Licorne nuclear test, French Polynesia, 1970

From stopping a war to starting one in 7 lines. We are about half-way through line 6  at the moment.

Stop the war in Ukraine.
Stop Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Sanction Russia to stop Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Send arms to stop Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Ukrainians are defending Europe, Europe must defend Ukraine.
Send food, send missiles, send planes, send troops, send tanks.
War! War! Death! Death!

Continue reading “The Road to Armageddon” »

Guernica by Agustin Ibarrola, inspired by  Picasso’s Guernica

Originally written on 24 February 2022, the day Russia launched a full-scale invasion if Ukraine.

War is monstrous. And it creates further monstrosities that are hard to un-make. Those who were previously banging drums that could only lead to war seem to think that the monstrousness is news and somehow vindicates their previous warmongering.

No one who brought the current incarnation of the monster into being can escape responsibility. The circumstances that bred it were largely created by the US, through its commitment to potentially endless NATO expansion and its apparent ambition of holding something much more than the balance of power in the Eurasian landmass. And then the final responsibility for unleashing the dogs of war was Putin’s. There are no excuses for either side.

Continue reading “Monsters” »

Dr Issam Hijjawi Bassalat was released on bail on Monday 13 December 2021 and is back home in Edinburgh.

He was granted bail by the High Court in Belfast on 9 December, having previously been refused bail in Dungannon Magistrates Court. District Judge Michael Ranaghan had ruled that the heart attack that Issam had suffered in prison did not amount to a change in his circumstances

On 14 December Issam was acquitted in Edinburgh Sheriff Court of a separate charge under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 relating to a stop-and-question incident at Edinburgh airport in early 2020. He was represented in court by Ryan Sloan of Aamer Anwar & Co Solicitors.

Issam was arrested in August 2020 in an MI5 sting said to have been directed against the New IRA. He was held on remand in Maghaberry Prison until his release in December 2021.

He continues to fight against the charges brought against him in Northern Ireland. A commital hearing for Issam and his nine co-defendants is expected to be held later this year.

Issam would like to thank everyone around the world who has helped him to reach this point, whether by writing supportive letters to the court, standing surety, or by helping to spread word about his case. International support has been particularly valuable and will continue to be crucial as the legal fight-back continues.

Tony Blair and Bill Clinton mark the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement

An MI5 sting directed at the New IRA is raising some tricky questions. The big questions are “why now?” and “what about Lyra McKee?” And “what has a Palestinian doctor from Edinburgh got to do with all this?”

Ten people were arrested in August in an operation said by police to be directed against the New IRA. Nine of them were members of the revolutionary Irish republican party Saoradh. One of them was a Palestinian doctor from Edinburgh, arrested at Heathrow airport and then taken to Belfast to be charged under terrorism legislation. His name is Issam Hijjawi Bassalat. His arrest triggered a little flurry of media speculation about supposed links between republican terrorism and Middle Eastern terrorism, helped along by the usual nameless security sources.

The operation has a name, as they do in the movies. It’s called Arbacia. Arbacia is a type of sea urchin that looks rather like the spiny-rayed sun that appears in the Saoradh logo. The police evidently want Saoradh to know that they are targeting it. At a press conference on 24 August Chief Constable Barbara Gray said: “This investigation did not start last week and it will not end this week.” She added: “It is a longer term investigation that will look into every aspect of the activities of the New IRA in its entirety.”

In fact there have been no further arrests. Gossip from a “security source” reported in the Guardian on 12 October carries a hint of finality that was absent from earlier reports. So what has been going on? Continue reading “MI5’s Irish Charade” »

Package of covid tests

On 10 March Scotland’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Gregor Smith, published a statement setting out the way that contact tracing was being used to counter the spread of coronavirus. He described contact tracing as “a fundamental part of outbreak control, used by public health professionals around the world.”

But at the First Minister’s press conference on 2 April, Chief Medical Officer Catherine Calderwood said: “the thought that the testing in some way slows the virus or is a part of our strategy to prevent transmission is a fallacy.”

What happened between these two statements? I sent the Scottish Government a freedom of information (FOI) request to try to find some of the answers. What I found was shocking. Continue reading “Test, Trace, Obfuscate” »

Sheku Bayoh

On 21 March the Scottish Government announced the terms of reference for the public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Sheku Bayoh. It remains to be seen whether Sheku Bayoh’s family will finally obtain justice.

Bayoh died in Kirkcaldy on 3 May 2015 after being restrained by police using CS spray, pepper spray and batons. The Lord Advocate announced in 2018 that no police officers were to be prosecuted and re-affirmed this decision on 11 November 2019, after the Crown Office had completed a review of its own earlier decision. The following day, Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf announced in the Scottish Parliament that a public inquiry would be set up. He announced in January that the inquiry would be headed by retired judge Lord Bracadale.

