Why is Melanie Phillips Mainstream Acceptable?

I have often pointed to Melanie Phillips to illustrate the fact that while left wing radical thought is excluded from mainstream media, you can be as completely mad, raving off the wall right wing as you wish, and yet still get invited onto every BBC panel or discussion series in existence. She still justifies the Iraq War. She thought Saddam did indeed have those WMDs and they were hidden in secret underground chambers underneath the Euphrates.

Less harmlessly, Phillips employs hate speech and was praised by Anders Breivik. Sweeping anti-Muslim Phrases such as “the Islamic enemies of civilisation” come easily to her. I was appalled by this particular example of Phillips’ hate speech four years ago. You can see how Breivik found her inspiring:

Romney lost because, like Britain’s Conservative Party, the Republicans just don’t understand that America and the west are being consumed by a culture war. In their cowardice and moral confusion, they all attempt to appease the enemies within. And from without, the Islamic enemies of civilisation stand poised to occupy the void.
With the re-election of Obama, America now threatens to lead the west into a terrifying darkness.

I called this out at the time as incitement to religious hatred. Interestingly enough it has now disappeared from Phillips’ own website: http://melaniephillips.com/america-goes-into-the-darkness. But you can’t hide your disgrace on the internet.

Today Phillips spreads the hatred still wider by telling us the Scots and the Irish are not real nations. Only Britain is an authentic nation (behind the Times paywall). Scottish nationalism, she states, is based purely on romance and a hatred of the English. As for Ireland:

The truth is that a large majority of the states in the world achieved independence after 1922. Even if you pretend an Irish nation did not exist until 1922, that still makes it one of the world’s older states. In fact of course Ireland, like most other states, re-emerged into independence following colonial dominance. Nationality is a human construct, not a fact of physics or geography – there never was a state before colonialism with the precise boundaries of India or Nigeria or almost any post-colonial state you can name. But there were autonomous peoples. And very few would describe them as not a nation now.

Even old states change their boundaries from time to time. Norman Davies has a beautiful phrase about Poland emerging again and again into statehood through the mists of history, but never in the same place twice. Yet despite radical boundary changes and having had political autonomy for only 50 of the last 250 years, nobody doubts Poland is a nation state. Nobody doubts Ireland is a nation state either, except Mad Mel. As for Scotland, not only was it a full nation state for hundreds of years until it entered into a voluntary union, it is possible to trace distinct political and cultural expressions of popular nationhood.

Phillips’ hate-filled opinions would be her own affair, were she not given such powerful platforms from which to expound them. I return to where I started. Phillips is evidence you cannot be too right wing for a media platform in the UK, even if you propound actual religious hate. By comparison, nobody as left wing as Phillips is right would ever be given airtime on the BBC or a column in The Times.

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Cover Story

UPDATE

I wrote the below very quickly while dashing out to get ready for a meeting in Montrose this evening. I was in a panic as I had forgotten to prepare. I tweeted about it as I was just about to leave, and received several replies telling me that the meeting is tomorrow (which is why I hadn’t got ready for it earlier).

This is not particularly old age. My friends will tell you I have been this scatty all my life. I can give an hours lecture on Byron’s political views, radicalism among Nottinghamshire stocking weavers or US neo-imperial policy in Africa at the drop of a hat, but ask me today’s date or where I put my spectacles and there is a very slim chance I will remember. All of which is to excuse myself for having couched the below request for help in particularly graceless terms! I fear I was somewhat distracted.

I am bringing out new editions of Murder in Samarkand and The Catholic Orangemen of Togo, both of which are now out of print. They will be available as print-on-demand books on Amazon (I know, sorry). I need a new front cover for Murder in Samarkand, as the art work does not belong to me, and frankly I never liked it anyway. I am inviting those with an artistic bent to submit designs.

The side and back will be plain, so it is front cover only. The size is 8″ by 5″. The image needs to be at least 300dpi. The design should include the title, author’s name and two review quotes:

“A fearless book by a fearless man” – Harold Pinter
“A remarkable achievement” – Noam Chomsky

I should like to offer a prize, but am more than usually skint! I shall be very grateful for anything you can come up with, that reflects the content and themes of the book in some way. The contact button at the top of the blog sends me an email.

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The Scottish Council Elections Are a Huge Test – Subsequent Attempted Backroom Deals Will Reveal the Black Soul of Scottish Labour

Theresa May herself set out to portray the Scottish Council Elections as a test of opinion on a second Independence referendum, and followed that up by an attack on the very principle of devolution and a stark re-assertion of the power of Westminster control. She did so in the – not unreasonable – expectation that the Tories will make gains in Scottish councils from an extremely low base. If the Tories get anything over 22% of votes cast the media will tell us that is a stunning rejection of Independence.

