Putin’s plan is obvious: to boost Assad *and* Isis

October 10, 2015 at 1:56 pm (Guardian, imperialism, islamism, Jim D, Middle East, New Statesman, Russia, Syria, thuggery, tragedy, Ukraine, war)

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives to speak at a Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights meeting in the Grand Kremlin Palace on Oct. 1, 2015, in Moscow, Russia.

Putin arrives to speak at a meeting in the Grand Kremlin Palace 

Commentators in the mainstream media generally seem unclear about Putin’s strategic objective in Syria – some even claim he hasn’t really got one. Putin, they say, is a brilliant tactician but a poor strategist: keeping the west guessing by springing surprises (as in Eastern Ukraine) is an end in itself, but he has no long-term game plan.

Julian Borger, in a quite well-informed piece in yesterday’s Guardian subscribes to this view, noting that

“What appears to be unfolding goes beyond stabilising Bashar al-Assad’s regime. It looks like an effort, in coordination with Syrian and Iranian-backed ground troops, to inflict a lasting military defeat on the rebel coalition which had succeeded in carving out a growing patch of territory in the north-east.

“Although conducted under the banner of a campaign against Islamic State, the evidence suggests that the overwhelming majority of Russian targets have been non-Isis groups, some of them supported by the US, others by Turkey and the Gulf states”

This, you would have thought, gives us a very strong clue as to what Putin’s objective is, but Borger doesn’t seem to see it, concluding his piece thus:

“Putin’s mastery of surprise has put him in the driving seat, but there is little sign so far he knows where he’s going.”

Oh no? I should have thought it’s obvious: destroy the democratic non-Isis opposition forces so that the only significant forces in Syria are Assad and ISIS, thus facing the west with a stark choice, based upon the facts on the ground, as created by Russian imperialism: Assad or Isis? And to fight Isis, you’ll have to do a deal with me, on my terms. It has been reported by a credible source that to achieve this end, Putin has been boosting Isis by encouraging radicalised Russian Muslims to travel to Syria

Mark Leonard, in the current New Statesman spells it out the reality in an excellent article that’s not yet available online (I’ll provide a link when it is). Here’s a key section:

Vladamir Putin’s military intervention is is less about defeating Isis than about establishing himself as the ultimate counter-revolutionary leader.

There is a parallel between Putin’s plans for Syria and the long war he fought in Chechnya from 1999 to 2009. The first war in Chechnya, from 1994 to 1996, was between a moderate, largely secular opposition and the Russian state.

In order to win the second conflict, however, the Kremlin started to marginalise the moderates – starting with the legitimate president Aslan Maskhadov – while at the same time helping the factions that did not obey Maskhadov, and which committed kidnappings and were linked to the Middle East. Then, after the 9/11 attacks, Putin sold the Chechnya war to the west as “a common struggle with Islamic terrorism.” In Syria, a similar dynamic was already in motion – Islamist groups having gained the upper hand over the moderate rebels of the Free Syrian Army who helped launch the revolution in 2011 – but now Putin is accelerating it, using familiar tactics.

Russian planes have been targeting all of the anti-Assad groups to ensure that there is no strong, non-ISIS opposition. At the same time it appears as though Moscow has been actively helping Isis to swell its ranks. A report in the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta claimed  that officers of Putin’s FSB (state security) have encouraged radicalised Muslims from Russia, and particularly the North Caucasus, to go to Syria, opening a “green channel” for travel that has made it possible for at least 2,400 fighters to make the journey (another 2,600 jihadis from central Asia are also believed to be in Syria). The newspaper claims that Russian agents are actively handing out special passports to jihadis to make it easier for them to travel.

As for Putin’s underlying -“philosophical” if you like – motivation, Leonard is equally clear and (for me, at least) convincing:

His biggest fear, I think, is not of colour revolutions in Damascus, nor even in Kyiv. It is of one taking place in Moscow. Putin is still haunted by nthe winter protests of 2012 that were provoked by his return to the Kremlin as president for a third term.

Much of his foreign policy since has been driven by this experience. In February 2014, when Yanukovych was hounded into exile b y protesters in Ukraine, Putin feared he could be vulnerable. If his Syrian gamble does pay off, it might just force the west to realise the benefits of autocratic stability.