The public inquiry is being set up under the Inquiries Act 2005. It will cover the matters that would have been covered by a Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI), plus some matters that are beyond the remit of an FAI. An FAI is mandatory for all deaths in police custody, but the requirement may be waived if the Lord Advocate considers that the circumstances of death have been sufficiently established by other proceedings, such as criminal proceedings or a public inquiry. Continue reading “Justice at Last?” »

Illustrative chart of covid cases

The Scottish Government’s “COVID-19 – A Framework for Decision-Making” was widely welcomed when it was published last week. That must partly have been because it was, after all, a plan, and strategic planning has so far been either absent or invisible.

The plan has also won friends by avoiding the incautious language used by Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock and some of their advisers. Instead, it quietly arrives at much the same place by keeping references to enforceable human rights to a bare minimum and filling the gaps with aspirational but unenforceable principles like “dignity” and “autonomy”.

But the plan has not aged well. For example, it describes the Scottish Government’s COVID-19 Advisory Group as being “in alignment and discussion with the advisory structures in other parts of the UK including SAGE”. The day after it was published, the Guardian revealed that members of SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) include Dominic Cummings and Ben Warner, a data scientist that Cummings had worked with on the Leave campaign for Brexit. According to the Guardian, Chief Medical Officers and Chief Scientists of the devolved administrations are allowed to “sit in” on meetings, but not to contribute.

So the UK Government’s scientific advice has been shaped at source by politics. Scottish officials evidently knew of the problem. Ministers must have known too, as must members of the  COVID-19 Advisory Group. They all left it to the Guardian to break the news, very late in the day, to the rest of us. Continue reading “Sounds like a Plan” »

Islamophobic newspaper front pages

The definition of Islamophobia put forward last year by Westminster’s All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims has been criticised by police chiefs, who claim that it could impede their Islamophobic counter-terrorism policies. It has been rejected by the Tory party and the British Government. With credentials like that it might be thought that the work of the APPG deserves vigorous support. Unfortunately, it’s more complicated than that.

The definition is supported by the Muslim Council of Britain, a wide range of other Muslim organisations, the Labour Party and Plaid Cymru. But organisations signing up to the definition need to be very clear and explicit about exactly what they are supporting. The problem lies in an apparent attempt by the APPG – or at least by  a tendency within it – to use the definition of Islamophobia as a Trojan horse to promote the controversial IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of anti-semitism, which equates criticism of Israel with anti-semitism.

The APPG’s Co-Chair, Wes Streeting, recently put himself in the front line of the Labour Party’s wrangle over the anti-semitism by signing a statement calling on Jeremy Corbyn to re-impose the recently lifted suspension of left-winger Chris Williamson. Williamson had been suspended for saying that the party had done more than any to stand up to racism and had “backed off too much” in the face of allegations of anti-semitism.

Continue reading “Defining Islamophobia – a Tale of Good and Bad Intentions” »

vigil for Christchurch, Edinburgh Central Mosque

Text of the speech I gave at the vigil for Christchurch held on the steps of Edinburgh Central Mosque, Sunday 17 March 2019

There is nowhere else to begin than with the dead and injured, their friends and families, their work colleagues, the wider community in Christchurch, the relatives and acqaintances all around the world, all now grappling with shock and grief.

The phrase “thoughts and prayers” has become a tired cliché. But truly, I don’t believe that’s a weak phrase if you really mean it, and I don’t have any better words to cover the loss. So now let me turn to something that I think I do have words for. Because what starts with thoughts and prayers can’t end with them.

I’m usually very, very cautious about what I say immediately after a terrorist incident because the facts are usually very unclear. But this time there seems to be no doubt at all about what the killer thought he was doing, and why. It’s all there in his manifesto. Continue reading “Christchurch – the whole spectrum of Islamophobia played its part” »

Banner stating anti-semitism is a crime, anti-zionism is a duty

Earlier this month the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party drew fire for adopting the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of anti-semitism without adopting all the examples including in the IHRA guidance. It’s no surprise that supporters of Israel are enraged by this approach.

The IHRA definition, taken together with its examples, institutionalises the conflation of anti-semitism with anti-zionism and robust criticism of Israel. It wedges a propaganda foot in the door of liberal democracy as firmly as if it had been crafted to do so. It is at least as much an intervention in international relations as a contribution to the global struggle against racism. Because of that, supporters of the IHRA definition have had to bypass UN structures and instead create the appearance of international acceptance through a series of unilateral decisions by friendly governments. That fact alone should be a strong hint that the IHRA definition is a poor place to start in defining anti-semitism. Continue reading “How the IHRA conflated anti-semitism with anti-zionism” »