Appeal For Defence Funds 532

UPDATE I today received a prison sentence of eight months for my reporting of the defence case in the Alex Salmond trial. I have a three week stay while we apply to this same court for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court. My appeal will be based on the simple fact that I did not identify anybody. It will also be based on the right to report the defence case being denied by an extraordinary, impossibly strict application of “jigsaw identification”, and on fair process not having been observed.

Should this court refuse permission to appeal, which seems not unlikely, I will in all probability be jailed while we apply direct to the Supreme Court for permission, which will take some months.

I am afraid I find myself once again obliged to ask you for funding for the appeal. We have raised about £70,000 but are likely to need, at the least, double that.

UPDATE The defence fund has received £46,520 in the 24 hours since it was relaunched to fund the appeal to the Supreme Court. That does not get us there, but it is a good start on our way as the appeal continues. Over 2,000 people have donated, with the smallest donation being 82p and the largest £1,000. Every penny is greatly appreciated. I should make plain that despite the astronomical costs, some members of our legal team have been working substantially below their normal rates and with time donated free.

One donation of £500 from a gentleman I know, came with a note that explained that Willie MacRae had lent him £100 shortly before his highly suspect death. He regarded the £500 as repaying that debt, and was sure Willie would approve of the use of his money. That brought tears to my eyes.

UPDATE ENDS

On Friday I shall be sentenced, very possibly to prison, for contempt of court by “jigsaw identification”. While I do not believe anybody has ever been imprisoned for “jigsaw identification” before, my entire prosecution has been so perverse that I cannot imagine why they have done it unless that is the intention.

With enormous diffidence and frankly embarrassment, I find myself yet again obliged to ask people to contribute towards my defence fund before my hearing next Friday, to enable us to move forward with an appeal to the Supreme Court. Legal bills actually paid to date amount to £161,000, with about eight thousand not billed yet. Non-legal costs, including the opinion poll, total around £9,000. The total raised by the defence fund to date is around £143,000 with the balance of around £18,000 paid so far having come from my personal pocket.

The practical result of the judgement against me is that it is virtually impossible to report the defence in any sexual allegation case; as witness the fact that I was ordered by the court to take down every single word of my articles covering the defence case and evidence.

The judges ruled that publishing any information that could theoretically assist not the public, but literally a colleague who worked in the same office, to identify a complainant, would constitute jigsaw identification. They also ruled that jigsaw identification was committed if you gave a piece of information which could identify a complainant in conjunction with information that could be found anywhere else, no matter how obscure. For example, if information from page 19 of the Inverurie Herald six years ago, combined with information from page 178 of a book, combined with something I published could lead to an identification, I am guilty regardless of whether or not anybody did in practice actually piece together these obscure sources of information.

In fact the court heard nothing that would pass as evidence in court that any individual had in fact identified anybody as a result of my articles. There was zero evidence of harm. What has been harmful is the gross censorship of my journalism, with my entire daily account of the defence case removed, and my critique of the Garavelli article removed. In consequence, it is once again virtually impossible for anybody to discover WHY Alex Salmond was acquitted, enabling the massive state and media led campaign to claim he was really guilty – which sadly appears, with the counter-narrative banned, to have acquired great traction.

You will recall that I commissioned a Panelbase opinion poll which proved that a significant 8% of the Scottish population – that is around 400,000 adults – believed they had been able to identify one or more of the complainants in the Salmond case from publication, but when asked stated that the source of this caption was overwhelmingly the mainstream media.

Well I decided to re-run the opinion poll to see if anything had changed. These were the results. 11% of the Scottish adult population – that is half a million adults – by now believe they know an identity. This is how they know:



It is perfectly clear and entirely consistent with the first poll. 54% of people who believe they know an identity got their information from the newspapers. 27% got it from TV and radio (there may be overlap between these groups).

Yet no newspaper or TV journalist or editor is being prosecuted.
Not even Dani Garavelli, who is overwhelmingly named as the source of information – by fifteen different people – is being prosecuted.

So let us be perfectly clear. The three top sources named for identification were

Dani Garavelli – by a country mile
Kirsty Wark
BBC

None of whom is being prosecuted. Garavelli has published an entire series of major articles amplifying the prosecution case against Salmond, in Tortoise media, twice in Scotland on Sunday and in the London Review of Books, plus many other well paid commissions. She has effectively made a fat living out of an entirely one-sided account that claims miscarriage of justice simply by omitting all the defence evidence. In so doing she has plainly been much more credibly guilty of jigsaw identification than I. On the other hand, my long critique of Garavelli’s first Scotland on Sunday article, which interpolated the defence evidence which contradicted her account and proved that the jury was right, has now been banned, censored and desroyed by the court, the 21st century equivalent of burning the manuscript in the public square.

Garavelli has gone on to become media-puppet-in-chief to the Scottish government, producing a stream of adulatory articles about Nicola Sturgeon like this one about what a great constituency MSP Sturgeon is, which is (ahem) somewhat contrary to received wisdom.

Garavelli is protected because she is part of the inner circle, while I am prosecuted, when the mainstream media is not, because I am an opponent of the corrupt nexus of power that governs Scotland today. The official line is that through enthusiasm for Salmond’s cause I revealed information to the public that the mainstream media did not. That is a fiction the Scottish legal system has chosen to adopt, and for which I will be sentenced on Friday.

All the real world evidence shows that is untrue. I revealed far less than the mainstream media revealed. This is a shameless and openly political prosecution of one of the very few platforms of any size which explained the truth about why Alex Salmond was acquitted by the jury. That is my “crime”.

We have to get this out of the foetid corruption of Edinburgh and into Strasbourg. That is only possible via the UK Supreme Court, and my legal team are now working on that appeal. I urge you to subscribe not only because of the particular injustice of my own case, but also because this ruling puts a huge power in the hands of the state by making it next to impossible to report the defence in cases of sexual allegation. As such allegations are the favoured tool of the state against perceived dissident threats (cf Julian Assange), this is very dangerous indeed.

You can contribute to my defence fund here. I am extremely grateful to those who have and I want to stress that I absolutely do not want anybody to contribute if it causes them even the slightest financial difficulty. I am afraid to say that the amounts we need to raise remain ridiculous; this fact is of course all part of the implementation of suppression, by “lawfare”.




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Those Scottish Elections, and What Happens Now

Well, there is no denying an overwhelming SNP victory, with an increased vote, increased seats, increased percentage and double the support of the next largest party. Together with the Greens there is a substantial pro-Independence majority in the Parliament, so that matter is settled. Personally I would welcome an SNP/Green coalition with a guaranteed pro-Independence majority of at least fourteen (depending on who is presiding officer). It would remove the Tory jibe that there is not a majority government. But I suspect the SNP will prefer to go it alone again.

The dominant question is Indyref2. It remains my fear that Nicola does not want to actually move for Independence, and will merely continue to make pretend moves in that direction. In the campaign she continually hedged around with not just after Covid, but after the effects of covid, and then the final resort piece of hedging that a referendum must be “legal”.

Let me spell out my fears. I do not claim I am right, because it is impossible for me to know either Sturgeon’s mind, or the future. But it is my best prognostication based on my own assessment of the public indications, and information from sources including several SNP MPs and MSPs.

I expect no serious steps towards Indyref2 to be taken before 2023, on the excuse of Covid, except possibly some more meaningless “enabling” legislation with no dates, to keep the troops believing.

In 2023 I expect Sturgeon to ask Johnson for a S30 in the full knowledge he will refuse, and I expect an answer to be stalled until 2024. I expect that then Sturgeon will be happy to see the matter go to the courts, at the behest of one side or the other. Sturgeon knows very well that the UK Supreme Court will state that the Westminster parliament is ultimately sovereign, because within the UK it is sovereign. That is why we need to leave this union.

It is very probable that Johnson will amend the Scotland Act specifically to preclude a referendum without Westminster permission. By then we will be at the next Scottish parliamentary elections, and Sturgeon will stand in 2025 or 6 on the basis that a referendum must be legal, we must ask Johnson for a S30, and for him to refuse would be a “democratic outrage”. Which game can go on forever, with no real intention of achieving Independence.

I realise that there are many very good, decent people within the SNP who believe that I am wrong, and that Sturgeon has a genuine commitment to Independence, and has some kind of secret plan which is much more radical than I have outlined.

Well, we shall see who is right.

The worrying thing is that I have been saying this since 2016 and would think five years of inaction have proven me right already. I have a horrible feeling that if we arrive in 2026 after five more years of inaction, Nicola’s followers will still believe her. I see a continuing role for Alba for those who are actually serious about Independence, despite its frankly disastrous electoral debut (the causes of which were largely not Alba’s fault, but that is for another day).

Nicola and the SNP have of course it firmly in their power to prove me horribly wrong. They can prove me a complete fool by using this mandate to take bold and genuine steps and achieving Independence. In which case, not only shall I acknowledge I was a complete fool, I shall be delighted to do so.

I think this is a good time to utilise again one of the few decent things from the Guardian, its daily Covid graphs.

I have broadly supported lockdowns, aside the odd specific illogicality, and strongly advocate vaccination. But the facts are unanswerable – despite some people’s addiction to fear, they have to face it is just about over. Despite politicians’ addiction to the heady combination of increased personal exposure and popularity, plus increased control over the population, it is just about over. Vaccines have licked it in the UK. The risk of death to a non-geriatric healthy person is now as close to zero as makes no difference.

Oxgangs library has been turned into a Covid Testing Centre. I sat on a wall this morning and observed for half an hour as nobody went in and nobody came out, and the young man on the door tried to find ways to relieve his boredom. The time will shortly be with us when the public appetite will fade for daily briefings that say six people feel slightly unwell in Elgin.

England and Wales have enjoyed seven consecutive weeks of negative excess deaths (I can never find the Scottish figures on this). That means this spring is very possibly the least dangerous period you have ever lived through, in terms of the chance of you dying.

As the vaccine programme goes ahead, it gets ever safer. At some stage, the public are going to notice. We have had attempts to boost the fear factor by successive claims that the South African or Indian or Brazilian strain had arrived in Britain and was massively more deadly, massively more transmissible, evaded the vaccine, killed more young people. All of these arrived in the UK and none of the claimed disasters happened.

Of course, there could one day really be that super deadly variant. Equally, there could be an entirely new pandemic disease. But we cannot live our lives locked and cowering against these eventualities. For now, we should come out – vaccinated – into the sunlight again. The emphasis should be on border control and firmly restricting international travel until the rest of the world catches up. It should also be on overseas aid to help the rest of the world catch up. Biden has shamed our Tory government by his support for voiding patents on Covid vaccines, but the Tories have always seen the pandemic as personal profit opportunity.

But meantime, the strongest temporary border controls. As long term readers know, I am very strongly opposed to mass air travel anyway, only made possible because of disgraceful international complicity in not taxing fossil fuel for aircraft. Nobody actually needs a £30 ticket to Ibiza.

There is another issue where I doubt that Sturgeon genuinely believes what she says, or intends to act speedily, and that is trans rights. Here she will be under enormous pressure to deliver GRA reform very quickly, and that from her closest allies.

This is going to be interesting. Trans rights have been a very useful wedge issue for Nicola and extremely effective against her most dangerous internal rival, Joanna Cherry. Broadly similar issues, like gay marriage and abortion, were intensely controversial until carried into law, and then the matter was effectively settled as a matter of public debate. I expect trans rights might be similar and that Nicola has no real interest in settling the matter because she does not want the controversy to die down.

Personally I am extremely frustrated at the extraordinary alignment between

Never-never Independence supporters and trans rights,

versus

Independence Now supporters and trans exclusion

There seems no logical connection between the two, yet these strange alliances have become the most important dominant fact in the politics of Scottish Independence. My own opinion – which upset huge numbers of staunch Independence Now people on twitter – is that Alba’s strong identification with excluding trans women is one reason for its electoral failure.

Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist has become a pejorative term, but it seems to me a precise intellectual description of where an especially vocal section of Alba support was coming from, and voters found it rather weird and bitter.

I was considering founding a party which supports trans people, but at the same time wants Scotland to achieve Independence irrespective of any legal or political efforts at veto from London. But I fear there would only be me in it.

So the trans wedge issue has become so important to Nicola politically, I suspect she has no real interest in ending it. Besides, legislation is difficult. The current proposal is ridiculously over-simplified, as demonstrated by Gordon Dangerfield. I support self-ID and I extremely strongly uphold the principle that people should be who they want to be, and unlike Gordon I really don’t care about their genitalia and don’t see why anybody else should either. Mind your own business. But I can see that in certain rare and specific circumstances, like elite sport or people involved in criminal justice proceedings, there may be a need for some kind of arbitration of genuineness or good faith of a gender change; with good faith being the presumption that has to be overturned.

I might add that I particularly dislike the jibes at “women with beards” and the social media posts making fun of the physical appearance of trans people. There has been far too much cruelty flying around. I count Stuart Campbell and Chris Cairns as friends and allies who genuinely want Independence. But I cannot approve of this kind of cartoon, and I feel obliged to say so. How would it make you feel if you were a trans woman?

[Update I am told it is not Chris Cairns but is signed Stella. I had presumed that was part of the “joke”, but if it is not Chris I of course apologise to him].

It is of course also true that pro-trans activists are far too rude to people who disagree with them, with a small and defined group seriously nasty and out of control, including threatening violence. That group is closely connected to SNP leadership figures. This is all quite appalling. Frankly both sides of the debate need to find tolerance and empathy.

What is my prediction? I think the trans issue will be shelved, and Nicola will seek to placate Ms Blackman and her ilk by the abolition of jury trials in cases of sexual assault, as a first step, to be followed later by the abolition of jury trials in other crimes against women. Why all of that is an appalling idea I shall expand further one day, though I find it rather shocking that anybody would need that explained.

One thing I am sure of; we will see decisive action from Nicola on the abolition of juries long before we see any real movement on Independence. I would bet my life on that.

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The Left Must Take Back Labour

The hundreds of thousands of Corbyn supporters who carried him though multiple leadership challenges have not vanished from the face of the earth, even though many have vanished from the Labour Party.

If you believe that the Starmer project was a genuine belief that a right wing agenda would get Labour back into power, then the Starmer Project has totally failed on those terms.

If you believe that the Starmer project was a scheme to neutralise any threat from Labour to the vast disparity of wealth in the UK and internationally, then it has spectacularly succeeded.

Firstly, it seems to me that anybody who believes the Starmer project was ever the former is a fool. It was at best an insurance policy, so that in the improbable event of a Labour victory nothing radical would happen to discomfit the rich. The Labour victory was in itself seen by Starmer’s backers as an event to be avoided, and Starmer’s job was to mitigate any Labour victory.

Corbyn never returned any election result remotely as bad as Labour suffered on Thursday. At previous council elections, we were told by Blairite after Blairite that Corbyn would have to resign if he achieved a result even 10% better than Starmer just achieved. Does anybody remember all those Guardian front page articles featuring focus groups led by right wing charlatan Professor Rob Ford of Manchester University, at which small groups of denizens of the M4 corridor or Northern England were led to repeat unbecoming things they had read in the papers about Corbyn, and it was claimed disaster loomed were he and his policies not immediately removed?

It was not becoming of Jess Phillips, Ian Austin and others to display openly their delight at Labour defeat in the last general election. But I cannot understand the passivity of the left now. Get off your backsides, you lazy defeatists, and start to lay into Starmer very heavily indeed. You owe him no loyalty – he lied through his teeth in the leadership campaign about willingness to maintain left wing values, then went straight into ditch and purge the left wing, and supercharge the witch-hunt, once he had won.

Starmer is down now. To quote a left winger who did know how to grasp the moment, I beseech you in the bowels of Christ. It is time now to announce a leadership challenge. It has to come from John McDonnell. Get people back into the Labour Party. Give the people of England some hope and inspiration again, and at least a chance to hear about, and vote for, the possibility of a truly fairer society.

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Channel Islands Fisheries and Abuse by Tory Jingoism

Exactly thirty years ago I was Head of Maritime Section at the FCO and negotiating the voisinage agreement on mutual fishing rights in territorial waters between France and the Channel Islands. Memory dims with age, but it is hard to forget the evening in Cherbourg where a meeting with French fishermen became so heated we found ourselves diving into an alley to escape a pursuing group who wished to remonstrate further. In fact, the same fishermen in the same town three years later took hostage, for a day or so, British fisheries enforcement officers, which helped obtain some changes to the agreement in France’s favour in 1994. In 1991, the ire was directed not so much at me, as at the head of the French government delegation, an Enarque from the Quai D’Orsay of superb aristocratic demeanour and French Vietnamese ancestry, who was perhaps not the best choice to explain things to the fleet.

It should be noted that the later British “hostages” said they were fed and wined superbly and had rather a nice time of it.

It is hard to understand whether today the British media or the British government have the worse grasp of the issues at stake in this fisheries dispute. Let me make a few basic points.

Firstly, the Channel Islands were never in the EU and their waters were never part of the Common Fisheries Policy – the more so as both the French and the Channel Islands waters involved are all twelve mile territorial sea and not 200 mile exclusive economic zone. The extent to which this relates to Brexit is therefore much exaggerated.

Secondly, the issue dates back hundreds of years and is concerned with the maintenance of traditional fishing rights within each other’s waters by the French and Channel Islands fishermen. Both sides have always acknowledged these time hallowed rights of access.

Thirdly, the French and Channel Islands fishing communities concerned are inextricably interlinked and indeed intermarried. Certainly thirty years ago French was the first language among the fishermen on both sides (though I am told this is less true now).

To try to explain further, fishermen are taking specific types of catch in specific areas, and their boats are equipped for this. They cannot simply be told to go and catch something different in their state’s “own” area without changing equipment and indeed sometimes boat. To state the obvious, if you are putting down your lobster pots it is not easy to be told to go fish for mackerel somewhere else instead. That is the principle, though I don’t pretend to remember the catches now.

It is not just a technical and financial matter. It is a question of personal identity and survival of communities. Fishing families have been taking the same catch in the same areas for many generations. The boats are inherited, the community set up for the appropriate processing and sales.

In making the voisinage agreement we took care to interact very closely with the fishing communities on each side and learn their stories and history. We heard tales of catches going back centuries, and fishermen viewed access to the sea their fathers had fished as a right that was nothing to do with governments; this was very even. Some Channel Islands fishermen fished certain French waters, and some French fishermen fished certain Channel Island waters. We also heard of bitter disputes between families. Tales of nets cut or pots lifted were recounted with vivid detail, only for it to be subsequently revealed the incident was in 1905 and it was somebody’s great grandfather who did it. These are complex and intermixed communities, and there is rivalry between islands as much as with the French communities. There are cross-cutting community alliances too.

Above all, as in all fishing communities, there was mutual support in the face of the sea, tales of drownings, disasters and long remembered community grief, and of course tales of rescues – of French boats rescuing Channel Island boats, and Channel Island boats rescuing French boats.