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Sir Paul Kenny’s Brexit idiocy

October 8, 2015 at 5:09 pm (AWL, Europe, labour party, posted by JD, TUC, unions, workers)

GMB general secretary Paul Kenny

By Harry Glass
(This article also appears on the Workers Liberty website and in the AWL’s paper Solidarity)

If the bankruptcy of the trade union bureaucracy were in any further need of demonstration, then the antics of soon-to-depart GMB general secretary Sir Paul Kenny over the European Union (EU) referendum adds a new chapter.

First, Kenny orchestrated a motion to the TUC Congress, which would have pledged the trade union movement to campaign for Brexit if David Cameron extracted some concessions from other European powers on the working time directive, agency workers and other workers’ rights. The key phrase was: “Congress gives notice that it will campaign for a ‘no’ vote in the referendum if these rights and protections are removed.”

After some behind the scenes horse-trading, Kenny withdrew the resolution in favour of TUC general council statement. This softened the stance, warning the prime minister that “you will lose our members’ votes to stay in the EU by worsening workers’ rights”. It added that if British workers’ rights were further undermined, the “pressure to put TUC resources and support in the referendum behind a vote to leave the European Union will intensify dramatically”.

Kenny spoke to the resolution and rhetorically repeated his threat in the Congress debate on Tuesday 15 September. He said: “If Cameron secures the sort of cuts to workers’ rights he is seeking — will you be able to stand up and say to members and beyond that ‘yes — we know your protection under the working time directive and rights to proper earning on holiday pay are going, yes — we know crucial rights for agency workers are going, that health and safety laws designed to protect the work life balance are being denied to you, that free trade agreements threaten your job and your public services. But forget all that — We want you to vote yes to support these attacks.”

Second, Kenny made a similar attempt at Labour Party conference on 28 September. This time the GMB motion was composited, with Kenny moving the resolution so as to add his own caveat. Actually the motion stated: “Conference supports the membership of the EU as a strategic as well as an economic asset to Britain and the Labour Party approve of UK membership of the EU”, adding that “Conference recognises that Europe needs change, but notes that the path to reform is working with our allies across Europe”.

Kenny put his own spin on it, stating that “Free movement of labour has become the right to exploit workers in one member state by employment of people through the now notorious umbrella agencies”. He chastised Labour Party leaders who “by blindly embracing a Europe at any price, merely encourage Cameron and the CBI to push for even more attacks on working people”.

Kenny penned a crass justification of his position, published in the Morning Star on the same day. Kenny criticised Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to vote to stay in the EU in the referendum and fight for reform. Kenny opined: “This retreat on the European Union is a big mistake. The EU needs reform. All those ideals of a social Europe, of solidarity and raising pay and conditions to a standard, have been lost. The EU has become an exploiters’ charter.” Apparently, because Cameron is going around Europe trying to sell off working people’s rights “Jeremy’s original ‘wait and see’ position was correct. So why give them a blank cheque? That’s bad negotiating tactics.”

Kenny pretends he is conducting negotiations, when in fact he’s not even at the table. It is no blank cheque to commit to staying in the EU and pledge, as Corbyn has, that a future Labour government would overturn any opt-outs that Cameron secures. In fact such a position is more likely to persuade other European leaders not to give ground to Cameron. Even if Cameron were able to extract some concessions, it would take workers in Britain back to the situation in 1993, when the UK belonged to the EU but the Tories opted out of the social chapter. Most unions then were for staying in, for good reason.

Instead of seeking to fight alongside workers across Europe to level up rights and protections, Kenny appears to think that if his poker game fails, somehow leaving the EU will be okay for workers. What Kenny fails to explain is how leaving the EU would strengthen workers’ rights. A Tory-driven “leave” campaign might topple Cameron, but only to replace him with someone more right-wing like Johnson. And a Eurosceptic-led Tory party would immediately slash workers’ rights even further in pursuit of trade deals and concessions with world markets. Kenny’s position is strategically wrong and tactically completely inept.

Kenny then makes a classical sleight of hand, exclaiming “And Labour wants us to fund the In campaign, to stand on platforms next to Tory bastards and then to convince our members to swallow it?” To campaign alongside the Tories, he warns, would be “as bad a mistake as it was in Scotland. Worse.”

