other sites and agents. There must be a minimum of 3,000 housing units not designed as holiday accommodation, taken out of Edinburgh’s housing stock and put to that purpose. Of these, I know from direct observation most are simply empty for the vast majority of the year, but from just Hogmanay and the Festival an owner can make more money than a working family could pay for rent in the year. The result is, of course, to force rents up across the city for ordinary people.

The impact on the city centre community has been devastating, and the process is by no means ended, with estate agents I have spoken with saying that most city centre properties now sold are still going to investors for this purpose.

Cities like Edinburgh and Barcelona, which are quite rightly huge tourist attractions, need to take urgent planning decisions to prevent the organic life of the city becoming extinct, and their being reduced to Disneyland parks. I have sympathy with those who argue that greedy overcharging in the hotel sector is part of the problem. But having lived as a resident in hollowed-out empty buildings, surrounded by homeless people sleeping rough next to empty homes, it is plain something is very wrong. That is without mentioning the unpleasantness of the stag and hen party culture which forms a significant part of the Edinburgh trade, and amongst which even the most liberal person has trouble living with small children in the family.

State regulation is out of fashion, but I would advocate tackling this through planning consent and simply designating which properties are for residential purpose only, and which for holiday accommodation if a permit is obtained. The latter might then be easily taxed as commercial properties, overcrowding and fire regulation addressed, and the income tax more easily pursued. The alternative is for the community of Central Edinburgh to vanish. I live a short walk from my father’s birthplace in a tenement on Johnstone Terrace. It is now a holiday let.

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It’s the Real Thing

This video has been on all the major news networks, but I would like you to turn up the sound, watch the twitches and pay close attention to the very definite problems that the Crown Prince is having with his nose.

Here – apart from sniffing and a runny nose – from a treatment website is a list of some of the mental symptoms of cocaine abuse. An interesting take on the reckless Khashoggi assassination?

Mental state:
Euphoria
Overconfidence
Unusual excitement
Aggressiveness
Paranoia
Poor judgment

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Khashoggi, Erdogan and the Truth

The Turkish account of the murder of Khashoggi given by President Erdogan is true, in every detail. Audio and video evidence exists and has been widely shared with world intelligence agencies, including the US, UK, Russia and Germany, and others which have a relationship with Turkey or are seen as influential. That is why, despite their desperate desire to do so, no Western country has been able to maintain support for Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. I have not seen the video from inside the consulate, but have been shown stills which may be from a video. The most important thing to say is that they are not from a fixed position camera and appear at first sight consistent with the idea they are taken by a device brought in by the victim. I was only shown them briefly. I have not heard the audio recording.

There are many things to learn from the gruesome murder other than the justified outrage at the event itself. It opens a window on the truly horrible world of the extremely powerful and wealthy.

The first thing to say is that the current Saudi explanation, that this was an intended interrogation and abduction gone wrong, though untrue, does have one thing going for it. It is their regular practice. The Saudis have for years been abducting dissidents abroad and returning them to the Kingdom to be secretly killed. The BBC World Service often contains little pockets of decent journalism not reflected in its main news outlets, and here from August 2017 is a little noticed piece on the abduction and “disappearance” of three other senior Saudis between 2015-17. Interestingly, while the piece was updated this month, it was not to include the obvious link to the Khashoggi case.

The key point is that European authorities turned a completely blind eye to the abductions in that BBC report, even when performed on European soil and involving physical force. The Saudi regime was really doing very little different in the Khashoggi case. In fact, inside Saudi Arabia, Khashoggi was a less senior and important figure than those other three abducted then killed, about whom nobody kicked up any fuss, even though the truth was readily available. Mohammed Bin Salman appears to have made two important miscalculations: he misread Erdogan and he underestimated the difference which Khashoggi’s position as a Washington Post journalist made to political pressure on Western governments.

Khashoggi should not himself be whitewashed. He had a long term professional association with the Saudi security services which put him on the side of prolific torturers and killers for decades. That does not in any sense justify his killing. But it is right to be deeply sceptical of the democratic credentials of Saudis who were in with the regime and have become vocal for freedom and democracy only after being marginalised by Mohammed Bin Salman’s ruthless consolidation of power (which built on a pre-existing trend).

The same scepticism is true many times over when related to CIA Director Gina Haspel, who personally supervised torture in the CIA torture and extraordinary rendition programme. Haspel was sent urgently to Ankara by Donald Trump to attempt to deflect Erdogan from any direct accusation of Mohammed Bin Salman in his speech yesterday. MBS’ embrace of de facto alliance with Israel, in pursuit of his fanatic hatred of Shia Muslims, is the cornerstone of Trump’s Middle East policy.

Haspel’s brief was very simple. She took with her intercept intelligence that purportedly shows massive senior level corruption in the Istanbul Kanal project, and suggested that Erdogan may not find it a good idea if intelligence agencies started to make public all the information they hold.

Whether Erdogan held back in his speech yesterday as a result of Haspel’s intervention I do not know. Erdogan may be keeping cards up his sleeve for his own purpose, particularly relating to intercepts of phone and Skype calls from the killers direct to MBS’ office. I have an account of Haspel’s brief from a reliable source, but have not been updated on who she then met, or what the Turks said to her. It does seem very probable, from Trump’s shift in position this morning to indicate MBS may be involved, that Haspel was convinced the Turks have further strong evidence and may well use it.