These are proud communities. The monumental stupidity of the Tory government in not seeking to understand and talk through the issues, but rather sending in intimidatory gunboats and wildly exacerbating the dispute, is heartbreaking. Of course I understand the Tories don’t actually care about the issue at all and are using anti-French jingoism for electoral purposes, but the poison they have injected will have effects for many decades.

The voisinage agreement that was drawn up and signed off by Exchange of Note between ministers in 1992 (which really did involve me doing stuff with ribbons and sealing wax) was therefore perhaps not what you would expect to see, and bore no relation to the simplistic nostrums being discussed about the dispute this morning. It named specific individual fishing boats, it named individual captains, and detailed exactly where they could exercise their family’s traditional rights to fish. There were “grandfather rights” – inherited, traditional rights that could not be achieved by newcomers. There was the right to replace a boat, but specific and individually tailored limits of the size and type of boat it could be replaced with. There were sunset clauses – I have a recollection many of the rights expired to be renegotiated in 2010, which seemed a long way away in those days. I believe that much of “my” voisinage agreement was replaced by the Granville Bay Agreement of 2000, which sounds to me unwise in decoupling French rights in Channel Island waters from Channel Island rights in French waters, but I was Deputy High Commissioner in Ghana by then and I confess I have not studied the Granville Bay agreement.

The political right today misinterpret this as some kind of English/French territorial dispute. As I hope I have explained, it is nothing of the sort, and none of the fishermen involved would ever call themselves English. The political left must not confuse the fishermen with the beneficiaries of the Channel Islands status as a great international centre for tax evasion and the laundering of illegal money. The beneficiaries of that activity are overwhelmingly not in the Channel Islands at all, but spivs in the lap dancing clubs and penthouses of the City of London. There are few beneficiaries in the Channel Islands beyond the sleazy lawyers who host thousands of paper companies, the political crooks and the token bank facades fronting for London. The fishermen are nothing to do with that world.

I should make very plain that my own negotiations were guided and in reality led by David Anderson, FCO legal adviser and a major influence in the development of the Law of the Sea. But empathy is an essential negotiating skill, and I was much helped by the fact that I grew up myself in an inshore fishing community and from a fishing family. As you may know, my mother was English and I was born in West Runton and grew up in neighbouring Sheringham. My great grandfather John Johnson had been one the last builders of traditional Sheringham fishing boats, and many relatives were still fishing in my childhood. To give you an idea, I have four direct ancestors in this photo of the Augusta lifeboat, including the cox’n at the stern, who is my great, great grandfather John Long. My grandmother had a copy of this postcard and used to tell me we were related to every single man in the photo (which is what is known as NfN, Normal for Norfolk). She could name them all. I believe six generations later my cousin Nick Grice is today still cox of the Sheringham lifeboat.

I shall allow myself to be a bit morbid today. The UK used to have an envied foreign service which valued expertise, diligence and negotiation. It now prizes bluff, jingoism and cheap popularity. We are sending gunboats, not negotiators, to the Channel Islands. Meantime I am being sentenced, probably to prison, this morning for Contempt of Court, for the crime of diligent journalism. O Tempora! O Mores!

You can read something of my case and contribute to my defence fund for an appeal to the Supreme Court here.

UPDATE: The court has been adjourned until Tuesday 11 May at 9:45am, (ostensibly) to enable consideration of mitigating factors submitted this morning. Read Taylor Hudak’s summary of the court hearing here and consult her timeline for a record of her live tweeting as it happened.

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Human Rights Watch Confirms Israel is an Apartheid State

The forthright branding of Israel as an apartheid state by Human Rights Watch could be a watershed moment in mainstream acceptance of what Israel has become. Human Rights Watch is not an outlier or left wing organisation. It is very much a part of the establishment in the United States and is not generally associated with hard hitting criticism that conflicts with the promoted interests of the American state. Kenneth Roth, the Human Rights Watch CEO who has been in power longer than Putin, is a darling of the New York liberal and Democratic Party Establishment. That is an important financial source for HRW and includes many members of New York’s highly altruistic liberal Jewish community (who I should declare have frequently hosted me).

Shortly before I formally left the FCO in 2005, I was shortlisted for a position as Global Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch and flown to New York to be interviewed by Kenneth Roth in their offices – which if memory serves were very plush and actually in the Empire State Building. Having worked closely with Human Rights Watch in Uzbekistan and elsewhere, I was reasonably confident, and I was surprised when the interview was cold and almost hostile. Kenneth Roth asked me questions exclusively about Israel. I very distinctly recall that he said that I had been describing human rights abuses as perpetrated by governments, but did terrorist offences not also grossly violate the human rights of their victims? He specifically referenced Palestinian terror attacks as being detrimental to the human rights of Israelis.

I replied to the effect that terrorist offences were to me a matter of criminal law as any other assault or murder, whereas human rights abuses were perpetrated by governments or sometimes, in conflict situations, others wielding control and authority. I also referenced the need to bear in mind the imbalance in Israeli/Palestinian infliction of violence. A number of other Israel specific questions followed, which were increasingly unfriendly, and it was plain that Roth was looking for an expression of firm condemnation of the Palestinians, which I did not give, while I did state that violence against innocent civilian targets was never legitimate.

Anyway, I did not get the job which went, perhaps significantly, to an ex US State Department employee with no visible record of dissent. I remember pondering, on the flight back across the Atlantic, that I had been a civil servant for 22 years and forbidden from expressing political opinions. I had said nothing which was not British government policy on Israel since 1984. You would have to go back to my student days and membership of Friends of Palestine to find in public any private views of mine on the Middle East (which from pre-internet days would not be readily discovered). I was wondering who had briefed Roth, and my thoughts turned in obvious directions.

I give that background so you understand how much it has taken for Human Rights Watch to conclude that Israel is now an apartheid state and how far they have come. This cannot be dismissed as “the usual suspects”. Furthermore, the report is a formal legal analysis of what constitutes the crime of apartheid and whether Israeli actions and statutes meet that bar, and it concludes that Israel is an apartheid state not as a matter of political categorisation, but in a formal, legal sense. Roth is respected as a lawyer and Human Rights Watch is an organisation to which people, not just in State Department but at senior levels of the Biden Administration, genuinely listen if not always taking heed.

It is worth reproducing the Human Rights Watch Press Release in full:

BEGINS

Israeli authorities are committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The finding is based on an overarching Israeli government policy to maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians and grave abuses committed against Palestinians living in the occupied territory, including East Jerusalem.

The 213-page report, “A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution,” examines Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. It presents the present-day reality of a single authority, the Israeli government, ruling primarily over the area between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea, populated by two groups of roughly equal size, and methodologically privileging Jewish Israelis while repressing Palestinians, most severely in the occupied territory.

“Prominent voices have warned for years that apartheid lurks just around the corner if the trajectory of Israel’s rule over Palestinians does not change,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “This detailed study shows that Israeli authorities have already turned that corner and today are committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.”

The finding of apartheid and persecution does not change the legal status of the occupied territory, made up of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza, or the factual reality of occupation.

Originally coined in relation to South Africa, apartheid today is a universal legal term. The prohibition against particularly severe institutional discrimination and oppression or apartheid constitutes a core principle of international law. The 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid and the 1998 Rome Statute to the International Criminal Court (ICC) define apartheid as a crime against humanity consisting of three primary elements:

An intent to maintain domination by one racial group over another.
A context of systematic oppression by the dominant group over the marginalized group.
Inhumane acts.
The reference to a racial group is understood today to address not only treatment on the basis of genetic traits but also treatment on the basis of descent and national or ethnic origin, as defined in the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination. Human Rights Watch applies this broader understanding of race.

The crime against humanity of persecution, as defined under the Rome Statute and customary international law, consists of severe deprivation of fundamental rights of a racial, ethnic, or other group with discriminatory intent.

Human Rights Watch found that the elements of the crimes come together in the occupied territory, as part of a single Israeli government policy. That policy is to maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians across Israel and the occupied territory. It is coupled in the occupied territory with systematic oppression and inhumane acts against Palestinians living there.

Drawing on years of human rights documentation, case studies, and a review of government planning documents, statements by officials, and other sources, Human Rights Watch compared policies and practices toward Palestinians in the occupied territory and Israel with those concerning Jewish Israelis living in the same areas. Human Rights Watch wrote to the Israeli government in July 2020, soliciting its perspectives on these issues, but has received no response.

Across Israel and the occupied territory, Israeli authorities have sought to maximize the land available for Jewish communities and to concentrate most Palestinians in dense population centers. The authorities have adopted policies to mitigate what they have openly described as a “demographic threat” from Palestinians. In Jerusalem, for example, the government’s plan for the municipality, including both the west and occupied east parts of the city, sets the goal of “maintaining a solid Jewish majority in the city” and even specifies the demographic ratios it hopes to maintain.

To maintain domination, Israeli authorities systematically discriminate against Palestinians. The institutional discrimination that Palestinian citizens of Israel face includes laws that allow hundreds of small Jewish towns to effectively exclude Palestinians and budgets that allocate only a fraction of resources to Palestinian schools as compared to those that serve Jewish Israeli children. In the occupied territory, the severity of the repression, including the imposition of draconian military rule on Palestinians while affording Jewish Israelis living in a segregated manner in the same territory their full rights under Israel’s rights-respecting civil law, amounts to the systematic oppression required for apartheid.

Israeli authorities have committed a range of abuses against Palestinians. Many of those in the occupied territory constitute severe abuses of fundamental rights and the inhumane acts again required for apartheid, including: sweeping movement restrictions in the form of the Gaza closure and a permit regime, confiscation of more than a third of the land in the West Bank, harsh conditions in parts of the West Bank that led to the forcible transfer of thousands of Palestinians out of their homes, denial of residency rights to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and their relatives, and the suspension of basic civil rights to millions of Palestinians.

Many of the abuses at the core of the commission of these crimes, such as near-categorical denial of building permits to Palestinians and demolition of thousands of homes on the pretext of lacking permits, have no security justification. Others, such as Israel’s effective freeze on the population registry it manages in the occupied territory, which all but blocks family reunification for Palestinians living there and bars Gaza residents from living in the West Bank, use security as a pretext to further demographic goals. Even when security forms part of the motivation, it no more justifies apartheid and persecution than it would excessive force or torture, Human Rights Watch said.

“Denying millions of Palestinians their fundamental rights, without any legitimate security justification and solely because they are Palestinian and not Jewish, is not simply a matter of an abusive occupation,” Roth said. “These policies, which grant Jewish Israelis the same rights and privileges wherever they live and discriminate against Palestinians to varying degrees wherever they live, reflect a policy to privilege one people at the expense of another.”

Statements and actions by Israeli authorities in recent years, including the passage of a law with constitutional status in 2018 establishing Israel as the “nation-state of the Jewish people,” the growing body of laws that further privilege Israeli settlers in the West Bank and do not apply to Palestinians living in the same territory, as well as the massive expansion in recent years of settlements and accompanying infrastructure connecting settlements to Israel, have clarified their intent to maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis. The possibility that a future Israeli leader might someday forge a deal with Palestinians that dismantles the discriminatory system does not negate that reality today.

Israeli authorities should dismantle all forms of repression and discrimination that privilege Jewish Israelis at the expense of Palestinians, including with regards to freedom of movement, allocation of land and resources, access to water, electricity, and other services, and the granting of building permits.

The ICC Office of the Prosecutor should investigate and prosecute those credibly implicated in the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution. Countries should do so as well in accordance with their national laws under the principle of universal jurisdiction, and impose individual sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, on officials responsible for committing these crimes.

The findings of crimes against humanity should prompt the international community to reevaluate the nature of its engagement in Israel and Palestine and adopt an approach centered on human rights and accountability rather than solely on the stalled “peace process.” Countries should establish a UN commission of inquiry to investigate systematic discrimination and repression in Israel and Palestine and a UN global envoy for the crimes of persecution and apartheid with a mandate to mobilize international action to end persecution and apartheid worldwide.

Countries should condition arms sales and military and security assistance to Israel on Israeli authorities taking concrete and verifiable steps toward ending their commission of these crimes. Countries should vet agreements, cooperation schemes, and all forms of trade and dealing with Israel to screen for those directly contributing to committing the crimes, mitigate the human rights impacts and, where not possible, end activities and funding found to facilitate these serious crimes.

“While much of the world treats Israel’s half-century occupation as a temporary situation that a decades-long ‘peace process’ will soon cure, the oppression of Palestinians there has reached a threshold and a permanence that meets the definitions of the crimes of apartheid and persecution,” Roth said. “Those who strive for Israeli-Palestinian peace, whether a one or two-state solution or a confederation, should in the meantime recognize this reality for what it is and bring to bear the sorts of human rights tools needed to end it.”

ENDS

I regret to say that because I am extremely preoccupied with my own legal case (which is of course largely its purpose) I have quickly read through the 223 page full report but not had time fully to study and analyse. It contains some very powerful graphics.




The strength of the report lies in its systematic comparison of the structural system of Israeli rule with the formal definition of the crime of Apartheid in the Statute of Rome and the Apartheid Convention, both widely ratified and important documents of international law. This perforce leads to less concentration than is possible on the outrageous acts of individual cruelty, but shows them to be systemic and part of a much wider design.

The Statute of Rome defines the international crime of apartheid as:

inhumane acts… committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.

The Apartheid Convention defines apartheid as:

inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.

I do not believe anybody can sincerely deny that the situation in Palestine meets these criteria, even if attempts are made to justify how we got here. If you have not done so, you may like to read my previous personal article on why Israel is an apartheid state, which draws on my experience as FCO Desk Officer for South Africa when it was the original apartheid state.

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The CIA’s Chinese Walls

It is not in dispute that the CIA is in possession of Julian Assange’s legal and medical files seized from the Ecuadorean Embassy, including correspondence and drafting by his lawyers on his defence against extradition to the USA on Espionage charges. The defence submitted evidence of this in court. After Julian was arrested in the Ecuadorean Embassy and removed, all of his personal possessions were illegally seized by the Ecuadorean authorities, including his files and his IT equipment. These were then shipped back to Ecuador by diplomatic bag. There, they were handed over to the CIA.

These facts were agreed in court in Assange’s extradition hearing by the US authorities. However, they claimed that the proceedings were not tainted by the fact that the prosecuting state had seized all the defendant’s legal papers, because “Chinese walls” within the US government meant that the CIA would not pass any of the information on to the Justice Department.

Frankly, if anybody believes that, then I have a bridge to sell you. In any court in any Western jurisdiction against any other defendant but Assange, the seizure of the defence’s legal files by the state seeking extradition would in itself be sufficient for the case immediately to be thrown out as hopelessly tainted. That is without adding the fact that the CIA was also secretly video recording Assange – through the UC Global security firm – and was specifically recording his meetings with his lawyers.

As it happens, UC Global also recorded for the CIA several of my own meetings with Julian, and I shall next month be travelling to Madrid to give evidence in the criminal trial of David Morales, CEO of UC Global, for illegal spying (UC Global is a Spanish company). At least, I shall be if I am not in prison myself as a result of the suppression of my own reporting of the defence in the Alex Salmond case.

I ask one simple question. The CIA put substantial effort into recording Assange’s meetings with his legal team, and UC Global employees also gave evidence they were instructed physically to follow his lawyers, who in addition suffered burglaries and other intrusions. The CIA put effort into collecting specifically his legal papers from Quito. If there are effective “Chinese walls” preventing the stolen and eavesdropped material on his legal defence being given or explained to the American government prosecutors, then who is the market for these legal papers? Who is the CIA providing them to? What other purpose are the CIA supposed to be seizing his legal papers for?

There is no legitimate answer to these questions. I find breathtaking the UK court’s insouciance about the most gross and deliberate violation of attorney/client privilege of which the human imagination is able to conceive. Yet this is just one of the numerous breaches of procedure in the Assange case.

I am frequently asked about the current legal situation. The USA has submitted its appeal to the English and Welsh High Court against the decision not to extradite. The defence have submitted their response to the appeal. In doing so they have also submitted a counter-appeal against the many deeply concerning points on which Baraitser ruled extradition was possible, before ruling it out on the sole grounds of medical history and conditions of custody.

The situation now is complex. The first thing to be said is that the High Court has not yet ruled that the United States government’s grounds for appeal have sufficient legal merit to be considered, and thus accepted the case and set a hearing date. This is taking much longer than usual, and hope is growing that the High Court may rule that the United States’ grounds for appeal are too legally weak to meet the bar of a hearing. If that is the case, Julian could suddenly be released very quickly.

If the appeal is accepted, a hearing date will be set and the legal grapevine thinks that could be as early as July – much quicker than usual. We then have the further complication that the counter-appeal by the defence is not an automatic process, indeed it is exceptional. The normal procedure would be that the High Court would hear the US appeal on the medical and conditions of imprisonment points and the defence response, and rule on that. Should the US appeal succeed, the High Court would send that judgement back down to judge Baraitser, who would reconvene Westminster Magistrates Court and order the extradition. The defence could then appeal to the High Court against the extradition on all the other grounds, which are numerous but headed by breach of the provision on no political extradition of the Treaty under which the extradition is taking place.

The whole process would then start again, which would take us well into 2022 with Julian still in jail. The defence hope the High Court would instead take the counter-appeal at the same time and hear all the arguments together, but it is by no means a given the High Court will agree. If the High Court considers the US appeal weak there is a danger that the High Court would also think a hearing on all the other points – which would last weeks – would be an unnecessary waste of its time. Which leads us to the paradox that a quick victory for Julian on health grounds that sees him released, would leave in place as a precedent the awful aspects of Baraitser’s ruling on extradition for political offence being lawful, and on the dismissal of Article X freedom of speech arguments, and the acceptance of US universal jurisdiction over publishing of US classified information worldwide.

A further paradox which may trouble us in future is that if released, and if Biden as now is determined to continue the persecution of whistleblowers and of Wikileaks, Julian Assange could find himself trapped in England. Anywhere else he goes, including his native Australia, he could be the subject of a further US extradition request leading to imprisonment. This is the dilemma of my friend Lauri Love, whose lawyers advised him against even accepting my invitation to visit Scotland, in case a new US extradition request is issued in any other jurisdiction he visits. Lauri is only safe from extradition in England and Wales.

There is a further danger that the British Home Office might immediately on release seek to deport Julian to Australia on the grounds his UK visa has expired, and that the Australian government may imprison him there in pursuit of a further US extradition request. So in aiming for a situation where Julian can work, run Wikileaks, and contribute his remarkable talent and intelligence to further expansion of freedom of speech and the internet and empowering of ordinary citizens, we still all have work to do.