This is nonsense. The “quit EU” camp, will be dominated by reactionaries such as Lawson, Farage and quite probably a few current Tory cabinet members. The risk of being pulled behind them is not hypothetical. Already the anti-EU Pledge campaign, driven by right-wing Torie, has roped in the RMT union (briefly) and Labour MPs such as Jon Cruddas, John Cryer, Kelvin Hopkins, and Ronnie Campbell.

The composition of the two camps does not determine the working class policy: socialists and trade unionists must make our independent stand based on the best assessment of working class interests.

Kenny also echoes Tory anti-migrant talk. The EU is simply “transporting people with lower living standards to new places in order to further lower living standards”. He told the Stalino-nationalist Morning Star that “he’s pleased that so far, the social conflict this can cause has not got out of hand. But he’s in no doubt that that’s thanks to unions, not politicians”.

This is a mealy-mouthed way of saying the problem with the EU is too many migrants and that the only way to protect “British” labour is to put up the border controls. Kenny dissolves internationalism with this stance: workers in Europe, migrants or refugees are irrelevant to his main concern: namely, British workers.

Beneath the veneer is a callous narrowness, a shameful chauvinist sectionalism, that can have no place in the labour movement. His anointment by the British ruling class brings his career in the trade union movement to a fitting conclusion. But no workers should follow his abysmal counsel.

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Corbynomics: Putting the Political back into Political Economy

October 7, 2015 at 2:24 pm (capitalism, democracy, economics, labour party, posted by JD, reformism, workers)

Embedded image permalink

By Ewan Gibbs and Nathaniel Blondel (at Left Futures)

The reaction to John McDonnell’s announcement that he would aim for a balanced current account, whilst maintaining borrowing for capital investment, revealed a recurrent fault line within left-wing economic thought. At its most banal McDonnell was accused of signing up to George Osborne’s ‘austerity charter’, whilst more sophisticated critics argued such policies would weaken demand and harm economic growth. This article will not address the technicalities of figures and whether Labour should borrow limited amounts rather than aim for a balance (see a critical account here). Instead we will focus on the key political division the fallout from this announcement has revealed, and what it says about the character of ‘Corbynomics’, and the barriers it faces.

During the last thirty years of political setbacks, socialist economic policies have taken a particular battering. This has been very apparent in the predominant responses to the onset of austerity since 2008. Rather than proposals for a fundamental restructuring of the economy, the main left response has been both defensive, and grounded in an argument for why “ideological” cuts are unnecessary and harmful. Invoking mainstream Keyensian economists such as Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, the argument has gone that government could stimulate an economic recovery through borrowing at cheap rates. Insofar as it went this was welcome, but it was a more or less passive argument that could unite trade unionists, and political forces of the ‘centre-left’ from Labour, to the SNP and Plaid Cymru. At best, the Keynesian approach amounts to a tepid intervention and stimulation of demand. Read the rest of this entry »

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Theresa May’s immigration speech: “dangerous and factually wrong” (Daily Telegraph)

October 6, 2015 at 11:53 pm (asylum, Europe, immigration, populism, posted by JD, Racism, Tory scum)

From that well-known leftie publication, The Daily Telegraph … and I can’t improve on it:

James Kirkup

It’s hard to know where to start with Theresa May’s awful, ugly, misleading, cynical and irresponsible speech to the Conservative Party conference today.

If you haven’t seen reports of it, allow me to summarise: “Immigrants are stealing your job, making you poorer and ruining your country. Never mind the facts, just feel angry at foreigners. And make me Conservative leader.”

This line deserves close attention:

Quote And we know that for people in low-paid jobs, wages are forced down even further while some people are forced out of work altogether.

Really? We know that, do we?

Because last year, Mrs May’s own officials carried out a pretty serious review of the evidence.

This is what they found:

Quote There is relatively little evidence that migration has caused statistically significant displacement of UK natives from the labour market in periods when the economy is strong.

And as ministers rightly tell us, the economy is indeed strong right now. In other words, the government’s own assessment is that immigrants are not forcing people out of jobs as Mrs May says.

