Murray, Craig

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Historian, Former Ambassador, Human Rights Activist
Updated: 1 hour 23 min ago

FCO Speeds Up Planning to Move UK Embassy to Jerusalem

Sun, 2019-08-18 17:08

Following US National Security Adviser John Bolton’s talks with Boris Johnson and his ministers in London last week, FCO officials have been asked to speed up contingency planning for the UK to move its Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, with an eye to an “early announcement” post Brexit.

The UK is currently bound by an EU common foreign policy position not to follow the United States in moving its Embassy to Jerusalem. As things stand, that prohibition will fall on 1 November. FCO officials had previously been asked to produce a contingency plan, but this involved the construction of a £14 million new Embassy and a four year timescale. They have now been asked to go back and look at a quick fix involving moving the Ambassador and immediate staff to Jerusalem and renaming the Consulate already there as the Embassy. This could be speedily announced, and then implemented in about a year.

Johnson heads the most radically pro-Israel cabinet in UK history and the symbolic gesture of rejection of Palestinian rights is naturally appealing to his major ministers Patel, Javid and Raab. They also see three other political benefits. Firstly, they anticipate that Labour opposition to the move can be used to yet again raise accusations of “anti-semitism” against Jeremy Corbyn. Secondly, it provides good “red meat” to Brexiteer support in marking a clear and, they believe, popular break from EU foreign policy, at no economic cost. Thirdly, it seals the special link between the Trump and Johnson administrations and sets the UK apart from other NATO allies.

Bolton also discussed the possibility of UK support for Israeli annexation of areas of the West Bank to “solve” the illegality of Israeli settlements on occupied territory. My FCO sources believe this is going to be much more difficult politically for the Cabinet to agree than simply moving the Embassy, due to lack of support on their own backbenches.

This is an insight into the future of British foreign policy if the Johnson government, and the UK, both survive. In the massive defeat of the UK at the UN General Assembly two months ago over the illegal occupation of the Chagos Islands, the UK was in a voting block with only the USA, Israel, Australia, Hungary and the Maldives, against the rest of the world. The Maldives had a particular maritime interest there, but the leadership of the others – Donald Trump, Viktor Orban, Scott Morrison, Benjamin Netanyahu and now Boris Johnson – constitute a distinct and extreme right wing bloc. These are very worrying times indeed.

This article was updated to add the third point above after my source alerted me that I had missed it.

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The Devolution Trap

Fri, 2019-08-16 17:46

For the many who expressed kind concern at the bureaucratic impasse involved in Cameron starting his new school, I should update you with the good news. Cameron was able to start on time in the local school, and I am very happy to say that both staff and pupils have been extremely friendly and helpful. Which does not obviate the daftness of the system which makes it impossible to get more than a day’s notice of acceptance, but we are getting over the problems that caused.

But I have also to say that I am genuinely shocked that Cameron took the 33rd place in his class, which is now full. Class size is a very major factor in pupil achievement and I am perplexed to find these Victorian levels of pupil/teacher ratio still surviving in 2019.

This is illustrative of the trap that is devolution within the UK. The SNP devotes the large majority of its resource as a party to attempting to manage vital services within the UK settlement through government in Holyrood, and does so with competence and professionalism. But a decade of austerity and budget squeeze, and still more the profound economic malaise caused by the sucking out of Scottish capital and human resource by London over centuries, make it an impossible task.

Within the UK, Scotland will never have the economic resources at the disposal of its government which will enable it to provide public services of the standard its people ought to expect.

If you look at nations comparable to Scotland, these are the primary school pupil teacher ratios

Denmark 10.7
Sweden 12.1
Norway 9.01

The reason the devolution trap is so deadly is that it seduces the SNP into expending its energies in genuinely well meaning attempts to mitigate the disastrous public sector climate of Tory UK. It is very easy in these circumstances for Scottish ministers to become over-proud of tiny achievements in making life better for people, and miss the big picture.

The big picture is that within the UK Scotland will never escape the drain on its economic resources and subsequent impoverishment, and will never fulfill its economic potential. Meanwhile, in trying to run public services within the context of Tory austerity, those services are simply bound to be inadequate and the SNP ends up taking the blame for failures created deliberately in Westminster.

Devolution has run its course. There is no devo-max solution that will make things better. It is time to forget all ideas of making the UK less disastrous, and to concentrate all energies on one thing and one thing only: Independence.

