Stand Up to Racism Scotland refused to keep Friends of Israel off its anti-racism march in Glasgow. In the end, supporters of the people of Palestine did Stand Up to Racism’s job for it. But Stand Up to Racism still argues that unity against racism means at least arms-length unity with the Israel lobby. And it still argues for resisting “those who would divide us” without saying who, or how. In fact, Stand Up to Racism is encouraging a division between acceptable and unacceptable kinds of anti-racism. Anti-racism that’s willing to name and shame Israeli apartheid is apparently unacceptable. It would be bad enough that this position has gained a grip on Stand Up to Racism Scotland. What’s worse is the way that it happened.

Palestine activists keep Friends of Israel behind an apartheid wall

On Saturday 10 March the steering committee of Stand Up to Racism (SUTR) Scotland overwhelmingly voted down an emergency motion calling for the Confederation of Friends of Israel in Scotland (COFIS) – an organisation that works with the Israeli government to undermine Scottish solidarity with Palestine – to be told that it would not be welcome on the anti-racism march being held in Glasgow the following Saturday. How did that happen?

Continue reading “The Use and Abuse of Unity” »

Revulsion over British complicity in Saudi war crimes has put Britain’s relationship  with Saudi Arabia under welcome scrutiny. But government and business links between the countries are deep-rooted and will not easily be loosened. Attention is likely to be deflected onto Britain’s Muslim communities. They are at risk, yet again, of being scapegoated from the outside and de-politicised from the inside. A Scottish initiative is a world leader at doing just that.

protest - Stop Arming Saudi
Stop Arming Saudi. Downing St, London, 11 July 2016

Saudi Arabia’s use of British arms to commit war crimes in Yemen is the latest in a long line of scandals afflicting the UK-Saudi relationship.

In July the High Court dismissed a claim by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) and other organisations that arms sales should be suspended. Part of the hearing was held in secret. The judgment – which CAAT says it will appeal – is instructive. It combines masterly legal fudge with some breathtaking statements. For example, it says: “The UK is a bystander in this volatile conflict”.

The judgment takes for granted the Government’s position that it is not a party to the Yemen war. At the same time, it argues that the UK’s strong links with Saudi Arabia and the support given to the Saudis by UK personnel mean that the Government is well placed to decide whether there is risk that war crimes are being committed. The judges say:

“The reality of the position is that the Secretary of State has available to him and his advisers a significant amount of information relating to the conflict in Yemen and the conduct of Saudi Arabia as part of the Coalition.” Continue reading “The Saudi Connection” »

The government’s definition of extremism amounts to: “we don’t know what extremism is, but we know it when we see it.”

Philip Hammond, when he was Foreign Secretary, claimed: “countering Islamist extremism is, perhaps, the great challenge of our time.”

He said that fascism and communism were extremist ideologies of the past, but that “Islamist extremism” has deeper roots and wider reach.

He apparently believes  extremism is a bigger threat then the Luftwafe or the Red Army were, bigger than the threat from global warming now is.

This is craziness. It’s junk politics and junk language. It’s a confidence trick. We cannot let it rule our lives.

Barking Up the Wrong Tree – my speech at the Muslim Council of Scotland seminar on countering extremism, 2 March 2016.

Foreign Secretary speech on the challenges of extremism, 31 October, 2015


My speech at the public meeting held by Stand Up to Racism at Edinburgh University on Thursday 9 March.

Free Gazademo

I’m an extremist. Government policy is that people like me should only speak on university campuses if special measures are in place to marginalise us.

It’s great to be speaking here in Edinburgh university. It’s great because published guidance to universities, which may or may not be in effect in Scotland, says that people who oppose the racist state in Israel, who support Palestine, who oppose the racist Prevent strategy here in Britain, are extremists. If they speak on university campuses, they are a risk that needs to be managed, perhaps by having other speakers to mitigate the risk. Continue reading “I’m an extremist” »

Text of my talk at the public meeting “Prevent: Racist and Islamophobic”, held at the Augustine United Church, Edinburgh on Saturday 30th April 2016. It may differ slightly from the talk as delivered.

Scrap Prevent placards
Placards from a Scrap Prevent demo

Just a few months ago, very few people In Scotland knew anything about Prevent, even in institutions like schools and local authorities where Prevent was being implemented.

That’s beginning to change. If you are a student at Edinburgh University, or if you belong to and organisation  – the Edinburgh May Day Committee for instance – that wants to book a room there, you will have to fill in a Prevent risk assessment form.

