When slavery was abolished in the British Empire, taxpayers paid huge sums in compensation to slave owners for the loss of their “property”. No compensation was ever paid to the slaves for the loss of their freedom.
The problem with that approach is, of course, that the state did not take into account that the “property” of which it was relieving the landowners was acquired as part of an inhuman and immoral situation.
I was considering the same question in relation to the constitutional moves of South Africa to redistribute land without compensation. It seems to me this is plainly morally justified. The only question marks I can see are of practicality, in terms of making sure those taking over the land are trained to keep it properly in production, and that redistribution is not corrupt. Those are not insuperable problems, and I support the South African government in its endeavours.
But I wish to apply the same principle, of the state acting to right historic injustice on behalf of the people, much more widely and in the UK.
I apply precisely the same argument to the great landed estates, particularly but not only in Scotland. I believe the fundamental answer to land reform is confiscation by the state of large estates, and that social justice can never be redressed by the taxpayer simply handing over money to the ultra-wealthy. We have already been doing far too much of that through the bankers’ bailouts.
I have no moral qualms at all about simply taking back the land, whether it be from the Dukes of Sutherland, Buccleuch and Atholl, from a Dutch businessman or from a sheikh. In England the Grosvenor estate, the lands of the Duchy of Cornwall, and similar holdings could be confiscated. I do not see this as harm to the “owners”. Let them work for a living, or try their luck with the benefits claim system. Residential properties in large estates might become council homes, while tenants of commercial properties might pay rents to the council rather than to the Duke of Westminster, and the council use a large portion of that money for homebuilding.
Agricultural land from vast estates might perhaps best be given to the tenant farmers who have rented it. In the Highland glens, there are vast tracts which were once cattle rearing and arable. We have been lied to for generations that these are only fit for moorland for grouse and deer hunting – despite the fact that they are studded with the croft foundations of the cleared populations they once supported, who reared cattle and grew crops. These unfarmed lands should be given free to communities to develop; with assistance for the expensive task of bringing them back into production. That assistance would be a better use of state money than paying “compensation” to the ultra-wealthy.
But it is not only land. I favour nationalisation without compensation of all PFI projects, and of all railways and utilities. The owners have milked the public and the taxpayer far too long. Any business investment carries risk, including political risk. If you misjudge the political risk, your business fails. These businesses have made a misjudgement of political risk in the view they could profiteer, that it is possible to rip off the people forever without blowback. That is a business miscalculation, and such businesses deserve to fail.
The Labour Party’s renationalisation proposals have been carefully calculated within the existing framework of “legitimate” property rights. Therefore John McDonnell has framed rail nationalisation in terms of the expiration of franchises, and talked of PFI projects in terms of buyouts. I reject this approach in favour of the more radical approach of confiscation.
Yes, I realise that some percentage of the investments removed will belong to pension funds and insurance companies and even foreign states, and to small investors. Still more will belong to hedge funds and plutocrats, and the stake of ordinary people in wealth through pension funds had been – deliberately – tumbling for two decades. The less wealthy individuals with a stake in pension funds will lose a little, but gain from the wider public good, and for them there might be a compensation mechanism.
I also realise the markets will not like confiscation, and there will be an increase in bond yields; but this will pass. There is no measure to redress social injustice the markets will like. The City of London is our enemy and will naturally attempt to resist or punish any attack on its continued ability to be the conduit for the hoovering dry of the national wealth.
The fact is, that the extreme injustice and inequalities of society have now become so very glaring that there is no way to make any impression on wealth disparity without changes that may be rightly considered revolutionary. Either we are content to live in a society where the wealthiest one per cent will within two decades own ninety per cent of all wealth in the UK and the rest of us be helots, or we make changes to the fabric of the economy and government which are truly radical.
The economic system has tilted beyond correction by tinkering.
What is immorally owned ought not to be compensated on expropriation by the community.
As with the owners of slaves, the owners of “property” would be likely to attempt to defend their riches through the courts. This is where the doctrine of the sovereignty of parliament might for once be put to good rather than evil use, in passing law making such state confiscation unequivocally legal. Both the UK and Scotland appear set for at least a period outside the EU; I cannot think of a better use for any window of legal autonomy.