Local councils are important in themselves, but this year’s Council elections will have a much wider significance in giving the SNP momentum to go into the Independence referendum. The SNP will make much greater gains which will at least give the BBC some headache in preparing their “Unionist Triumph” narrative. The Tories will look to advance in Edinburgh. Sadly Ruth Davidson is my constituency MSP, but fortunately my councillor is Alasdair Rankin, Edinburgh City Council’s Finance Convener. This year is the fortieth anniversary of my meeting Alasdair who very quickly became and remains one of my, and my family’s, closest friends. So it will be an unusual pleasure for me to get out and knock on some doors for him.

Scottish elections are conducted under the excellent STV system, which I advocate for all elections. I want to make an extremely important point to all Independence supporters. Unlike the De Hondt system used for Holyrood, under STV it is impossible to damage the chances of the SNP – or your other Independence supporting party of choice – by using all your lower preference numbers for other Independence supporting candidates, and it is essential that you do. James Kelly explains it here.

The Holyrood De Hondt system is so terrible that it is perfectly possible for intelligent people of goodwill to disagree severely over whether voting just for one party or for two will help the Independence cause, and the answer is far from plain even after the vote. I respectfully differ from James Kelly and Stuart Campbell on the question. But none of these problems arise with STV. This is so important I am going to say it again, in super-shouty

IN THE SCOTTISH COUNCIL ELECTIONS IT IS MATHEMATICALLY IMPOSSIBLE TO HURT YOUR FIRST CHOICE PARTY BY USING ALL YOUR LOWER PREFERENCES FOR OTHER PRO-INDY CANDIDATES.

So if you have three SNP candidates on your list make them preferences 1, 2, 3, but then be certain to carry on 4, 5, 6 each for other pro-Indy candidates. Or the same principle with your other preferred pro-indy party first.

I have now meandered to the point of this post. In council by-elections every week, we are seeing the unionist party voters transfer their lower preferences to each other. Tory voters are perfectly happy to transfer and support Labour, and Labour voters are perfectly happy to transfer to Tory. This is the most important fact in modern Scottish politics. It is not just the Blairite leadership, it is the dwindling rump of Labour voters who are Red Tories – or probably more accurately Orange Lodgers. Peeling off the remaining decent left wing Labour voters from their Neanderthal colleagues is probably the simpler of the SNP’s electoral challenges.

There is another factor which I do not expect to come into play in time for the Council elections. The Tory triumphalism masks a deep split. Scottish Conservatives have a Fox/Forsyth/Fallon hardline nutter tendency. But they also have a core of traditionalist supporters who are urbane, liberal and strongly pro-EU. May is still in her honeymoon period – if you remember even Gordon Brown had one of those for quite a while – but quite a few of the Tory inhabitants of the leafier parts of Edinburgh feel disquiet at her harsh Brexiteer nationalism and dismissal of devolution.

We only have to check the Tory bandwagon slightly to encourage dissent among those pulling it.

But the key test for Scottish politics will come after the votes have been cast, when the new councillors start meeting in the backrooms of council chambers up and down the country. In effect, the SNP is likely to be the largest group very widely indeed. If SNP supporters have used their lower preferences well, it is very possible that they will be able in many places to form local coalitions with the Greens and other pro-Indy groups and individuals.

But it is also very likely that we will see on a much wider and larger scale, something which has been already seen from time to time in places like Dundee and Stirling. Labour and the Tories will form coalitions together to keep the SNP out.

The truth is that Scotland already has a two party system – the SNP and the Unionists. In Holyrood, in Council Chambers and in council by-election vote transfers, the Unionists act as one party. The backroom deals of Scottish councils after the May elections will define Scottish politics. For a classic example of a failure to stop digging when you are in a massive hole, and a brazen declaration of pro-Tory sentiment, I give you Scottish Labour’s Doug Hothersall on their Labour Hame website:

Labour is not a unionist party. But in stark constitutional times, our commitment to solidarity and wealth redistribution means we are right to be firmly a pro-UK party. We should be proud of that stance and those principles. We should not indulge in back-slapping and posturing about never working alongside others who are firmly pro the UK.
If there is a second independence referendum, I will share a platform with any mainstream party which is prepared to work together to fight against nationalism. Our party should grow up and make the same pledge.

In Hothersall’s case, it is not a failure to realise that he is supporting a deeply unpleasant British nationalism. it is that he knowingly supports that British nationalism. That makes him a typical example of the rump Scottish Labour supporter. The evidence from local election transfers if that the remaining Labour voters mostly agree with him. But they are thankfully a small and shrinking group of dull bigots. Also do not forget the corruption, graft and jobs network that Scottish Labour has been. Prising them out of council chambers will be a death blow to that already shrivelled demon of Labour patronage.

I know I should tell you that local elections are important because of schools, pavements and all that important everyday stuff. That is a truism. But I am not into politics because of a deep interest in having sewerage systems and traffic lights properly managed. I want to see a free Scotland that can no longer be forced against its will to participate in illegal wars. I am hugely looking forward to campaigning in the impending Independence Referendum, but do not overlook the importance of the council elections. They are a vital step along the way.

