Tuesday, 8 May 2012

The First "For Scotland" ...

This is the first video I published on YouTube, laying out the positive arguments for Scottish Independence - hopefully as accessibly and informatively as possible.

There are many more to come in the "For Scotland" series, with, I hope, an ever-improving quality of production!


Saturday, 5 May 2012

Adam Yauch and Islamophobia

NB: The blogging has been light of late. Had a busy week campaigning on behalf of the Glasgow Kelvin SNP for our six candidates - four of whom got in, but as you may be aware, yesterday was a bit of a disappointing day for us in Glasgow. We'll just have to see where we're at after five more years of Labour.

Some elections you win and some you lose, but it was all put into its proper perspective waking up the next morning to the sad news that Adam (MCA) Yauch, of legendary hip-hop pioneers the Beastie Boys, had died, just 47 years old, of salivary gland cancer.

Fighting for your right to party was one thing, but Mr Yauch did something even more profound - on national television, at the 1998 MTV Music Video awards, he challenged the American people to break with underlying orthodoxies regarding US foreign policy and its implicit racism and Islamophobia.

While accepting the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, he asked for a moment or two's patience from the crowd so he could speak his mind "on a couple things" - before making a few heartbreakingly prescient observations:

"I think it was a real mistake that the US chose to fire missiles into the Middle East, I think that was a huge mistake ... it's very important that the United States starts to look at non-violent means of resolving conflicts.


... Those bombings that took place in the Middle East, we thought it was a retaliation by the terrorists, and if we thought that what we did is retaliation, certainly we're going to find more retaliation from people in the Middle East, from terrorists specifically I should say, because most Middle Eastern people are not terrorists."

Hushed silence, and then huge applause. That was in 1998.

Putting this into the context of 9/11 and the ensuing decade of mindless war renders these comments very poignant indeed.

The United States attacks, the terrorists retaliate, and the retaliation is the justification for renewed attacks: we've seen it over and over again. Warfare like this is the oxygen of extremism. No one can surely wonder anymore "why they hate us". They hate us because we treat their lives, their limbs, their livelihoods, their lands, their children, with no respect. We - and I generalise to mean the US and her complicit military allies like the UK - bomb them, torture them, shoot them and put crippling sanctions on their countries that never harm their oppressive governments, indeed always strengthen them, and cause their civilian populations to brutally suffer. Indeed, if particular leaders of Muslim nations are nice to us, we give them money, and guns, and bombs, and nice Western-made planes to drop them out of.

The man who is alleged to have masterminded 9/11 is about to be tried, not in court, but by a secretive US military commission where evidence from torture is permitted, and the prosecution is seeking the death penalty - or in Khalil Sheik Mohammed's case, martyrdom.

The atrocities of the war on terror are well documented. Kandahar, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and many more. From a Muslim's perspective, there have been almost too many hideous emblems of disrespect against them to count, from the invasion of sacred holy lands, to the recent bonfire of Qu'rans instigated by members of the United States military, to soldiers taking disgusting snaps posing with dead Muslims, to name only three among a litany of offences.

Almost 3000 people died on 9/11. All combined, at least hundreds of thousands of civilians and soldiers have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the 1990's, brutal sanctions killed 500,000 Iraqis, many of them children.

Every single one of these lives was precious, and mattered. Until we recognise that properly, by ending the policies of death and destruction, the situation in the Middle East will never have a chance to get better. Civilians in the West will be ever more targeted by Islamic fundamentalist forces. The Arab Spring will be corrupted and starved. Peace does not foster extremism and terrorism, war does. Muslims aren't the enemy. Muslims are people as valuable and "real" as Westerners. As people and as people alone, we should mourn the losses of the unnecessary dead on all sides and strive for peace.

The enemy lies within. It lies within a foreign policy paradigm that needs to be uprooted and shattered: the notion that "us" and "our interests" should be valued higher than them and their lives.



These wars need to end. The killing needs to end. The hatred needs to end. Foreign policies have to change.

Adam Yauch was right, and he'll be missed. Rest in Peace.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

David Cameron: Absurd Hypocrite

Cameron with Bahraini Tyrant


Today, David Cameron is to make a speech in Jakarta, Indonesia - predictably already leaked to the press - in which he will attempt to make an impassioned plea to the Muslim world, to reject extremism and embrace democracy. I can see no reason why that shouldn't be feasible, and also a decent idea.