Meantime, the British government maintains throughout that, whatever else happens, British factories will continue to supply bombs to Saudi Arabia to massacre children on school buses and untold numbers of other civilians. Many Tory politicians remain personally in Saudi pockets, with former Defence Minister Michael Fallon revealed today as being amongst them.

It is of course extraordinary that Saudi war crimes in Yemen, its military suppression of democracy in Bahrain, its frequent executions of dissidents, human rights defenders, and Shia religious figures, even its arrests of feminists, have had little impact in the West. But the horrible murder of Khashoggi has caught the public imagination and forced western politicians to at least pretend to want to do something about the Saudis whose wealth they crave. I expect any sanctions will be smoke and mirrors.

Mohammed Bin Salman is no fool, and he realises that to punish members of his personal security detail who were just following his orders, would put him in the position of Caligula and the Praetorian Guard, and not tend to his long term safety. Possibly people will be reassigned, or there will be brief imprisonments till nobody is looking. If I were a dissident or Shia in Saudi Arabia who bore any kind of physical resemblance to any of the party of murderers, I would get out very quick.

With every sympathy for his horrible murder, Khashoggi and his history as a functionary of the brutal Saudi regime should not be whitewashed. Mohammed Bin Salman is directly responsible for his murder, and if there is finally international understanding that he is a dangerous psychopath, that is a good thing. You will forgive me for saying that I explained this back in March whilst the entire mainstream media, awash with Saudi PR cash, was praising him as a great reformer. For the Americans to deploy Gina Haspel gives us a welcome reminder that they are in absolutely no position to moralise. Whatever comes of this will not be “justice”. The truth the leads can reveal is much wider than the narrow question of the murder incident, as I hope this article sketches out. That the fallout derails to some extent the murder machine in Yemen is profoundly to be hoped.

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Why the “Two State Solution” is Apartheid


I expect you are all familiar with the maps showing the radical shrinking of Palestinian land over 70 years due to the expansion of colonial Israeli settlement. Startling and appalling, yes, but to me they bring back strong memories of other maps, in a precisely analogous situation, which goes to the heart of why Israel is an apartheid state.

The original apartheid state of South Africa created “homelands”, known colloquially as “bantustans”, and proposed that, as the apotheosis of apartheid, these “homelands” would become independent states and house the majority black population of the country in fenced-off areas which had been too arid, rocky or commercial mineral free to attract significant white settlement over three centuries of theft. South Africa actually did recognise some of these as Independent states, while the rest were supposed to be on a course to recognition.

The maps really do bring out the startling similarity between these two attempts to formalise the dispossession of the original people. Thankfully, even though the “Homelands solution” had its supporters including Thatcher, it never achieved support beyond what was then an extreme right wing view, and none of the “independent states” ever achieved international recognition.

I worked in the FCO as the South Africa (Political) desk officer from 1984-6, and seeing off right wing Tory lobbying to adopt the Homelands policy was a major problem. It is simply symptomatic of the extraordinary right wing shift in western politics over the intervening three decades, that a “Bantustan” solution for Palestine, laughably called a “two state solution”, is now the accepted wisdom of the political and media class.

The proposal is precisely analogous to South Africa not only because of the displacement of the original population into separated enclosures, but because it leaves the bulk of the land in the hands of a colonial population, whose identity and exclusivity is specifically enshrined in law by ethnicity. Israel’s adoption this year of a new nation state law putting the state on an officially racist basis only confirmed the reality encapsulated in a raft of hundreds of other laws and regulations. The harsh discriminatory regime faced by non-Jews in Israel has been exhaustively documented, and it is not my purpose to repeat it here. I recommend this lecture by Ben White:

Many of the practices Ben describes have strong echoes of the apartheid regime, as do the disregard for Black/Palestinian life, the regular use of disproportionate lethal force against protestors, the mass arrests and detentions, the impunity for both law enforcers and “master race” civilians who attack blacks/Palestinians. These features are highly analogous.

But what I want to address here is the striking similarity between the arguments used by supporters of apartheid, with which I dealt every day at the FCO, and the arguments used today by supporters of Israel. They came by post thirty years ago not internet, and we did not use the word meme, but the key arguments are exactly the same.

We are outnumbered, we will be murdered in our beds.

Supporters of apartheid argued constantly that, as there were more black than white people in South Africa, they would be powerless in a single, democratic South Africa and would be dispossessed and murdered. Bloodcurdling quotes from black nationalists, some real, some invented, would be recycled continually as evidence that a peaceful united South Africa was not possible. A unitary democratic state, it was frequently asserted, would inevitably be followed by a massacre of the white population.

I think it is extremely important to state that the white South Africans arguing this, and their overseas supporters, genuinely believed it at the time. In 1984-6, they really did think majority rule would mean massacre.

I hear precisely the same argument from Israelis and their supporters today. A single state encompassing Israel and Palestine is not possible because they would be outnumbered. Exactly as in South Africa then, these assertions are often accompanied by an obsession with racial demographics and birth rates. And exactly as in South Africa then, the Israelis today really have been taught actually to believe this – that they will all be massacred unless the original population is corralled and viciously controlled.

In fact, of course, no such thing occurred in South Africa. The capacity of a subject people for forgiveness once released is generally surprising. It turns out that it is vicious racial overlordship, as opposed to subjection, which sooner develops psychopathy in a nation. Indeed, remarkably the South African government is only now taking the first tentative steps towards long overdue land reform.