Read the full article here

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Grace Lee Boggs RIP

October 6, 2015 at 8:23 am (Anti-Racism, civil rights, good people, Jim D, liberation, Marxism, Shachtman, trotskyism, United States)

Rest in Power, Grace Lee Boggs


Grace Lee Boggs passed away peacefully on Monday morning aged 100. We are so grateful for the vision of justice and human connection that she gave us and feel incredibly privileged to have been able to share her story with others [writes her namesake, film-maker Grace Lee]

POV is streaming the film [‘American Revolutionary’] for free until Nov 4: www.pbs.org/pov

JD adds: In her youth, Grace Lee Boggs was a member of the ‘Shachtmanite’ Workers’ Party and a key figure in the CLR James/Raya Dunayevskaya “Johnson-Forest Tendency”, playing a pioneering role in the development of ‘Third Camp’ revolutionary politics. She remained firmly and actively on the left for the rest of her life, though she moved away from Trotskyism, towards (as I understand it) a more “Third-Worldist’ political philosophy and community activism in Detriot, where she and her auto-worker husband lived from the 1950’s. Anyone who knows more about her is welcome to comment below.

New York Times obit, here

A more detailed appreciation from Comrade Coatesy, here

H/t Daniel R

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Expel Adonis!

October 5, 2015 at 5:47 pm (apologists and collaborators, Asshole, Champagne Charlie, class collaboration, labour party, Tory scum)

As a general rule I’m against calling for the expulsion of anyone from the Labour Party, if only because I’m well aware that in doing so I could well be making a rod for my own back.

I also tend to agree with Jeremy Corbyn’s approach of appeasing more centrist individuals within the PLP and keeping the likes of Andy Burnham and Maria Eagle inside the tent.

But surely an exception should be made for Lord Andrew Adonis, the ex-SDP uber-Blairite who has accepted George Osborne’s offer to head up the newly-created national infrastructure commission? This is such a gross act of betrayal, not just of JC personally, but of the Party as a whole, that I’m sure the public would understand – even applaud – a sharp, punitive response.

Mind you, it’s unclear whether or not the serial-turncoat Adonis has simply resigned the Labour whip in the House of Lords, or resigned from the Party itself. Most reputable reports suggest it’s the former, but today’s Times suggests the latter:

Screen Shot 2015-10-04 at 23.42.23So, what should Corbyn do if this scum-bag has already resigned from the Party? Well, here’s a suggestion: when I helped form a certain far-left group in the mid-seventies, we inherited a practice from a predecessor group – that we wouldn’t accept any member’s resignation; instead, we’d expel them (for the record, this practice was eventually dropped). A bit of toytown Bolshevism, perhaps -but what an excellent idea for dealing with Adonis, if it turns out he’s already resigned from the Party.

I doubt that Mr Nice Guy Corbyn will do it, though: I fear he really is a nice guy.


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Remembering Denis Healey – the good, the bad and the utterly hilarious

October 4, 2015 at 10:07 pm (history, labour party, posted by JD, reformism, RIP)

A generous tribute to the old bruiser from a long-standing opponent, Jon Lansman (first published at Jon’s blog, Labour Futures):

Denis_HealeyDenis Healey was a great figure for twenty-five years of Labour history, a politician with “a hinterland”, very well-read and deeply interested in art and music, and, though Jeremy Corbyn may not have approved, was a master of the brilliant put-down. Geoffrey Howe was forever diminished by that greatest of personal attacks – his attacks summed up as being “like being savaged by a dead sheep“.  He will be remembered fondly even by many of us for whom he was a bête noire in our youth in the 1970s.

As Chancellor under Wilson and Callaghan he was undoubtedly the Chancellor who sealed the end of the Keynesian approach that had been adopted by both Labour and Tory governments in the post-war period until then, and has only been reintroduced as Labour’s by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. He led the battle in cabinet for the cuts in public expenditure which were the price of IMF support for Sterling.

However, with hindsight, he was chancellor in the most difficult of times with rampant inflation that was largely a consequence of the Barber boom (named after the Tory Chancellor between 1970 and 1974) and the oil price shock, and he was unfairly blamed for the winter of discontent following Callaghan’s insistence in 1978 on a disastrously low 5% pay norm when inflation was still 10%. He did, after all, favour a system of price controls far more extensive than anything being proposed by Corbyn and McDonnell and his incomes policy, agreed through full cooperation with the TUC and trade union leadership, was clearly designed to benefit the low paid.