What I reject is a hypocrite like Mr Cameron feeling he has the right to tell them this

Citing the "extraordinary journey" of Indonesia since the end of the Suharto regime in 1998 as an "example" the rest of the world can follow, the Prime Minister is to say:


"What Indonesia shows is that in the world's largest Muslim-majority country, it is possible to reject this extremist threat and prove that democracy and Islam can flourish alongside each other."



A Brief Indonesian History

General Suharto's reign of terror ran from 1966 to 1998, with the most fervent Western backing. In the 1965-66 coup in which he deposed the former President Sukarno, his forces are estimated to have killed between 500,000 and 1 million "communist sympathisers" in a pogrom. Western intelligence supplied him with "hit-lists", rubber-stamped by JFK and Harold Macmillan.

His embrace of globalisation and neoliberalism was praised among Western commentators as a "model" for others to follow.

In 1975, he invaded tiny East Timor, wiping out 200,000 civilians - or one third of the population. This was done to allow international oil and gas companies to exploit the rich seabed of the East Timorese coast. This they duly did.

In 1997, the Indonesian economy crashed under the weight of debt, corruption and short-term speculation; following this General Suharto resigned in 1998, to the tune of a "severance" package estimated at $15 billion - or one eighth of his country's national debt.

The only reason that exists for Indonesia's shaky transition to parliamentary democracy - or "extraordinary journey", as our Prime Minister puts it - is that they spent the previous thirty years under a brutal junta ruled, funded and armed by the West - primarily the US, the UK and Australia.

In Blair's first year in office (and Suharto's last) he approved eleven arms deals to Indonesia under cover of the Official Secrets Act, making the UK Suharto's biggest arms supplier in 1997.

Blair's first foreign sec, Robin "Ethical" Cook
- with Indonesian tyrant Suharto

"One of our best and most valuable friends."


 - Margaret Thatcher on Suharto.


John Major's Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd championed Suharto's "Asian values."


Is it not strange that Cameron mentions nothing of the mistakes of his office's predecessors, and indeed of members of his own party? In a speech dedicated to condemning "repression of peoples", "corrupt elites," and "authoritarian leaders", made in a city and country which has very recently experienced all of these things at the hands of a brutal, corrupt, authoritarian regime enthusiastically funded and armed by the UK, is it not strange, disrespectful even, not to at least acknowledge even some of this, if not outright apologise for it? Surely if he was being authentic, the Prime Minister would?


Of course, there is nothing strange about it, indeed it is unsurprisingly obscene, and entirely in-keeping with the standards of British foreign policy. Devoid of ethics or authenticity.


But that's all in the past, right?


Wrong. People who point to the Libyan example are deluding themselves. Libya represents a windfall of cash for oil companies. Gaddafi and the rebel forces were engaged in a civil war - neither was committing genocide. Incidentally, many factions of the rebels we funded and armed and backed with airstrikes have a substantial orientation towards the extremist Islamism Cameron feels is such a cause for concern. The rebels have been busy wiping out Black Africans too, on the flimsy basis they might be former Gaddafi mercenaries.


A power vacuum which is sucking in other areas of Northern Africa, Mali being an obvious example, is validating that old law of unintended consequences - consequences about which the British political and media establishment no longer seem to give a jot. We've done "our bit", now let democracy work and the oil flow! This is how we should've done it in Iraq folks! Get in, blow the place up, plunder the resources and get the heck out!


Further Hypocrisy


For Cameron to cry Democracy! is incredibly insulting to many regimes in the Middle East and Central Asia with large Muslim populations who remain under the brutal yoke of Western armed-and-backed regimes. From Karimov in Uzbekistan, to the Princes of Saudi Arabia, they are many and their human rights records long and grisly.


I am just going to use one particularly ugly and current example.


When the Arab Spring kicked off, the people of Bahrain weren't slow out of the blocks. Their Shia majority revolted and demanded democracy.


Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa responded predictably - with overwhelming force. Indeed, that still wasn't enough, and Saudi Arabian troops were drafted in to massacre hundreds if not thousands of protestors. 


David Cameron authorised the sale of £2.2 billion in arms sales to Bahrain, when the repression and unrest was at its height.


So, truly, what of Mr Cameron's alleged values of anti-authoritarianism and democracy?

They are absurd hypocrisies.

Syria


Syria was one of the main focuses of Cameron's speech, and I don't have a lot to say on the matter except that in light of everything above, this part of the speech was as equally vacuous as the rest.