The Land Was Empty Before We Colonised It

White supremacists had put an enormous amount of effort into arguing that the part of Africa most free of disease and amenable to human population, was remarkably free of humans before the arrival of the colonists. The amount of historical distortion involved in this was mind-boggling, and it has been comprehensively debunked since.

It is however remarkable how exactly the same arguments are repeated by Israelis and their supporters who make a variety of ahistoric claims: that the Naqba never happened, that the Palestinians always lived herded together in the Gaza strip, that there is no such thing as a Palestinian identity, and that illegal West Bank settlements are built upon previously unoccupied land.

The Only Democracy in the Region

This claim was made repeatedly by both South Africans and Israelis. It depended on the notion that black South Africans were not South African citizens, but could exercise their democratic rights within the “Homelands”, precisely as Israel argues that the millions of displaced Palestinians are not Israeli citizens but can exercise their democratic rights within the Palestinian occupied territories they were herded to. And again, this argument was rejected with derision by the Western media and political class in the South African case, but to query it in the Israeli case is well outside the Overton window.

The Original Population Are Better Off

A rehash of the Imperial argument that governance by the master race brings economic benefits to the colonised, it was continually asserted that Black South Africans enjoyed better working conditions than any other Africans. Similarly Israel claims that by permitting its caged Palestinian labour force to commute into Israeli factories from their camps, it is helping the Palestinian people.

If you scroll down the replies to this tweet, made at the time of the Gaza demonstration massacre, you will find numerous examples of all of the above arguments being put forward by supporters of Israel. I really had not expected to find myself still fighting apartheid in 2018, let alone in a situation where it is viewed by the Establishment as the acceptable solution.

I do not accept the arguments of any proponent of a “two state solution”, any more than I accepted the arguments of the supporters of apartheid South Africa. It is an essential work to convince people that, despite the massive backing of the media and politicians for it, the “two state” solution represents nothing but the ultimate sanctification of apartheid Israel.

The disgraceful shift of Saudi Arabia to close alliance with Israel and the USA to pursue an obsessive fight against the interests of Shia Muslims everywhere, has hopefully lost some traction after it has become impossible to deny that Mohammed Bin Salman is the psychopath his actions, especially in Yemen but also against peaceful democratic dissidents, had long revealed him to be. The Salman/Kushner plan for an ultra-fragmented Palestinian “state” with its capital in an obscure outer suburb of Jerusalem may have been dealt a mortal blow in the diplomatic world.

The only potential resolution of the situation in Palestine must involve justice and dignity for all. That solution requires the abolition of apartheid Israel and its replacement by a unitary, democratic state blind to race and religion. That is no more impossible in Palestine than it was in South Africa. The fears of those who believe it is not possible, are just as implausible as the fears of apartheid supporters 30 years ago,

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Nicola and Independence

I have been gently chided for not giving my reactions to the SNP conference, which I attended as a delegate.

Nicola’s major speech was very good. The media universally attempted to characterise it as kicking a new Independence referendum into the long grass. I did not hear it that way at all. I think they are clutching at the straw of her single mention of patience and perseverance, against the fact she used the word “Independent” or “Independence” an extraordinary 31 times in her speech. Of course she wishes to retain flexibility and an element of surprise, but as someone who has studied the matter extremely closely and who distrusts the highly paid SNP professional “elite” on this issue, I was reassured as to Nicola’s intentions.

The members are in extremely good heart and very confident. I was personally much touched by the many scores of individuals who bothered to come up to me and say they followed the blog. The conference agenda was somewhat bland, though fizzing with righteous anger at the effects of austerity on the vulnerable. My major criticism would be that far too high a percentage of total speaking time on the conference floor is given to MP’s, MSP’s and MEP’s. Constituency proposed motions, for example, were too often used as a showcase for the MP/MSP rather than introduced by an ordinary party member.

I dislike the political class now attached to the SNP in just the same way that I distrust the professional political class in every political party. The horrible Alex Bell should be a serious warning of the kind of false hypocrites that a salary will attract “to the cause”. Seeing MPs I knew as just punters campaigning in 2014, now walking proudly before power dressed entourages of paid staff, was a strangely unpleasant experience.

My major concern is that the SNP’s foreign policy and defence teams at Westminster appear to have been entirely captured by the UK establishment and indeed the security services. They have been willing and instant amplifiers of the Tories’ Russophobia.

It appears to me truly remarkable that I was not allowed to hire a room for a fringe meeting on Independence campaigning, but that the “Westminster Foundation for Democracy” – which is an FCO front and 90% FCO and DFID funded – was allowed a room on the fringe to hold this anti-Russian propaganda fest with a Ukrainian MP imported by the FCO.

Furthermore the meeting was co-hosted by the SNP and “Westminster Foundation for Democracy” and featured two SNP MPs.

I took issue with two other senior SNP figures last month over the party’s slavish devotion to what the UK intelligence services tell them.

The problem here is of course that the SNP is accepting a UK-centric vision of the world. This is a fundamental error, a category mistake. Because Russia is in an antagonistic relationship with the UK does not mean Russia should or will have an antagonistic relationship to an Independent Scotland.

Whatever happened in Salisbury, the root cause was spy games between Russia and the UK. Precisely the kind of spy games an independent Scotland must have no part of.