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Theresa May Moves to Replace Devolution with Westminster Control

Forget media spin. Read Theresa May’s actual unvarnished words. In Glasgow today she notified Scotland of a specific intention for Westminster to intervene in devolved areas to “improve outcomes” in Scotland. There is no other possible logical analysis of the following long passage:

But the devolution of powers across the United Kingdom must not mean we become a looser and weaker union.
We cannot allow our United Kingdom to drift apart.
For too long the attitude in Whitehall has been to ‘devolve and forget’.
But as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, I am just as concerned that young people in Dundee get a good start in life and receive the education they need to reach their full potential as I am about young people in Doncaster and Dartford.
I care as much about the dignity and security of older people on both sides of the River Tweed or the Irish Sea.
The economic prosperity of the UK as a whole depends on young people in all parts of the UK having the skills they need to reach their full potential.
And people who have worked hard all their lives and made a contribution to society are everyone’s concern.
It goes back to the fundamental unity of the British people which underwrites our whole existence as a United Kingdom.
We are all diminished when any part of the UK is held back, and we all share in the success when we prosper.
In Government that principle is called ‘collective responsibility’.
We need to build a new ‘collective responsibility’ across the United Kingdom, which unites all layers of government, to work positively together to improve the lives of everyone in our country.
As the Government serving the whole United Kingdom, formed in a Parliament drawn from the whole United Kingdom, the UK Government exercises a responsibility on behalf of the whole UK that transcends party politics and encompasses all aspects of our national life.
While fully respecting, and indeed strengthening, the devolution settlements and the devolved administrations across the UK, we must unashamedly assert this fundamental responsibility on our part.
So in those reserved policy areas where we govern directly for the whole United Kingdom, we will explicitly look to the interests of the Union – both the parts and the whole – in our policy-making.
And in policy areas where responsibilities are devolved, we will look for ways to collaborate and work together with the devolved administrations to improve the outcomes for everyone.

The meaning could not be more clear, especially following a long litany of claims that SNP rule in Holyrood had failed in every area of devolved power. You can read the full text here.

May seems to be suffering an extraordinary degree of hubris; she sees the Tories having achieved very slightly over half of the SNP vote at the Holyrood elections as a sign of mass popularity. She is laying down that Unionism means Unionism just as purely as Brexit means Brexit. Devolution is only represented in her speech as an evil that must be guarded against.

It is perhaps unsurprising that May did not mention anywhere that Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, and did not mention any possibility for special provision in Scotland’s future relationship with the EU. But that she did not even pay lip service to the notion of devolution as a good thing is surprising, and I am frankly astonished that she boldly asserted an intention for greater Westminster interference in current devolved areas.

This is a colossal act of hubris from a woman confident she faces no serious political resistance. That she adopts in Glasgow the false Thatcher like voice and rhetorical style that goes down so well with UKIP leaning Tories is indicative of the shallowness of her experience and the depth of her misjudgement.

Theresa May’s declaration of war on devolution today will come to be seen as a key moment in our path to Independence.

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In the Conference Hall or on the Pavement

I shall be speaking in Leeds today either in the conference hall or on a nearby pavement. The meeting entitled “Palestine/Israel: A Unitary Secular State or a Bantustan Solution” is due to take place at 6pm in the Conference Auditorium GM 01, which I am told is the big building behind The Edge sports centre. Do come if you are within reach. I shall be leaving for Leeds shortly.

Apparently the trustees of Leeds University Union will decide during the day whether I should be permitted to speak in a university building this evening. Being a polite sort of chap, I spoke with a very friendly lady for a considerable while this morning clarifying my views on Israel. I remain appalled by the process, but believe the outcome is likely to be positive. I expect the meeting will go ahead. This is the email I sent yesterday evening in response to the demand to pre-vet my speech:

This is very difficult as I do not write speeches in advance. I always speak off the cuff. I object to this procedure on principle, and have just posted this on my blog:

I am giving a talk entitled “Palestine/Israel: A Unitary Secular State or a Bantustan Solution” in Leeds University tomorrow. I have just been told by Leeds University Union I will not be allowed to speak unless I submit what I am going to say for pre-vetting.
I am truly appalled that such a gross restriction on freedom of speech should be imposed anywhere, let alone in a university where intellectual debate is meant to be an essential part of the learning experience. I really do not recognise today’s United Kingdom as the same society I grew up in. The common understanding that the values of a liberal democracy are the foundation of society appears to have evaporated.
As regular readers know well, I do not write speeches in advance but always speak extempore. My opinions on Israel and Palestine are very well documented on this blog and elsewhere. I want to see a single, unitary state in Israel/Palestine, encompassing everyone who currently lives in those territories, as a secular democracy blind to ethnicity and religion. This includes an acceptance that further forced large population movements by anybody are not desirable and the Palestinians should receive more compensation than restitution. If I am not permitted to express this view within a University, I find that truly shocking.
I should be equally shocked if anybody who held views very different to my own were not permitted to express them.
I think that if people like me are now being prevented from speaking, society has crossed a very dangerous line indeed.
I attempted to contact Leeds University Union before posting this, but was told by your after hours help desk that they have no means of contacting any person in a responsible position out of hours, not even to pass on my phone number. I find that extraordinary.