To simplify it all, I'll just say this: Syria is the final stepping stone, and indeed last regional ally, of the Iranian regime. And Iran's natural resources are the last, and greatest, prize of the lot.




Wednesday, 28 March 2012

*ALERT ALERT TENNIS GEEK INCOMING*

Yes, that would be me. I am a tennis geek/fanatic/nerd/awful amateur player.

I play online tennis games, have a proper computer tennis game which cost me real money, I watch old tennis clips on Youtube and I occasionally even browse online tennis forums, which are really funny as they are in a perpetual state of cyber-conflict over whether Nadal or Federer is better, virtual battlelines drawn between "Nadaltards" and "Fedtards" who then engage in all out "Flame Wars". The Question normally so heatedly "debated" is, of course, "Who will end up being the Goat?"

This is not some strange tennis euphemism, but an acronym, standing for "Greatest Of All Time".

I even occasionally pick up the racket and go to the local courts at Kelvingrove Park in Glasgow's West End.

And of course, I pledge my unwavering support to Scotland's main man.

Mon Andy, FOCUS!
I've been following assiduously the pesky bugger's attempts to win a Grand Slam since the US Open 2008, where he came so tantalisingly close, defeating Rafael Nadal in a thrilling two-day four-set encounter only to fold to Federer in the final.

Now I follow him in everything, from the wee tournaments up to the Masters and of course right up to the Slams.

So a word on his current form - following his semi-final loss to Djokovic at the Australian Open in January, Andy finally seems to have bucked his two-year trend of going into a God-awful slump following his Australian Open losses. Last year, following Australia he lost in the first round of every tournament until the clay season. The year before wasn't much better. This time round, he reached the final in Dubai immediately post-Oz, beating Djokovic and World #7 Tomas Berdych en route and losing only to an in-form Federer. He suffered a surprise first-round defeat in the Indian Wells Masters, raising the spectre of the last couple of years, but at this week's Miami Masters he has roundly consigned that trend to the dustbin of history.

He is now into the Quarter Finals of Miami, having dismissed Gilles Simon in straight sets. He now, by all accounts, has a very good chance to win, and sweep up a lot of ranking points, given his shoddy performances at this part of the season last year. Federer, the next rank above, has been unfortunately racking up the points with even more zeal than Andy, only just yesterday knocked off a 16-match winning streak by no less than Andy Roddick - notable for his terrible head-to-head record against Federer. With the in-form Federer no longer in the mix, this Masters has opened up. Murray has shown he can beat both Djokovic and Nadal in this format and on these types of courts pretty handily in the recent past.

He plays Janko Tipsarevic next, though - he is no slouch. If I was a betting man, I'd be careful to only wager modest sums on this one.

That's all for Tennis Geekery today.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

The Message from the Government - We Don't Understand, Nor Care

As the Chancellor detailed his Budget last week, the message, loud and clear, to those struggling in the longest and deepest recession in recent memory was: we don't know what to do to help you and we don't care either.

 

What was interesting was how brazen it was. I'll note at this point that in theory, I have no quarrel with lowering the rate for top earners. In normal circumstances, I'd say 50p is too high. 45p almost sounds about right. The ONS actually reckons 48p is the optimum, for whatever reason. But it is what the cut for top earners represents when placed into context that tells the story - at its heart, the story of how big money owns the British political establishment, whose importance long supplanted the needs of ordinary working people in the eyes of the State.

Can anyone seriously doubt this? Corporation tax set to lower and tax breaks for the very top, set against the backdrop of State obsequiousness to the City of London, Treasury raids on benefits and tax credits for the poorest, and a brutal raft of public sector and services cuts which are barely one-tenth implemented so far. What else did Osborne add to this melee of trickle-down corporatist dogma? Well, he took a bite out of State pensions, and hammered public sector workers in poorer areas as well.

Add in the grossly unpopular NHS bill just shoved into law, rejected by the medical profession and the general public alike; add in the preposterous idea of privatising certain police functions; add in the plan to lease British roads to profiteers; add in the developing but hardly novel scandal of rich Tory donors cashing in for "premier league" access to the Government; add in the almost hilarious now hypocrisy of "We're All in This Together" ...

And it all almost beggars belief. Then you simply recall that these are Thatcher's children, inordinately wealthy themselves, oblivious to the real world, blinded by counter-intuitive economic ideology, bred into an insular "born-to-rule" Establishment class.