I am fully aware that I am proposing very radical measures very unlikely to be adopted by the current political Establishment. But the most telling fact of recent western society, itself a natural and predictable result of that galloping wealth inequality, is that the political Establishment has its coat on a very shoogly peg.
Yet again, the Guardian’s Hillary cult irrationalism leads it to a wrong analysis, this time in relation to Russian actions at the Kerch strait.
To quote the Guardian:
Russian forces seized the vessels and their crew and Moscow’s refusal to return them was the reason Donald Trump offered for his decision to cancel a bilateral meeting with Putin, which had been planned for Friday morning.
As Russian actions in the Sea of Azov had been known for days, there was speculation in Washington that the real reason for the change of mind was the court appearance of Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, on Thursday in which he pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the extent and duration of negotiations with the Kremlin about a possible Trump hotel in Moscow, continuing up to July 2016, at the height of the presidential election campaign.
This is a deliberate misreading of the situation, and actually Trump’s actions have been correct and no doubt guided by the State Department’s maritime law experts.
As explained in my last post, under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea the Ukrainian navy, and any other vessel, has an absolute right of innocent passage to the Ukrainian coast through the Kerch Straits and the Sea of Azov. They do however have an obligation to comply with sea lanes and notification regimes established for reasons of navigational safety.
It appears Ukraine may not have observed the navigational safety regulations, so Russia had a right to take proportionate action for enforcement. The Russian action was a bit heavy handed, but probably did not stray over the proportionate boundary.
However Russia did not have a right to detain the vessels or the crews, other than briefly. This is specifically not allowed. So at some point in Russia’s continued detention of the vessels and crews, Russia’s actions switched from legal to illegal. The timing of Trump’s decision to cancel the Putin meeting makes perfect sense in terms of the stage at which Russia went from being in the right in the incident, to being in the wrong. In taking prisoners to Moscow Russia is very, very definitely in the wrong.
The situation is complicated by their being military personnel. Russia has to make a decision. If the claim is this was not innocent passage and the Ukrainians planned to attack the bridge, there is no legal option to treat that as terrorism. These were military ships and that would be war. Russia has either to accept that this was not an attack, or accept that it is in a state of war with Ukraine. You can’t treat military personnel from military vessels as terrorists. And Russia very definitely acted illegally in parading foreign military personnel to make statements on TV.
As expected, my last posting brought howls of protest from those of limited intellect who style themselves radicals, and who essentially take the view the Russians are the goodies and the Ukrainians the baddies, and therefore Russian actions must be legal. All of their arguments were intellectually abysmal.
The rule of international law is a very tenuous concept. It has great achievements, but has never been more under attack. There are proponents of the USA and UK, of Russia, of China, who plainly prefer a might is right approach. The hypocrisies are sickening. For example, there is no significant difference in the legal justification nor in the method of achievement between the realisation of “self-determination” in Kosovo and Crimea. Yet the people who believe the West wear the white hats will argue that Kosovo was legal and Crimea illegal, and those who believe the Russians wear the white hats will argue that Crimea was legal and Kosovo illegal. It is a sorry task to try to argue for impartial rule of law in these circumstances, as the partisan idiots will prove in comments below almost immediately.
With the secession of Kosovo and Crimea, I take the view that both were illegal, though I can see a respectable argument that both were legal. That one was legal (either one) and the other not, I can see no sensible argument whatsoever.
Prima facie, it is Russia which is acting illegally in the Kerch Strait. As I wrote when it was the Russians who were being harassed in the English Channel:
Contrary to Article 44 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, to which the UK and Russia are both party, the UK has engaged in extensive illegal harassment of a Russian naval submarine engaged in fully lawful transit of the Dover Strait.
A Russian naval vessel en route between the Baltic and Black Seas is fully and specifically entitled under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea Articles 37 and 38 to the right of passage through the strait. This is in addition to the general right of passage through the territorial sea at Article 17. The Russian navy was in full compliance with the provision at Article 20 that, while in territorial waters, the submarine must be on the surface and displaying its flag, and in compliance with Articles 29 to 32 on warships.