Let me state at the start that I have spoken in many scores of Universities, all around the world, including Berkeley, Stanford, Harvard etc and several times each at the Oxford and Cambridge Unions. I have never at any time encountered any violence, disruption or even heated dispute at any of my hundreds of talks, anywhere. There has never been any risk to anybody present. I always encourage discussion and positively welcome the polite expression of contrary views.

As I said, I do not write speeches in advance. But this is the outline of what I intend to say.

While I dislike agreeing with Donald Trump, he was quite right in dismissing the idea that there is an unquestionable two state solution to the conflict in Israel/Palestine. For many years now a two state solution has been impractical. The Palestinian territories are separated, overcrowded and devoid of natural resources, most tellingly water.

As a younger man I was in charge of the South Africa (Political) Desk of the FCO. The grand plan of apartheid was that the white population would have unique right of residence in most of South Africa, with the black population corralled into crowded and resourceless Bantustans, many commuting into the white areas as a cheap labour force. These Bantustans were, according to the masterplan of apartheid, to be recognised as Independent states. The FCO had a current struggle to head off Mrs Thatcher’s desire to indeed recognise the first of them, Bophutatswana, as independent after apartheid South Africa recognised it.

The parallels between the Bantustan plan and the “two state solution” are obvious and the high profile supporters of the “two state solution” are insincere. In 2002 Blair and Bush announced in the Rosa Garden they were jointly proposing the “two state solution”. Their motivation was precisely the same as Thatcher’s in pushing for support of the proposed state of Bophutatswana – to allow the formal marginalisation of the indigenous population from their land. The “two state” Palestine was never intended to be viable.

If the neo-con supporters of two states really believed what they pretended, why did they never recognise a Palestinian state? The timing and motivation of the Bush/Blair announcement was a figleaf for Saudi support of the invasion of Iraq a few months later.

The truth is that the massive injustice done in the removal of the Palestinian peoples from their lands must be addressed. Peace in the Middle East will not be possible otherwise. The Israeli people will never achieve security through intransigence.

I was also once Head of Cyprus Section of the FCO and heavily involved in UN negotiations for the reunification of Cyprus. I see many parallels between the situations in Palestine and Cyprus and believe elements of the proposed UN Cyprus peace talks might provide a blueprint for Israel/Palestine, particularly in its federal and security aspects.

I shall then move on to wider questions of Middle Eastern policy, along the lines of this talk I gave to the Edinburgh SNP Club a couple of weeks ago. You can see that here

I shall then address troubling aspects of the British/Israeli governmental relationship, including over drone killing policy, drawing on the talk I gave to the Noam Chomsky symposium at University College London last week. I attach a brief abstract of that talk. I shall also refer to the recent Al Jazeera documentary “The Lobby” and the Shai Masot case.

I do hope that is all helpful to you. I appreciate it is probably not your fault you occupy for this moment the role of thought police, but hope you realise how very wrong and undemocratic this all is. I have complied with the request to outline as best I can what I am going to say purely out of courtesy to you and Leeds University Union. It is not open to debate or negotiation.

Craig Murray

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Leeds University Union Threaten to Ban My Speech on Palestine

I am giving a talk entitled “Palestine/Israel: A Unitary Secular State or a Bantustan Solution” in Leeds University tomorrow. I have just been told by Leeds University Union I will not be allowed to speak unless I submit what I am going to say for pre-vetting.

I am truly appalled that such a gross restriction on freedom of speech should be imposed anywhere, let alone in a university where intellectual debate is meant to be an essential part of the learning experience. I really do not recognise today’s United Kingdom as the same society I grew up in. The common understanding that the values of a liberal democracy are the foundation of society appears to have evaporated.

As regular readers know well, I do not write speeches in advance but always speak extempore. My opinions on Israel and Palestine are very well documented on this blog and elsewhere. I want to see a single, unitary state in Israel/Palestine, encompassing everyone who currently lives in those territories, as a secular democracy blind to ethnicity and religion. This includes an acceptance that further forced large population movements by anybody are not desirable and the Palestinians should receive more compensation than restitution. If I am not permitted to express this view within a University, I find that truly shocking.

I should be equally shocked if anybody who held views very different to my own were not permitted to express them.

I think that if people like me are now being prevented from speaking, society has crossed a very dangerous line indeed.