MI6 recruited Sergei Skripal as a traitor to Russia, who for money revealed secrets of his nation to MI6, including identities of agents. That is the root of the Salisbury events, and it is not the sort of thing an Independent Scotland will be doing. If an Independent Scotland is just going to behave like the UK in foreign affairs, carrying on neo-con foreign policy by illegitimate methods, I see no point in Scotland being independent. The Skripal affair, whatever really happened, is part of an entire system which most people in the Yes movement wish to get out of. We do not see the UK’s enemies as our enemies.

But the UK security services are our enemies. Scottish nationalism is defined in security service tasking as a threat to the UK and we are targets of the UK security services. The British government is not going to agree to another Independence referendum and we are going to have to win Independence, like the Catalans, in the teeth of every dirty abuse of British state power.

I would feel very much better if the SNP leaders, like Chris Law and John Nicholson both of whom I count as friends, would sometimes draw a deep breath, forget what they imbibed as Westminster MPs, and remember which side they are on.

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Sikunder Burnes: A Question Answered

When researching Alexander Burnes, one of the questions which kept nagging at me was whether he had any children by any of his Indian partners. I was unable to identify any individual Indian partners, other than the fact he had by the end of his career a harem of women from Kashmir. It would have been unusual if he did not have Indian partners right from the beginning of his career in India, but I could not establish that. Besides Burnes was unusual, as the story of his love for, and legacy to, the prostitute Emma Graham reveals.

Since the book was published I am very pleased to have been contacted by direct descendants of the Burnes family, now living in the United States. The family tradition of naming the eldest son James has continued down to the present day, and Mr James Burnes has provided me with photographs of a whole line of James Burnes’s.

But what is more he tells this rather heartwarming story. He recently sent away for a DNA ancestry test, of the type that identifies, among other things, others who have done the test and to whom you are related. The result threw up a senior Indian engineer, now retired and living in the United States, as a distant cousin. Contacted, the gentleman was delighted and said there was a family tradition that his great great grandmother had been the partner of Alexander Burnes.

Historians of course cannot generally give too much credit to that kind of oral history, but the DNA evidence validates it. Establishing family relationship by such DNA tests carries a high degree of certainty. While the ethnic group/origin profiling aspect of these tests is more open to criticism, I rather like it because it proves beyond dispute that we are all mongrels and that notions of ethnic purity are utter nonsense. Nadira found unexpectedly that her ancestry includes Jewish and Inuit, which is rather lovely.

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Metropolitan Police on “Chepiga” and “Mishkin”. 648

I have just received confirmation from the Metropolitan Police Press Bureau that both the European Arrest Warrant and Interpol Red Notice remain in the names of Boshirov and Petrov, with the caveat that both are probably aliases. Nothing has been issued in the name of Chepiga or Mishkin.

As for Bellingcat’s “conclusive and definitive evidence”, Scotland Yard repeated to me this afternoon that their earlier statement on Bellingcat’s allegations remains in force: “we are not going to comment on speculation about their identities.”

It is now a near certainty that Boshirov and Petrov are indeed fake identities. If the two were real people, it is inconceivable that by now their identities would not have been fully established with details of their history, lives, family and milieu. I do not apologise for exercising all due caution, rather than enthusiasm, about a narrative promoted to increase international tension with Russia, but am now convinced Petrov and Boshirov were not who they claimed.

But that is not to say that the information provided by NATO Photoshoppers’R’Us (Ukraine Branch) on alternative identities is genuine, either. I maintain the same rational scepticism exhibited by Scotland Yard on this, and it is a shame that the mainstream media neither does that, nor fairly reflects Scotland Yard’s position in their reporting.

Still less do I accept the British government’s narrative of the novichok poisoning, which remains full of wild surmise and apparent contradiction. No doubt further evidence will gradually emerge. The most dreadful thing about the whole saga is the death of poor Dawn Sturgess, and the most singular fact at present is that Boshirov and Petrov are only wanted in relation to the “attack on the Skripals”. There is no allegation against them by Scotland Yard or the Crown Prosecution Service over the far more serious matter of the death of Sturgess. That is a fascinating fact, massively under-reported.

I remain of the view that the best way forward would be for Putin to negotiate conditions under which Boshirov and Petrov might voluntarily come to the UK for trial. The conditions which I would suggest Russia propose are these:

1) A fully fair and open trial before a jury.
2) The entire trial to be fully public. No closed sessions nor secret evidence and no reporting restrictions.
3) No restrictions on witnesses who may be called, including the Skripals, Pablo Miller, Christopher Steele and other former and current members of the security services.
4) No restrictions on disclosure – all relevant material held by government must be given to the defence.

I strongly suspect that, if a trial would bring to public light something of the extent of the convoluted spy games that were being played out in Salisbury, we would find the British Government’s pretended thirst for justice would suddenly slam into reverse.

Sadly, it currently seems highly improbable that either justice will be served or the full truth be known.

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Squalid London

On the face of it, the Unexplained Wealth Order against Zamira Hajiyeva shows the UK cracking down on the torrent of corrupt money that gushes in to the City of London every single second. But dig deeper.

Hajiyev’s husband had fallen out of favour with the appallingly kleptocratic Aliev regime in Azerbaijan – a dictatorship whose corruption can be measured by the infallible indicator that Tony Blair is currently working for it. Hundreds of billions have been plundered from Azerbaijan’s oil revenue by the Azeri oligarchs.