In the years of New Labour, he may quite reasonably have been regarded as on the left of the party.

As it happens, I have a grievance against Denis Healey. On 20 September 1981, in the latter stages of Labour’s deputy leadership election campaign (the first that involved party and union members not just MPs) in which Denis Healey had been challenged by Tony Benn, Healey accused me personally on live television of “orchestrating the heckling and booing” which he had faced on the previous day at a Labour demonstration in Birmingham and at a similar event in Cardiff that July.

I was, at 24, the secretary of Benn’s campaign committee but had not been present at either demonstration. I never received an apology from Denis Healey though I did from London Weekend Television which accepted that I had been libelled. By that evening, ITN’s News at 10 ran what Tony Benn recorded in his diary as “a devastating denunciation of Healey” and showed Healey merely saying that “if I made a mistake it was unwise“. But in spite of that, as is so often the case in these situations, the Mail and Express and sundry other right-wing newspapers continued to carry nasty stories about me for several days. And even now when the incident is referred to, which happens from time to time, the accusation is normally reported without any reference to the fact that the TV company settled out of court to avoid a libel action.

Still I bear Denis no grudge. Though he won the election by a whisker of 0.5%, he so nearly failed to do so. That he suffered such an embarrassment on the eve of the Annual TUC congress was very damaging to his position. The TGWU, though it’s executive had already decided to nominate the “spoiler” candidate, John Silkin, decided the following day to give its second round vote to Tony Benn. Walt Greendale, then chair of the union executive and one of the outstanding lay union activists of the period, told me at the time that he thought it would probably not have reached that decision if it hadn’t been for Healey’s foolishness.

I hold no grudge against Denis. When he came to campaign for Tony Benn in the Chesterfield by-election in 1984, I spent a large part of the day with him and, though there was still no apology, he was witty, charming and impeccably polite. He campaigned hard all day, topping it off with the wonderfully memorable speech at one of the packed public meetings which characterised that campaign which culminated in the words “Healey without Benn would be like Torvill without Dean” at which precise point the Chesterfield Labour banner behind him came crashing down. It brought the house down with laughter, and we all retired afterwards to a pub where Denis entertained everyone, playing the piano and singing songs alongside Tony. It was one of the funniest evenings I have ever spent. He is sorely missed.

(Update:- Major Denis Winston Healey speaking at the Labour Party Conference in 1945)


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A message from the Labour Right

October 4, 2015 at 9:50 pm (labour party, posted by JD)

Above: Dennis, where are you now that they need you?

From ‘Labour First’ (republished here for the information of the entire labour movement):

Dear ***

Thank you to everyone who was at Labour Party Conference and ensured that far from being a rout for Labour’s mainstream, we won both the main votes that were contested among delegates (the priority ballot on whether to debate Trident, and the National Constitutional Committee election) and asserted that we are here to stay, to play a loud and proud role in the life of the party, and to fight for our values and defend the policies we see as essential to a Labour victory and, in the case of Trident, to national security.

We think we struck the right tone in being clear that we accept our new party leader’s mandate and will get stuck in behind him in fighting the Tories and austerity, but we will not roll over and allow key policies where we think he is at odds with common sense and public opinion to be ditched, or allow the Hard Left to seize every layer of the party structure or to manipulate the rules to their own partisan advantage.

If you did not watch it yesterday, please take the time to read Tom Watson’s brilliant speech which closed the conference with a reiteration of the need for a broad electoral appeal and a restatement of our achievements in government between 1997 and 2010: https://www.politicshome.com/…/tom-watson-speech-labour-par…

We come out of the conference with unexpected momentum and our heads held high. We need to build on that momentum because the Hard Left will be seeking to move fast to shift the party in their direction, using the vast amount of data and new members they secured in the leadership election.

Here is just some of what needs to happen next:
In our network

We need to expand our network round the country. Please ask everyone you know who would share our concerns about the future direction of the party to join our email list using this link: http://eepurl.com/Nzh75
We need a key contact in every CLP – someone who will attend CLP meetings and is able to promote our candidates for internal elections, our model motions etc., and feed back intelligence to us. If you are willing to do that and haven’t already told me, please email me at akehurstluke@googlemail.com with your name, CLP and phone number.
We want to set up local Labour First groups on the model that we already have in the West Midlands, a space where Labour moderates can meet up informally and build networks with like-minded people. If you can help initiate a group in your region, county or city, please email me.