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Give Generously and Give Freedom Wings

I urge anybody with the remotest interest in fairness and justice to donate to the Wings Over Scotland fundraising appeal. Against the biased BBC and a 97.5% rabid unionist media, against DFID money fed in through Acanchi and the entirely fake No Borders campaign, against Saudi money fed in through the Ulster bigots of the DUP, Wings Over Scotland really is the most effective, wide reaching and important media of communication available to the Scottish Independence movement. Anybody who can afford something, and agrees that in a democracy both sides of a ballot ought to be heard, should donate. The second Independence referendum is indeed coming.

To be plain I have no connection at all to Wings Over Scotland and do not stand to receive anything from this appeal. I am donating myself.

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Tory Election Expenses Fraud

I want to commend this amazing resource which a dedicated investigator has collated on Tory Election Expenses Fraud, covering no less than 57 MPs. A huge amount of data is available locally and this is the best central repository I have seen. It repays hours of browsing. As the evidence builds it becomes plain that massive cheating was a key element of the Tory victory. That there is no chance at all that Britain’s corrupt electoral, police and legal institutions will do anything about it is, sadly, equally certain.

But hats off to Michael Crick for continuing to try at Channel 4. He did a fantastic doorstep today of Nick Timothy, a May adviser in 10 Downing Street who was one of many Tories whose party paid expenses in weeks of campaigning in South Thanet were not declared. It was also quite incredible work by the cameraman. If anyone can find a copy I could embed here…

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Brexit Will Lower Wages

It has surprised the naïve that in the last two weeks Tory ministers have been lining up to assure employers that there will be no reduction in the flow of immigrant workers into
the UK after Brexit.

There are two things that infuriate me about the “left wing” argument that EU immigration lowers wages in the UK through importing labour. Firstly it is not left wing at all, it is narrowly nationalist and founded on the protectionist premise that the condition of the worker in say Poland – who would benefit both from opportunities in the UK and from international labour competition elevating wages there – does not matter. The “left wing” proponents of the protected national labour market are actually just ill-disguised racists.

The second criticism of these “left-wing” people is that they are extremely stupid. Anybody who believes that the plutocrat paymasters of UKIP, the Tories and the corporate press, supported Brexit in order to raise wages, is certifiable.

That is why the Tories are making plain there will be no reduction in the labour supply from the EU. That will keep coming. But there will be one essential difference.

EU workers will no longer be in the UK as fellow EU citizens with exactly the same rights as UK EU citizens. In future, the EU workers will be here on work visas, probably two or five year renewable. These will be awarded through sponsorship by their employer. That will put them at the absolute mercy of employers and make them terrified of complaint or even standing against gross abuse and illegality. The conditions at the Sports Direct warehouse will seem good compared to what is coming in workplaces throughout the UK, once people like Mike Ashley can simply have “troublemakers” instantly deported.

All workers will of course lose more formal rights and protections, like the maximum working week and strict health and safety regulation. EU citizens in the UK will also lose the citizen’s right of address by political participation and voting.

Brexit will lower wages. It will be the biggest license to exploit ever handed back to predatory capitalists, at a time when the wealth gap between the super rich and the poor is at its widest, and notions of social responsibility among the wealthy at their weakest.

Brexit is a disaster for the working woman and man. Yet so many of the so-called “left” are too blind to see it.

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Gerald Kaufman

When I was just a junior diplomat organising a trip for a group of parliamentarians, Gerald Kaufman MP, then a shadow cabinet member, nipped into a shop and bought me a snack because he knew I had missed my breakfast. I was tied up trying to sort out a replacement bus for them. His was a tiny but surprising act of kindness. You perhaps learn more truth about public figures from such behind the scenes moments than their public life. I may be wrong, but I doubt Tony Blair spent or spends much time worrying whether junior functionaries have eaten.

He always seemed one of the most intelligent figures in British politics, and I am sorry for his death, albeit at a good age.

I am still more sorry because Kaufman became a victim of the current ludicrous, but media-supported, campaign to whip up accusations of anti-Semitism against any critic of Israel. In one extraordinarily horrible manifestation of this, Tal Ofer, Labour Progress member and a member of the board of Deputies, sought to have Gerald Kaufman, a Jewish MP, excluded from the parliamentary Channukah celebrations. That seems to me extraordinarily graceless and unpleasant and the polar opposite of Kaufman’s own kindliness.

In the last year of his life Kaufman, whose grandmother was shot in her bed by the Nazis in Poland, became one of the victims of the fake extreme zionist charity “The Campaign Against Anti-Semitism”, which is now rather belatedly under investigation by the Charity Commissioners for England. As the chairman of the Charity Commission, William Shawcross, made his career as an extreme pro-Israel propagandist, and is a former trustee of both the ultra neo-con Henry Jackson Society and the Anglo-Israel Association, I do not hold out much hope for this investigation.