So is the British government going after the very substantial assets in the UK of the ruling Aliev family? No. Is it going after the very substantial assets in the UK of the oligarchs surrounding the Aliev family? No. It is only going after almost the only Azeri oligarch who fell foul of the regime, and is taking an action which the Baku dictator will applaud rather than decry.

While her father was still dictator of Uzbekistan, Gulnara Karimova was subject to seizure of looted wealth and investigation in Switzerland, France and Sweden, among others. In the UK, where she had a home and very substantial assets, no action whatsoever.

What are we to make of Theresa May’s huffing and puffing about the Skripal affair, when the UK’s richest resident is Alisher Usmanov, who is Vladimir Putin’s old flatmate, right hand man in the media and business world and chairman of Gazprominvestholdings? There is no chance whatsoever any action will be taken against Usmanov, who acquired his assets in the most dubious manner imaginable. Usmanov is far too entrenched in the City.

These people interact with the British “elite” in any number of surprising ways. Claudia Winkleman’s husband made big money from producing a vanity film project for the Azeri dictator’s daughter. Former Foreign Secretary Dr David Owen is Usmanov’s factotum in the UK. Just two of many thousands of links that tie the UK’s gilded elite in with the looted wealth.

The Conservative Party has directly received donations totaling over £3 million from Russian oligarchs. That buys a lot of influence. But more important still is the influence of the City of London, where wideboy bankers grow rich on the World’s most sophisticated and “respectable” money laundering operation. While the Tories are determined to bluster us into a new cold war to benefit the military, industrial and security complex, none of the sanctions taken to date and none that will be taken have had any serious deleterious effect on the holders of the hundreds of billions of money looted from the Russian people during the Western mandated and organised privatisation of Russia’s mineral and industrial assets. Even as false rage over Salisbury fills the airwaves, the oligarchs are privately being reassured their money and lifestyles are safe.

And of course, the appalling Saudi Regime can imprison and execute as many dissidents and feminists as it wishes, and western governments and media will still applaud its “modernisation programme”. Western governments will still lust after lucrative arms deals to supply the bombs that blow apart Yemeni schoolchildren. And the Saudi regime can gruesomely murder as many journalists as they wish abroad, with no fear whatsoever of any action against them by the UK.

In a United Kingdom dominated by the cesspit that is the City of London, it is not just that money talks. It is that nobody else is heard.

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Bikini Girls and Cyberwars

The Times claims to have identified the Kremlin’s latest secret weapon in Cyberwars – “Bikini Girl” @Organicerica. Except there is no evidence @Organicerica has any Russian links or promotes any Russian interests.

It does appear likely that @Organicerica is a bot. The Times claims this is proven by the timing and regularity of the postings (interesting as they claim the same kind of activity pattern proves nothing in the case of Philip Cross). I am prepared to accept, for the sake of argument, that @Organicerica is a bot, or at best a young woman running an automated posting programme.

But what is the output? Promotion of organic restaurants in Seattle. Environmental campaigning particularly against pesticides and genetically modified food. Nothing whatsoever on wider politics, foreign policy, Clinton. And nothing whatsoever related to Russia.

What kind of mindset do you need to have, automatically to equate opposition to Monsanto and to chlorinated chicken with being an agent of the Kremlin? Why is The Times publishing this absolute rubbish? It says something both about the quite hysterical Russophobia gripping the media and political class, and about the desire to delegitimise environmental activism, as witness the jailing of the anti-fracking protestors (against which jailing 1,000 academics have now signed a letter of protest).

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Taking the Radical Road with AUOB

The radical road up Salisbury Crags got its name because pro-democracy labourers building it held meetings there to avoid bans within the city of Edinburgh, back in the era of Peterloo. This is precisely where Historic Environment Scotland are banning tomorrow’s Independence rally, and if we accept it we are turning our back on our heritage.

As somebody who has addressed half a million people in Hyde Park, I find the notion that political events may not be held in Royal Parks ludicrously spurious. Holyrood Park is a park – the clue is in the name. We are not asking to occupy the Palace. Where can you hold a political rally if not in a park?

In Stirling, the AUOB march was forced by the council on a route to Bannockburn that avoided the town centre entirely and wandered through leafy lanes to ensure nobody could see the demonstration. What is happening in Edinburgh is still worse.

I have been constantly explaining that we are now in a Catalan situation. The Establishment will do everything they can to prevent a second Independence Referendum, and local authority offices, quangos and media outlets form their outward defensive barriers – before you even get to the Scottish Office, and the dirty tricks that will be played by the UK security services.

The Tories have already announced that Westminster will not agree to another Indyref before 2027. We have a fundamental stand to make on whether we accept that a parliament in England dominated massively by representatives of England, has a veto on the self-determination of the Scottish people.

One day, all supporters of Independence are going to be forced to get their heads round the fact that London is going for the Madrid solution, and we are not going to achieve Independence without using peaceful, non-violent routes which are nevertheless going to be deemed illegal by the Establishment. Making a political speech in a Royal Park tomorrow is precisely the start of such challenges.

Our rally starts in Johnstone Terrace, where my father was born, and proceeds right past my current home. This is my ground and I am, as a citizen, going to stand for my rights here.

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Direct Action and the British State

The draconian sentencing to jail of anti-fracking activists for non-violent direct action has received insufficient attention. It is a confident state that can undertake to bring back a level of repression not seen for decades – eight decades, in fact, since environmental activists received this kind of lengthy jail sentence, despite generations of tree climbing and road blocking.