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Assange Must Not Also Die in Jail

Tue, 2019-08-13 19:32

The highly dubious death of Jeffrey Epstein in a US maximum security prison is another strong reason not to extradite Julian Assange into one – particularly as many of the same people who are relieved by Epstein’s death would like to see Assange dead too.

But there is every reason to fear Assange is already in danger, in Belmarsh maximum security prison, where he is currently incarcerated. As the great journalist John Pilger tweeted six days ago:

Do not forget Julian #Assange. Or you will lose him.
I saw him in Belmarsh prison and his health has deteriorated. Treated worse than a murderer, he is isolated, medicated and denied the tools to fight the bogus charges of US extradition. I now fear for him. Do not forget him.

There is no official explanation as to why Julian’s health has continued to deteriorate so alarmingly in Belmarsh. Nobody genuinely believes him to be a violent danger, so there is absolutely no call for him to be imprisoned in the facility which houses the hardcore terrorist cases.

Assange is fighting major legal cases in the UK, Sweden and the United States, yet is permitted visitors for only two hours per fortnight, inclusive of time spent with his three sets of lawyers. All of his visitors have been alarmed by his state of physical health and many have been alarmed by his apparent disorientation and confusion.

It is because of Assange’s draconian one year sentence for “bail-jumping” on claiming political asylum that he can be kept in such harsh conditions and with so little access to his lawyers. That is why his sentence was so unprecedentedly stiff for missing police bail. Otherwise, as a remand prisoner awaiting extradition hearing his conditions would ordinarily be less harsh and his access to lawyers much better. The Establishment has conspired to reduce his ability to defend himself in court. I am not convinced it is not conspiring to destroy him.

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Epstein’s Death Must Be the Start, not the End, of the Investigation

Sun, 2019-08-11 22:33

There are a number of royal palaces and grand residences of former Presidents and Prime Ministers where the inhabitants have a little bit more spring in their step following the death of Jeffrey Epstein. The media is rushing to attach the label “conspiracy theory” to any thought that his death might not have been suicide. In my view, given that so many very powerful people will be relieved he is no longer in a position to sing, and given that he was in a maximum security jail following another alleged “suicide attempt” a week ago, it would be a very credulous person who did not view the question of who killed him an open one.

There has been a huge amount of obfuscation and misdirection on the activities of Epstein and his set. To my mind, the article which remains the best starting point for those new to the scandal is this one from Gawker.

Two days ago a federal court unsealed 2000 pages of documents related to the allegations against Epstein. Of these the most important appears to be a witness statement from Virginia Giuffre alleging that while a minor she had sex at Epstein’s direction with Senate Majority leader George Mitchell and former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, plus a variety of senior foreign politicians.

Epstein’s sexual activities and partying with young girls were carried out in full view of key friends, his domestic and office staff, his pilots and of course the participants. There is no shortage of potential witnesses. Several of these really ought to be taking great care – though if I were them I would certainly eschew any protection involving US security services or law enforcement. Ghislaine Maxwell might take heed of her father’s fate and avoid swimming for a few years.

(I am probably not the only one old enough to compare the many similarities between Robert Maxwell’s asset stripping career and that of Philip Green. The progress of society after thirty years of Thatcher, New Labour and returned Tories meaning that Green by contrast got no criminal charges and much bigger yachts.)

In the UK, Ms Giuffre’s alleged relationship with Prince Andrew has been mentioned in the media. In fact the evidence that she had a relationship with Prince Andrew of some sort is overwhelming. Here is some of the actual evidence from the court documents.

The age of heterosexual consent in England is 16 and there is no indication that Prince Andrew is doing anything illegal in this photograph in which Ms Giuffre is 17. Nor is the photo in itself evidence of sex, though it certainly is intimate. The notion however that Ms Giuffre was “lent out” to Andrew may have legal implications as she was flown into the country, allegedly for the purpose.

No satisfactory alternative explanation has been offered as to what might have been happening here, as Ms Guffre’s lawyers noted.

No further details appear in the documents to amplify Ms Giuffre’s claim that she was forced to have sex with a “well known Prime Minister”, other than to repeat the claim. But what is plain is that her tale is not entirely invention. Just how much more did Epstein know, and who might he have taken down with him?

The truth is that sexual abuse by the rich and famous transcends all political boundaries. Bill Clinton was very frequently on Epstein’s plane and Epstein joins the very long list of those connected to the Clintons who died in dubious circumstances.

Two coincidences – the first being the bruise marks on the neck sustained in Epstein’s first “suicide attempt” in jail – remind me of the case of John Ashe, the senior official very close to the Clintons who died with bruise marks on his neck, when he accidentally dropped his barbell on his throat while bench-pressing alone at home.