I am sure there are still many people in the British Jewish community who admired a man as intelligent, able and honest as Gerald Kaufman. But that such a prominent and generous-minded Jewish man could be accused of anti-Semitism by pro-Israeli activists, would I hope serve to give pause to those in the mainstream media who amplify their views (except of course this campaign has gained such a media boost purely as a stick with which to beat Jeremy Corbyn).

I am sorry for Gerald Kaufman’s death. Please do him the honour of listening to this short speech in parliament, as a remembrance of a decent man. It will not feature in any mainstream media obituaries.

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Upcoming Speaking Engagements

I shall be quite busy speaking in the next few weeks:

Friday 24 February 8pm in The Elephant and Castle, Lewes, Sussex. The Headstrong Club (entry £3). I shall be attempting a wide ranging radical analysis of world events encompassing Trump, Brexit, Putin, Corbyn, China and where ordinary people stand as the world order changes. I love Lewes, which has the most fascinating radical tradition dating back to Thomas Paine and beyond, and still retains that vibe in an extraordinary way.

Saturday 25th February 1pm to 7pm, Gustav Tuck Lecture Theatre, University College London. Conference on “Noam Chomsky’s The Responsibility of Intellectuals, 50 Years On.” Speakers are Neil Smith, Nicholas Allott, Chris Knight, Craig Murray, Milan Rai, Jackie Walker, Kriszta Szendroi, and Noam Chomsky himself (by live video-link). The event will be broadcast live here.

I had to send an abstract of my talk for Chomsky to see so he will be able to respond, which makes me feel like a worried schoolboy. I am scheduled to speak at 4.20 for 35 minutes. Chomsky will be speaking at 5.15.

Thursday 2nd March Leeds University Palestine Solidarity Group and Leeds Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Talk entitled “Palestine/Israel: A Unitary Secular State or a Bantustan Solution?”. Venue and time details to follow.

Tuesday 7th March in the Black Abbott, Borrowfield at 7.30 pm talk to Montrose SNP Branch on the Next Independence Referendum. I understand they will be inviting other SNP branches in Angus.

Thursday 9th March 6.30pm Talk to Motherwell and Wishaw Rotary Club on Lessons from my Diplomatic Career.

Saturday 11th March 11am, Tigh Na Sghire, Portree, Isle of Skye screening of London Calling and discussion of BBC Bias. London Calling – Skye (PDF)

And a few longer term but interesting ones:

Sunday 26 March, Pacific Quay, Glasgow, BBC Bias Protest

Saturday 15 April, Doha, Qatar, Al Jazeera Forum. Speaker on “State Crisis and the Middle East.”

Thursday 11 May 2.30pm Upper Room Town Hall, Chipping Campden. Sikunder Burnes, Master of the Great Game. Chipping Campden Literary Festival tickets £7.

As I constantly repeat, I am very disorganised so if you are inviting me do keep nagging if I don’t reply, and once confirmed do keep reminding me!

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BBC Announces New Anti-Scottish Channel

The BBC is to launch a major new unionist propaganda channel in time for the next Independence referendum. There will be 80 new unionists employed as journalists. Close relatives of senior Labour party figures are particularly welcome to apply, and in a new broadening of BBC Scotland employment policy, a larger percentage of Ruth Davidson fans will also be recruited. The news of the new job opportunities is especially welcome to the large number of Labour Party hacks who will be unemployed following the Scottish council elections in May.

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BBC Glories in Death

The BBC appear enraptured by the apparent death of Ronald Fiddler in Mosul fighting for Islamic State forces. Fiddler was a former inmate of Guantanamo Bay, so this “vindicates” the War on Terror. The BBC are leading every news bulletin and giving us full spectrum security services propaganda. We have MI6 mouthpiece Frank Gardner, the discredited neo-con chancers of the Quilliam Foundation and the far right professional supporter of military attacks on the Middle East, Afzal Ashraf, all giving us their views every half hour on the BBC.

It has never been disputed that Ronald Fiddler was tortured in Guantanamo, which is partly why he was paid substantial compensation by the British government. It does not seem to have occurred to the BBC as worth any consideration that the fact Fiddler emerged from Guantanamo and apparently became a supporter of violent Islam, does not in any sense prove that he was a violent islamist before being tortured in Guantanamo. Yet that Guantanamo was the cause of his extreme alienation is on the surface highly probable.

The BBC did not interview Moazzam Begg or Clive Stafford Smith or anybody who might have something thoughtful to say on the subject. Instead they went solely for self-reinforcing voices of the right wing establishment, the most pro-invading the Middle East voices that could possibly be found.

750,000 civilians face the assault on Mosul in the next few days. The rebel forces being attacked have precisely the same religion, precisely the same philosophy, and in a significant number of cases belong to precisely the same organisations as the rebels who were driven out of Aleppo by Assad forces and the Russians. Yet the assault on Mosul is apparently a wonderful thing, to be cheered on by the propaganda of embedded journalists, while the precisely analogous assault on Aleppo was an appalling and irresponsible massacre. It must be very strange to stretch your conscience to work in the BBC; a peculiar and remarkable kind of talent.