Not only does the Russian Navy have every right to sail through the Dover strait on passage, it has been exercising that right – along with many other navies – for over a hundred years. The decision of the British government now to employ military harassment and threat is not only illegal, it is a gross and entirely deliberate act of provocation designed to sour international relations and disturb the atmosphere of world peace.
The author of this article, Craig Murray is a former Head of the Maritime Section of the United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and former Alternate Head of the United Kingdom Delegation to the United Nations Preparatory Commission on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. He is a retired British Ambassador.
Russia is very definitely acting illegally in putting military personnel of another state on television to make statements, whether coerced or not (personally I found them precisely as believable – no more and no less – as Yulia Skripal’s strained statement to British TV).
Please note that Ukrainian ships have the right of innocent passage through the Kerch Strait irrespective of whether the Crimean side is viewed as Ukrainian or Russian. The coastal state does have the right to make arrangements for maritime safety which may include designating sea lanes and a notification regime akin to air traffic control. If Ukraine violated these provisions, (which seems probable), Russia had a right to take enforcement action. But that enforcement action specifically does not extend to substantive detention of vessels and crew.
The situation changes if Russia genuinely has evidence that the military vessels were engaged in a military attack. But it only changes, and the civilian rules only cease to apply, if one side or the other acknowledges that a state of war now exits. Ukraine came close to this
by demanding that its servicemen be treated as prisoners of war. There is no option to treat uniformed military personnel of another state as terrorists. But if Russia does not acknowledge a state of war, it has to let them go. Russia is certainly not entitled to impose a wider blockade of the strait to shipping to or from Ukraine – any more than Israel is entitled to blockade Gaza.
Given that Russia appears on the face of it to be very much in the wrong, the western powers have been remarkably quiet. I suspect this indicates knowledge that Poroshenko was indeed engaged in some sort of stupid stunt. In which case the Russians have played into his hands by a disproportionate reaction. Poroshenko’s own action in declaring martial law is of course also wildly disproportionate. My sense is that we have here two Presidents each with slipping popularity ratings, deliberately escalating a crisis as it suits each domestically. Such playing with fire is wildly irresponsible, far too many people have died in Ukraine already.
I expect the usual howls of protest from people for whom the application of impartial international law is anathema, who believe you must be on the side of the “goodies” against the “baddies”. I am aware that rationality and impartiality are not much valued in political discourse nowadays. I shall however stick to them with stoic resolve.
The right wing Ecuadorean government of President Moreno continues to churn out its production line of fake documents regarding Julian Assange, and channel them straight to MI6 mouthpiece Luke Harding of the Guardian.
Amazingly, more Ecuadorean Government documents have just been discovered for the Guardian, this time spy agency reports detailing visits of Paul Manafort and unspecified “Russians” to the Embassy. By a wonderful coincidence of timing, this is the day after Mueller announced that Manafort’s plea deal was over.
The problem with this latest fabrication is that Moreno had already released the visitor logs to the Mueller inquiry. Neither Manafort nor these “Russians” are in the visitor logs.
This is impossible. The visitor logs were not kept by Wikileaks, but by the very strict Ecuadorean security. Nobody was ever admitted without being entered in the logs. The procedure was very thorough. To go in, you had to submit your passport (no other type of document was accepted). A copy of your passport was taken and the passport details entered into the log. Your passport, along with your mobile phone and any other electronic equipment, was retained until you left, along with your bag and coat. I feature in the logs every time I visited.
There were no exceptions. For an exception to be made for Manafort and the “Russians” would have had to be a decision of the Government of Ecuador, not of Wikileaks, and that would be so exceptional the reason for it would surely have been noted in the now leaked supposed Ecuadorean “intelligence report” of the visits. What possible motive would the Ecuadorean government have for facilitating secret unrecorded visits by Paul Manafort? Furthermore it is impossible that the intelligence agency – who were in charge of the security – would not know the identity of these alleged “Russians”.
Previously Harding and the Guardian have published documents faked by the Moreno government regarding a diplomatic appointment to Russia for Assange of which he had no knowledge. Now they follow this up with more documents aimed to provide fictitious evidence to bolster Mueller’s pathetically failed attempt to substantiate the story that Russia deprived Hillary of the Presidency.