Non violent direct action has been an area of tacit complicity between state and protestors. I have over the years participated myself – the occupation of the building site of Torness nuclear power station was a defining moment for my generation in Scotland, and I will cheerfully admit I participated in criminal damage of plant and equipment. I have blocked the road at Faslane occasionally too. While a week or two of my life in jail always seemed a threat, the idea of 16 month jail sentences for such protest appeared a nightmare from a distant age.

The judge in the fracking case, Robert Altham, is evidently a vicious old Tory, descended by his own account from the judge who conducted the infamous Pendle witch trials. His parents, John and Linda Altham, have the same name as the owners of Althams, a company supplying the offshore oil and gas industry. The company is also Lancashire based and it seems very probable they are the same family. Given that the judiciary allowed a judge to handle Julian Assange’s bail hearing, despite the fact that she was married to a former Tory chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, who had started a consultancy together with the former head of MI6, I am not in the least surprised that a corrupt Establishment allows such prejudiced judges to act so viciously – in both cases.

The local community around the fracking protestors are overwhelmingly opposed to the development, and indeed the local council banned it but were overruled by the Tory government. To cite traffic disruption to the local community as the reason for the vicious jail sentences, when the local community supported the action and will suffer far worse disruption from the fracking itself, shows how dark and twisted is Altham’s logic of repression.

In the same week, we saw another assertion of state force against the people when the Tory Government, which has never polled above 28% in Scotland, calmly announced it would not permit another Scottish Independence referendum before 2027. The notion that the self-determination of the Scottish people is subject to a veto by an overwhelmingly English Westminster parliament is not one that most Scots would accept.

I have long argued that after the scare it gave Westminster in 2014, when Scottish Independence proved much more popular than the unionists had ever imagined, Scotland would next time face a Catalan situation rather than a 2014 rerun. That has now materialised. I cannot better this excellent article by James Kelly on the ramifications.

Indeed I believe that the widespread and vocal approval and endorsement of the Francoist beatings of Catalan voters, from governments and politicians all over Europe and from the European Commission, in the name of the “rule of law”, has helped form a political climate that led to, among other things, the Tory MEP’s defence of Orban and the jailing of the fracking protestors. Repressive, even violent, state power is the order of the day.

James Kelly is mildly optimistic about the SNP leadership taking up the challenge, as the Catalan government did. I am worried that there are too many with comfortable berths within the devolved UK settlement, who crave “respectability”, and do not have the stomach for a struggle if Westminster deems it illegal. But I do believe such haverers will find themselves swept aside by the Yes movement, should they stand in front of it without actually moving.

Which brings me back to the noble fracking activists. Like them and like the Catalan leaders, political prisoners for a year now, some of us Scottish nationalists may need to suffer on the road to Independence, from the vicious ill-will of a resurgent and emboldened unionist establishment. Some of the steps we need to take will be deemed illegal. Very few Independence movements have ever succeeded without that. We will also be subject to all kinds of dirty tricks and provocations from the UK security services. It is not going to be simple or comfortable. But if we meekly bow our heads to the alien Tory diktat, we do not deserve to be called a nation.

UPDATE:

I feel compelled to add an anecdote about the Torness occupation. It was billed as a demonstration and march to Torness from Dunbar. The site was protected by a high mesh fence topped with barbed wire. There was a massive police presence, concentrated at the gate. But we had to march alongside the fence for a long distance before reaching the gate, and protestors simply moved a haystack from the other side of the road up against the fence, then everyone scrambled over and dropped down the other side.

Tents sprang up everywhere, and within the same day stages, PA systems, catering units and all kinds of stuff appeared. The Police were passive and friendly in a way it is hard to imagine happening now. I cannot remember how long the occupation lasted, I was there several nights.

Now my confession. I was not given to vegetarian food or sleeping eight to a tent. Once the occupation was under way the police had us effectively blocked inside the site – the haystack mound was the other side of the fence and the gate remained secured. I therefore spent the first afternoon scraping a hole under the fence, and after dark wriggled out and walked in to Dunbar to stay the night in a hotel, before breaking back in again the next morning. I did this every night!

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Bellingcat’s Very Obviously Fake Chepiga Photo

Bellingcat’s attempts to gild the Chepiga lily are now becoming ludicrous. The photo they published today is a very obvious fake.

Many people have noticed that the photo of Chepiga on this wall appears to be hanging in completely different lighting conditions from the others. That is indeed a good point.

But there is a more important point here, and that is to do with sequencing. Except for Chepiga and Popov, who according to Belligncat also became a Hero of Russia in 2014, all of the people here are indeed openly and officially listed Heroes of Russia or, in the majority of cases, Heroes of the Soviet Union.

What is more, they are, as you would expect on a military honours wall, ranked in date order. ONLY CHEPIGA IS OUT OF DATE ORDER. The order runs top row let to right, then second row left to right, then bottom row left to right.
The bit of the bottom row we can see runs:
Karpushenko (2000), Ribak (2005), Maclov (2012), Popov (2014).

So why is Chepiga in a row of much earlier Heroes of the Soviet Union? Next in sequence in fact to Grigory Dobrunov who got his award in 1956!!!! The pictures are definitely otherwise all in date order.

The glaringly obvious answer – in line with the reflections anomaly – is that Chepiga’s “picture” has been photoshopped onto this wall. The military do not suddenly insert photos out of order and at random on an honours board. Bellingcat, however, have a track record of image manipulation.