Ashe was charged and awaiting trial for receiving corrupt funds from businessman Ng Lap Seng while Ashe was serving in the USA’s turn as President of the UN General Assembly. Ng Lap Seng, a six time visitor to the Clinton White House, had previously been accused of making very large illegal donations to Clinton campaign funds, and was subsequently arrested while entering the USA with over US $4 million in cash. Unlike the Clintons, Ashe was charged with taking Seng’s money and rather like Epstein may have had an interesting song to sing while going down, had he not conveniently dropped the barbell on his throat.

I said that the first thing that jogged me to link the Epstein/Clinton and the Ashe/Clinton cases was the bruise marks on the throat. The second is that both stories have been debunked by self-proclaimed “conspiracy-busting” website Snopes – in a manner which shows that Snopes has no regard for the truth whatsoever.

In the case of John Ashe, Snopes wrote an utterly tendentious piece of “myth-busting” which stated that it was a myth that Ashe’s death occurred shortly before his trial and that he was not due to testify against the Clintons. Snopes failed to mention that Ashe, a very senior Clinton appointee, was charged with taking corrupt money from precisely the same man who had been very widely accused of giving corrupt money to the Clintons. And while it was true his trial was not imminent, his pre-trial deposition was.

In the Epstein/Clinton case Snopes wrote a piece debunking the notion that this is a photograph of Bill Clinton on Epstein’s private jet.

Snopes sets out to prove that this is not Epstein’s private jet but that of another billionaire, and that the girl is not Rachel Chandler. For the sake of argument I am prepared to accept what they say on both counts. But is the sensible reaction to that photo to say “Oh that’s OK it’s another billionaire’s jet” or to say “Why is Bill Clinton on a billionaire’s private jet in an intimate pose with a worryingly young female”? As with the Prince Andrew photo, although it has been circulating for years no alternative innocent explanation is on offer.

And the fact that this is another billionaire’s plane should open again the much wider question of networks of the rich and the powerful indulging each other’s passion for sexual exploitation of the young. It is a great shame that in the UK, the Establishment has been able to characterise the falsifications of Carl Beech as discrediting the entire notion of historical child sexual abuse. It is as though one person making up stories about a Bishop would mean there was never child exploitation in the Catholic Church.

The deeper question is why such a significant proportion of the rich and powerful have a propensity to want to assuage their sexual desires on the most vulnerable and powerless in society, as opposed to forming relationships among their peers. I suspect it is connected to the kind of sociopathy that leads somebody to seek or hoard power or wealth in the first place.

It is not necessary to develop that idea further, to understand that the Epstein case had given us a glimpse of criminal sexual behaviour which beyond doubt involves many powerful people. It is essential that the threads that can be grasped are now worked on assiduously to uncover the entire network.

I am afraid to say I suspect the chances of that actually happening are very slim indeed.

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The Unanswerable Case

Fri, 2019-08-09 17:18

Simon Jenkins gets it with this simple and unanswerable argument.

Scots are now very significantly poorer than the Irish, the Norwegians, the Swedes, the Danes, the Icelanders or any of their obvious comparators. Every one of those nations is in the top 10 of the UN Human Development Index. The UK is not, and Scotland is below the mean for the UK. It is not because Scots are stupid or feckless, it not because of climate and it is certainly not a lack of natural resources. It is because of the draining away of human and physical resource by London over centuries.

Against that fundamental fact, the cloud of stupid obfuscation around the minutiae of transition is a mere distraction, and a deliberate one at that. Countries which are far poorer than Scotland successfully run on their own currencies – scores of them. Why would people believe Scotland is unique among nations in being incapable of having a currency? Yet such pathetic shibboleths are pounded out by the media, and particularly the BBC, on a daily basis to make a significant number of Scots believe that what is possible for every nation that has tried it, is uniquely impossible to them.

It is particularly galling to see those that have made us poor tell us we cannot be independent because we are poor. Particularly when the entire system of government accounting has been manipulated over decades to ascribe Scotland’s revenue to the wider UK, to ascribe a portion of infrastructure projects in SE England such as Crossrail as Scottish expenditure, and to present an entirely distorted picture of the Scottish fiscal position.

I am entirely at the end of my patience. It really is time that we claimed our Independence and stopped this slavish adherence to the laws of the Imperial state which seeks to continue its leeching out of our resources.