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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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Bypassing the Road Block

I almost never write about somebody else’s article, but this from Barrhead Boy sums up exactly how I feel today. 80% by readership of the pro-Independence new media has been disillusioned by the current SNP leadership to the point of turning against it. Peter Bell, Barrhead Boy, Robin McAlpine, James Kelly, Jeggit, Stuart Campbell, Iain Lawson, and me – I could go on with a dozen more – these were the writers to whom pro-Independence people turned in their hundreds of thousands to escape from the diet of unionist propaganda they were fed from the BBC and papers. These bloggers and independent journalists were, along with the All Under One Banner marches, the heartbeat of Independence. The SNP notably was not that – it had effectively banned discussion of Independence. Long term readers will recall I was even blocked by Murrell from holding a fringe meeting on Independence – when a delegate – at SNP conference, but told I could hold one on another subject.

The bloggers I name are all people who have dedicated their recent lives almost entirely to the cause of Scottish Independence. The 2014 Yes campaign was primarily a street movement, reinforced by bloggers and with real public meetings all over Scotland. I believe only Robin McAlpine spoke at more meetings during the Indyref campaign than I did, and I believe since 2014 nobody has given more speeches and talks on Independence than I. To alienate such dedicated people is astonishing.

How has it happened? Well, the fact that the SNP leadership has won the adoration of the Guardian while losing the support of pro-Independence new media says it all. That is sufficient explanation. There are differences between the pro-Independence bloggers I name, in the extent to which they were SNP members or not, but they have one thing in common. Everybody on that list – along with the leadership of AUOB – has come to doubt the genuine intent of the current SNP leadership to achieve Independence.

A SNP MP told me very recently that they had no doubt Nicola had no intention at all of holding Indyref2. I think it is not unfair also to say that every person on that list is also alarmed by the SNP leadership’s broad adoption of what I might call Britnat values – uncritical support for most British security and defence policies. The strong impression that Sturgeon is much more interested in identity politics than Independence also I think troubles more or less every one of them.

But we are apparently getting a harsh lesson in the limits of new media, in that the strong advocacy of the pro-Independence new media of a vote for the more radically pro-Independence party Alba on the second, list, ballot is showing very little sign of cutting through in opinion polls. The continuing demonisation of Alex Salmond by the mainstream media – taking their cue from Nicola Sturgeon and her constant intimation that the jury in his trial and the judge in the Court of Session both got it wrong – appears so far powerfully effective in electoral terms. The exclusion of Alba from leadership debates, and the virtual exclusion of Alba from news coverage, appears to work.

It is a strong reminder that you cannot judge balance in news reporting by time devoted. Where other parties are asked about their policies, Alba’s rare appearances are dominated by aggressive suggestions that Alex Salmond should be banned from public life. If Salmond featured in media debates, he would answer the same policy questions as other leaders and would be seen to answer them better. The “compensating” interviews he is offered instead are simply an excuse for more personal attacks on him.

I have this message for everybody who believes in Independence. Vote for Alba, who are the only party who will try to gain Independence with you. The SNP manifesto says there should be an Indyref after Covid has passed – a delightfully vague date – and is utterly silent on what happens when both the Westminster Government and the UK Supreme Court refuse the referendum – both of which absolutely will happen. If necessary, the Tories will amend the Scotland Act specifically to ban a referendum without Westminster consent, and the UK Supreme Court, which has always upheld the sovereignty of (Westminster) parliament, will do so again. Nicola will pretend to be disappointed, and make yet another speech against what she herself has labeled “wildcat” or “illegal” referenda and will repeat there are “no short-cuts” to Independence.

I have news for Nicola. Self-determination is not a short-cut. It is an inalienable right guaranteed in the UN Charter.

So vote Alba. I have no responsibility in Alba, I am just an ordinary member. The policy of Alba is to advocate a constituency vote for the SNP everywhere, and a list vote for Alba. You must follow your own conscience, but there are places I could never vote SNP, Edinburgh Central being a good example, though a court order prevents me from telling you why. I shall however be voting for my local SNP candidate in the constituency vote as he has stressed Independence in his election literature.

I regard this election as just the start for Alba. I look forward to participating in democratic debate that shapes its policies. I will be arguing Alba should be against Scottish membership of NATO and for Scotland being neutral and non-aligned, and should be for Scotland becoming a republic. I will also argue very strongly that, should as I strongly expect the SNP break their promises and fail to deliver an Independence referendum by the Westminster elections of 2024, Alba should stand against the SNP in every Westminster constituency. Scotland should be Independent before then and Scotland should not be participating in those elections; if we are, it is a sure sign the SNP have “settled in”.

The SNP contingent at Tory Westminster frankly can do little or no good anyway. I think Sinn Fein have this right. But as long as there are so many well-paid jobs and so much Short money available, the SNP leadership grouping are very comfy indeed with the status quo. Threatening their income and their personal comfort is the only language they understand. Watching the SNP MP’s seduced by lifestyle and effectively forgetting Independence has been gruesome.

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

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

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Choose subscription amount from dropdown box:

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Pure: Ten Points I Just Can’t Believe About the Official Skripal Narrative 1238

A lie repeated often enough enters the public consciousness, so I am republishing this in the hope of stimulating the honest and the intellectually awake.

I still do not know what happened in the Skripal saga, which perhaps might more respectfully be termed the Sturgess saga. I cannot believe the Russian account of Boshirov and Petrov, because if those were their real identities, those identities would have been firmly established and displayed by now. But that does not mean they attempted to kill the Skripals, and there are many key elements to the official British account which are also simply incredible.

Governments play dark games, and a dark game was played out in Salisbury which involved at least the British state, Russian agents (possibly on behalf of the state), Orbis Intelligence and the BBC. Anybody who believes it is simple to identify the “good guys” and the “bad guys” in this situation is a fool. When it comes to state actors and the intelligence services, frequently there are no “good guys”, as I personally witnessed from the inside over torture, extraordinary rendition and the illegal invasion of Iraq. But in the face of a massive media campaign to validate the British government story about the Skripals, here are ten of the things I do not believe in the official account:

1) PURE

This was the point that led me to return to the subject of the Skripals, even though it has brought me more abuse than I had received in my 15 year career as a whistleblower.

A few months ago, I was in truth demoralised by the amount of abuse I was receiving about the collapse of the Russian identity story of Boshirov and Petrov. I had never claimed the poisoning, if any, was not carried out by Russians, only that there were many other possibilities. I understood the case against the Russian state is still far from established, whoever Boshirov and Petrov really are, and I did not (and do not) accept Bellingcat’s conjectures and dodgy evidence as conclusive identification. But I did not enjoy at all the constant online taunts, and therefore was not inclined to take the subject further.

It is in this mood that I received more information from my original FCO source, who had told me, correctly, that Porton Down could not and would not attest that the “novichok” sample was made in Russia, and explained that the formulation “of a type developed by Russia” was an agreed Whitehall line to cover this up.

She wanted to explain to me that the British government was pulling a similar trick over the use of the word “pure”. The OPCW report had concluded that the sample provided to them by the British government was “of high purity” with an “almost complete absence of impurities”. This had been spun by the British government as evidence that the novichok was “military grade” and could only be produced by a state.

But actually that is not what the OPCW technical experts were attempting to signal. The sample provided to the OPCW had allegedly been swabbed from the Skripals’ door handle. It had been on that door handle for several days before it was allegedly discovered there. In that time it had been contacted allegedly by the hands of the Skripals and of DC Bailey, and the gloves of numerous investigators. It had of course been exposed to whatever film of dirt or dust was on the door handle. It had been exposed to whatever pollution was in the rain and whatever dust and pollen was blowing around. In these circumstances, it is incredible that the sample provided “had an almost complete absence of impurities”.

A sample cannot have a complete absence of impurities after being on a used doorknob, outdoors, for several days. The sample provided was, on the contrary, straight out of a laboratory.

The government’s contention that “almost complete absence of impurities” meant “military grade” was complete nonsense. There is no such thing as “military grade” novichok. It has never been issued to any military, anywhere. The novichok programme was designed to produce an organo-phosphate poison which could quickly be knocked up from readily available commercial ingredients. It was not part of an actual defence industry manufacturing programme.

There is a final problem with the “of high purity” angle. First we had the Theresa May story that the “novichok” was extremely deadly, many times more deadly than VX, in minute traces. Then, when the Skripals did not die, it was explained to us that this was because it had degraded in the rain. This was famously put forward by Dan Kaszeta, formerly of US Intelligence and the White House and self-proclaimed chemical weapons expert – which expertise has been strenuously denied by real experts.

What we did not know then, but we do know now, is that Kaszeta was secretly being paid to produce this propaganda by the British government via the Integrity Initiative.

So the first thing I cannot believe is that the British government produced a sample with an “almost complete absence of impurities” from several days on the Skripals’ doorknob. Nor can I believe that if “extremely pure” the substance therefore was not fatal to the Skripals.

2) Raising the Roof

Three days ago Sky News had an outside broadcast from the front of the Skripals’ house in Salisbury, where they explained that the roof had been removed and replaced due to contamination with “novichok”.

I cannot believe that a gel, allegedly smeared or painted onto the doorknob, migrated upwards to get into the roof of a two storey house, in such a manner that the roof had to be destroyed, but the house inbetween did not. As the MSM never questions the official narrative, there has never been an official answer as to how the gel got from the doorknob to the roof. Remember that traces of the “novichok” were allegedly found in a hotel room in Poplar, which is still in use as a hotel room and did not have to be destroyed, and an entire bottle of it was allegedly found in Charlie Rowley’s house, which has not had to be destroyed. Novichok was found in Zizzi’s restaurant, which did not have to be destroyed.

So we are talking about novichok in threatening quantities – more than the traces allegedly found in the hotel in Poplar – being in the Skripals’ roof. How could this happen?

As I said in the onset, I do not know what happened, I only know what I do not believe. There are theories that Skripal and his daughter might themselves have been involved with novichok in some way. On the face of it, its presence in their roof might support that theory.

The second thing I do not believe is that the Skripals’ roof became contaminated by gel on their doorknob so that the roof had to be destroyed, whereas no other affected properties, nor the rest of the Skripals’ house, had to be destroyed.

3) Nursing Care

The very first person to discover the Skripals ill on a park bench in Salisbury just happened to be the Chief Nurse of the British Army, who chanced to be walking past them on her way back from a birthday party. How lucky was that? The odds are about the same as the chance of my vacuum cleaner breaking down just before James Dyson knocks at my door to ask for directions. There are very few people indeed in the UK trained to give nursing care to victims of chemical weapon attack, and of all the people who might have walked past, it just happened to be the most senior of them!

The government is always trying to get good publicity for its armed forces, and you would think that the heroic role of its off-duty personnel in saving random poisoned Russian double agents they just happened to chance across, would have been proclaimed as a triumph for the British military. Yet it was kept secret for ten months. We were not told about the involvement of Colonel Alison McCourt until January of this year, when it came out by accident. Swollen with maternal pride, Col. McCourt nominated her daughter for an award from the local radio station for her role in helping give first aid to the Skripals, and young Abigail revealed her mother’s identity on local radio – and the fact her mother was there “with her” administering first aid.

Even then, the compliant MSM played along, with the Guardian and Sky News both among those running stories emphasising entirely the Enid Blyton narrative of “plucky teenager saves the Skripals”, and scarcely mentioning the Army’s Chief Nurse who was looking after the Skripals “with little Abigail”.

I want to emphasise again that Col. Alison McCourt is not the chief nurse of a particular unit or hospital, she is the Chief Nurse of the entire British Army. Her presence was kept entirely quiet by the media for ten months, when all sorts of stories were run in the MSM about who the first responders were – various doctors and police officers being mentioned.

If you believe that it is coincidence that the Chief Nurse of the British Army was the first person to discover the Skripals ill, you are a credulous fool. And why was it kept quiet?

4) Remarkable Metabolisms

This has been noted many times, but no satisfactory answer has ever been given. The official story is that the Skripals were poisoned by their door handle, but then well enough to go out to a pub, feed some ducks, and have a big lunch in Zizzi’s, before being instantly stricken and disabled, both at precisely the same time.

The Skripals were of very different ages, genders and weights. That an agent which took hours to act but then kicks in with immediate disabling effect, so they could not call for help, would affect two such entirely different metabolisms at precisely the same time, has never been satisfactorily explained. Dosage would have an effect and of course the doorknob method would give an uncontrolled dosage.

But that the two different random dosages were such that they affected each of these two very different people at just the same moment, so that neither could call for help, is an extreme coincidence. It is almost as unlikely as the person who walks by next being the Chief Nurse of the British Army.

5) 11 Days

After the poisoning of Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess, the Police cordoned off Charlie Rowley’s home and began a search for “Novichok”, in an attitude of extreme urgency because it was believed this poison was out amidst the public. They were specifically searching for a small phial of liquid. Yet it took 11 days of the search before they allegedly discovered the “novichok” in a perfume bottle sitting in plain sight on the kitchen counter – and only after they had discovered the clue of the perfume bottle package in the bin the day before, after ten days of search.

The bottle was out of its packaging and “novichok”, of which the tiniest amount is deadly, had been squirted out of its nozzle at least twice, by both Rowley and Sturgess, and possibly more often. The exterior of the bottle/nozzle was therefore contaminated. Yet the house, unlike the Skripals’ roof space, has not had to be destroyed.

I do not believe it took the Police eleven days to find the very thing they were looking for, in plain sight as exactly the small bottle of liquid sought, on a kitchen bench. What else was happening?

6) Mark Urban/Pablo Miller

The BBC’s “Diplomatic Editor” is a regular conduit for the security services. He fronted much of the BBC’s original coverage of the Skripal story. Yet he concealed from the viewers the fact that he had been in regular contact with Sergei Skripal for months before the alleged poisoning, and had held several meetings with Skripal.

This is extraordinary behaviour. It was the biggest news story in the world, and news organisations, including the BBC, were scrambling to fill in the Skripals’ back story. Yet the journalist who had the inside info on the world’s biggest news story, and was actually reporting on it, kept that knowledge to himself. Why? Urban was not only passing up a career defining opportunity, it was unethical of him to continually report on the story without revealing to the viewers his extensive contacts with Skripal.

The British government had two immediate reactions to the Skripal incident. Within the first 48 hours, it blamed Russia, and it slapped a D(SMA) notice banning all media mention of Skripal’s MI6 handler, Pablo Miller. By yet another one of those extraordinary coincidences, Miller and Urban know each other well, having both been officers together in the Royal Tank Regiment, of the same rank and joining the Regiment the same year.

I have sent the following questions to Mark Urban, repeatedly. There has been no response:

To: [email protected]

Dear Mark,

As you may know, I am a journalist working in alternative media, a member of the NUJ, as well as a former British Ambassador. I am researching the Skripal case.

I wish to ask you the following questions.

1) When the Skripals were first poisoned, it was the largest news story in the entire World and you were uniquely positioned having held several meetings with Sergei Skripal the previous year. Yet faced with what should have been a massive career break, you withheld that unique information on a major story from the public for four months. Why?
2) You were an officer in the Royal Tank Regiment together with Skripal’s MI6 handler, Pablo Miller, who also lived in Salisbury. Have you maintained friendship with Miller over the years and how often do you communicate?
3) When you met Skripal in Salisbury, was Miller present all or part of the time, or did you meet Miller separately?
4) Was the BBC aware of your meetings with Miller and/or Skripal at the time?
5) When, four months later, you told the world about your meetings with Skripal after the Rowley/Sturgess incident, you said you had met him to research a book. Yet the only forthcoming book by you advertised is on the Skripal attack. What was the subject of your discussions with Skripal?
6) Pablo Miller worked for Orbis Intelligence. Do you know if Miller contributed to the Christopher Steele dossier on Trump/Russia?
7) Did you discuss the Trump dossier with Skripal and/or Miller?
8) Do you know whether Skripal contributed to the Trump dossier?
9) In your Newsnight piece following the Rowley/Sturgess incident, you stated that security service sources had told you that Yulia Skripal’s telephone may have been bugged. Since January 2017, how many security service briefings or discussions have you had on any of the matter above.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Craig Murray

The lack of openness of Urban in refusing to answer these questions, and the role played by the BBC and the MSM in general in marching in unquestioning lockstep with the British government narrative, plus the “coincidence” of Urban’s relationship with Pablo Miller, give further reason for scepticism of the official narrative.

7 Four Months

The official narrative insists that Boshirov and Petrov brought “novichok” into the country; that minute quantities could kill; that they disposed of the novichok that did kill Dawn Sturgess. It must therefore have been of the highest priority to inform the public of the movements of the suspects and the possible locations where deadly traces of “novichok” must be lurking.

Yet there was at least a four month gap between the police searching the Poplar hotel where Boshirov and Petrov were staying, allegedly discovering traces of novichok in the hotel room, and the police informing the hotel management, let alone the public, of the discovery. That is four months in which a cleaner might have fatally stumbled across more novichok in the hotel. Four months in which another guest in the same hotel might have had something lurking in their bag which they had picked up. Four months in which there might have been a container of novichok sitting in a hedge near the hotel. Yet for four months the police did not think any of this was urgent enough to tell anybody.

The astonishing thing is that it was a full three months after the death of Dawn Sturgess before the hotel were informed, the public were informed, or the pictures of “Boshirov” and “Petrov” in Salisbury released. There could be no clearer indication that the authorities did not actually believe that any threat from residual novichok was connected to the movements of Boshirov and Petrov.

Similarly the metadata on the famous CCTV images of Boshirov and Petrov in Salisbury, published in September by the Met Police, showed that all the stills were prepared by the Met on the morning of 9 May – a full four months before they were released to the public. But this makes no sense at all. Why wait a full four months for people’s memories to fade before issuing an appeal to the public for information? This makes no sense at all from an investigation viewpoint. It makes even less sense from a public health viewpoint.

If the authorities were genuinely worried about the possible presence of deadly novichok, and wished to track it down, why one earth would you wait for four months before you published the images showing the faces and clothing and the whereabouts of the people you believe were distributing it?

The only possible conclusion from the amazing four month delays both in informing the hotel, and in revealing the Boshirov and Petrov CCTV footage to the public, is that the Metropolitan Police did not actually believe there was a public health danger that the two had left a trail of novichok. Were the official story true, this extraordinary failure to take timely action in a public health emergency may have contributed to the death of Dawn Sturgess.

The metadat shows Police processed all the Salisbury CCTV images of Boshirov and Petrov a month before Charlie Rowley picked up the perfume. The authorities claim the CCTV images show they could have been to the charity bin to dump the novichok. Which begs the question, if the Police really believed they had CCTV of the movements of the men with the novichok, why did they not subsequently exhaustively search everywhere the CCTV shows they could have been, including that charity bin?

The far more probable conclusion appears to be that the lack of urgency is explained by the fact that the link between Boshirov and Petrov and “novichok” is a narrative those involved in the investigation do not take seriously.

8 The Bungling Spies

There are elements of the accepted narrative of Boshirov and Petrov’s movements that do not make sense. As the excellent local Salisbury blog the Blogmire points out, the CCTV footage shows Boshirov and Petrov, after they had allegedly coated the door handle with novichok, returning towards the railway station but walking straight past it, into the centre of Salisbury (and missing their first getaway train in the process). They then wander around Salisbury apparently aimlessly, famously window shopping which is caught on CCTV, and according to the official narrative disposing of the used but inexplicably still cellophane-sealed perfume/novichok in a charity donation bin, having walked past numerous potential disposal sites en route including the railway embankment and the bins at the Shell garage.