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The Edge of Reason

Until the time, not too distant, when we achieve Scottish independence and a moment of political flux where we can attempt to build a fairer nation than the one in which we now live, I am entitled sometimes to get depressed by the appalling injustice and inequity against which I see people struggle daily. Sometimes that depression binds my typing hands and prevents me from writing for days on end. I have been feeling this lately rather acutely.

A couple of days ago I was buying some coal with my son Jamie and reminisced about the days when I worked on a coalyard, shovelling coal into hundredweight sacks. I then explained to him a hundredweight was (strangely) 8 stone or 112 pounds, and tried to express a hundredweight in kilos. By chance it was a fraction over 50 kilos. As we were straining to carry 25kg sacks, I was puzzled how at age 16 I had dealt with 50kg ones. Harder times.

The memory of this conversation led me this morning to decide to write a satirical piece about crazy Little England Brexiteers now being able to bring back Imperial weights and measures and get rid of these awful foreign kilos and metres. Then a little research this morning told me that, about the time I had the conversation with my son, a conservative Minister was mooting exactly that.

You just can’t out-crazy the Tories at the minute.

I was visiting England over half-term and was truly shocked to hear the experience of an Italian friend of mine who lives in London. She had been buying vegetables at a stall and had asked for zucchini. The vendor had replied “They are called courgettes. Use the proper English word or I am not serving you.” She decided to take this as a joke, smiled and said “sorry, courgettes” but the man then said that he couldn’t wait for Brexit when she would be kicked out of the country.

After a couple of days, she decided to report the incident to the police as the upset had not died down. The police were ostensibly very friendly and offered to take action, but they impressed on her the matter was very serious and would lead to the man being arrested and put in the cells. I was, from her account, dubious whether the police had not been emphasising the nuclear options to persuade her to withdraw the complaint while ostensibly doing the opposite, ie taking her complaint at its most serious. They did not outline other possibilities, ie a good talking to and a caution on his record. Not wanting to risk sending the man to prison, she withdrew the complaint.

This is only one piece of anecdotal evidence. I am not yet convinced by evidence that Brexit has created more racists. But that it has socially empowered racists and brought racism into mainstream political discourse is undoubtedly true. That is likely to create still more racists eventually.

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Boris Johnson – an Ethics Free Zone

The total absence of even a shadow of an ethical dimension to UK foreign policy is nowhere better illustrated than its continued relationship with the appalling Uzbek dictatorship. There is competition of course for the role of most unconscionable British policy. The support for the vicious tyrant of Bahrain and the suppression of the Bahraini Shia majority, the secret British military presence on the ground in Saudi Arabia assisting the bombing campaign that has killed thousands of children, these are sickening examples of Britain’s true role in the world.

But for sheer hypocrisy, the continued military support of a dictatorship universally recognised as having no equal in repression outside North Korea, takes the prize. Here are some truly vomit-inducing passages from a speech today by the British ambassador to Uzbekistan:

The Ambassador stressed the great importance of the defence relationship between the UK and Uzbekistan and expressed his gratitude for Uzbekistan’s assistance and longstanding support for transit arrangements that facilitate UK military operations in Afghanistan. Defense cooperation between the two nations has been steadily increasing over the period and is continuing to develop in a mutually beneficial manner. Among many other notable achievements, the British Embassy is proud that the UK was the first nation to sign a defense education agreement between our military academies.

Ambassador Allan spoke about the many positive results achieved over the 25 years of UK-Uzbekistan bilateral political relations. He mentioned the visit of the first President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, HE Mr. Islam Karimov, to the United Kingdom in November 1993, which gave a powerful early stimulus to the development of the relations between two countries. Fittingly, last year – the 25th Anniversary of Uzbekistan’s independence – was a particularly important one for bilateral relations in the political sphere. In April 2016, Tobias Ellwood, Deputy Minister at the Foreign Office, visited Uzbekistan to further deepen the bilateral relations between the UK and Uzbekistan. And in December 2016, Sir Alan Duncan, Minister of State at the Foreign Office, also visited Uzbekistan. Minister Duncan was privileged to be the first foreign dignitary to congratulate President Mirziyoev on his inauguration in person. The visit of His Excellency the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Abdulaziz Kamilov, to Great Britain in November 2013 marked an important step in enhancing relations between the two countries and the UK hopes to welcome His Excellency back to London during the course of this year.

You may wish to compare and contrast these extracts of a speech which I wrote and delivered while British Ambassador to Uzbekistan:

Uzbekistan is not a functioning democracy, nor does it appear to be moving in the direction of democracy. The major political parties are banned; parliament is not subject to democratic election and checks and balances on the authority of the executive are lacking.