Were their predecessors all that different? Perhaps the bias towards the wealthy wasn't so dogmatic, obvious or significant. But the Blair years marked the end of Old Labour, as we all know. What replaced it was a party tailored to the wants and needs of middle-class Middle England - ultimately, a centre-right party. Big money was as insidious and corrupting an influence under Labour as it is now - it's the brazen nature of it that has changed. Bernie Ecclestone, PFI, the Iraq War, Cash For Honours, Big Bank Bail-Outs - we are not unused to personal and corporate financial interest running roughshod over the public interest, thanks to the old Labour government, in whose cabinet Ed Miliband sat quite contentedly and now, righteously indignant, calls quite correctly for an independent inquiry into the controversy surrounding Peter Cruddas.

But all of this may, just may have been excusable, if anyone in power could demonstrate that they understand what ordinary people are suffering right now, and what they're going to do to help. The coalition don't understand, don't know, and worse, don't care. Labour make some of the right noises, and yet, our memories are pretty fresh. Billions of pounds and hundreds of British lives later (never mind the other side), we left Iraq in - let's face it - ignominous defeat. We're still paying off the interest on hundreds of PFI contracts. We're still paying for the mistakes of the greedy short-termist collusion of big banks and bribed governments that led to financial disaster. We are going to be paying off the deficit reckless Labour ratcheted up for at least the next decade, and that's being optimistic.

That's not to say the Coalition's ignorant and blinkered Austerity programme is going to do anything other than worsen the situation - but they don't understand what else to do now. Even if they did, they wouldn't change course, because they're so stubbornly and zealously committed to it.

Committed to entrenching and retrenching and exacerbating the wealth divide that makes the UK the fourth most unequal country on the globe.

Committed to stagnation, and investment conspicuous for its absence. Where was the capital spend? Where was the investment, the growth strategy? Where are the measures instructing the part-State-owned banks to start lending to SMEs?

Committed to cutting jobs across the public sector for the thousands of disabled workers who are employed in Remploy factories across the country - 1000 to lose their jobs so far, while many other factories - including  Cowdenbeath, Stirling, Clydebank and Dundee in Scotland - have been labelled "potentially viable" by the UK government. Viable for closure, that is.

Committed to doing next to nothing to help the millions of people struggling with the twin devils of static or falling wages and crushing price inflation. Official inflation is around 4% of course. But in this measure, everyday costs such as food and fuel, which have had high and rising rates of inflation for a long time now, are not prioritised accurately.

Committed to cutting the benefits, services, council budgets and wages of ordinary working people. National Minimum Wage has now not risen above the rate of inflation for seven years. Regional Development Agencies have been massacred in the last few years, as has council funding across the nation. Now, on top of that, Osborne's chucked in for good measure that public sector pay in the poorer regions is going to be reduced - that's right, the public servants serving the neediest parts of the country are going to have their pay reduced -in order to better align it with private sector pay. And one of the only, on the surface, redeeming features of this budget - the increase in the personal tax allowance - has been put into context by Citizen's Advice, who assert that the threshold changes, when benefits and tax credit cuts are accounted for, realise only an extra £33 a year for the average poorest working families.

Well, take what you can get I suppose. That extra 63p a week is your lot, now go back to work Britain, work hard, these are tough times, go back to work Britain and please don't whinge and moan about it.

This is the context against which the cutting of the top rate of tax for the highest earners becomes garishly obscene. This recession has seen the rich by all measures doing fine and indeed getting richer, while the poor are getting poorer and suffering. Yet the Chancellor tags on a few changes to Stamp Duty that might conjure up a bit of revenue if any rich person fancies selling his current mansion for a new mansion and Lib Dems leap to call his budget fair and redistributive? And with no serious capital investment made to help jobs or stimulate growth, Mr Osborne has the audacity to claim that his budget "rewards work"?

It's scarcely believable. And yet, barely surprising at all. This decay, this insulation of the Establishment classes, started some time ago. The sleaze is endemic; multi-generational. The influence of big money continues to grow from its rotten roots outwards. Does anyone seriously doubt that the spiel Peter Cruddas gave to the folk he believed represented a wealth fund in Liechenstein is one that he had not spun before, probably many times? This latest cash-for-access scandal is just the latest in a string of symptoms showing British politics' endemic corruption, from dirty arms deals, to cash-for-peerages, to wars for oil, to, more recently, the stench of big money in the Tory Party trailing in the wake of its flagship NHS bill - flagship only in the sense that Lansley had been planning it for years, not in the sense that anyone had any idea it was going to be sprung on us prior to the election.