None of which proves or disproves the Boshirov identification. It is however an important reminder to take Bellingcat as a source with a pinch of salt.

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Spy Games

Russia has its GRU in addition to its KGB (now FSB and SVR). The UK has its Defence Intelligence in addition to its MI6 and GCHQ. Much less high profile, Defence Intelligence is more analytical than operative – as indeed is GRU, Skripal was an analyst.

Defence Intelligence had its proudest modern moment when it refused to endorse MI6’s pack of lies on Iraqi WMD, and earned the hatred of MI6 and of Blair and Straw as a result. This was confirmed by the Chilcot report which stated that MI6 even actually hid some of the intelligence material from the Defence Intelligence Service to prevent their rubbishing it.

I hope you will forgive me for pointing out that the opposition of the Defence Intelligence to the Blair Dirty Dossier was first revealed in my memoir Murder in Samarkand, a decade before the Chilcot report confirmed it. It was one of the many reasons Straw attempted to block publication, and one of the many things revealed in my memoir – including of course the UK’s complicity in torture and extraordinary rendition – which the government claimed to be untrue, but in due course has been proved to be 100% accurate. As it should be, as Murder in Samarkand only recounts things I personally witnessed first hand.

As this is the last day of Banned Books Week, I hope you might further forgive me (and I know I am pushing it) if I mention my prequel to Murder in Samarkand, The Catholic Orangemen of Togo. I view it as a much better book, and I was bitterly disappointed when my publisher, who had bravely defied the government lawyers over Murder in Samarkand, backed down and pulled the publication of The Catholic Orangemen due to libel threats from mercenary commander Tim Spicer. It thus became a Banned Book. I privately printed and sold 1,000 copies, and as technology advanced more recently made it available on print on demand. (I know, Amazon…) But it remains a real regret it has reached so few people. You are welcome to download it entirely free here.
Anyway, after that lengthy advertorial let me get back to the DIS. DIS remain rather more attached to the truth than MI6, so when Defence Minister Gavin Williamson tweeted out a thrilled endorsement of Bellingcat’s work on Colonel Chepiga, DIS urgently advised that he delete it. Which he did.

Which is not to say DIS are sure it is not Chepiga; rather they believe – as would anyone with half a brain – that the Bellingcat photo falls a long way short of proof. The British security services have been unable to stand up the ID with facial recognition technology. The experts are describing the Boshirov/Chepiga identification as “possible”.

I have this information from an impeccable Whitehall source, who told me there is a concern in the security services that runs like this. They genuinely believe Boshirov and Petrov are GRU agents and the would-be assassins. (I judge that my source themself believes the security services really do think this). Bellingcat, while they are sometimes fed security service material, did not in fact get fed the Chepiga material by the CIA or MI6, whether or not through a cutout. The security services are worried the Chepiga ID may be a blind alley fed to Bellingcat’s sources by the FSB. If the UK government endorses it, this could be followed by the Russians producing Chepiga and apparently discrediting the entire British narrative.

Hence the fact no charge has been laid against Chepiga, and the charges are still in the name of “Boshirov”, plus the fact that no British minister or official has named Chepiga, with only the fool Williamson stepping out of line and being slapped down.

Please note I am not endorsing the views and beliefs of the British intelligence services; I am reporting them.

Russia is fascinating at the moment. Komsomolskaya Pravda reports Ministry of Interior identification experts unofficially endorsing the Chepiga/Boshirov identity. Now there is no way these experts in the Ministry of the Interior – who would not be hard for the authorities to single out – would have done that for Komsomolskaya Pravda without an official nod. Either the Russians are indeed egging on the British into a false identification, or some inter-agency rivalry is afoot in Russia. This follows on the very open report in Kommersant – which is very close to Putin – that opinion was divided in Chepiga’s home village.

None of which brings us an awful lot closer to the truth of what happened in Salisbury, which I suspect is a great deal more complicated than any official narrative. But it is a fascinating peek into a shadowy world most people never see inside, with which I was once familiar.

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“Boshirov” is probably not “Chepiga”. But he is also not “Boshirov”.

UPDATE: The Kommersant Evidence
Kommersant publishes interviews with people from Chepiga’s home village. The article makes clear he has not been seen there for many years. It states that opinions differ on whether Chepiga is Boshirov. One woman says she recognised Boshirov as Chepiga when he appeared on TV, especially the dark eyes, though she had not seen him since school. Another woman states it is not Chepiga as when she last saw him ten years ago he was already pretty bald, and he has a more open face, although the eyes are similarly brown.

Naturally mainstream media journalists are tweeting and publishing the man’s evidence and leaving out the woman’s evidence.

But the Kommersant article gives them a bigger challenge. Kommersant is owned by close Putin political ally, Putin’s former student flatmate, Chariman of Gazprominvestholdings and the UK’s richest resident, Alisher Usmanov. That Russia’s most authoritative paper, with ownership very close to Putin, is printing such open and honest reporting rather belies the “Russia is a dictatorship” narrative. And unlike the Guardian and BBC websites, on Kommersant website ordinary Russians can post freely their views on the case, and are.

One thing this does stand up is that Chepiga definitely exists.