But the really interesting thing, highlighted by the blogmire, is that the closest CCTV ever caught them to the Skripals’ house is fully 500 metres, at the Shell garage, walking along the opposite side of the road from the turning to the Skripals. There is a second CCTV camera at the garage which would have caught them crossing the road and turning down towards the Skripals’ house, but no such video or still image – potentially the most important of all the CCTV footage – has ever been released.

However the 500 metres is not the closest the CCTV places the agents to the Skripals. From 13.45 to 13.48, on their saunter into town, Boshirov and Petrov were caught on CCTV at Dawaulders coinshop a maximum of 200 metres away from the Skripals, who at the same time were at Avon Playground. The bin at Avon playground became, over two days in the immediate aftermath of the Skripal “attack”, the scene of extremely intensive investigation. Yet the Boshirov and Petrov excursion – during their getaway from attempted murder – into Salisbury town centre has been treated as entirely pointless and unimportant by the official story.

Finally, the behaviour of Boshirov and Petrov in the early hours before the attack makes no sense whatsoever. On the one hand we are told these are highly trained, experienced and senior GRU agents; on the other hand, we are told they were partying in their room all night, drawing attention to themselves with loud noise, smoking weed and entertaining a prostitute in the room in which they were storing, and perhaps creating, the “novichok”.

The idea that, before an extremely delicate murder operation involving handling a poison, a tiny accident with which would kill them, professionals would stay up all night and drink heavily and take drugs is a nonsense. Apart from the obvious effect on their own metabolisms, they were risking authorities being called because of the noise and a search being instituted because of the drugs.

That they did this while in possession of the novichok and hours before they made the attack, is something I simply do not believe.

9 The Skripals’ Movements

Until the narrative changed to Boshirov and Petrov arriving in Salisbury just before lunchtime and painting the doorknob, the official story had been that the Skripals left home around 9am and had not returned. They had both switched off their mobile phones, an interesting and still unexplained point. As you would expect in a city as covered in CCTV as Salisbury, their early morning journey was easily traced and the position of their car at various times was given by the police.

Yet no evidence of their return journey has ever been offered. There is now a tiny window between Boshirov and Petrov arriving, painting the doorknob apparently with the Skripals now inexplicably back inside their home, and the Skripals leaving again by car, so quickly after the doorknob painting that they catch up with Boshirov and Petrov – or certainly being no more than 200 metres from them in Salisbury City Centre. There is undoubtedly a huge amount of CCTV video of the Skripals’ movements which has never been released. For example, the parents of one of the boys who Sergei was chatting with while feeding the ducks, was shown “clear” footage by the Police of the Skripals at the pond, yet this has never been released. This however is the moment at which the evidence puts Boshirov and Petrov at the closest to them. What does the concealed CCTV of the Skripals with the ducks show?

Why has so little detail of the Skripals’ movements that day been released? What do all the withheld CCTV images of the Skripals in Salisbury show?

10 The Sealed Bottle

Only in the last couple of days have the police finally admitted there is a real problem with the fact that Charlie Rowley insists that the perfume bottle was fully sealed, and the cellophane difficult to remove, when he discovered it. Why the charity collection bin had not been emptied for three months has never been explained either. Rowley’s recollection is supported by the fact that the entire packaging was discovered by the police in his bin – why would Boshirov and Petrov have been carrying the cellophane around with them if they had opened the package? Why – and how – would they reseal it outdoors in Salisbury before dumping it?

Furthermore, there was a gap of three months between the police finding the perfume bottle, and the police releasing details of the brand and photos of it, despite the fact the police believed there could be more out there. Again the news management agenda totally belies the official narrative of the need to protect the public in a public health emergency.

This part of the narrative is plainly nonsense.

Bonus Point – The Integrity Initiative

The Integrity Initiative specifically paid Dan Kaszeta to publish articles on the Skripal case. In the weekly collections of social media postings the Integrity Initiative sent to the FCO to show its activity, over 80% were about the Skripals.

Governments do not institute secret campaigns to put out covert propaganda in order to tell the truth. The Integrity Initiative, with secret FCO and MOD sourced subsidies to MSM figures to put out the government narrative, is very plainly a disinformation exercise. More bluntly, if the Integrity Initiative is promoting it, you know it is not true.

Most sinister of all is the Skripal Group convened by the Integrity Initiative. This group includes Pablo Miller, Skripal’s MI6 handler, and senior representatives of Porton Down, the BBC, the CIA, the FCO and the MOD. Even if all the other ludicrously weak points in the government narrative did not exist, the Integrity Initiative activity in itself would lead me to understand the British government is concealing something important.

Conclusion

I do not know what happened in Salisbury. Plainly spy games were being played between Russia and the UK, quite likely linked to the Skripals and/or the NATO chemical weapons exercise then taking place on Salisbury Plain yet another one of those astonishing coincidences.

What I do know is that major planks of the UK government narrative simply do not stand up to scrutiny.

Plainly the Russian authorities have lied about the identity of Boshirov and Petrov. What is astonishing is the alacrity with which the MSM and the political elite have rallied around the childish logical fallacy that because the Russian Government has lied, therefore the British Government must be telling the truth. It is abundantly plain to me that both governments are lying, and the spy games being played out that day were very much more complicated than a pointless revenge attack on the Skripals.

I do not believe the British Government. I have given you the key points where the official narrative completely fails to stand up. These are by no means exhaustive, and I much look forward to reading your own views.

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Yet Another Imperialist Occupation of Afghanistan Ends in Disaster

Every single Imperial occupation of Afghanistan since Alexander the Great has had the same justification. They were all defensive invasions, necessary to reduce the “threat” from Afghanistan to the Imperial power. As those who have read my book Sikunder Burnes will know – and if you haven’t, you should – the first British occupation of 1839 was to topple a ruler viewed as potentially likely to ally with Russia and Persia in an invasion of British India. The second and third British invasions had the same justification. The Soviet invasion was to protect the Central Asian regions of the Soviet Union from infiltration by Islamic ideals. The American invasion was to stop more attacks like 9/11, as though there was something magic in the soil of Afghanistan that had prompted Osama Bin Laden and his small band of men, who had effectively left before the invasion was well established.

There is nothing unique about Afghanistan here. Almost every Empire in history has ostensibly pushed its borders ever outwards, in order to protect those borders from the barbarians the other side. It is the “defensive” logic behind the expansion of Empires. It is of course a lie, to justify looting, seizure of resources, rape and aggression. Most Empires as they developed added further justifications of high civilising mission, forcing the barbarians to be more like themselves. Education, sanitation – you know the playbook. That is why we are being bombarded with meaningless statistics about how many pupils are at school now in Afghanistan under American occupation. The statistics on opium and heroin production, which had been reduced to virtually zero under the Taliban and boomed to highest ever levels under US occupation, peculiarly do not figure in this narrative. The US occupation depended for its physical survival on supporting local warlords who were the heroin producers.

This was not an accident. I concur with this article that increasing heroin production was actually a goal of the United States as an agent of control in a country where the wholesale application of military force on the population has never worked. There is a great deal yet to be told about CIA involvement in Afghan heroin, and I expect we will learn more in fairly short time. I recount in Murder in Samarkand the heroin convoys being waved through on the Friendship Bridge en route to the Baltic ports, which could not have happened without the connivance of the Afghan, Uzbek and US governments. I also recount the death in an aircraft accident of my friend Richard Conroy of the United Nations whilst investigating this.

It is a further remarkable consistency of history that the British, Russian and American occupiers all sought to ally with the northern Uzbek, Tajik and Hazara tribes against predominantly Pashtun opposition. To the extent that the first puppet the Americans installed, President Karzai, was a member of precisely the same branch of the Dourani royal family as the puppet Shah Shuja that the British so spectacularly unsuccessfully installed in 1839. That is not to learn from history in the most plain fashion.

The primary true motive of the occupation of Afghanistan was originally the Trans Afghan Pipeline to take Central Asia’s massive supplies of natural gas – the gas reserves of Turkmenistan alone have a higher thermal value than the oil reserves of Iraq – down to Pakistan, India and onward via the Indian Ocean. This scheme was eventually stymied by Putin through his agent Alisher Usmanov and his aggressive Gazprom diplomacy in Central Asia. I was astonished to read that the pipeline project is not quite dead in this recent article, and that the Taliban has offered to guard it.

This was how the invasion of Afghanistan all started, with discussions by Enron and Unocal (board member George Bush sr.) with the Taliban on guarding the pipeline project, discussions in which Unocal was represented by its consultant, the future President Karzai. This paragraph from the article is a fair but sparse summary:

Global energy majors have latterly shown no enthusiasm for TAPI, but that was not always the way. In 1997, a consortium comprised of six companies and the government of Turkmenistan was formed with the goal of building a 1,271-kilometer pipeline to Pakistan. India was not yet part of the plan. The largest share in that consortium, 54 percent, was held by California-based Unocal Corporation. In 1997, the American company even arranged travel to Texas for a senior Taliban delegation for negotiations. Deadly terrorist attacks in 1998 against U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya organized by Al-Qaeda, whose leader Osama bin Laden had been provided safe haven by the Taliban, put paid to all that.

This misses some vital details, like the fact that Enron organised the meeting in Texas, and that it was held in the Governor’s mansion with George W Bush, at the time Governor of Texas. I suggest younger readers google Enron, which was one of the great financial scandals. Here is the full text of the key letter:

Kenneth L. Lay
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Enron Corp.
P.O. Box 1188
Houston, TX 77251-1188
713-853-6773
Fax 713-853-5313
April 3, 1997
Via Fax: 512/463-1849

The Honorable George W. Bush
Governor of the State of Texas
PO Box 12428
Austin, Texas

Dear George,
You will be meeting with Ambassador Sadyq Safaev, Uzbekistan’s
Ambassador to the United States, on April 8th. Ambassador Safaev has
been Foreign Minister and the senior advisor to President Karimov
before assuming his nation’s most significant foreign responsibility.
Enron has established an office in Tashkent and we are negotiating a $2
billion joint venture with Neftegas of Uzbekistan and Gazprom of Russia
to develop Uzbekistan’s natural gas and transport it to markets in
Europe, Kazakhstan, and Turkey. This project can bring significant
economic opportunities to Texas, as well as Uzbekistan. The political
benefits to the United States and to Uzbekistan are important to that
entire region.
Ambassador Safaev is one of the most effective of the Washington Corps
of Ambassadors, a man who has the attention of his president, and a
person who works daily to bring our countries together. For all these
reasons, I am delighted that the two of you are meeting.
I know you and Ambassador Safaev will have a productive meeting which
will result in a friendship between Texas and Uzbekistan.

Sincerely,
Ken
Natural gas. Electricity. Endless possibilities.

I want you to think about this. I published detailed information about the Bush family, the gas pipeline and American motives for maintaining the invasion of Afghanistan in Murder in Samarkand, along with information about the heroin trade, information I learnt first hand as British Ambassador in Uzbekistan. The book was a bestseller. I was invited to lecture at pretty well every major university you can mention worldwide, and at most of the big influential think tanks. Yet all this real story of the occupation of Afghanistan has virtually never been aired in the mainstream media, and these facts appear to be written out of history. They feature nowhere in the numerous discussions in the last 24 hours on the announcement of American withdrawal.

As a historian myself, I find the disconnect between the facts that really happened and what becomes the established narrative – and will be history – alarming. The extent to which we live in a propaganda construct in which received truth cannot always be trusted, is crystal clear to me now.

I very much hope that President Ghani and the Taliban will be able, without outside interference, to find a way to bring their devastated country together. I fear that the US, UK, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, India, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Russia and China will each continue to meddle in Afghan affairs in a way that will prove entirely debilitating. I had planned to journey to Kandahar in February to discuss the future with members of the Afghan community not aligned to the USA, whose view from the ground is almost never heard in the western world. I still intend to do that once Covid-19 restrictions allow.

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Politics Without Lying

It is hard to envisage politics without lying, nowadays. A world where politicians are honest about facts, actions and motives appears an impossible aspiration. In general, the electorate seem now to accept this lying as priced in. I don’t think that anybody now doubts that Boris Johnson shagging Jennifer Arcuri led him to send public money and access her way, but the English electorate in particular show no sign of caring enough to alter a voting intention. Mind-boggling sums on Covid-related contracts for mates, or the entire crooked premiss of the Greensill public finance scam, appear similarly to have no effect.

The BBC care so little they did not report Ms Arcuri’s confession at all, save for Ian Hislop referencing on Have I Got News For You that the BBC did not report it. But only on the extended, late night edit of that programme, that nobody watches.

It is not generally sensible to try to analyse the Loyalists of Northern Ireland using criteria that refer to the use of logic, rational thought or any empirical knowledge established since the eighteenth century. But the riots in Belfast reflect, at least in part, that it is still possible that some people get upset if lied to.

Boris Johnson could have stated “To have no hard border with the Republic of Ireland is paramount. Therefore Brexit will necessitate the imposition of certain border checks of a technical nature which will be necessary at the Irish Sea. These cover veterinary and phyto-sanitary declarations and that sort of guff. They are a nuisance but not serious, and in no way reduce our commitment to the Union. They will be more than compensated for by new transport infrastructure, political initiatives and Treasury grants to Northern Ireland”. That would at least have had the benefit of being, mostly, honest. We will never know if it would have caused a violent reaction from unionists. (The question of who attended which funeral may be a trigger event, but is not a cause).

But Johnson did not do this. Instead he simply lied. He lied to the loyalists of Northern Ireland saying that there would be no border checks at the Irish Sea, when plainly there would be. He lied to the European Union by trying not to implement the Protocol he had signed. He lied to the United States that the Good Friday Agreement was not impacted.

It is difficult for me to inhabit the mindset of a Northern Ireland loyalist; but if you are one, your allegiance to the British state is the most important factor in your life, besides immediate family considerations, and sometimes before them. To discover therefore that the British state which you worship has sold you out and told you a load of lies, must be disorienting. Particularly when you find that the truth is that the British government is much more worried about Northern Ireland’s links to Ireland than to the rest of the UK, and pretty relaxed about setting a path that is obviously – to everyone except, till now, you – leading to Irish reunification.

It must all be very horrible for loyalists who are abandoned by the state to which they wish to cling, and must feel their peculiar culture slowly dying. Hence the riots, which will make no difference.

Iain Macwhirter extrapolates from this situation to the English/Scottish border post-Independence. He is keen to point out that if Scotland is within the EU single market and England outside, there will have to be those non-tariff border restrictions and thus some border infrastructure and checks. That is undoubtedly true, but I am not quite sure why he thinks that is so terrifying. The loyalists in Belfast are not rioting because there is a practical shortage of quinoa and they are starving; they are rioting because of purely political dissociation.

Scotland will certainly need checks on the border with England; these will not be, as Macwhirter tries to make out, just “EU protectionism”, but are needed, to protect us against import from England of chlorine-washed chicken, genetically modified tomatoes, unsafe children’s toys, and whatever other delights the Tories promised bonfire of EU regulation will visit upon us.

Border controls are good.

I am normally a genuine fan of Macwhirter, but he makes the curious mistake of suggesting that Scotland after Independence would be in the same position as Northern Ireland now is, in relation to the UK and EU. Whereas of course Scotland would be in the same position that the Republic of Ireland now is, assuming it joined the EU or at least EFTA and the EEA. And there are no riots in Dublin. In fact, Brexit has brought to Ireland the advantage of more direct links to Europe bypassing England altogether, which have burgeoned at spectacular speed.

Precisely as Ireland has done, similar ferry routes for Scotland will massively mitigate any problems caused by what will be – and I happily shout it out – a very real border with England. What is alarming is that it is well within the powers of Holyrood to start work already on the necessary port infrastructure, but no planning on transport integration for Independent Scotland appears to be happening at all.

I have felt for fifty years that the A1 – incredibly still not even dual carriageway for much of its progress north of Newcastle – is the perfect symbol of lack of genuine enthusiasm for the union in the British body politic: as well we have the fact that no government has ever seriously considered a genuine high speed railway running from Inverness and Aberdeen to London, and onward through the Channel Tunnel. The UK now has less high speed rail than a substantial number of third world countries. The timidity of HS2, which may make it before I die to its ultimate goal of Leeds – just a quarter of the way north from London in the UK – shows that the union really does not deserve to survive.

Contrary to Macwhirter, I expect that Independence will in the event radically improve Scotland’s connectivity not just to the EU, but also to England. Even though we will have a border to keep out the dodgy stuff, and a good thing too.

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

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Covid-19 and Commonsense

I am planning to travel to Spain at the weekend to give evidence in the criminal case against UC Global for spying on Julian Assange and his visitors (including me) in the Ecuadorean Embassy. It has taken me six solid hours so far to try to work out the logistics of this. I shall travel via Schiphol and I need numerous covid forms and certificates for British, Dutch and Spanish authorities, for the airports and for the airlines. I also need a covid-19 negative PCR test before the flights in both directions, which must be timed at less than 72 hours before the flight and before arrival.

As the test results take up to 48 hours for me to receive and test slots are heavily booked, this makes timing very tricky, especially as I intend to be in Spain less than 72 hours. You end up with a very narrow window. One of the things I have been trying to work out is whether my test for the return flight has to be taken in Spain, or could be taken in the UK just before I leave, will still be within 72 hours of my return. Several phone calls to government helplines later, nobody seems to know the answer to that one.

But I have after several phone calls confirmed the answer to this next one, and it is ludicrous.

In returning to Scotland, if I fly direct to Edinburgh I have to enter a quarantine hotel for ten days at a cost of £1750. If however, I fly to Heathrow and then get the train to Edinburgh, I don’t have to enter a quarantine hotel and I can self isolate at home for nothing. If I come up on the train from Heathrow I would only have to enter the quarantine hotel if I had flown to England from a “red list” country, which Spain is not.

This even seems to be true if I exit immigration at Heathrow from Spain and then immediately check in again on a flight from Heathrow to Edinburgh, though if I had been checked straight through and not exited immigration at Heathrow, I would then have to go into the quarantine hotel as “arriving directly” in Scotland.

These daft rules have the full force of law, and fines of up to £10,000 for non-compliance. This nonsense is not the consequence of Scotland and England having different policies. It would still be possible for the Scottish government to have a logically consistent policy that is different. For example, they could decree that anyone flying direct into Scotland would have to enter a quarantine hotel and that anyone arriving in Scotland from England would have to enter a quarantine hotel who had been outside the Common Travel Area (England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland) in the past ten days.

As it is, the fact that the quarantine hotel is so easily evaded shows that there is no real seriousness of purpose behind the quarantine hotel scheme; it is purely a bit of security theatre, designed to give the impression the government is doing something and protecting us. I assume almost everyone traveling to Scotland from a non “red list” country just enters via England. As there is plainly no seriousness behind the quarantine hotels, I shall certainly do so.