My friend William Binney, probably the world’s greatest expert on electronic surveillance, former Technical Director of the NSA, has stated that it is impossible the DNC servers were hacked, the technical evidence shows it was a download to a directly connected memory stick. I knew the US security services were conducting a fake investigation the moment it became clear that the FBI did not even themselves look at the DNC servers, instead accepting a report from the Clinton linked DNC “security consultants” Crowdstrike.
I would love to believe that the fact Julian has never met Manafort is bound to be established. But I fear that state control of propaganda may be such that this massive “Big Lie” will come to enter public consciousness in the same way as the non-existent Russian hack of the DNC servers.
Assange never met Manafort. The DNC emails were downloaded by an insider. Assange never even considered fleeing to Russia. Those are the facts, and I am in a position to give you a personal assurance of them.
I can also assure you that Luke Harding, the Guardian, Washington Post and New York Times have been publishing a stream of deliberate lies, in collusion with the security services.
I am not a fan of Donald Trump. But to see the partisans of the defeated candidate (and a particularly obnoxious defeated candidate) manipulate the security services and the media to create an entirely false public perception, in order to attempt to overturn the result of the US Presidential election, is the most astonishing thing I have witnessed in my lifetime.
Plainly the government of Ecuador is releasing lies about Assange to curry favour with the security establishment of the USA and UK, and to damage Assange’s support prior to expelling him from the Embassy. He will then be extradited from London to the USA on charges of espionage.
Assange is not a whistleblower or a spy – he is the greatest publisher of his age, and has done more to bring the crimes of governments to light than the mainstream media will ever be motivated to achieve. That supposedly great newspaper titles like the Guardian, New York Times and Washington Post are involved in the spreading of lies to damage Assange, and are seeking his imprisonment for publishing state secrets, is clear evidence that the idea of the “liberal media” no longer exists in the new plutocratic age. The press are not on the side of the people, they are an instrument of elite control.
I explain this in detail about every three years, but it is plain from my twitter stream today I have made no significant inroads into public consciousness.
MI6 officers, when operating abroad, do so 99% of the time disguised as British diplomats. They serve three or four year postings like other Embassy staff and will have a “cover job” doing something else in the Embassy. Back home in the UK their “cover job” is working in the FCO.
A proportion of them will be “declared” to their host country, including the Head of Station, and operate in liaison with the host intelligence services. A portion will be “undeclared” and spy on the hosts themselves or on others in territory without the hosts’ knowledge.
Those are MI6 officers, British career spies. The great advantage of the Embassy cover is that they have diplomatic immunity and when they mess up and get caught, they are simply expelled.
“Agents” are not “officers”. In MI6 terminology “agent” is another word for “informant”. The fictional James Bond is not in fact a “secret agent”. He is an officer.
Agents are usually nationals of the host country, but not always. They are “recruited” and “run” by MI6 officers. Motives vary but in the large majority of cases agents provide information for cash. British people who provide information to the Embassy from motives of patriotism will usually do so to a normal diplomat and not to MI6, but British people can be recruited as agents for MI6, in situations where the information being provided is in some sense deeply secret.
Agents of course run far greater risks than the actual MI6 officers and do not have diplomatic immunity.
Matthew Hedges is not an MI6 officer. His research would be of interest to the UK authorities, and it is not impossible MI6 were running him as an agent, but it is much more likely he would simply be cultivated by a normal member of Embassy staff, if at all, or by the FCO in London.
I am obliged to say that Jeremy Hunt has done very well in the Matthew Hedges case. He has been prepared to take individual injustice for a British person much more robustly than we have generally seen from British ministers. I quite accept this is British exceptionalism and that Palmerstonian “Cives Romanus Sum” stuff is safe ground for a Tory minister. I do realise that Hunt is not exactly forthcoming about the human rights of jailed non-British activists and opposition figures in the UAE and elsewhere. But nonetheless Hunt has been unusually robust and done well in this instance.
I compare this to Jack Straw’s utterly disgraceful behaviour in the case of Sandy Mitchell and two companions fitted up by the Saudis over a terrorist bombing 20 years ago. Straw took the opposite view to Hunt and, in the interest of Saudi/British relations, made virtually no protest even though the men suffered dreadful physical tortures in prison.