If you can donate to help us cover the costs of our increased activity please send a cheque payable to Labour First to Labour First, c/o 125 Oxford Road, Old Marston, Oxford, OX3 0RB, with a covering note with your full name and address, or make a bank transfer or set up a direct debit to Labour First account is with Unity Trust Bank.

In your Region or Nation

There are a series of Regional, Scottish and Welsh conferences coming up:
East Midlands Sat 24 October Leicester
Scotland 30 Oct-1 Nov Perth
North West 31 Oct & 1 Nov Blackpool
East 13-15 November Stevenage
South West Sat 21 November Bristol
Wales 19-22 February Llandudno

Other regional conferences happen later in 2016.

These conferences elect Regional Boards which have a role in organisation, campaigning, and local government and MEP selections. The conferences also elect two delegates each to the National Policy Forum. It is important that this layer of the party’s structures is not captured by the Hard Left.

We need to know who the delegates are from your CLP if they have already been elected, so we can ensure they know who the mainstream candidates are. Please email me back with details of your CLP’s delegation to Regional Conference if you are in a region with one scheduled, and the political stance of the delegates where known.

We will try to have fringe meetings at as many of these conferences as possible, which we will publicise in due course.

In your CLP

All of us need to be active at CLP level, if the grassroots of the party are not politically healthy, the top of it never will be:

Be welcoming. We need to take the lead in welcoming all the new members that have signed up and integrating them into the social, political and campaigning life of the party. It doesn’t matter if for some of them their motive for joining was Corbynism – many people who started out as Bennites in the 1980s ended up as Blairites or Brownites, people’s views change as they get more deeply involved in politics. We cannot afford CLPs divided into “new” and “old” members – we have to take the initiative and reach out.

Recruit. We won’t get a louder moderate voice in the party by making the whole party smaller again. That would be pernicious. We need to embrace the politics of mass movements, we need to build an even bigger party that is more representative of Labour and potential Labour voters by getting people who share our values among our friends, family and colleagues to join and become active: https://join.labour.org.uk/

Campaign. Labour’s moderates have to visibly be the people who, even under a leader we did not pick, are leading local campaigning against the Tories, the Lib Dems, the Greens, UKIP and the SNP.

Take responsibility. Every position of responsibility from branch secretary upwards has its role to play in ensuring Labour is a stable, efficient, democratic and fair party. Each feeds into the next layer above and has a knock-on effect on the overall direction of the party. We have to volunteer for – or hold onto – positions of responsibility and do the hard work that sustains the party. We should rally round hard-working CLP, LCF and branch officers, councillors and MPs if they come under unfair partisan attack.

Build alliances. Many of the old divisions and battles are now rendered meaningless. We have to work with and support anyone who has the best interests of the Labour Party at heart and wants a mainstream, electable Labour. There are many people who would until this summer have defined themselves as on the left of the party who are horrified by the way events have turned out and suddenly find themselves politically adrift. We must reach out to them.

Organise. The major challenges in early 2016 will be nominations for the NEC elections, and election of 2016 Annual Conference delegates, both of which are likely to see unprecedented levels of organisation by the Hard Left. In many CLPs we also expect to see organised attempts to take control of the key officerships at CLP AGMs. We all need to be prepared to mobilise every possible mainstream member to vote at these key meetings – with a key difference being that some CLPs have an All Member Meeting structure and others a delegate based General Meeting.

Know the rules. The national rulebook (available on Membersnet) and your CLP standing orders are your allies. Read them, and use them to ensure proper democratic procedures and appropriate comradely behaviour are adhered to.

We are at the start of a process of saving the Labour Party. It is going to be a long and difficult struggle. Let’s get to work!

Best wishes,

Luke Akehurst
Secretary, Labour First
Copyright © 2015 Labour First, All rights reserved.