I shall, however, take seriously the self-isolation at home obligation, from the point of view of protecting others. But it would be a very great deal better for virus protection if I could just move to self-isolation at home after the five mile trip between Edinburgh Airport and my home, rather than be forced into a 400 mile journey by public transport.

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

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

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Domestic Covid-19 Identity Documents Must Be Resisted

Discrimination against people on the grounds of their health status is not acceptable, while the ever increasing reach of the surveillance state is pernicious. The idea of people without Covid-19 antibodies being treated as second class citizens should be anathema to anybody with concern for human liberty.

It is improbable that Covid-19 will be eliminated from the world in the forseeable future. Like Spanish flu or Hong Kong flu, it will lurk around in the mix of seasonal infections for many years to come, hopefully, but not necessarily, like them becoming less severe through serial mutations. It appears likely that, as with flu, there may be a regular vaccination cycle.

Just now, England and Wales are in negative excess deaths. Less people are dying than normally do at this time of year, on a rolling average of the last five years. I presume Scotland will be similar, though I cannot immediately find current figures.

The number of people dying within 28 days of a covid diagnosis is down to approximately 300 a week in the entire UK, and has been steadily falling. How much of this fall is due to vaccination and how much due to lockdown is an open question. But it remains a stubborn and undeniable fact, much as some people do not like it said, that Covid-19 has never been a major threat to young and healthy people. Older people and those in vulnerable groups have in very large majority been at least partially vaccinated now. The odds of those in the unnvaccinated groups dying of covid are really very low indeed.

A medical member of the UK government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Innoculation stated on BBC News on Friday that the risk of mortality to a healthy person under 30 who caught coronavirus was 117,000. He was explaining that this is such a remote risk, that it was almost as remote as the chances of a serious side effect from the Astra Zeneca vaccine, and that was why the use of that vaccine in that age group was being suspended; not that the vaccine was dangerous to this age group, but that they didn’t need it enough to justify even a minuscule risk.

The point of vaccinating the healthy middle aged and under is not that Covid-19 is a serious risk of death to them; it is not. It is simply to break transmission. Now I have had my first shot of vaccine myself, and urge everyone to take their vaccine. I have expressed before my view that I believe that refusing to be vaccinated is an immoral position; it is to benefit from herd immunity while refusing to accept the very small personal risk from the vaccine itself. But I utterly reject the notion of compulsory vaccination or of penalising those who do not wish to vaccinated by limiting their lives. Health is a personal matter, and discrimination on the basis of health status cannot be correct, nor the revelation of details of health status to people other than medical professionals employed in care.

I have no problem with vaccine certificates for international travel, having carried them my entire adult life. But the idea of having to show intrusive personal identity and health status documents to prove who you are, and prove your antibody levels, before entering a pub or a theatre ought to be anathema to every right thinking person. It is like very poor dystopian science fiction.

If find the daily graphs of whole UK figures from from the Guardian is very helpful (the daily death figure is even lower than the average of about 40 this week because of weekend registration) .

Overall, it does not lie, although the left hand graph is massively distorted in its first months by the lack of testing availability. For most of the period, the relationship between all three graphs remains broadly constant. The glaring anomaly of daily cases in the first few months (the left hand graph) relates entirely to the fact testing was unavailable. It also accounts in very large part for the huge public hysteria over Covid-19. When it was only possible to get a test if you were approaching death’s door, a very high percentage of those with positive tests died. That this led large numbers of otherwise intelligent people to accept ludicrously exaggerated infection fatality rates for the disease, is something I struggled with a great deal.

We are probably many years away from there being a scientific consensus around the infection mortality rate of Covid-19, and indeed consensus may never emerge – there is still much debate over infection mortality rates from various types of flu. This letter published in the BMJ cites the Pastor-Barriuso study finding a median of 0.8% and Ioannidis finding 0.27%. What does appear true is that Covid-19 is particularly transmissible, so while it may not have an infection mortality rate very much greater than influenza, it does have the ability to kill a lot of people in a short space of time and overwhelm health services. There are also the effects of long covid, which appear still to be little understood.

I am genuinely unsure why it causes so much anger to state that those people who are non-geriatric and healthy are only at very slight risk of death from covid-19, when it is an undeniable fact. I feel confident that we have seen the end of mass deaths in the UK, because the at risk sectors of the population have been vaccinated, reducing their chances of getting seriously ill by 80%. So there may be something of a surge in cases following lockdowns, but it will not result in a matching increase in hospitalisations or deaths.

Covid-19 has been a genuine crisis which has killed a large number of people and played havoc with the lives of many others. But it too will pass and the worst of it has passed. It must not be allowed to become an excuse for permanent even higher levels of governmental intrusion and control. We are approaching normality again. Both power-drunk politicians and Stockholm syndrome populaces need to embrace the idea of normal. It is a great deal more pleasant.

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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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My Day With Prince Philip

Below is the story of my day touring Tema with Prince Philip, in this chapter from my book “The Catholic Orangemen of Togo”. You may be surprised to read that I rather liked him.

The African Queen

One morning I was sitting in the lounge at Devonshire House, with its fitted wool carpets and chintz sofas. I was drinking the tea that our steward, Nasser, had brought me. I heard movement in a corner of the room, and thought it must be Nasser cleaning there. But looking round, I saw nobody. Puzzled, I got up and walked towards that corner. Rounding a settee, I nearly stood upon a thin, green snake. About four feet long and just the thickness of your thumb, it was a bright, almost lime green colour. There was not much wedge shape to its head, which rather tapered from its neck. Its tongue was flickering toward me, perhaps a foot away, its head raised only slightly off the floor. I took a step backwards. In response it too retreated, at surprising speed, and zipped up the inside of the curtains.

I stood stock still and yelled “Nasser! Nasser!”
This brought Nasser hurrying into the living room with Gloria, the cook.
“Nasser, there’s a snake in the curtains!”
Nasser and Gloria screamed, threw their arms in the air, and ran together into the kitchen and out the back door of the house. This was not altogether helpful.

I remained where I was to keep an eye on the snake, not wanting it to be lurking inside the house unseen. After a while the front door opened and somebody, presumably Nasser, threw in Nasser’s scruffy little dog. The dog was normally banned from the house, and celebrated this unexpected turn of events by immediately urinating against the hall table. Then the dog too ran into the kitchen and out of the back door.

Abandoning my watch, I went out and recruited the reluctant gardeners and gate guards. They armed themselves with long sticks and came in and beat the curtains until the snake fell onto the floor. As it sped for cover under a sofa, Samuel the youngest gardener got in a solid blow, and soon everyone was joining in, raining down blows on the twitching snake. They carried its disjointed body out on the end of a stick, and burnt it on a bonfire.

Everyone identified it as a green mamba. I was sceptical. Green mambas are among the world’s deadliest snakes, and I imagined them to look beefy like cobras, not whip thin and small headed like this. But a search on the agonisingly slow internet showed that indeed it did look very like a green mamba.

The important question arose of how it had entered the house. With air conditioning, the doors and windows were usually shut. Nasser seemed to have solved the mystery when he remarked that a dead one had been found last year inside an air conditioner. The unit had stopped working, and when they came to fix it they found a snake jammed in the mechanism. That seemed the answer; it had appeared just under a conditioner, and it seemed likely the slim snake had entered via the vent pipe, avoiding the fan as it crawled through the unit.

This was very worrying. If anti-venom was available (and we held a variety in the High Commission) an adult would probably survive a green mamba bite. But it would almost certainly be fatal to Emily, and possibly to Jamie.

A week or so later, I was constructing Emily’s climbing frame, which had arrived from the UK. A rambling contraption of rungs, slides, platforms and trampolines, it required the bolting together of scores of chrome tubes. I was making good progress on it and, as I lifted one walkway side into position above my head, a mamba slid out of the end of the tube, down my arm, round my belly and down my leg. It did this in no great hurry; it probably took four seconds, but felt like four minutes.

There was one terrible moment when it tried an exploratory nuzzle of its head into the waistband of my trousers, but luckily it decided to proceed down the outside to the ground. It then zig zagged across the lawn to nestle in the exposed tops of the roots of a great avocado tree. Again the mob arrived and beat it to death with sticks. I persuaded them to keep the body this time, and decided that definite action was needed.

I called in a pest control expert. I was advised to try the “Snake Doctor”. I was a bit sceptical, equating “Snake Doctor” with “Witch Doctor”, but when he arrived I discovered that this charming chubby Ghanaian really did have a PhD in Pest Control from the University of Reading. As Fiona had an MSc in Crop Protection from the same Department, they got on like a house on fire and it was difficult to get them away from cups of tea to the business in hand.

He confirmed that the dead snake really was a green mamba. We obviously had a colony. They lived in trees, and he advised us to clear an area of wasteland beyond the boundaries of our house, and build a high boundary wall of rough brick at the back, rather than the existing iron palings. He also suggested we cut down an avenue of some 16 huge mature trees along the drive. I was very sad, but followed this sensible advice. That removed the mamba problem from Devonshire House. But I continued to attract mambas on my travels around Ghana.

The second half of that first year in Ghana was to be almost entirely taken up with preparations for the State Visit of the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh in November 1999. A huge amount of work goes into organising such a visit; every move is staged and choreographed, designed for media effect. You need to know in advance just where everybody is going to be, who will move where when, and what they will say. You need to place and organise the media to best advantage. You need to stick within very strict rules as to what the Queen will or will not do. Most difficult of all, you have to agree all this with the host government.

I had been through it all quite recently, having paid a major part in the organisation of the State Visit to Poland in 1996. That had gone very well. The Poles regarded it as an important symbol that communism had been definitively finished. It was visually stunning, and at a time when the Royal Family was dogged with hostile media coverage, it had been their first unmixed positive coverage in the UK for ages. I had handled the media angles, and my stock stood very high in the Palace.

I am a republican personally; I was just doing my job. The Palace staff knew I was a republican, not least because I had turned down the offer of being made a Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order (LVO) after the Warsaw visit. I had earlier turned down the offer to be an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) after the first Gulf war.

Rawlings was delighted that the Queen was coming. He craved respectability and acceptance in the international community, which had been hard to come by after his violent beginnings. But he had turned his Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) into a political party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), and had fought elections in 1992 and 1996 against the opposition New Patriotic Party, which had an unbroken tradition running back to Nkrumah’s opponent J B Danquah and his colleague Kofi Busia. There were widespread allegations of vote-rigging, violence and intimidation, and certainly in 1992 the nation was still too cowed to engage in much open debate.

Even by 1999, social life was still inhibited by the fact that nobody except those close to the Rawlings would do anything that might be construed as an ostentatious display of life, while Rawlings had sustained and inflated the personality cult of Nkrumah still further (he is known as Osagyefo, “the conqueror”.) Open discussion of the disasters Nkrumah brought upon Ghana was almost impossible. It is still difficult for many Ghanaians today, after decades of brainwashing. As Rawlings had gradually liberalised society, the increasing freedom of the media, particularly the FM radio station, was giving a great boost to democracy. But there was still much prudent self-censorship. The media was particularly reticent about investigating governmental corruption.

The NDC government was massively corrupt. There was one gratuitous example which especially annoyed me. A company called International Generics, registered in Southampton, had got loans totalling over £30 million from the Royal Bank of Scotland to construct two hotels, La Palm and Coco Palm. One was on the beach next to the Labadi Beach Hotel, the other on Fourth Circular Road in Cantonments, on the site of the former Star Hotel. The loan repayments were guaranteed by the Export Credit Guarantee Department, at the time a British government agency designed to insure UK exporters against loss. In effect the British taxpayer was underwriting the export, and if the loan defaulted the British taxpayer would pay.

In fact, this is what happened, and the file crossed my desk because the British people were now paying out on defaulted payments to the Royal Bank of Scotland. So I went to look at the two hotels. I found La Palm Hotel was some cleared land, some concrete foundations, and one eight room chalet without a roof. Coco Palm hotel didn’t exist at all. In a corner of the plot, four houses had been built by International Generics. As the housing market in Accra was very strong, these had been pre-sold, so none of the loan had gone into them.

I was astonished. The papers clearly showed that all £31.5 million had been fully disbursed by the Royal Bank of Scotland, against progress and completion certificates on the construction. But in truth there was virtually no construction. How could this have happened?

The Chief Executive of International Generics was an Israeli named Leon Tamman. He was a close friend to, and a front for, Mrs Rawlings. Tamman also had an architect’s firm, which had been signing off completion certificates for the non-existent work on the hotel. Almost all of the £30 million was simply stolen by Tamman and Mrs Rawlings.

The Royal Bank of Scotland had plainly failed in due diligence, having paid out on completion of two buildings, one not started and one only just started. But the Royal Bank of Scotland really couldn’t give a toss, because the repayments and interest were guaranteed by the British taxpayer. Indeed I seemed to be the only one who did care.

The Rawlings had put some of their share of this looted money towards payments on their beautiful home in Dublin. I wrote reports on all this back to London, and specifically urged the Serious Fraud Office to prosecute Tamman and Mrs Rawlings. I received the reply that there was no “appetite” in London for this.

Eventually La Palm did get built, but with over $60 million of new money taken this time from SSNIT, the Ghanaian taxpayers social security and pension fund. Coco Palm never did get built, but Tamman continued to develop it as a housing estate, using another company vehicle. Tamman has since died. The loans were definitively written off by the British government as part of Gordon Brown’s HIPC debt relief initiative.

That is but one example of a single scam, but it gives an insight into the way the country was looted. The unusual feature on this one was that the clever Mr Tamman found a way to cheat the British taxpayer, via Ghana. I still find it galling that the Royal Bank of Scotland also still got their profit, again from the British taxpayer.

So while the State Visit was intended as a reward to Jerry Rawlings for his conversion to democracy and capitalism, I had no illusions about Rawlings’ Ghana. I was determined that we should use the Queen’s visit to help ensure that Rawlings did indeed leave power in January 2001. According to the constitution, his second and final four year term as elected President expired then (if you politely ignored his previous decade as a military dictator). We should get the Queen to point him towards the exit.

Buckingham palace sent a team on an initial reconnaissance visit. It was led by an old friend of mine, Tim Hitchens, Assistant Private Secretary to the Queen, who had joined the FCO when I did. We identified the key features of the programme, which should centre around an address to Parliament. A walkabout might be difficult; Clinton had been almost crushed in Accra by an over-friendly crowd in a situation which got out of control. A school visit to highlight DFID’s work would provide the “meet the people” photo op, otherwise a drive past for the larger crowds. Key questions were identified as whether the Queen should visit Kumasi to meet Ghana’s most important traditional ruler, the Asantehene, and how she should meet the leader of the opposition, John Kufuor. Rawlings was likely to be opposed to both.

The recce visit went very well, and I held a reception for the team before they flew back to London. Several Ghanaian ministers came, and it ended in a very relaxed evening. Tim Hitchens commented that it was the first time he had ever heard Queen and Supertramp at an official function before. It turned out that we had very similar musical tastes.

Planning then took place at quite high intensity for several months. There were regular meetings with the Ghanaian government team tasked to organise the visit, headed by head of their diplomatic service Anand Cato, now Ghanaian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. We then had to visit together all the proposed venues, and walk through the proposed routes, order of events, seating plans etc.

From the very first meeting between the two sides, held in a committee room at the International Conference Centre, it soon became obvious that we had a real problem with Ian Mackley. The High Commissioner had been very high-handed and abrupt with the visiting team from Buckingham Palace, so much so that Tim Hitchens had asked me what was wrong. I said it was just his manner. But there was more to it than that.

In the planning meetings, the set-up did not help the atmosphere. There were two lines of desks, facing each other. The British sat on one side and the Ghanaians on the other, facing each other across a wide divide. The whole dynamic was one of confrontation.

I have sat through some toe-curling meetings before, but that first joint State visit planning meeting in Accra was the worst. It started in friendly enough fashion, with greetings on each side. Then Anand Cato suggested we start with a quick run-through of the programme, from start to finish.
“OK, now will the Queen be arriving by British Airways or by private jet?” asked Anand.
“She will be on one of the VC10s of the Royal Flight” said Ian.
“Right, that’s better. The plane can pull up to the stand closest to the VIP lounge. We will have the convoy of vehicles ready on the tarmac. The stairs will be put to the door, and then the chief of protocol will go up the stairs to escort the Queen and her party down the stairs, where there will be a small reception party…”
“No, hang on there” interjected Ian Mackley, “I will go up the stairs before the chief of protocol.”
“Well, it is customary for the Ambassador or High Commissioner to be in the receiving line at the bottom of the aircraft steps.”
“Well, I can tell you for sure that the first person the Queen will want to see when she arrives in the country will be her High Commissioner.”
“Well, I suppose you can accompany the chief up the steps if you wish…”
“And my wife.”
“Pardon?”
“My wife Sarah. She must accompany me up the steps to meet the Queen.”
“Look, it really isn’t practical to have that many people going on to an already crowded plane where people are preparing to get off…”
“I am sorry, but I must insist that Sarah accompanies me up the stairs and on to the plane.”
“But couldn’t she wait at the bottom of the steps?”
“Absolutely not. How could she stand there without me?”
“OK, well can we then mark down the question of greeting on the plane as an unresolved issue for the next meeting?”
“Alright, but our side insists that my wife…”
“Yes, quite. Now at the bottom of the steps Her Majesty will be greeted by the delegated minister, and presented with flowers by children.”
“Please make sure we are consulted on the choice of children.”
“If you wish. There will be national anthems, but I suggest no formal inspection of the Guard of Honour? Then traditional priests will briefly make ritual oblations, pouring spirits on the ground. The Queen will briefly enter the VIP lounge to take a drink.”
“That’s a waste of time. Let’s get them straight into the convoy and off.”
“But High Commissioner, we have to welcome a visitor with a drink. It is an essential part of our tradition. It will only be very brief.”
“You can do what you like, but she’s not entering the VIP lounge. Waste of time.”
“Let’s mark that down as another issue to be resolved. Now then, first journey…”

The meeting went on for hours and hours, becoming increasingly ill tempered. When we eventually got to the plans for the State Banquet, it all went spectacularly pear-shaped as it had been threatening to do.
“Now we propose a top table of eight. There will be the President and Mrs Rawlings, Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh, The Vice President and Mrs Mills, and Mr and Mrs Robin Cook.”
Ian positively went purple. You could see a vein throbbing at the top left of his forehead. He spoke as though short of breath.
“That is not acceptable. Sarah and I must be at the top table”.
“With respect High Commissioner, there are a great many Ghanaians who will feel they should be at the top table. As we are in Ghana, we feel we are being hospitable in offering equal numbers of British and Ghanaians at the top table. But we also think the best plan is to keep the top table small and exclusive.”
“By all means keep it small,” said Ian, “but as High Commissioner I must be on it.”
“So what do you suggest?” asked Anand.
“Robin Cook” said Ian “He doesn’t need to be on the top table.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Neither could Anand.
“I don’t think you are being serious, High Commissioner” he said.
“I am entirely serious” said Ian. “I outrank Robin Cook. I am the personal representative of a Head of State. Robin Cook only represents the government.”