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40% of Scottish Labour Voters Support Independence

Mon, 2019-08-05 20:00

The headline from the major new Ashcroft poll of Scottish public opinion is that Independence now has 52-48 majority support, and that is excellent news. Ashcroft himself is a Machiavellian Tory but his polling effort involves much larger samples than regular newspaper polls and has a generally good record. For me, the most interesting point in his new Scottish poll is that fully 40% of Scottish Labour voters in 2017 now support Independence.

This has important repercussions. The Labour leadership will no longer be able to portray Independence as beyond the pale for decent thinking people, or to portray Scottish nationalism as akin to Viktor Orban, without alienating a huge swathe of its own support. It certainly ought, at the very least, to encourage the Labour Party in supporting the Scottish people’s right to a new referendum, against Tory attempts to block it.

But it also has ramifications for how the SNP and wider Yes movement conduct ourselves, particularly online. Nationalists must stop automatically writing off Labour supporters as unionists. There remains a Blairite rump still powerful in Scottish Labour who are rightfully despised, but we need more readily to acknowledge how much we have in common with a great many ordinary members of the Labour Party, both in terms of supporting Independence and in terms of the more socially inclusive Scottish state we wish to build.


The dates in brackets indicate that the affiliation refers to how people voted in the election or referendum of that date.

It is not surprising that many more Labour voters are looking to Scottish Independence as a reaction to a historically extreme right wing government in London. But as I blogged at the time, already in 2017 25% of Scottish Labour voters supported Independence and a significant number who had voted SNP in the 2015 General Election had reverted to Labour in the 2017 General Election. The reason for this was simple – the SNP showed little sign of pushing on with Independence anyway and our dreadful, lacklustre 2017 GE campaign was conducted entirely on the basis of “don’t mention Independence and deny we are pushing for it whenever the Tories bring it up.” No wonder some Indy supporters drifted away.

As ever I looked to the estimable James Kelly for his interpretation of the latest poll, and found that I had beaten him to it. I did however find his last article touching on precisely the subject of whether the SNP should put Independence at the forefront of their campaign in the likely event of an early General Election. As James puts it:

“But we’ve all heard the mood music from the SNP leadership: in a snap pre-Brexit election, they’re more likely to emphasise their plan to stop Brexit, albeit with a pledge to hold an independence referendum.”

I too have picked up that mood music, and I have also picked up the massive groundswell of discontent with it. The SNP must put Independence right at the forefront of a general election campaign, and I entirely endorse the Angus MacNeil option of declaring the general election a de facto Independence referendum if the Tories persist in their refusal to countenance a formal one.

For the SNP yet again to put Independence on the backburner and to lead their campaign on Brexit would be a massive mistake. Firstly the surest way for Scotland to remain in the EU is to become an Independent country. It might end up with more SNP MPs at Westminster, but for those of us whose object is to have Scotland out of the UK and no SNP MPs at Westminster at all, the SNP is looking more and more like an organisation over-interested in its own institutional strength and in highly paid UK jobs for its highheidyins.

In short, Tommy Sheppard’s brilliant 2015 quote “We came to Westminster to settle up, not to settle in” is in danger of turning Tommy – for whom I have high regard – into a liar if they don’t rediscover the sense of urgency that quote conveyed.

Secondly it is not our right to keep England and Wales in the EU if they wish to exit. If we genuinely believe Scotland should be an Independent country, we have to accept that we have no right to interfere in English politics and no right to force them to stay in the EU, against the democratic wish of English voters, just as they have no right to drag us out of the EU, against the democratic wish of Scottish voters.

The SNP seems to have its heart set on being heroes on the UK stage and beloved of the Guardian and Alastair Campbell by thwarting Brexit for the UK. Well, bugger that. I want to destroy the UK and I want Scottish Independence. The rest is detail.

Whether England remains or leaves the EU is a decision for the residents of England, not for me.

Thirdly, an all out bid for Independence will attract back to voting SNP many of those Independence supporting 40% of Scottish Labour voters, many of whom voted SNP in 2015 but not 2017. I can see no especial reason they should change their vote if the SNP does not look a great deal more serious about Independence than it does today.

Finally, if you can’t achieve Independence while Boris Johnson and his bunch of ghouls are lurking around No. 10, when can you? Forget waiting for a better time.

If the SNP fails to strike all out for Independence now, and gets further distracted by the effort to stop Brexit for the whole UK, I shall not be alone in wondering how many of the 8% of SNP voters in the Ashcroft poll who do not support Independence, are at or near the top of the party.

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