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My MP (Part 2)

October 3, 2015 at 10:19 pm (Rosie B, scotland)

After the indy referendum in September 2014 we No voters – who were startled to find we’d been given a new identity, Unionists or Nawbags – thought we could forget about that interruption and get back to normality. Wrong. The SNP rode high, grabbed 56/59 (95%) of the Westminster seats in the general election and are likely to take as many in next year’s Holyrood election. Their opposition is fragmented into the old parties of Liberal Democrat, Labour and Conservative, Labour has been broken and the only party that has gained are the Conservatives as the full-out Unionist party under the gutsy Ruth Davidson. So it’s been a gloomy time for us Negative lot, with constant threats of more referenda being waved at us in spite of the once in a generation, once in a life time, One Opportunity rhetoric during the indyref. One Snat tried to convince me that One Opportunity really meant An Opportunity. Meanwhile Sturgeon swans about doing photoshoots for Vogue – though credit where it’s due – she shows a good deal of bright style in her clothing in contrast to the grey frumpy Noes. “Bitter together” describes our mood.

But now something has happened to lift our spirits with schadenfreude. It concerns the MP for Edinburgh West, my MP, Michelle Thomson. As I said before Thomson headed up Business for Scotland, a group  which encapsulates the sham of Scottish politics because it is (a) an SNP front – as demonstrated by Thomson being given the Edinburgh West seat; (b) it was called Business for Scotland – and of course other (subtext and overt ) anti-indy businesses must be against Scotland; (c) it was a load of mickey-mouse consultancies, who employed few people and did little in the way of cross border trade with England. But it was treated like the CBI by the BBC. Thomson was elected in the SNP landslide and made Shadow Minister for Business, Innovation & Skills.


Business eh? Not software design, nor extracting oil nor wind turbine manufacture nor pharmaceuticals nor widgets nor sausages. No, the business spokesperson that the SNP appointed was a woman of property with a portfolio. i.e. a wheeler dealer. Not even a builder of houses. And she had wheeled and dealed – eg (allegation at this point) that she would buy a property at X grand one day and then flog it off the same day at 2X grand to her husband. .

The Sunday Times ran an article [paywall] on 20th September about Michelle Thomson’s company buying properties from people like cancer sufferers cheap and then selling them on for a good profit. Nasty, but not illegal.

The story grew arms and legs. Here’s a piece by Ian Smart on the likely fraudulence of Thomson’s dealings:-

“there was something in that initial article that seemed to the informed eye a bit more sinister. That was the suggestion that, in some of the transactions involved, the price actually paid by Thomson was less than that declared to the Land Registry. “That looks very like mortgage fraud”.

Thomson had figured as a “Mrs A” in the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal which had struck off her solicitor Christopher Hales.

“Numerous examples of failing to inform lenders of undisclosed deposits, including examples of Mr Hales personally returning these to the purchasers, and several examples of back to backs, all equally undisclosed to the lenders.”

On behalf of Mrs A aka Michelle Thomson.

After a hearing in May 2014, the Scottish Solicitors’ Disciplinary Tribunal said Mr Hales failed to provide mortgage companies with key information used to prevent fraud and must have been aware that there was a possibility he was facilitating mortgage fraud, whether or not it occurred.

In some cases, loans obtained for the properties were greater than the actual purchase price.

The Law Society, the regulating body of Scottish solicitors, did not send this information to the Crown Office until July 2015, after both the referendum and the general election. They claimed “pressure of work” (which Scottish lawyers observe they never accept as an excuse from solicitors who have not renewed their membership of the Law Society).

The Law Society’s chief executive, Lorna Jack, took the unusual step of arranging a hurried press conference to defend her organisation’s handling of the affair, and the conduct of Sheila Kirkwood, who is secretary to the society guarantee fund sub-committee which handled the Hales case but had delayed handing the papers over to the Crown Office.

It emerged that Kirkwood was, with her husband and fellow solicitor Paul Kirkwood, a founder of the pro-independence campaign Lawyers for Yes, and as an active nationalist had attended dinners for Thomson’s pro-independence campaign Business for Scotland. Kirkwood had also “liked” Thomson on her Facebook page.

So the non SNP MSPs had for once a good time at First Minister’s Questions:-

THERE was a rumbling, gutteral soundtrack to much of FMQs today, as Nat MSPs desperately tried to drown out a series of questions about Michelle Thomson.

“Uurgrhnomorenomore,” went appalled groans when the dreaded name was uttered.

“Nananeverheardofher,” went a lip-smacking simian chatter as fingers were plugged in ears.