It's brazen. They just don't care anymore, enough to even pretend.

Emerging Markets Key to Future Scottish Growth

Scotland has not had a huge problem with attracting foreign inward investment, even in the downturn. Indeed, it couldn't be further to the contrary - according to Ernst and Young, in 2011 Scotland was the most attractive place to invest in Europe.

However, a healthy economy relies just as heavily on its exports as investment. At risk of stating the well-known and obvious, the key global sectors of growth right now lie primarily to the East, and for America, a wee bit to the South. I speak of the BRICs - Brazil, Russia, India and China.

The fastest growing base of consumers ever seen is emerging in these countries, therefore it is neither justifiable nor sustainable that two-thirds of Scottish exports go to a single market - the rest of the United Kingdom. These figures are of course rarely counted as Scottish exports - rather, they are considered part of intra-UK trade. In the event of independence, I logically assume our International and r/UK exports figures would be added up, showing the true value of Scottish exports to be just under a healthy £70 billion, which compares very favourably with other similar-sized, prosperous nations.

This is primarily a point for another upcoming post, intended to be part of a series laying out the Economic Case for Scottish Independence. I'll save the relentless positivity for that piece, and highlight the fact that no matter who it is, it is not a particularly viable position to have two-thirds of an economy rely on a single market.

There are good reasons why it is the case, and why the process of diversifying our export markets remains a rather slow and gradual one. For one thing, it was not until 1991 that Scottish Enterprise came into being, and it wasn't until 2007 that their remit for maintaining and safeguarding employment among Scots was transferred elsewhere, enabling them to fully focus on economic growth. For another, it wasn't until 1999 that Scotland had her own Parliament, creating the first opportunity on a governmental level to pursue a Scotland-specific international growth strategy, following which, two years on, the Scottish Executive duly established the SDI (Scottish Development International), whose achievements are marked, and whose assiduous work has contributed substantially to our top showing in Europe's inward investment league.

But on exports, we're still not where we could or should be. A large part of this is of course due to the Great Recession. But the Recession isn't proving quite so great for the BRIC nations. Their exponential growth largely remains unchanged, and presents an enormous and continuing opportunity for Scotland's diverse range of exports.

In today's Times, Peter Jones (no, not that one) has penned an interesting piece on the potential for Scottish export growth among the BRICs. It had a handy chart which I can't find, but I've got something similar (thank you, Australian Government).

Projected Growth of Middle Classes

By 2020, the Asia-Pacific middle class is set to treble to 1.7 billion people, and within another decade, have almost doubled again.

By 2020, their share of world spending power is predicted to have doubled. The share of spending power attributable to Europe and North America by then is to have halved.

The BRICs are set to account for half of world economic growth between now and 2020. By contrast, the UK is set to account for 2.6%, the Eurozone a disastrous 0.3%.

For a population of its size, Scotland has an incredibly large and diverse range of exports whose opportunities we have not fully exploited over the past decades, and perhaps more importantly, huge export potential in dynamic and developing new sectors, Renewables springing most readily to mind.

There have been some serious successes already, of course, particularly in Food and Drink.

Here is the First Minister, fittingly and a tad amusingly dubbed "Alex Salmon" on this news programme, laying out at the end of last year the details of soaring Whisky and Salmon sales to China.


But the success story of whisky in China is more remarkable still. Since 2001, whisky exports to China have exploded from £1 million to today's reported figure of £92 million - an increase of 9100%. This is frankly phenomenal growth, tapped into by the combined efforts of the SDI, Scottish Food and Drink and the Scottish Government.

Such a dramatic example shows the path that could be trod with other high-quality Scottish goods and services. India is apparently a big target market this year. Brazil and other South American countries remain largely untapped. The government's goal is to have upped exports by 50% come 2017. I think we can, must and will do better than that.

In the words of Anne McColl, chief executive at the SDI:

"There is an over-estimation of risk and an under-estimation of opportunity."

Monday, 12 March 2012

Alistair Darling the Real Fool

Of all the last Labour governments' key figures, I must admit to having always had a little bit more time for Alistair Darling, who struck me as a decent, restrained man landed with a very tough job at a very bad time.