I decided the man had taken leave of his senses. I wondered at what stage can you declare your commanding officer mad and take over, like on The Cain Mutiny? Anand was obviously thinking much the same.
“Perhaps I might suggest you seek instruction from headquarters on that one?” he asked. “Anyway, can we note that down as another outstanding item, and move on to…”
I don’t know whether Ian secretly realised he had overstepped the mark, but he didn’t come to another planning meeting after that, leaving them to me and the very competent Second Secretary Mike Nithavrianakis.

The most difficult question of all was that of meeting the opposition. Eventually we got the agreement of Buckingham Palace and the FCO to say that, if the Queen were prevented from meeting the opposition, she wouldn’t come. But still the most we could get from Rawlings was that the leader of the opposition could be included in a reception for several hundred people at the International Conference Centre.

I had by now made good personal friends with several Ghanaian politicians. Among those who I could have a social drink with any time were, on the government side John Mahama, Minister of Information and Moses Asaga, Deputy Finance Minister, and on the opposition side John Kufuor, leader of the opposition, his colleagues Hackman Owusu-Agyemang, Shadow Foreign Minister, and Nana Akuffo-Addo, Shadow Attorney General.

In the International Conference Centre the precise route the Queen would take around the crowd was very carefully planned, so I was able to brief John Kufuor exactly where to stand to meet her, and brief the Queen to be sure to stop and chat with him. As he was the tallest man in the crowd, this was all not too difficult.

Once the Queen arrived and the visit started, everything happened in a three day blur of intense activity. Vast crowds turned out, and the Palace staff soon calmed down as they realised that the Queen could expect an uncomplicated and old fashioned reverence from the teeming crowds who were turning out to see “Our Mama”.

The durbar of chiefs in front of Parliament House was a riot of colour and noise. One by one the great chiefs came past, carried on their palanquins, preceded by their entourage, drummers banging away ferociously and the chiefs, laden down with gold necklaces and bangles, struggled to perform their energetic seated dances. Many of the hefty dancing women wore the cloth that had been created for the occasion, with a picture of the Queen jiggling about on one large breast in partnership with Jerry Rawlings jiving on the other, the same pairing being also displayed on the buttocks.

After the last of the chiefs went through, the tens of thousands of spectators started to mill everywhere and we had to race for the Royal convoy to get out through the crowds. Robin Cook had stopped to give an ad hoc interview to an extremely pretty South African television reporter. Mike Nithavrianakis tried to hurry him along but got a fierce glare for his pains. Eventually everyone was in their cars but Cook; the Ghanaian outriders were itching to start as the crowds ahead and around got ever denser.

But where was Cook? We delayed, with the Queen sitting in her car for two or three minutes, but still there was no sign of the Secretary of State or his staff getting into their vehicle. Eventually the outriders swept off; the crowds closed in behind and we had abandoned our dilettante Foreign Secretary. Having lost the protection of the convoy and being caught up in the crowds and traffic, it took him an hour to catch up.

Cook was an enigma. I had already experienced his famous lack of both punctuality and consideration when kept waiting to see him over the Sandline Affair. His behaviour now seemed to combine an attractive contempt for protocol with a goat-like tendency – would he have fallen behind to give a very bland interview to a male South African reporter? He was also breaking the tradition that the Foreign Secretary does not make media comments when accompanying the Queen.

When we returned to the Labadi Beach Hotel, there was to be further evidence of Cook’s view that the World revolved around him. He was interviewing FCO staff for the position of his new Private Secretary. Astonishingly, he had decided that it would best suit his itinerary to hold these interviews in Accra rather than London. One candidate, Ros Marsden, had an extremely busy job as Head of United Nations Department. Yet she had to give up three days work to fly to be interviewed in Accra, when her office was just round the corner from his in London. Other candidates from posts around the World had difficult journeys to complete to get to Accra at all. I thought this rather outrageous of Cook, and was surprised nobody else seemed much concerned.

The port town of Tema, linked to Accra by fifteen miles of motorway and fast becoming part of a single extensive metropolis, sits firmly on the Greenwich Meridian. As far as land goes, Tema is the centre of the Earth, being the closest dry spot to the junction of the Equator and the Greenwich Meridian. You can travel South from Tema over 6,000 miles across sea until you hit the Antarctic.

There was in 1999 a particular vogue for linking the Greenwich Meridian with the Millennium. This was because of the role of the meridian in determining not just longitude but time. Of course, the two are inextricably linked with time initially used to calculate longitude. That is why Greenwich hosted both the Naval Academy and the Royal Observatory.

The fascination with all this had several manifestations. There was a BBC documentary travelogue down the Greenwich meridian. There was a best-selling book about the invention of naval chronometers, Longitude by Dava Sobel, which I read and was as interesting as a book about making clocks can be. There were a number of aid projects down the meridian, including by War Child and Comic Relief. Tema and Greenwich became twin towns. And there was the visit of the Duke of Edinburgh to Tema.

I think this was the idea of my very good friend John Carmichael, who was involved in charity work on several of the meridian projects. It was thought particularly appropriate as one of the Duke of Edinburgh’s titles is Earl of Greenwich – though the man has so many titles you could come up with some connection to pretty well anywhere. We could make it a new game, like six degrees of separation. Connect your home town to the Duke of Edinburgh.

Anyway, Tim Hitchens had warned me that the Duke was very much averse to just looking at things without any useful purpose. As we stood looking at the strip of brass laid in a churchyard which marks the line of the meridian, he turned to me and said:
“A line in the ground, eh? Very nice.”

But we moved on to see a computer centre that had been set up by a charity to give local people experience of IT and the internet (providing both electricity and phone lines were working, which thank goodness they were today) and the Duke visibly cheered up. He was much happier talking to the instructors and students, and then when we went on to a primary school that had received books from DFID he was positively beaming. The genuinely warm reception everywhere, with happy gaggles of people of all ages cheerfully waving their little plastic union jacks, would have charmed anybody.

We returned to Accra via the coast road and I was able to point out the work of the Ghanaian coffin makers, with coffins shaped and painted as tractors, beer bottles, guitars, desks, cars and even a packet of condoms. The Prince laughed heartily, and we arrived at the Parliament building in high good spirits.
There he was first shown to a committee room where he was introduced to senior MPs of all parties.
“How many Members of Parliament do you have?” he asked.
“Two hundred” came the answer.
“That’s about the right number,” opined the Prince, “We have six hundred and fifty MPs, and most of them are a complete bloody waste of time.”

The irony was that there was no British journalist present to hear this, as they had all thought a meeting between Prince Philip and Ghanaian parliamentarians would be too boring. There were Ghanaian reporters present, but the exchange didn’t particularly interest them. So a front page tabloid remark, with which the accompanying photo could have made a paparazzi a lot of money, went completely unreported.

On a State Visit, the media cannot each be at every occasion, as security controls mean they have to be pre-positioned rather than milling about while the event goes ahead. So by agreement, those reporters and photographers accredited to the visit share or pool their photos and copy. At each event there is a stand, or pool. Some events may have more than one pool to give different angles. Each journalist can probably make five or six pools in the course of the visit, leapfrogging ahead of the royal progress. But everyone gets access to material from all the pools. The FCO lays on the transport to keep things under control. Organising the pool positions ahead of the event with the host country, and then herding and policing the often pushy media in them, is a major organisational task. Mike Nithavrianakis had carried it off with style and only the occasional failure of humour. But he had found no takers for Prince Philip in parliament, which proved to be fortunate for us.

I should say that I found Prince Philip entirely pleasant while spending most of this day with him. I am against the monarchy, but it was not created by the Queen or Prince Philip. Just as Colonel Isaac of the RUF was a victim of the circumstances into which he was born, so are they. Had I been born into a life of great privilege, I would probably have turned out a much more horrible person than they are.

Prince Philip then joined the Queen in the parliamentary chamber. Her address to parliament was to be the focal point of the visit. I had contributed to the drafting of her speech, and put a lot of work into it. The speech was only six minutes long (she never speaks longer than that, except at the State Opening of Parliament. Her staff made plain that six minutes was an absolute maximum.) It contained much of the usual guff about the history of our nations and the importance of a new future based upon partnership. But then she addressed Rawlings directly, praising his achievements in bringing Ghana on to the path of democracy and economic stability. The government benches in parliament provided an undercurrent of parliamentary “hear hears”.

But there was to be a sting in the tale:
“Next, year, Mr President,” the Queen intoned, “You will step down after two terms in office in accordance with your constitution.”
The opposition benches went wild. The Queen went on to wish for peaceful elections and further progress, but it was drowned out by the cries of “hear hear” and swishing of order papers from the benches, and loud cheers from the public gallery. There were mooted cries of “No” from the government side of the chamber.

I had drafted that phrase, and it had a much greater effect than I possibly hoped for, although I did mean it to drive home the message exactly as it was taken.

For a moment the Queen stopped. She looked in bewilderment and concern at the hullabaloo all around her. The Queen has no experience of speaking to anything other than a hushed, respectful silence. But, apart from some grim faces on the government benches, it was a joyful hullabaloo and she ploughed on the short distance to the end of her speech.

Once we got back to the Labadi Beach Hotel, Robin Cook was completely furious. He stormed into the makeshift Private Office, set up in two hotel rooms.
“It’s a disaster. Who the Hell drafted that?”
“Err, I did, Secretary of State” I said.
“Is that you, Mr Murray! I might have guessed! Who the Hell approved it.”
“You did.”
“I most certainly did not!”
“Yes you did, Secretary of State. You agreed the final draft last night.”

His Private Secretary had to dig out the copy of the draft he had signed off. He calmed down a little, and was placated further when the Queen’s robust press secretary, Geoff Crawford, said that he took the view that it was a good thing for the Queen to be seen to be standing up for democracy. It could only look good in the UK press. He proved to be right.

The State Banquet was a rather dull affair. Ian Mackley’s great battle to be on the top table proved rather nugatory as, in very Ghanaian fashion, nobody stayed in their seat very long and people were wandering all over the shop. There were a large number of empty seats as, faced with an invitation to dinner at 7.30pm, many Ghanaians followed their customary practice and wandered along an hour or so late, only to find they would not be admitted. This caused a huge amount of angst and aggravation, from which those of us inside were fortunately sheltered.

Mrs Rawlings had chosen a well known Accra nightclub owner named Chester to be the compère for the occasion. His bar is a relaxed spot in a small courtyard that features good jazz and highlife music, and prostitutes dressed as Tina Turner. It was a second home for the officers of the British Military Advisory and Training Team (BMATT).

Chester himself was friendly and amusing, but amusing in a Julian Clary meets Kenneth Williams meets Liberace sort of way. Chester says he is not gay, (regrettably homosexuality is illegal in Ghana) but his presentation is undeniably ultra camp. It is hard to think of a weirder choice to chair a state banquet, but Chester was a particular pet of Mrs Rawlings.

Chester was stood on the platform next to the Queen, gushing about how honoured he was. His speech was actually very witty, but the delivery was – well, Chester. I turned to Prince Philip and remarked:
“You know, I don’t think I’ve ever seen two Queens together before.”
To give credit to Chester, I gather he has been telling the story ever since.

High camp was to be a theme of that evening.

Fiona and I accompanied the Royal party back to the Labadi Beach Hotel to say goodnight, after which Fiona returned home to Devonshire House while I remained for a debriefing on the day and review of the plans for tomorrow. By the time we had finished all that it was still only 11pm and I retired to the bar of the Labadi Beach with the Royal Household. The senior staff – Tim and Geoff – withdrew as is the custom, to allow the butlers, footmen, hairdressers and others to let off steam.

The party appeared, to a man, to be gay. Not just gay but outrageously camp. The Labadi Beach, with its fans whirring under polished dark wood ceilings, its panelled bar, displays of orchids, attentive uniformed staff and glossy grand piano – has the aura of a bygone colonial age, like something from Kenya’s Happy Valley in the 1930s. You expect to see Noel Coward emerge in his smoking jacket and sit down at the piano, smoking through a mother of pearl cigarette holder. It is exactly the right setting for a gay romp, and that is exactly what developed after a few of the Labadi Beach’s wonderful tropical cocktails.

We had taken the entire hotel for the Royal party, except that we had allowed the British Airways crew to stay there as always. Now three of their cabin stewards, with two Royal footmen and the Queen’s hairdresser, were grouped around the grand singing Cabaret with even more gusto than Liza. Other staff were smooching at the bar. All this had developed within half an hour in a really magical and celebratory atmosphere that seemed to spring from nothing. I was seated on a comfortable sofa, and across from me in an armchair was the one member of the Household who seemed out of place. The Duke of Edinburgh’s valet looked to be in his sixties, a grizzled old NCO with tufts of hair either side of a bald pate, a boxer’s nose and tattoos on his arms. He was smoking roll-ups.

He was a nice old boy and we had been struggling to hold a conversation about Ghana over the din, when two blokes chasing each other ran up to the settee on which I was sitting. One, pretending to be caught, draped himself over the end and said: “You’ve caught me, you beast!”
I turned back to the old warrior and asked:
“Don’t you find all this a bit strange sometimes?”
He lent forward and put his hand on my bare knee below my kilt:
“Listen, ducks. I was in the Navy for thirty years.”

So I made my excuses and left, as the News of the World journalists used to put it. I think he was probably joking, but there are some things that are too weird even for me, and the lower reaches of the Royal household are one of them. I have heard it suggested that such posts have been filled by gays for centuries, just as harems were staffed by eunuchs, to avoid the danger of a Queen being impregnated. Recently I have been most amused by news items regarding the death of the Queen Mother’s long-standing footman, who the newsreaders have been informing us was fondly known as “Backstairs Billy”. They manage to say this without giving the slightest hint that they know it is a double entendre.

The incident in parliament had made the Rawlings government even more annoyed about the proposed handshake in the International Conference Centre reception between the Queen and John Kufuor. My own relationship with Ian Mackley had also deteriorated still further as a result of the Royal Visit. I had the advantage that I already knew from previous jobs the palace officials and Robin Cook’s officials, and of course Robin Cook himself, not to mention the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh. All in all, I suspect that Ian felt that I was getting well above myself.

As the party formed up to walk around the reception in the International Conference Centre, Ian came up to me and grabbed my arm rather fiercely.
“You, just stay with the Queen’s bodyguards” he said.
I did not mind at all, and attached myself to another Ian, the head of the Queen’s close protection team. I already knew Ian also. Ian set off towards the hall and started ensuring a path was clear for the Queen, I alongside him as ordered. Suddenly I heard Sarah Mackley positively squeal from somewhere behind me:
“My God, he’s ahead of the Queen! Now Craig’s ahead of the Queen.”
If I could hear it, at least forty other people could. I managed to make myself as invisible as possible, and still to accomplish the introduction to John Kufuor. The government newspaper the Daily Graphic was to claim indignantly that I had introduced John Kufuor as “The next President of Ghana.” Had I done so, I would have been in the event correct in my prediction, but in fact I introduced him as “The opposition Presidential candidate”.

As always, the Queen’s last engagement on the State Visit was to say farewell to all the staff who had helped. She gives out gifts, and confers membership of the Royal Victorian Order on those deemed to merit it. Only once in the Queen’s long reign had she ever been on a state visit and not created our Ambassador or High Commissioner a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order – that is to say, knighted him. Ian and Sarah were to become Sir Ian and Lady Sarah. This seemed to me to mean the world to them.

The day before, Tim Hitchens had turned to me as we were travelling in the car:
“Craig, I take it your views on honours have not changed.”
“No, Tim, I still don’t want any.”
“Good, you see that makes it a bit easier, actually. You see, the thing is, we’re trying to cut down a bit on giving out routine honours. The government wants a more meritocratic honours system. We need to start somewhere. So, in short, Ian Mackley is not going to get his K.”
I was stunned.
Tim continued: “And as well, you see, it hasn’t exactly escaped our attention that he has … issues with the Ghanaians, and some of his attitudes didn’t exactly help the visit. Anyway, if you were to want your CVO, then that would be more difficult. Ian Mackley is going to have one of those. So that will be alright.”

No, it won’t be alright, I thought. You’ll kill the poor old bastard. For God’s sake, everyone will know.

I wondered when the decision had been taken. The kneeling stool and the ceremonial sword had definitely been unloaded from the plane and taken to the hotel: that was one of the things I had checked off. When had that decision been reached?

We were lined up in reverse order of seniority to go in and see the Queen and Prince Philip. I queued behind the Defence Attaché, with Ian and Sarah just behind me. She was entering as well – nobody else’s wife was – because she was expecting to become Lady Mackley. Tim was going to tell them quickly after I had entered, while they would be alone still waiting to go in.

You may not believe me, but I felt completely gutted for them. It was the very fact they were so status obsessed that made it so cruel. I was thinking about what Tim was saying to them and how they would react. It seemed terribly cruel that they had not been warned until the very moment before they were due to meet the Queen. I was so worried for them that I really had less than half my mind on exchanging pleasantries with the Queen, who was very pleasant, as always.

If you refused honours, as I always did, you got compensated by getting a slightly better present. In Warsaw I was given a silver Armada dish, which is useful for keeping your Armada in. In Accra I was given a small piece of furniture made with exquisite craftsmanship by Viscount Linley. Shelving my doubts about the patronage aspect of that (should the Queen be purchasing with public money official gifts made by her cousin?) I staggered out holding rather a large red box, leaving through the opposite side of the room to that I had entered. Outside the door I joined the happy throng of people clutching their presents and minor
medals. Mike Nithavrianakis and Brian Cope were Ian Mackley’s friends, and they were waiting eagerly for him.
“Here’s Craig” said Mike, “Now it’s only Sir Ian and Lady Sarah!”
“No, it’s not, Mike”, I said, “He’s not getting a K”
“What! You’re kidding!”
It had suddenly fallen very silent.
“Ian’s not getting a K, he’s only getting a CVO.”
“Oh, that’s terrible.”
We waited now in silence. Very quickly the door opened again, and the Mackleys came out, Ian with a frozen grin, Sarah a hysterical one beneath the white large-brimmed hat that suddenly looked so ridiculous. There was a smattering of applause, and Sarah fell to hugging everyone, even me. We all congratulated Ian on his CVO, and nobody ever mentioned that there had been any possibility of a knighthood, then or ever.

Personally I don’t understand why anyone accepts honours when there is so much more cachet in refusing them.

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

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

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The Game Has Changed

If both Theresa May and Boris Johnson had not refused formal requests for a S30 agreement for an Independence referendum, Scotland would already be independent. Alex Salmond was absolutely right yesterday to insist that other paths of democratic legitimacy are open to Scotland, as a referendum is being unreasonably refused. The start of such alternative pathways is this very election and the chance to vote for Alba and demonstrate commitment to this view.