If you are a guidance teacher in many parts of Scotland, you will have had or will soon be sent on Prevent training. If you are a school teacher in Glasgow, and probably in other areas too, you’ll get your Prevent training at the end of the summer break.

In local authorities people who told me not long ago that Prevent wasn’t happening in their workplace have found themselves attending Prevent training.

So what is Prevent? ….

Continue reading “Preventing Prevent” »

Anatomy of a Media Counter-Terror Operation

Armed police at Glasgow airport
Armed police pose at Glasgow Airport, 2012

Earlier this month, the Sunday Herald invited me to write a guest column taking a critical look at ‘Prevent’, the controversial government scheme that is supposedly intended to stop people turning to terrorism.

The article was published a couple of days later, on 9 August. The Sunday Herald didn’t change what I’d written, and they gave it a headline that accurately reflected the article. That puts the Sunday Herald way ahead of a lot of papers.

It might be good manners to stop there, but  it only seems like that because the bar for the media has been set so very, very low.  Screw good manners.

Continue reading “ISIS, the Queen and the Journo-Bomber” »


Does the NUJ really want the STUC to commit itself to pressing for a change in the law to protect Katie Hopkins and the Editor of the Sun?

Anti-immigrant hysteria is the magic carpet that might fly British voters rightwards, where they need to be if bankers and corporate executives are to keep syphoning money from the poor to the rich.

Nigel Farage does a great job at piloting the carpet, so long as there are only far-right fan-boys on board. But his position as party leader has forced him into the more or less grown-up forum of the leadership debates, where the Greens and the SNP have flamed all his attempts to push Cameron and Miliband into bigotry-envy.

Last Tuesday,  Ed Miliband tweeted support for a renewal of search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean, to prevent migrants drowning. He’d very likely have done that even if human decency hadn’t already turned out to be a vote-winner in the leadership debates. He’d have to, if he didn’t want to take a place in history alongside East German leaders jailed for having authorised a shoot-to-kill policy to deter people from crossing the Berlin Wall to the West. Continue reading “Freedom of Speech or Freedom for Hate Speech?” »

Paris demo in response to the Charlie Hebdo attackk

The Charlie Hebdo attack is still serving as a hook on which to hang discussions about freedom of speech.  So I’m posting here the text of a talk I gave (not quite word for word) at a meeting of the Edinburgh Branch of the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) on 16 February. 

A couple of days before the meeting, a gunman had opened fire on an event in Copenhagen entitled “Art, Blasphemy and Freedom of Expression”, killing one person, and had then opened fire again the following day outside a synagogue in Copenhagen, killing another person. The suspected gunman was subsequently shot dead by police.

Freedom of speech is a precious and complicated thing and warrants discussion. But the demonstrations that followed the Charlie Hebdo attack, and the images and slogans that went with them, didn’t have anything to do with freedom of speech at all.

When I was asked to speak at this meeting, I thought that the passage of time since the attack in Paris would help to give some perspective on it. The murders in Copenhagen over the weekend mean on the contrary that the issue is still a raw one. The background to the Copenhagen incident remains unclear and the repercussions are still to be seen, so I’m going to focus on the Paris attack last month.

Continue reading “Charlie Hebdo was nothing to do with Freedom of Speech” »

boy playing a fiddle at Faslane

Well, this is awkward. It looks as if everyone who supports independence is utterly outraged by THAT Steve Bell cartoon. Quite a few people want to call it anti-Scottish racism. Count me out of both the outrage and the racism claim.

It’s been a bad week for apocalyptic warnings and anti-independence propaganda. Allan Massie, in the Mail on Sunday, warns of “the Thames foaming with much blood.” He insists that he means metaphorical blood but then, just in case you are inclined to think the echo of Enoch Powell an accident, he name-checks Enoch Powell. Allan Massie is evidently a man who thinks he knows how to eat his cake and have it too. Continue reading “Steve Bell, Faslane and Scottish Country Dancing” »

Vigil in Lille for victims of the Charlie Hendo attackYesterday’s shootings at the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo magazine are a heart-breaking tragedy. First, and above all, they are a tragedy for those killed and injured, and for their families and friends.

Human life is precious. It is not to be taken just in order to make a point.

A photograph shows journalists in the AFP newsroom in Paris holding “Je suis Charlie Hebdo” placards. There are similar placards on the streets of cities around the world.

But I am not Charlie Hebdo.          Continue reading “I am not Charlie Hebdo” »