The less well-judged his recent forays into the Scottish Independence debate have become, however, the more I find myself revising this view.

There was his bumbling admission that it was "essential" that Scotland should raise its own income tax - arguably leading in part to the confusing and continuing fracas between Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson and the Prime Minister, the former having stated the current Scotland Bill would be "a line in the sand" whilst the latter came to Edinburgh pronouncing that there might instead be jam tomorrow. The implicit admission, of course, being that they're ain't no jam for Scotland in the current Scotland Bill making its sombre procession to the Scottish Parliament, where it will no doubt be summarily dismissed by the SNP majority.

Today, Alistair Darling is reported to have attacked - you guessed it - Alex Salmond. For people so apparently keen to make the independence debate not one about "personality", the Unionists - and going by Johann Lamont's speech to conference, Labour especially - sure are doing a good job of invoking the inadequacies of the popular Mr. Salmond at every opportunity.

Allow me to lay out my personal allegiances here. I support Scottish Independence, I am a member of the SNP, and I have serious respect for the First Minister. I am a fairly recent convert to the SNP; I've been generally used to taking a fairly sceptical, cynical view of politicians and political parties.

However, Alex Salmond and the SNP have cautiously won me over. It wasn't too hard, given I was already pro-independence. But I wouldn't have done it if I didn't trust, albeit cautiously, the party and the people running it. Their record over a period of decades says to me, clearly simply and honestly, that they have and always have had Scotland's interests at heart. I do not feel the same about Labour, Scottish or otherwise.

But I take Mr Darling's initial comment as a given - he says Mr Salmond is not "infallible."

This seems a remarkably vapid thing to say. Does he know anyone who thinks the First Minister, or anyone else, is infallible? I am an SNP member and a supporter of the First Minister's overarching aims, but I will never blindly support everything he says and does, and I know no one who would. I was personally rather disquieted at his recent coseting up to Rupert Murdoch, and would hope the First Minister understands that they are the kind of things that could seriously damage the trust he has built up over the years with his rank-and-file, and more than that, the Scottish people too.

However disquieted I may have been, I still see no evidence of foul play - unless you count simply giving an audience to the odious media mogul - and I certainly don't think representatives from either of the three big parties have any right to lecture the First Minister on media relations given the cosiness of successive UK governments to Murdoch's organisation and his rags. Yes, I'm talking to you again, Ms Lamont.

But I digress. The meat of Alistair Darling's criticisms stem from Mr Salmond's support for the Royal Bank of Scotland during the infamous ABN-Amro takeover. Mr Darling said:

"This is the man who wrote to RBS saying he had looked at the deal with ABN Amro and was confident it was good for Scotland. Well, if he honestly thought it was good for Scotland, he's a complete fool because it brought the entire RBS edifice crashing down. So, he does get judgment calls wrong."

Let's talk about this support, and try and qualify it. This is easy. Let's just look at the letter the First Minister sent to Fred Goodwin.



Alistair Darling claims that:

  •  The First Minister had looked at the deal
  • and decided he was confident it was good for Scotland

This is disingenuous at best. Although it is undoubtedly true that the First Minister had studied the deal, all he said in his letter to Goodwin was that he was "watching events closely." Mr Darling then misconstrues this to claim that Salmond told RBS he'd concluded with confidence that the deal was good for Scotland, effectively giving it his backing. All he actually says is that it is in Scottish interests for RBS to be successful - yes, successful in the bid no doubt, given that it was supposedly a great investment opportunity, as testified by the fact that RBS had fierce competition in the bid from Barclay's among others, and indeed, the deal was signed off in the end by no less than the UK Chancellor at the time - one Alistair Darling. Everybody, including him, thought it was all gravy.

But seeing as the deal was in the end a factor that caused not RBS success, but indeed the failure of the bank at large, it could equally be construed from the First Minister's remarks that only continued RBS success would be within Scotland's interests.  


That's disingenuous too of course - but only because the letter was nothing more and nothing less than a relatively innocent "good luck" message from a Scottish First Minister to the CEO of Scotland's biggest bank, in the midst of negotiating an important deal. There wasn't much whiff of a "judgement call" about it, contrary to the former Chancellor's unbecoming negative spin.

Indeed, let's talk about the real judgement calls, leading up to and including this crucial period.