There is worse: we believe there to be between seven and ten thousand people in detention whom we would consider as political and/or religious prisoners. In many cases they have been falsely convicted of crimes with which there appears to be no credible evidence they had any connection. Reputable Human Rights groups such as Human
Rights Watch and Amnesty international have brought to our attention specific instances where the same crime is used serially to convict a number of people. There appears to be a belief that such persecution of an individual can be justified by labelling them as an “Islamic extremist”.

Now, with the US and other allies, the British government remains in the very forefront of the commitment to the war against terrorism. And we are most grateful for the invaluable assistance rendered to the coalition by the government of Uzbekistan in respect of operations in Afghanistan. We acknowledge that we face the same global
threat.

Nobody should seek to underestimate the genuine security concerns of the government of Uzbekistan and the difficulties it has faced in countering those who seek to use religion and the problems of poverty to promote terror. Uzbekistan’s strategic situation has put it in the forefront of countries struggling to deal with problems such as terrorism and narcotics trafficking.

But let us make this point: no government has the right to use the war against terrorism as an excuse for the persecution of those with a deep personal commitment to the Islamic religion, and who pursue their views by peaceful means. Sadly the large majority of those wrongly imprisoned in Uzbekistan fall into this category.
But it is not only Muslims who suffer; the British Embassy yesterday observed the trial of a Jehovah’s Witness, being prosecuted for pursuing his beliefs. It should not be a crime to practice your religion, nor to tell others about it. And a number of those imprisoned are ethnic Russian human rights defenders, colleagues of some of my audience. I would like to say at this point how deeply I admire you on a personal level. I am very conscious that I stand here in a very privileged position, in the literal sense. You on the other hand daily risk persecution to stand up for the rights of your fellow citizens. You have my deepest respect and one day your countrymen will be in a position to show you their gratitude.

Uzbekistan is to be congratulated on a good record of ratifying key UN Conventions on human rights; unfortunately there appears to be a gap between obligation and practice.
World attention has recently been focussed on the prevalence of torture in Uzbek prisons. The terrible case of Avazoz and Alimov apparently tortured to death by boiling water, has evoked great international concern. But all of us know that this is not an isolated incident. Brutality is inherent in a system where convictions habitually rely on signed confessions rather than on forensic or material evidence. In the Uzbek criminal justice system the conviction rate is almost 100%. It is difficult not to conclude that once accused by the Prokurator there is no effective possibility of fair trial in the sense we understand it.

Another chilling reminder of the former Soviet Union is the use of commitment to lunatic asylums to stifle dissidents. We are still seeing examples of this in 2002.
Nor does the situation appear to be getting any better. I have been told by people who should know that there are significantly more political and religious detainees now than there were this time last year. From my own meetings with human rights groups from across the country there appears to be a broad picture of a reduction in the rate of arrests in the first half of this year, but a very substantial increase around August. Just last week saw another highly suspicious death in police custody in Tashkent. There is little sign of genuine positive change in Human Rights.

And that is what we want to see; genuine change. By that I mean change which actually increases the liberty of Uzbek citizens in their daily lives.

Among the classified documents I leaked when I blew the whistle (for which under current legislative proposals I would get 14 years in prison) was the correspondence with the FCO in which I cleared this speech for delivery. I think this has gained rather than lost interest over the years and you can read it here.

I do not pretend to be surprised that my tenure as Ambassador did not feature in Ambassador Allan’s account today of the 25 years of British/Uzbek diplomatic relations. He rather outlined a catalogue of British arse-licking. I am however quietly content that so many decent people see my efforts as rather more worthy and substantive than the current shameful policy. Twelve years after my resignation, I still hear from Uzbeks fighting for freedom every single day of my life. In twelve years time nobody in Uzbekistan will recall the name Boris Johnson.

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Irish Union on European Agendas

I was speaking with a Polish friend who is a Member of the European Parliament. He confirmed that Brexit had led to very wide support for Scottish Independence in the Parliament, across many political and national divides. He also made the interesting point that the cause of Irish reunification was again mentioned in the bars of Brussels.

This of course makes perfect sense. With the personal and economic freedoms and common rights of EU citizenship, a sense of both the Republic and the North being inside a much wider union took the edge off some of the grievances of Irish nationalists, at least to the degree that this was a contributing argument for ceasing to pursue reunification by violence. It is a commonplace that Brexit undermines the intellectual and emotional basis of the Good Friday agreement – it certainly does. I hope Brexit will not result in renewed violence, but that it will result in a strongly renewed demand for Irish reunification I do not doubt – and I will support that demand.

The sympathy that demand for Irish union will invoke in Europe post-Brexit is but one example of the extreme diplomatic isolation of the UK under the Little Englanders. Boris Johnson and Liam Fox will have no mates abroad, other than Donald Trump, Benjamin Netanyahu and the Saudi and Gulf tyrants; while Trump’s words of praise for Brexit will be backed by no trade or policy concessions whatsoever.

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University Governance

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

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

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

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Labour’s Failure and Institutional Analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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