Indeed, the tactical stupidity of the SNP, in accepting in terms that Westminster has a veto, cannot be overstated. To accept a Westminster veto is logically incompatible with the claim to be a people with the right of self-determination under the UN charter. It thus undermines the argument we need to make to the international community to be recognised as a state. The notion that the Tories will give way and grant an S30, for a referendum they know they will lose, is entirely fanciful. I find it remarkable that some people purport to believe that London will relinquish Scotland’s resources without a tremendous struggle and in the spirit of fair play.

Here is Alex Salmond’s speech yesterday, on the anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath, setting out alternative routes to Independence. You will see no fair reflection of this in mainstream media, so I am unapologetic about hosting it on my blog. Alex starts talking about seven minutes in.

Salmond’s key proposition is that immediately after these elections, the Scottish government should open Independence negotiations with Westminster as a result of an electoral mandate of a pro-Independence majority. He continues:

A standing Independence Convention can then be established, drawn from all of Scotland’s elected representatives, to give support and substance to the Scottish Government’s independence negotiating position.

A section 30 referendum could be part of that, as could a plebiscite, or another democratic test, as could domestic legal action or international and diplomatic initiatives, as could peaceful and popular demonstration.

The tactics will inevitably evolve with the negotiations but the strategy is to make the achievement of Independence a real and overriding priority.
Be clear- if we don’t make it ours, Boris Johnson certainly won’t make it his.

This is precisely the energy and determination which has been needed in the push for Independence and which has been so sadly lacking.

I would add that I have never held that the 2014 referendum was fair. A truly astonishing level of media bias, particularly from the state broadcaster, made a fair vote impossible. I maintain that Gavin Esler’s massive BBC News puff piece for the entirely fake “Vote No Borders” organisation was as bad as any “journalism” I have ever witnessed, anywhere in the world. If you have never seen it, do watch this great documentary by Alan Knight, which documents numerous examples of BBC bias in the campaign.

So I utterly reject the notion that the 2014 referendum was a free and fair expression of the will of the people of Scotland. Any replication of that referendum would need to be very different, with official international monitors to oversee issues like media bias and the security of postal ballots.

Let me finish with the Declaration put forward by Alex Salmond yesterday:

A NEW DECLARATION FOR SCOTLAND

“We hereby proclaim the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of Government best suited to their needs, and declare and pledge that in all our actions their interests shall be paramount.

We further declare and pledge that our deliberations shall be directed to the following ends:

To assert the sovereign right of the Scottish people acting through their Parliament to secure independence.

To mobilise Scottish and international opinion to ensure that this right is respected and acted upon.

“For in truth it is not glory, or riches, or honours for which we are fighting but for liberty – for that alone, which no honest person gives up but with life itself”

Delivered by ALBA this 6th day of April 2021”

—————————————————–

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

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

Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

Choose subscription amount from dropdown box:

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Alternatively by bank transfer or standing order:

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

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The Strange Convulsion in Scottish Politics

On 24 March, two of the SNP MP’s most closely aligned to Nicola Sturgeon, Stewart MacDonald and Alyn Smith, asked for a meeting with the British internal security service MI5 to discuss cooperation against Russia. MI5 is the agency charged with countering perceived internal threats to the UK state; Scottish nationalists, environmentalists and anti-nuclear campaigners are among MI5’s major targets. Until a few years ago, the vast majority of Scottish Independence supporters would have regarded MI5 as a particularly egregious manifestation of their traditional enemy, the British state. Yet here was the SNP officially – MacDonald and Smith are the party’s Westminster defence and foreign affairs spokesmen – calling for cooperation with MI5.

To add to this extraordinary volte-face, there is no doubt that what lay behind MacDonald and Smith’s move was a desire to activate MI5 more openly against Scottish Independence supporters. Not only are they referencing Alex Salmond’s programme on RT and Tommy Sheridan’s spot for Sputnik, both Smith and MacDonald have been heavily involved in the long-term campaign to vilify online Independence activists and bloggers as Russian agents.

This is from the author of the above article, David Leask’s briefing to the secret UK government funded propaganda programme, the Integrity Initiative (emphasis in original):

For me and a great many other Scottish nationalists, our opponent is the British state. Why Russia should be viewed as the enemy of an Independent Scotland, just because it is in foreign policy opposition to the state whose imperial rule we are trying to leave, is not plain to us. Indeed, a different and more pacific foreign policy is a key benefit many of us see from leaving the UK. MacDonald and Smith – and there is no doubt they are licensed by Sturgeon, who put them in these positions – have no wish to challenge the UK’s role as a reliable, neo-con foreign policy satrap of the USA. They even put out a defence paper espousing multilateralism rather than the traditional SNP policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament, to remarkably little adverse reaction.

On the annual UN International Day of Solidarity With Palestine I noted on Twitter that, while many Labour and even Liberal MPs had tweeted to support, no SNP MP or MSP had. I was contacted by a well-known SNP MSP who informed me that they had been instructed not to speak out on Palestine – something which the SNP has in fact noticeably stopped doing. Stewart MacDonald’s own full time research assistant had the most rabidly pro-Israel Twitter history I have ever seen, with numerous tweets or retweets specifically praising the Israeli Defence Force but virtually none mentioning Scottish Independence. I have been struck recently by how many of the fierce online Twitter proponents of Nicola Sturgeon include Israeli symbols in their Twitter profile. Again this is a real break with the traditional pro-Palestinian stance of Scottish nationalists.

Sociological analysis of what has happened appears fairly simple. The SNP has been in power in Scotland for 14 years, and while the devolved administration is far from a genuine state, an annual Holyrood budget of £30 billion represents a very great deal of power and patronage. For those interested in exercising or benefiting from such power and patronage, the SNP has become the way to go. It has become the political Establishment in Scotland, and those with Establishment attitudes have flocked to it. All the political careerists who would previously have belonged to once-dominant Labour, have for over a decade flocked into the SNP. So have others with domestic agendas they wish to promote – often genuinely worthy, in devolved fields such as health and education – but who have at best a passing interest in Independence. The SNP has therefore entirely lost its radical edge.

For these new members, MI5 is a perfectly respectable part of the political Establishment. These people in no way see themselves as rebels, whereas the “old SNP”, even its grandees like my old friend Gordon Wilson, first and foremost viewed themselves as rebels.

Gordon Wilson was involved in the pirate “Radio Free Scotland” and the temporary liberation from Westminster Abbey of the stone of Scone. Can you imagine the condemnation from Sturgeon, Smith and MacDonald of such illegal actions today? They would be demanding meetings with MI5 on how to stop it.

Let me now turn to Nicola Sturgeon herself. As an entry point, I take Saturday’s interview where she stated she intended to serve a full five years as First Minister, and had not made up her mind about the 2026 election.

The extraordinary thing is that Nicola Sturgeon looks explicitly five years into her political future with no reference at all to the possibility that Scotland will be an independent state before then. The thought simply does not cross her mind.

Now there is no question you could ask me about what will happen in Scotland in five years, or what I personally will be doing in five years, to which I would not automatically start my answer with the observation that within five years I expect Scotland to be Independent, and the context will therefore be very different. And I am not First Minister. Nicola Sturgeon’s answer presumes she will continue to do her current job, and there will be an election under the current system, in five years.

She does not take into account the real possibility that following Independence it must be very likely there will be early elections to a new parliament. She does not take into account the real possibility that following Independence the SNP – which contains people of widely differing economic ideologies – might split. She does not take into account the real possibility that following Independence there will be a much broader realignment of political parties, as all but hardcore unionists accommodate to the new reality. She does not take into account the real possibility that an Independent Scotland may have a very different parliament, perhaps with two chambers and a different electoral system. She does not take into account that there might not be a First Minister in five years time – there may, for example, be an executive presidency.

No, when Nicola looks ahead she instinctively sees five more years of comfortable residency of Bute House as a benevolent and humane colonial administrator, who supports Independence in principle, but only if Westminster agrees, which she knows will not happen, and once Covid and its economic consequences, and all the other tough things that must be dealt with before she is ready, are out of the way.

And who knows when that will be? Not in the next five years certainly, in the mind of Nicola. Independence did not even occur to her as a factor that might affect her answer.

I have been sounding a warning that Nicola has no intention of achieving Scottish Independence, consistently since 2015. We have had SNP conferences with the word “Independence” not featuring even once in the entire agenda. We have had US Democratic Party Style slogans such as “Hope” and “Change” but never “Independence”. We had the 2016 Holyrood Election where Nicola declared she wanted unionists to feel “safe” voting for the SNP. We had the disastrous 2017 Westminster General Election campaign which Nicola fought entirely on the basis of “Don’t accuse me of pushing for Independence. It is not me that keeps banging on about Independence, it’s the Tories”.

With the large majority of Scots having voted in favour of remaining in the EU, and with the 2016 Holyrood manifesto having promised a new referendum in the event of “a material change in circumstances”, and with a solid SNP/Green majority in Holyrood, Brexit was obviously the ideal occasion for a Scottish Independence referendum. Instead we had Nicola devote two years to the campaign to keep the whole of the UK in the European Union.

I never agreed that the SNP should be striving to keep the entire UK in the EU, firstly because the effect of that would have been to help keep the UK together, which is the opposite of what the SNP is supposed to be trying to achieve; secondly because we Scots have no right to thwart the democratic will of the people of England and Wales who clearly voted leave.

To anybody who believes in Independence the answer was for Scotland to respect its democratic vote against Brexit by moving to Independence and staying in the EU, allowing Westminster to Wexit. Instead of seizing this opportunity, Sturgeon wasted two years campaigning, including in London, in what she evidently found the very congenial company of Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson, on a whole UK basis.

In this period she never found time to attend any of the mass marches for Scottish Independence. Her explanation was that she has to represent the entire population – which apparently did not apply to pro-EU demonstrations.

In January 2020, as the transition period came to an end and the UK firmly left the EU, the crunch time had come in which it was now or never for implementing the SNP 2016 Holyrood manifesto commitment to a new Independence referendum if there were a “material change of circumstances” – which everybody had understood meant Brexit. The SNP had repeatedly stated that Scotland would not be dragged out of the EU against its will. Would they act, or was that just hot air?

On 31 January 2020, the very day transition ended, Sturgeon made a showcase speech – in which she announced that she accepted that, as Johnson had refused a S30 request, there was no legal path to Scottish Independence.

For me to pretend that there are shortcuts or clever wheezes that can magically overcome the obstacles we face might make my life easier in the short term – but it would do a long term disservice to the independence cause that I, like so many, have dedicated my life to.

My job is to lead us down a credible path that can deliver independence.

And that is what I am absolutely determined to do.

To achieve independence, a referendum, whenever it happens – whether it is this year as I want, or after the next Scottish election – must be legal and legitimate. That is a simple fact.

It must demonstrate that there is majority support for independence.

And its legality must be beyond doubt. Otherwise the outcome, even if successful, would not be recognised by other countries.

And the best way to achieve that, even though it may not be ideal, is to reach agreement on a transfer of power to the Scottish Parliament, just as we did for 2014.

It has been suggested, though, that in the absence of such an agreement, it might be legal for the Scottish Parliament to hold a consultative referendum – to establish the opinion of the Scottish people even though agreement would still be required to implement a pro independence outcome.

So let me address that.

The issue of whether the specific constitutional reservation in the Scotland Act puts any form of independence referendum outside the powers of the Scottish Parliament – or instead leaves open scope for a non-binding consultative vote – has never been tested in court.

That means it cannot be said definitively that it would not be legal, but equally it cannot be described as being beyond legal doubt.

If a proposal for a referendum on that basis was brought forward it would be challenged in court.

If a court ruled that it was legal, it wouldn’t be a “wildcat referendum” as our opponents like to brand it – it would be within the power of the Scottish Parliament.

Should the UK Government continue to deny Scotland’s right to choose, we may reach the point where this issue does have to be tested.

I am not ruling that out.

But I also have to be frank. The outcome would be uncertain. There would be no guarantees.

It could move us forward – but equally it could set us back.

So my judgment at this stage is that we should use our energies differently.

To placate the pro-Independence wing of the SNP, she adopted a suggestion which is genuinely my own. I had formulated it four years earlier in June 2016, written about it frequently since, and pushed the idea in pro-Independence meetings the length and breadth of Scotland, including to SNP branches. In her speech, Sturgeon said:

In the first instance we will invite Scotland’s elected representatives – MSPs, MPs, the MEPs elected last year and council leaders – to come together to endorse a modern Claim of Right for Scotland through a new Constitutional Convention.

To declare that it is for the Scottish Parliament to decide whether and when there should be an independence choice and build support for that principle amongst civic Scotland.

In June 2016 I had written:

To resolve this requires a supplementing of current constitutional arrangements. The First Minister should therefore convene a National Convention consisting of all Scotland’s elected national representatives – its MEPs, MPs and MSPs united in a single democratic body merged on a one member one vote basis.

This body should draw up recommendations for the independence referendum, including on the future constitution, economy including currency, and international alliances of an independent Scotland, and should oversee negotiations with the EU. The next referendum could therefore present voters with a more definite prospectus for what the new Scotland will look like.

The world has changed radically. We must not be afraid to think outside the UK prescribed box in defining Scottish solutions.

I can find no evidence anywhere of anybody writing or promoting this idea other than me. I was surprised at the time that Sturgeon had picked up one of my ideas, but I should not have been. She did not mean it, it was only a sop to Independence supporters, the National Convention never happened and has been quietly dropped. Something else quietly dropped at the time was the 2020 SNP Spring Conference, which was cancelled in order to avoid member blowback from the abandonment of the 2016 Indyref2 mandate. In the confusion of the last year, people forget that the SNP Spring Conference was cancelled before most people had heard the word Covid, and Covid was emphatically not the cause.

More significantly, Sturgeon’s government intervened against the legal attempt by Martin Keatings and Forward as One to establish that the Scottish parliament had a right to hold an Independence referendum. Sturgeon thus helped to prevent what she still pretends to be her ultimate objective.

The truth is that Sturgeon loves being the darling of the Guardian. Her policies are simply those of Hillary Clinton – a rigorous system of identity politics, largely based around gender, with a few populist but not targeted spending measures – free tuition, personal care etc – but no effort to develop a critique of the factors that drive the massive wealth inequalities in society. Indeed, her economics are rigorously neo-liberal as embodied in her infamous “Growth Commission”, and she has notoriously chosen Benny Higgins, investment banker Chairman of Buccleuch Estates, as an economic adviser (and appointed that other right wing investment banker, Ian Blackford, as party leader in Westminster).

Like Hillary, Nicola’s neo-liberal economics are bound up with extreme hawkish cheerleading for neo-imperialist foreign policy – hence her instant support for Boris Johnson over the ludicrous Skripal narrative, over the ludicrous Douma narrative, over Ukraine, and her sanctioning of Russians under the Beds activities with MI5. Ian Blackford even called directly in parliament for the UK to enact regime change in Syria.

The relentless pursuit of gender identity politics has led to the peculiar fracture in the Independence movement over trans rights, where both sides of the debate invent utterly unreasonable positions and attribute them to the other side. Sturgeon has done everything possible to hammer this wedge issue into a fracture among Independence supporters, largely with the intent of damaging Joanna Cherry and others she views as rivals (and as someone who unflinchingly supports trans rights myself, I should say that Joanna’s views are much misrepresented and far more nuanced than generally understood).

The attempt to have Alex Salmond convicted on false allegations by team Nicola was the ultimate shot at discrediting the part of the SNP that was focused primarily on Independence, and ensuring the triumph of a new SNP focused primarily on identity politics, supportive of the neo-imperialism of the British state, and not interested in risking power for Independence.

The fascinating thing in all this is that the mainstream media, overwhelmingly unionist (particularly the BBC), realises that Nicola Sturgeon is not an authentic danger to the union, and therefore swung its weight very solidly behind Sturgeon, particularly in its reporting of the conduct of the Holyrood and Hamilton Inquiries and their outcomes. The unionists understand full well it is Salmond who threatens the union, whereas Sturgeon is very comfortable atop the devolution structure.

Yet there are still very many ordinary SNP members who are firmly committed to Scottish Independence, who believe that Sturgeon also is committed to Scottish Independence, and despite the history of the last seven years expect that she will deliver a referendum sometime. They have been played along ruthlessly, with the SNP in Holyrood introducing a number of utterly meaningless enabling bills and draft bills for a referendum to keep the troops happy.

After winning numerous Westminster and Holyrood elections while Sturgeon does nothing on Independence, the SNP asks people to believe that this time, this time they are serious, and really will have an Indyref2. But a great many terms and conditions apply and Sturgeon has still not stated she will support the defiance of a purported Westminster veto. It remains the fact that at this Holyrood election, the only chance most voters have of demonstrating support for Independence in the constituency vote, is to vote SNP. But should Nicola get her wish of five peaceful and personally prosperous years in Bute House as First Minister, that will never be the case again.

This is why we have the paradox that it is the most devoted, longest serving members of the SNP who have left the party to join Alba. Take Kenny MacAskill, an SNP member for more than forty years. Kenny was a member of the party in the days when it was a definite career disadvantage to be so, who pounded the streets in wind and rain for decades clapping doors, facing jibes and jeers with no realistic hope of being elected. I have now seen him roundly abused on Twitter and described as a “unionist plant” by people who have only joined the SNP since it has been the easy route to personal power in Scotland, and who are primarily motivated by identity politics.

One strange result of this is that it is the backbone of the SNP, the committed members who go round delivering the leaflets, who are more likely to vote Alba on the list vote than the ordinary SNP voter. One friend who was recently distributing election leaflets to SNP members who had volunteered for delivery, told me he had asked what people thought about the list, and 12 out of 13 SNP leafleteers were not going to vote SNP with their list vote, on the ground it is wasted (he did not ask them precisely who would get their list vote between Alba and the Greens).

It is the more committed SNP members who realise that the bizarre mathematics of the D’Hondt electoral system render a SNP list vote utterly futile in three quarters of the country and very severely devalued in the rest.

Equally it is the most active of SNP members who realise the party is continually backsliding over Independence. They studied the text of Nicola’s speeches and note the constant caveat about a “legal” referendum. It was the most active of SNP members who followed closely the actual evidence of the Salmond affair, as opposed to the biased reporting, and realised what was really happening. This turbulence among the most committed members in the depth of the SNP is simply swept over by the vast current of mainstream media adulation of Nicola. We therefore have a remarkable situation of an enormously popular leader at odds with nobody but the most engaged members of her own party – unless you count as engaged the more recent accretion of her Praetorian Guard of identity politics warriors.

It was interesting to watch SNP followers on Twitter change over the course of three months from absolute denial that Team Sturgeon were involved in acting against Salmond, to a position that Team Sturgeon were quite right to act against Salmond because he is an appalling man. A similar transition is in progress, from denial that Team Sturgeon have failed to act on a referendum, to a position that Team Sturgeon were right not to have a referendum because we would have lost it.