Gordon Brown's beholden policies as Chancellor to the City of London; his light-touch regulation; his judgement that he'd singlehandedly ended "boom and bust". His protege and successor to the job, Mr Darling, took on Fred Goodwin as a special advisor to the Treasury, a capacity in which he remained long after quitting RBS and the full force of the financial crisis had hit.

As aforementioned, but which cannot be stressed enough, Alistair Darling, not Alex Salmond, signed off the ABN-Amro deal as Chancellor. Now nobody is infallible. But if Mr Salmond is a "complete fool", as Mr Darling puts it, what on Earth does that make the former Chancellor, particularly given this incredibly dazzling display of selective memory?

RIP Paul McBride



A giant in Civic Scotland. One of the best lawyers Scotland ever produced. A QC at thirty-five.

I won't go into details but in my work I came across the man himself a couple of times. He was a nice guy I thought, for all of his alleged propensity for stinging rebukes of opponents.

At risk of sounding sanctimonious, I'll leave it there, because I didn't know him. But rest in peace sir, all the same.

We Lost The War

We've lost the war in Afghanistan, because it always was unwinnable. You can't eke out a draw in war. You either win, or lose.

The grotesque news spectacle showing the aftermath in an Afghan village of a massacre perpetrated - apparently - by a solitary US special ops soldier is, without meaning to trivialise the horror of it, like a brutal sliding tackle right into an opponent's ankle when your 4-0 down, with 89 minutes gone on the clock.

This war has to end right now. How many more Afghan men, women, children and soldiers, how many British and American soldiers and personnel, have to kill or be killed before we do what we always should have done? That's simple: march back home, just like how we marched right in.

Sixteen Afghan villagers were wiped out, nine of them children. None of them Taliban. The US military insists the gunman was alone, and NATO are pleading ignorance. However, one survivor, Jan Agha, claims he:

"pretended to be dead when gunshots burst through his window, killing his father. His mother, brother and sister were also killed during the attack ... he believes more than one US soldier entered the house during the attack and "stayed in our house for a while.""

This is backed up by other accounts:

"Neighbors said they had awoken to crackling gunfire from American soldiers, who they described as laughing and drunk ... Their (the victims') bodies were riddled with bullets."

One neighbour, Agha Lala, said:

"They were all drunk and shooting all over the place."

Of course, the US Defence Department has labelled these multiple accounts "flatly wrong", adding: "We believe one U.S. service member acted alone."

They believe this because the US soldier in question "walked back to the base and turned himself into U.S. forces."

And yet, several accounts from Afghan eyewitnesses claim the attack to have been perpetrated by a "they", not a "he" - curious. Accounts pertain to having heard multiple American soldiers "drunk and laughing". Are they having collective hallucinations?

Does the US military have any evidence that it was one soldier and one soldier alone? Are they countenancing the idea that one man may be taking the flak for the actions of not just himself but several others, who remain among the ranks of the American deployed contingent in Afghanistan?

If the Defence Department's sole substantive reason for believing the accounts of several local Afghans to be wrong is that only one soldier turned himself in, then is it any wonder Barack Obama's statement rings so utterly hollow?

"This incident is tragic and shocking and does not represent the exceptional character of our military and the respect that the United States has for the people of Afghanistan."

If the US and the rest of the NATO nations involved in the Afghan War really respected the people of Afghanistan, they would listen to them. Their very presence occupying Afghan land is a disrespect: to lay waste to her villages, whether it's a "rogue", "sole gunman", or a terrorist-targeting air raid, only deepens this sense of disrespect.

Because let's cut through the noise. We have given them no respect. We attacked them, invaded them, overthrew their government, occupied them, and continue to occupy them eleven years later, and the various atrocities on our side are building up into a quite ugly pile, ridiculing the Obama notion of "exceptional character" in our Armed Forces. Yes, the Taliban carry out their fair share too. But that's not the point. We are supposed to be "civilised." The relentless Justin Raimondo at Antiwar.com dispels this notion incisively, laying out the consistent brutality engendered in American culture, military action and foreign policy, manifesting itself in the ever-rising mountain of wartime atrocities.

But even that's not the full point. The simple truth is: We are not Afghans. It is not our country. We should leave.