The evidence mounts that Russia is not telling the truth about “Boshirov” and “Petrov”. If those were real identities, they would have been substantiated in depth by now. As we know of Yulia Skripal’s boyfriend, cat, cousin and grandmother, real depth on the lives and milieu of “Boshirov” and “Petrov” would be got out. It is plainly in the interests of Russia’s state and its oligarchy to establish that they truly exist, and concern for the privacy of individuals would be outweighed by that. The rights of the individual are not prioritised over the state interest in Russia.

But equally the identification of “Boshirov” with “Colonel Chepiga” is a nonsense.

The problem is with Bellingcat’s methodology. They did not start with any prior intelligence that “Chepiga” is “Boshirov”. They rather allegedly searched databases of GRU operatives of about the right age, then trawled photos in yearbooks of them until they found one that looked a bit like “Boshirov”. And guess what? It looks a bit like “Boshirov”. If you ignore the substantially different skull shape and nose.

Only the picture on the left is Chepiga. The two on the right are from “Boshirov’s” Russian passport application file, and the photo of “Boshirov” issued by Scotland Yard.

Like almost the entire internet, I assumed both black and white photos were from Chepiga’s files, and was willing to admit the identification of Chepiga with “Boshirov” as valid. But once you understand is that – as Bellingcat confirm if you read it closely – only the photo on the left is Chepiga, you start to ask questions.

The two guys on the right and the centre are undoubtedly the same person. But is the guy on the left the same, but younger?

Betaface.com, which runs industry standard software, gives the faces an 83% similarity, putting the probability of them being the same person at 2.8%.

By comparison it gives me a 72% identity with Chepiga and a 2.1% chance of being him.

There is a superficial resemblance. But if you take the standard ratios used for facial recognition, you get a very different story. If you draw a line between the centre of the pupils of the two guys centre and right, and then take a perpendicular from that line to the tip of the nose, you get a key ratio. The two on the right both have a ratio of 100:75, which is unsurprising since they are the same person. The one on the left has a ratio of 100:68, which is very different.

To put that more simply, his nose is much shorter, and less certainly his eyes are further apart.

It is possible this could happen in photos but it still be the same person. The head would have to be tilted backward or forward at quite a sharp angle to alter these ratios, which does not seem to be the case. The camera could be positioned substantially above or below the subject, again not apparently the case. And the photo could be resized with height and width ratios changed. That would hard to detect.

But the three white dots across the bottom of the nose are particularly compelling (the middle one largely obscured by a red dot in the Chepiga photo). They illustrate that Chepiga has a snub nose and Boshirov something of a hook. Again, the software is reinforcing what they eye can plainly see.

However, there are also other ratios that are different. Chepiga has a narrower mouth compared to the distance between the pupils than the two photos of “Boshirov”, and that is measured on the same plane. The difference is 100-80 compared to 100-88. It is a ratio that can be changed by facial expression, but this does not seem to be the case here.

Professor Dame Sue Black of the University of Dundee is the world’s leading expert in facial forensic reconstruction. I once spent a fascinating lunch sitting next to her, while I was Rector. I shall contact her for her view on whether the guy on the left is the same person, and if she is kind enough to give me an opinion, I shall pass it on to you unadulterated.

This website is less definitive, but gives a nice clear result, and you can repeat it yourself without having to subscribe (unlike Betaface.com).

Again for comparison, I tried two photos of myself 12 years apart and got “from nearly the same person”.

It is worth repeating that the only evidence that Chepiga is Boshirov offered by Bellingcat is this photo. The rest of their article simply attempts to establish Chepiga’s career.

This is gross hypocrisy by Bellingcat, who have argued that scores of photos of White Helmets being Jihadi fighters are not valid evidence because you cannot safely recognise faces from photographs.

Yet Higgins now claims his facial identification of Chepiga as Boshirov as “definitive” and “conclusive”, despite the absence of moles, scars and blemishes. Higgins stands exposed as a quite disgusting hypocrite. Let me go further. I do not believe that Higgins did not take the elementary step of running facial recognition technology over the photos, and I believe he is hiding the results from you. Is it not also astonishing that the mainstream media have not done this simple test?

The bulk of the Bellingcat article is just trying to prove the reality of the existence of Chepiga. This is hard to evaluate, but as the evidence to link him to “Boshirov” is non-existent, is a different argument. Having set out to find a GRU officer of the same age who looks a bit like “Boshirov”, they trumpet repeatedly the fact that Chepiga is about the same age as evidence, in a crass display of circular argument.

This unofficial website does indeed name Chepiga as a Hero of the Russian Federation and recipient of 20 awards, as Bellingcat claims. But it is impossible to know if it is authentic, and by contrast there is no Chepiga on the official list of Heroes of the Russian Federation, for the stated 2014 or for any other year, which Bellingcat fail to mention. Their other documents and anonymous sources are unverifiable.

The photo of the military school honours arch, with Chepiga added right at the end and not quite in line, looks to me very suspect. My surmise so far would be that most likely Bellingcat’s source of supply is Ukrainian, and trying to tie the Skripal affair into the Ukrainian civil war via Chepiga.

My view of the most likely explanation on presently available evidence is this:

Boshirov is not Boshirov, and the Russian Government are lying.
Boshirov is not Chepiga, and Bellingcat are lying.
The whole Skripal novichok story still does not hang together, and the British government are lying.

I will continue to form my opinions as further evidence becomes available.

UPDATE Incredibly, at 13.15 on 27 September the BBC TV News ran the story showing only the two photos of “Boshirov”, which of course are the same person, and not showing the photo of Chepiga at all!

BBC News at One

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