We started the last referendum campaign at 28% to 32% and got to 45% on polling day. That is what a campaign can do. There has been zero Independence campaigning from the SNP since. The notion that a campaign that would have started at 48 to 58 per cent, depending on timing, would have failed is simply daft.

I have been delighted to hear Alex Salmond speak on behalf of Alba of alternatives to the S30 approach and even of the fact that there are routes to Independence that do not involve referenda. This is where the debate must lie. The majority of countries in the entire world became independent in the course of my own lifetime. In only a very small minority of cases did the process involve a referendum. The International Court of Justice has ruled that the legislation of the state being seceded from, is not the determining factor of whether a state can successfully become independent in international law. If you think about it carefully, that must be true, or Estonia would still be Soviet and Slovenia would be Yugoslav.

The real split in the Independence movement is between those who truly believe the Scots are a people with the right of self-determination as enshrined in the UN Charter, and those who believe we need London permission to be “legal” and therefore, by definition, do not have the right of self-determination.

To put it more bluntly, Whitehall will never willingly accept the loss of Scotland’s magnificent resources – including maritime, energy, water, food and drink, hydrocarbon and other mineral, education, and above all human resources. Unlike Nicola Sturgeon, many of us do not believe that Johnson can simply stop Scottish Independence by declaring it illegal. We are prepared to take the steps that will be required, in terms of non-violent political action and possibly including civil disobedience on a national scale, for Scotland to be able to become independent.

That is the cause of the different paths now being taken in the Independence movement. That is the difference between the SNP and Alba. Do you really want Independence, or is it just a genteel discussion point?

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Contempt of Court

I am still frankly stunned that I was found in contempt of court. I maintain that I carefully identified nobody and, as empirically proven, the MSM did far more than I in revealing identities. I also believe that the terms of the Opinion would make it simply impossible to report anything except the prosecution case in any sexual assault trial – and that MSM journalists are entirely sanguine about this because they believe that in practice the ruling would only be used against dissidents, and never against them.

It is very difficult for me to try to explain why, in my own case, what has happened has much wider bad consequences, because it simply looks like special pleading. I am therefore very pleased that legal analyst Alexander Mercouris has written this important piece at Consortium News, and I should be grateful to you for reading it.

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

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

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Barnard Castle Revisited

I was pretty diffident a year ago in suggesting corrupt backhanders as a potential motive for Dominic Cummings to visit GSK in Barnard Castle, because part of me resisted the idea that even the Tories would seek to make personal profit from a pandemic. Since then, of course, we have learnt of the quarter of a billion pounds (yes, £250,000,000) given to family investment firm Ayanda Capital for PPE procurement for which Ayanda was utterly unqualified and unsuited, numerous other examples of closed bids and completely inappropriate awards. The UK seems not just to have returned to 18th century levels of corruption, but to 18th century lack of shame about it in the governing class.

I suppose at least yesterday’s announcement by Boris Johnson that 60 million vaccine doses will be “finished” by GSK at Barnard Castle dispenses with the argument that was thrown at me by literally hundreds of trolls that the Barnard Castle facility is only some kind of large garden shed and therefore could not have been involved.

We now know about Tory corruption in Covid procurement, which I could only surmise a year ago – and let me further commend to you last night’s Panorama on the barely functional private £27 billion (yes £27,000,000,000) test and trace system under Tory serial profiteer Dido Harding. But it does, of course, take two sides to make a corrupt deal. Surely a big company like GSK would not be involved in backhanders?

Well, GSK were fined US $3 billion in 2012 by US regulators for fraud – yes fraud, overcharging and making false claims about medicines. In 2016 UK regulators fined GSK £37.6 million for paying bribes to generics manufacturers not to produce cheap drugs for the NHS. Let me say that again – for paying bribes to generics manufacturers not to produce cheap drugs for the NHS. Defrauding the NHS. That is the moral level we are looking at here.

So to say that GSK are not averse to paying a bung is to put it very mildly. And to say the Tories are not averse to personal profiteering from Covid procurement is to put it very mildly. It seems like a match made in heaven. Now I do not claim this is what happened, and I have never claimed this is what happened. It is a hypothesis. But it seems a not unreasonable hypothesis. Particularly compared to Cummings’ official explanation for visiting Barnard Castle.

I came under massive troll attack for the suggestion last year. It was claimed that GSK Barnard Castle is not physically capable of involvement in vaccine production. That is now shown to be untrue. It was also suggested that such a deal would have been struck in the main boardroom in London. I think that is to fail to distinguish between the apparent deal and the backhander. The latter are very seldom arranged in main boardrooms.

Anyway do read my article from last year. With the extra knowledge we have now, it has matured pretty well given the amount of derision it received from members of our professionally uncurious and unquestioning mainstream media.

I should also mention that I received a whistleblower tip-off that Cummings had also visited the Honeyman Group while in Barnard Castle. I tried contacting them both by phone and by email and never received any response from the Honeyman Group, and have no further information to stand this up. If anyone can add anything on this I should be most interested to hear from you.

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

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

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Torturing the Scapegoat

I frequently find myself differing with readers who find it hard to understand that I can have personal friendships with people with politics very contrary to my own. I do not believe having a different opinion to me makes you a bad person. But there are times when I look at political opponents and consider that they can only be motivated by malice. I honestly believe you have to be a psychopath to wish to inflict the kind of calculated cruelty on hapless individuals who have already suffered much, that was presaged in Priti Patel’s new proposals for dealing with asylum seekers.

Not only is it extremely hard, and often dangerous, for many refugees to get in to the UK at all, it is very difficult indeed for them to have their refugee status accepted once they are here. I have personally both represented asylum seekers before immigration tribunals and given evidence on their behalf. I have seen the outright lies told by the Home Office representatives. In Uzbek cases I was astonished to hear the Home Office’s lawyers putting forward straight denial of political persecution in that country, based on official statements of the Uzbek government. I have seen the same in the case of a Bahraini shia family. I have seen the Home Office assert that gay people would not be in danger if returned, provided they refrained from all sexual activity or expressions of gay identity. I have seen the Home Office suggest that deep scars and burns were self-inflicted to claim torture.

In the event that the poor refugee overcomes this barrage of malignancy and is eventually granted asylum, Patel is now proposing new schemes to extend their misery. The right to re-unite their family will be restricted further; extraordinarily, all grants of asylum will be temporary, liable to revocation and deportation at a moment’s notice. In this way, the asylum seeker will never put down roots, never make a new home here, never become British, never have a family life. Patel is also planning restrictions on the right to work even after being granted asylum and on the right to benefits, potentially making life impossible even for fully genuine refuees.

All of which is utterly contrary to the provisions, letter and spirit of the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees and its Protocol of 1966, confirmed by the UN General Assembly. The above constitutes a direct negation of Articles 17 to 24 inclusive, and that is merely a start.

I do not claim the government’s position is utterly without foundation. Patel founds her views on the notion that these refugees have entered the UK illegally. But the Convention specifically precludes discrimination on that basis :

Article 31
Refugees Unlawfully in the Country of Refuge

1. The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their
illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory
where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or
are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present
themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their
illegal entry or presence.

Patel, as did Theresa May, argues that refugees do not qualify for the protection of this article as they did not come here “directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened”. That claim however is not as simple as it seems. What does it mean, in this circumstance, to come “directly”. It does not say that it means to come only from an adjacent territory. A single journey may pass through several points. I once drove directly with my brother from London to Warsaw. We slept overnight near Amsterdam and Poznan, but it was still a direct journey. I have seen ministers assert that asylum seekers are obliged to lodge their application at the first place it is safe to do so. But that is not what the Convention on Refugees says. Nor is there any other basis in international law for that assertion.

In any event, the longstanding principle of refoulement is not affected. It predates the Convention but is well captured in it:

Article 33
Prohibition of Expulsion or Return (“refoulement”)

1. No Contracting State shall expel or return (“refouler”) a refugee in any
manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom
would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership
of a particular social group or political opinion.
2. The benefit of the present provision may not, however, be claimed by
a refugee whom there are reasonable grounds for regarding as a danger to
the security of the country in which he is, or who, having been convicted by
a final judgment of a particularly serious crime, constitutes a danger to the
community of that country.

The end goal of the treatment of refugees is expressed in Article 34. They should be welcomed in to the nation and the community. By contrast, the Tories are embarked on a vicious othering. The political attack on a small and vulnerable group of people, to appeal to the racist vote, simply appals me.

Article 34
Naturalization

The Contracting States shall as far as possible facilitate the assimilation and
naturalization of refugees. They shall in particular make every effort to expedite
naturalization proceedings and to reduce as far as possible the charges
and costs of such proceedings

Patel even plans to bring back the terrible fast track system, which was declared illegal by the courts. Nadira’s first film, the short Locked In, is a drama based on the true stories of several people subject to the fast track system, including at least one instance where a life was undoubtedly saved by a campaign by this blog’s readers, assisted by Jeremy Corbyn. Subscribers to Amazon Prime can watch for free; I am afraid there is a small charge otherwise. You can find the film here.

We have seen the UK government openly refuse in principle to accept the rule of international law in regard to the Northern Ireland Protocol with the EU, in defying the International Court of Justice and the UN General Assembly over the Chagos Islands, and in paying debt owed to Iran. In the Julian Assange trial, the UK government’s position is openly that the UK/US Extradition Treaty, which specifically excludes political extradition, is not compatible with UK law, even though the UK government signed and ratified the treaty. The UK government claimed on the contrary – and judge Baraitser accepted in her judgement – that the UK law specifically intends to allow political extradition, completely in contrast to the Treaty signed four years later.

We now have the remarkable position where the Tories are claiming it is ultra vires for the Scottish parliament to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, into Scots law, even though the UK has ratified it. That can only make sense if the UK government is arguing that it has no intention of making UK law compatible with this Convention it has signed.

The UK appears more and more shamelessly to proclaim itself as a rogue state. In a sense its position is worse than that of USA exceptionalism. The USA is frequently prepared to defy the international community in refusing to sign up to widely received international treaties – on climate change or the International Criminal Court for example. The UK has a less honest position of signing up to treaties without the slightest intention of abiding by them. The consequences in international relations will accrue, and eventually be dire.

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

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

Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

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What A Week

Firstly I do promise that very shortly I shall get back to blogging about things that are not me. But it has been a wild week. I received intimation I had been found in contempt of court, my blog was taken down, I stood for internal election as an Action for Independence (AFI) candidate for the elections, I received the formal judgement on Contempt, I instructed lawyers to appeal, I was elected top of the list for the Lothians for AFI and my candidature announced with a real chance of being elected to the Scottish parliament, my blog was reinstated, Alex Salmond launched his political comeback with a new political party, Alba, and I along with all AFI candidates stood down from the election. All of that happened in five days.

So where do I begin? Well firstly, the blog is back but you will find that the historic articles which gave details of Alex Salmond’s defence in his acquittal at the High Court of Edinburgh have all been removed by order of the court, as potentially identifying complainants. This is I believe a great shame. This blog was literally the only source that bothered to publish the defence case, and the third party evidence of eye witnesses which showed that several of the accusers were actively lying. It is my genuine belief that, were if not for my blog, there would be no measurable proportion of the population that knows WHY the jury acquitted Alex Salmond, and the Scottish Government narrative, heavily promoted by the mainstream media, that this was some sort of erroneous jury verdict, would be entirely unchallenged in public consciousness. As it is, I was only able to inform an active but important minority about the evidence of defence witnesses. That evidence is now removed from this site.

I was found not in contempt on publishing material likely to influence the jury, and on reporting the exclusion of a juror. The finding against me on jigsaw identification was based on this argument:

It also depended on the notion that identification does not need to be to the public, but can be to a single individual with specialist knowledge, eg a workmate. If this is a true statement of the law, then it is reasonable to argue that I am indeed in contempt as “likely” to identify in that sense. The problem is that a great many other journalists and publishers would also have been in contempt under this very strict construction, and we then have politically motivated selectivity of prosecution. It would also be virtually impossible to ever report defence evidence in a case.

You can read the full judgement here. It is particularly scathing of my affidavits and say that they include “hearsay and gossip”. It is true they do include gossip, but it is clearly identified as gossip. The status of source for all information is clearly identified, and on that I have this point to make.

If as described in my affidavit a first hand source tells me of a meeting they were at, which discussed how to ruin Alex Salmond’s career by adding sufficient charges against him to ensure at least one would stick, that is an eye witness journalistic source. If you can stand up that they really do have access to such meetings, it is very good, direct source, eye witness information for a journalist.

If there were subsequently a trial of Nicola Sturgeon for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, my evidence would be worthless. It would indeed be hearsay. The eye-witness was my informant. I am just a journalist with a source.

But my affidavit was not given in a trial of Nicola Sturgeon. It is given in my own hearing for contempt. The purpose of my affidavits is to explain precisely my state of knowledge at the time of writing various articles, how I came by that knowledge, and what my intentions therefore were in publishing. This is fundamentally misconstrued by the judgement, and in a peculiarly pejorative way.

Anyway, that is for appeal. My sentencing hearing is on 7 May. It is quite possible that any appeal will require to be conducted from prison, which is a little dispiriting. But as my late mother always used to say as disaster rather frequently buffeted our small family: “Oh well, it’s all part of life’s rich pageant”.

To understand the coming and going of Independence fringe parties this last week, you have to understand the D’Hondt system under which Scottish parliamentary elections are conducted.

The Holyrood electoral system has two layers and the voter gets two ballot papers, a constituency ballot and a list ballot. The constituency ballot works on the simple Westminster “first past the post system” with which most readers will be familiar.

The second ballot is for a regional list. The purpose of the regional list is to provide an element of proportionality to the result. On the regional ballot you vote for a party. The votes for that party are downweighted according to how many MPs they elected in the constituencies. So for example in Glasgow, where the SNP won all constituency seats, the SNP votes were so downweighted on the second ballot it was impossible for them to win any of the regional seats.

In Lothians, where I am, at the last election the SNP won a majority of the constituencies and that also provided sufficient downweighting for them to get no regional list seats. By contrast, as the Tories, Greens and Labour win very few or no constituencies, almost all their fairly large blocks of Members of the Scottish Parliament are from the regional list.

In the last Holyrood elections in 2016, in six of the eight Scottish regions, the SNP won so many constituencies that over 850,000 SNP regional list votes were so downweighted, they were entirely wasted and elected nobody at all. With every opinion poll showing the SNP well over 20% ahead of the next party i constituency voting intentions, there is no doubt this massive waste of SNP list votes will repeat this year.

I hope that is clear?

Now the D’Hondt system in Scotland allows for parties that are list only parties. As these will have no constituency wins, none of their regional list votes will be downweighted at all. As there are several party list seats in each region available, allocated according to the proportion of votes cast for each party after after downweighting, a list only party has the advantage that it will in most regions only need in practice 5 to 6 per cent of the vote to start electing MSPs. The attraction of a pro-Independence list party is obvious, in that only a small minority of SNP voters need to divert their otherwise wasted regional list votes to an Indy list party, in order to start increasing the Independence vote in parliament and reducing the number of list MSPs from the unionist parties.

This tactic is however opposed with great vehemence by the SNP, who are nothing if not fiercely self-interested. It is also frankly rather difficult to explain to the average voter, because it is both complex and counter-intuitive. A second ballot paper that penalises parties for success on the first is a strange concept.

Personally I detest D’Hondt. It was forced on Scotland because of Tony Blair’s fears that the much simpler STV proportional system would prove popular and eventually spread to Westminster. STV also gives far more power to the elector, and far less to parties. Under STV you can rank your favourite candidates within a party, rather than have the party list ranking shoved on you, and under STV you can just prioritise the best candidates across party lines. Party managers hate that idea. And you only have to deal with one ballot paper.

Anyway, we have D’Hondt, which party power managers love because it gives the parties power to both choose the constituency candidate and to fix the ranking of their candidates on the party list.

Had I stood in this election, it is not at all improbable that a result like the 5% I obtained as an independent anti-war candidate in 2005 against Jack Straw in Blackburn would have got me elected to Holyrood for AFI. For those who support Scottish Independence, the case for a good list party is unanswerable, and Alex Salmond’s leadership is what is required to push it over the 10% number that would probably equate to a dozen MSPs, rising rapidly thereafter. I should say that I was very much looking forward to the campaign and while I am sure my standing down for Alba is the best thing for Scotland, I won’t pretend I am not a bit down about it on a purely personal level.

I should finish with my own belief that this initiative is essential because I remain firmly of the view that Nicola Sturgeon has no real intention to risk her career and position by a genuine tilt at Scottish Independence. The existence of a represented opposition party to the SNP that really does want to achieve Independence, rather than just exploit the concept for votes and enjoy the gratifications of colonial administration, is absolutely essential to Scotland.

There are still many very good people in the SNP. But their claim that this time, if we elect them to well-paid positions, they will actually do something about a new Independence referendum, is unconvincing. We have heard it again and again. In five years time, we may find they have vanished from their apparently dominant position, as swiftly as Ireland’s Redmondites, and for the same reason.

I was delighted to hear Alex state clearly yesterday that a referendum is one route to Independence, but it is not the only one, and it is the Scottish parliament which reflects the sovereign will of the Scottish people. That has passed unremarked amid the media brouhaha: it may prove a historic moment.

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

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

Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

Choose subscription amount from dropdown box:

Recurring Donations



 

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

Alternatively by bank transfer or standing order:

Account name
MURRAY CJ
Account number 3 2 1 5 0 9 6 2
Sort code 6 0 – 4 0 – 0 5
IBAN GB98NWBK60400532150962
BIC NWBKGB2L
Bank address Natwest, PO Box 414, 38 Strand, London, WC2H 5JB

Bitcoin: bc1q3sdm60rshynxtvfnkhhqjn83vk3e3nyw78cjx9
Ethereum/ERC-20: 0x764a6054783e86C321Cb8208442477d24834861a

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

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Temporary Blog Closure

In view of our understanding that the High Court has found some articles on this blog to be in contempt of court, and in view of the fact that the Crown Office had sought to censor such a large range of articles, this blog has no choice but to go dark from 15.00 today until some time after tomorrow’s court hearing, when it will be specified to us precisely how much of the truth we have to expunge before we can bring the blog back up.

This is a dark day for the entire team here. We will be looking to appeal this to the Supreme Court and if required (though we very much doubt it will be) to the European Court of Human Rights.

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

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

Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

Choose subscription amount from dropdown box:

Recurring Donations



 

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

Alternatively by bank transfer or standing order:

Account name
MURRAY CJ
Account number 3 2 1 5 0 9 6 2
Sort code 6 0 – 4 0 – 0 5
IBAN GB98NWBK60400532150962
BIC NWBKGB2L
Bank address Natwest, PO Box 414, 38 Strand, London, WC2H 5JB

Bitcoin: bc1q3sdm60rshynxtvfnkhhqjn83vk3e3nyw78cjx9
Ethereum/ERC-20: 0x764a6054783e86C321Cb8208442477d24834861a

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

View with comments