But despite these best efforts, the property-whizz-turned-SNP-nightmare dominated proceedings, with Labour and the Tories revelling in all the sleazy details.

The SNP now deny knowing anything about Thomson’s business deals – though before they had been lauding her business expertise:-


SNP Social Justice Secretary Alex Neil, whose portfolio includes welfare, affordable housing and other issues crucial to the poorest in society, claimed she would be a champion for such causes.

He said: ‘She had an excellent grasp of the economic picture, but also demonstrated commitment to how business can be used to support social justice.’

Both SNP Education Secretary Angela Constance and Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop stressed her business background would make her an ideal candidate.

Constance said: ‘Michelle has a proven track record. She would be an outstanding MP. Michelle is known for her grasp of finance, business and the economy.’

Hyslop said: ‘Her knowledge of business and her passion to make Scotland a better place make her an ideal candidate for Westminster in the forthcoming General Election.’

SNP MSP Colin Keir – who represents Edinburgh Western, the Holyrood equivalent of Thomson’s Westminster seat – said in the run-up to the General Election: ‘I worked with Michelle through the referendum campaign and have seen how talented she is. In her position as a director of Business for Scotland she was asked to take part in debates against Better Together. ’

Michelle Thomson has resigned the SNP whip and is now my independent MP. Her entry on the SNP site reads like this. The police are investigating her solicitor. It could be that she will be investigated herself and charged, which should lead to an interesting by-election.

Sturgeon has said she looks forward to reinstating her but now the Sunday Herald, which supports indy, is going to release emails which show that it was Thomson’s fault that Business for Scotland made such a bad economic case for independence (rather than that there wasn’t a good economic case, as we Nawbag quislings were abused for pointing out).  Business for Scotland’s predictions of untold wealth for an indy Scotland are still quoted by disgruntled Yesses, so at least they may shut up on that score.  And Thomson will be dumped altogether by the ever ruthless and opportunistic SNP.

Update:- the article in the Sunday Herald did not show that “the economic case for independence was undermined by scandal-hit MP” as the headline has it.”  What it show was that there was in-fighting among the board members of Business for Scotland.  The most salient points are:- Thomson, the Managing Director of Business for Scotland, had her consultancy payments stopped but was allowed to keep the title and still appear on the media – it would have looked bad to dump her before the referendum; and that the controlling hand behind Business for Scotland was Peter Murrell, the SNP chief executive, also Nicola Sturgeon’s husband, which should finally destroy BfS’s pretence of being a non-partisan think tank.

I can see that Thomson with her media presence might have been thought suitable as a candidate for Edinburgh West, which she won as part of the SNP landslide. But why appoint her as Shadow Minister for Business, Skills and Innovation and boost her business expertise?  Are they short of business background among the 56 55 MPs?


Collector’s item

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Phil Woods RIP

October 3, 2015 at 10:34 am (jazz, Jim D, music, RIP, United States)

I’m ashamed to admit that I came late to Phil Woods and have only been listening intently to his superb playing since news of his death, aged 83, came through earlier this week.

He played his final gig on September 4th using an oxygen mask and, before the final number announced that due to emphysema, he was retiring with immediate effect. Due to his extensive work as a session man on pop records, many people who are not particularly into jazz, will have heard his playing without knowing it: he plays the sax solo on Billy Joel’s Just The Way You Are, for instance.

But it is as one of the greatest of post-Parker altoists that he will be properly remembered. Here he is on a live recording from 1976 (‘Live From the Showboat’), in truly magisterial form on ‘Cheek To Cheek’, a difficult song not obviously suited to jazz improvisation – but Woods makes it all sound so easy:

Phil Woods (alto) with Harry Leahey, guitar Mike Melillo, piano Steve Gilmore, drums

H/t: Pete Neighbour, who wrote on facebook, “This is one of ‘THE’ Phil Woods tracks… I remember playing this endlessly when I first got it on vinyl; desperately trying to get somewhere near this masterful performance – and failing dismally I hasten to add. My mind struggling with the harmonic complexities that Phil found in this standard….. desperately trying not to copy…but wanting… so, so wanting to be influenced and to let some of his genius seep through my playing. Today, with everyone seemingly accorded ‘superstar status’ to listen to this brings home the meaning of true musical genius. I know all this sounds ‘gushing’……..but….if it does…..I don’t care!”

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