Incredibly, when after release the victims sought to sue Saudi Arabia for compensation for the torture, through the British legal system, the New Labour government actually intervened in the court case – on behalf of Saudi Arabia.
The death of Raed Fares in Syria reminds us that there was a moment in Syria when protest was led by secular democrats keen to see the end of decades of one family rule. That he was killed by the Islamist rebels the West is now actively supporting – and the fact that all the western news reports have sought to elide that fact – is sign of how horribly it has all gone wrong.
The assault on Hodeidah appears finally to have focused some Western leaders on the appalling horrors of the bombing of civilians in Yemen by the Saudi/UAE led coalition. Hodeidah is abhorrent not just because of the direct effect of the assault, but because the aim is to close the port which is the only supply route standing between further millions and death by starvation. When you add to Hodeidah the hideous killing of Khashoggi and the dreadful imprisonment of the unfortunate Matthew Hedges by Saudi satellite the UAE, and you realise that all of these deaths and injustices including that of Raed Fares are orchestrated by the same people, you would hope the pause to reflect would be general.
Trump/MBS/Netanyahu is the real axis of evil today. In Syria and Yemen the West has abandoned all belief in human rights and in basic decency, in favour of promoting a crazed Sunni jihadist agenda against Iran. The effects are so perverse, that we reached a stage where the continuation of the Assad regime is the best outcome that can be hoped for short term in Syria because the alternative is now al-Nusra. Western foreign policy in the Middle East has long been both illegal and morally indefensible; it has now also become extremely stupid.
The largest battle of the Jacobite 45 was not Culloden and not Prestonpans but Falkirk. On 17 January 1746, amidst a howling winter storm, an 8,000 strong Jacobite army routed a similar sized Hanoverian force under Lieutenant General Hawley, which had been marching to the relief of Stirling Castle. By every conventional measure it was a Jacobite victory. They held the battlefield while the Hanoverians retreated pell-mell to Edinburgh, they captured the Hanoverian artillery and baggage, Hanoverian casualties were higher by about four to one. Yet the history books tend to call it a draw.
The Hanoverian force broken at Falkirk formed 80% of the victorious force at Culloden a few months later. Falkirk was decisive because, had the Jacobites chased Hawley’s force as it retreated to Edinburgh in great disorder and with shattered morale, it could have been destroyed. This did not happen, for a variety of reasons. The most important was that Charles Stuart thought it prudent to get all his ducks in the row by capturing Stirling Castle first. The second was that Charles had failed to appoint an overall commander or a commander of the left wing, and spent the actual battle with his senior staff indoors around a fire staying out of the storm, while George Murray, fighting on foot, led the right wing of MacDonalds and Athollmen to victory.
You will gather that the research for my biography of George Murray continues. But unless you are particularly slow today, you will gather that I see a lesson here for the Yes Movement.
This is our Falkirk moment. Both the Tories and Labour are riven by internal dissent over Brexit. The UK is in palpable political chaos, and the prospect of remaining tied to Westminster has never been less appealing. It is not the job of the SNP to “save the UK from a bad Brexit”. It is the job of the SNP to win Scottish Independence, after which Scotland can decide itself on whether it wants to be in the EU or not (and the fact is that when last asked it very much did).
I fumed when the SNP fought the last Westminster election on a “don’t mention Independence” platform, and deservedly lost MPs as a result. I fumed still more when I was not allowed to hold a fringe meeting on Indyref2 at the SNP conference, and the subject was rigorously excluded from the motions before the Conference itself. Now that Nicola Sturgeon is daily putting further and further excuses forward for not moving on Independence, I am inclined to fear that the comfortable fire around which Charles Stuart warmed himself during the Battle of Falkirk, is an apt analogy for the position of the SNP Establishment, who are doing very nicely, thank you, out of their position within the UK, and show no inclination whatsoever to stop warming their toes at the Establishment hearth and move out into the storm and bullets.
I have no more claim to be a strategic genius than the next man. But when I see my sworn opponents, disoriented, in disarray, and fighting fiercely amongst themselves, I cannot help but feel that now is the time to attack them.