A wee while ago, I wrote in a now-defunct blog an article taking apart a piece in The Guardian by former Special Advisor to then Minister Liam Fox, a man called Luke Coffey, who had disingenuously suggested that "progress", and ergo, "success" in Afghanistan was just a little bit more hard work (blood, tears and treasure) away. "There is a lot to be optimistic about" is a quote I can remember particularly sticking in my craw. I laid out the only "progress" I could possibly envision if we carried on this reckless war:

"What can be guaranteed is that if we stay up until 2014, more British servicemen and women will die for no discernible reason, we will remain perceived throughout the Muslim world as an oppressor of Muslims, and the main reason the Taliban are still a force - our occupation - will remain so for another 3 years."

Last week, the bombs of Afghan insurgents took out six British soldiers in one fell swoop. Following the burning of Qu'rans by American troops last month, and now this massacre, I wonder if Afghans, the Taliban, and Muslims across the region have ever resented Western presence more?

What are we doing there? The mission has changed so many times it can truly be given that too-easily bandied about label: Orwellian. Luke Coffey claimed David Cameron had changed the debate in this country, transforming the Afghan War from one of "nation-building" - which was no longer winning in the polls, it seems - to one of "national security". As I wrote:

"The only Islamic terrorist attack ever on British soil occurred in 2005, four years after our campaign in Afghanistan had started and two after Iraq. Coincidental, you might try and argue - but perhaps you should look up why the 7/7 terrorists resolved to blow themselves up on the London Underground. In their justifications, they cited British involvement in Muslim nations: Iraq and Afghanistan ...

Whose national security? Ours? What threat to our national security does Afghanistan pose? A threat to trade, or interests, or the nation herself? I think not. Some cite terrorism. On that basis, why not also invade Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia? Further still, why not enact martial law in London and Leeds, seeing as we know the strongest threat comes from home-grown Islamic terrorism?"

The war is directionless, morally senseless, hopeless. It is even strategically senseless, geopolitically. Afghanistan bankrupted the Soviet empire. The British Empire right down to Alexander the Great could not conquer her harsh terrain and fierce people. The ignorant, disingenuous and wild optimism of Luke Coffey back at the end of last year is echoed today in the words of hawkish US Senator Lindsey Graham:

"These things happen in war ... you just have to push through these things ... we can win this thing."

Afghanistan is not a thing, Senator. The massacre of her children are not just "things" that "happen". If you try to push through these "things", all you will do is cause even greater bloodshed in the long run.

That "these things happen in war" is totally unacceptable. These things should never happen. That's why war should never happen, unless there is some utterly insurmountable, solely defensive reason for doing so.

What is the Senator striving for here, that makes all this worthwhile? A terrorist-free world? It isn't going to happen, especially while US foreign policy seems almost deliberately designed to incite it. A Taliban-free Afghanistan? Even that cannot be done. Every time innocent Afghans are massacred, that's another few hearts and minds pushed into the insurgent camp.

Ask yourself this. If you were an Afghan, just how angry would you be? What lengths would you go to to make this anger manifest?

There is nothing good that can come out of continuing this war. As I wrote of Coffey then, and could be equally said of Senator Graham now:

"Coffey ascribes to the Madeleine Albright view of military adventurism - the price is worth it. I say: tell that to the families of the dead. No ideal, however lofty, is worth the human suffering of those who never wanted to sacrifice for it."

      

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Hello, Nice to Meet You

Welcome to my new blog.

My name is Dan Vevers and this is my blog, Smatterings.

A smattering here of comment and critique on Western foreign policy in the Middle East and beyond.

A smattering there of evaluation of financial markets and the national and international economic outlook.

A smattering here of local politics, coming to you live from Glasgow.

A smattering there of wondering what on earth most politicians/fatcats/pliable-deadwood-journalists/apologists-for-all-of-the-former think they are doing doing whatever it is they're doing on any given day.

A rare smattering of applause for whichsoever diamonds in the rough choose to stand up for things that are fair and true and good in my world.

A smattering here of contempt for corruption, in all its guises.

A smattering there of my hope that one day everyone can enjoy the same freedoms, privacy, civic and democratic rights, and life opportunities.

A smattering here about ending the cross-Atlantic thirst for War, and trying Peace for once.

A smattering there about what successive UK governments, the current Coalition being the most flagrant about it, have done to our public provisions, our society, our economy and our politics.

And a huge big dollop about how we in Scotland should and will take our independence in the upcoming 2014 referendum, and how we owe it to our kids, and their kids, and the prospect of a better country - within, here's hoping, a better world.

It is, was, and always will be up to us.

Welcome.