Thomson: smooth-talking pro-business voice of nationalism
During the Scottish independence referendum there was an organisation called Business for Scotland, whose schtick was that independence would be good for Scotland’s businesses. Their words were treated as if from the CBI or some other big business guns though in fact they were a slug pistol of one-man bands and consultants who did not trade with England. For an estimate of their general puniness check out Chokkablog:-
Given that the potential impact on this £47.6bn of trade is one of the big issues for business in the Independence debate I think we can agree that any “Scottish Business” voice would need to include representation from businesses involved in this trade to have any credibility.
This is why I’m amazed that “Business for Scotland” gets any airtime at all. As I show in painful detail in this post, the identified Members of Business for Scotland can be fairly summarised as;
•30 “business professionals”
•28 people who have Small Company directorships; businesses with no declared turnover or employee figures. These are predominantly consultancies, property companies and service companies; I can’t identify any material trading links with rUK and none can be considered major employers.
Business for Scotland was an SNP front group and now the managing director, Michelle Thomson, is my MP for Edinburgh West after the great Sneep Sweep last election. This piece from Private Eye shows the general contradictions of a party that tries to be all things to all people, except for the common thread of nationalism:-
NEVER let it be said the SNP gang at Westminster lacks ideological diversity. When Mhairi Black, the 20-year-old left-wing firebrand whose maiden speech recently went viral on the internet, attacks the wicked Tories and their tax-cutting ways, many of the SNP MPs nod and cheer her on.
Yet the awkward truth is that it is SNP policy to slash corporation tax and the SNP leadership has made strenuous efforts to crawl to big business, offering desperate reassurance that an independent Scotland would not be the left-wing, high-tax utopia that Black and many of the party’s hard left activists envisage.
At the forefront of that Nationalist push during the Scottish referendum to convince business that it had nothing to fear from independence was Michelle Thomson, then the managing director of an SNP-front called Business for Scotland. She won the Edinburgh West seat for the party in May, defeating Lib Dem Mike Crockart and securing a 3,210 majority.
Thomson was somewhat less successful in the referendum campaign last year, where she was deployed on radio and television as the theoretically smooth-talking pro-business voice of moderate nationalism trying to sell separation to business leaders and their employees. Many of them remained sceptical.
As one of the seven signatories of a letter to the Financial Times weeks before the referendum, Thomson proclaimed that Scotland’s financial sector would always prosper, contrary to the warnings from Unionists about the potential economic risks of independence.
One of Thomson’s fellow signatories to that letter was a banker who knows a great deal about the prosperity or otherwise of the Scottish financial sector. Sir George Mathewson, friend and adviser to Alex Salmond, was the buccaneering chief executive and chairman of RBS who expanded the bank aggressively, hired Fred Goodwin and then from the sidelines cheered on his old bank as it bought the Dutch bank ABN Amro in 2007, on the eve of the financial crisis, in one of the worst deals of the century.
Despite Thomson making a lot of noise and being invited on air by broadcasters in Scotland and London who did too little to probe the credentials of Business for Scotland, it was never clear that the organisation she ran had many serious businesses on board. The tenacious economics blogger Kevin Hague incurred the wrath of Thomson and the Nationalists by conducting an in-depth investigation last year into the group’s membership. Despite the claims that it represented Scottish business, only a few of those involved had major company directorships, Hague discovered, and many more ran tiny firms or no firms at all.
Thomson continued to be presented as a voice of business, and when she won her seat she was hailed by the National, the SNP fanzine that is a weekend offshoot of the once respected Glasgow Herald, as a “breath of fresh air” because she has enjoyed “a broad-based life experience”.
After graduating from the Royal Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow in 1985, she worked as a musician before joining Standard Life working in IT, moving to RBS and then setting up on her own in 2009. But her subsequent business career cannot be counted as stellar. At the time she ran Business for Scotland, she had one active directorship, in a small Fife-based outfit called Your Property Shop Ltd, providing property investment services. Her other property business, Edinburgh Global Property Investments, was dissolved.
At Westminster, in the SNP team, Thomson now has the lofty business, innovation and skills portfolio from which to pontificate about the great economic issues of the day. She may also have to explain to Mhairi Black and other left-wingers on the Nationalist benches that when they joined the SNP, if they thought they were signing up to a party in favour of punitively taxing the boss class, they were sorely mistaken.
The semi-official economic adviser to the Yessers is Stu Campbell of Wings for Scotland. He and Kevin Hague of Chokkablog are at loggerheads on twitter. Wings is notorious for his abusiveness and instead of countering Hague’s graphs and stats goes very very personal:-
This refers to some personal stuff Kevin Hague put on his blog about the various “dads” that floated through his difficult childhood. I can’t parse Wings’ numbers but he really is a prize shit.
The piece is basically a hatchet-job on the man and his personality, unacceptably taking pot-shots at his choice of club, coffee preferences, and work without much evidence to back it up. Unless you take the liberal use of anonymous quotes as evidence – and no-one in the journalism world does. Indeed, the Guardian’s Readers Editor, Chris Eliott has been obliged, due to the flood of complaints to his paper, to put out a statement that ‘the use of anonymous quotes is an insidious way to take a swipe at public figures, and the Guardian was wrong to have used three in this way.’
The statement is not entirely acceptable however because he yet sought to protect the journalists Nosheen Iqbal and David Shariatmadari from further blame by claiming that they felt the use of anonymous sources to be necessary as otherwise those sources could be harassed online, as these journalists now are. In short, they thought it alright to attack a man risking his life among Islamists to do the extremely dangerous job of counter-extremism work, yet they needed to keep sources attacking him anonymous because they were afraid of some online heckling?
Is heckling only alright if a Guardian journalist does it, either via articles or on Twitter? One of the foremost rules of journalism is that the journalist’s presence and especially his biases should not be visible in his articles – unless it’s a column or opinion piece. This interview of Maajid was supposed to be neither, although it ended up in essence an opinion piece. Yet even as an opinion piece, it breaks way too many bars to come plunging down into mud-singling territory. They didn’t just set the bar low, they plunged it.
It’s so incredibly bad, that as a fellow journalist living miles and oceans way, I am embarrassed for the journalism profession which has sunk to this new low. As once colonized countries, I suppose we still look up to British standards in professionalism. Certainly that was very much the case in my own student days at the Sri Lanka College of Journalism. “Don’t look to the Daily Mirror,” we were told. That’s a tabloid. “Look instead to the Guardian. That’s the standard you ought to emulate.” Well, we are looking. Where are the standards?
Here in Scotland politics sings its same auld sang, with full overbearing chorus from the Nats. For nature of the political discourse of our present representatives, check out this by the Flying Rodent:-
Good Morning The People Of Scotland
Presenter: …Derek McSmug is the SNP spokesperson for Really Complaining About Things. Derek, thanks for joining us on the show.
Derek McSmug: Thank you, Gary.
Presenter: Derek, you said yesterday that a second Scottish independence referendum is “terrifyingly inevitable”. Does your party intend to bring forward plans for another referendum in the near future?
Derek McSmug: Well Gary, I think it’s no secret that we’re in favour of Scottish independence! (Laughs) But no, we have no plans to hold a second referendum in the foreseeable future. We’re focusing on standing up for the people of Scotland against the Tories’ swingeing cuts to public services, which the Labour Party is fully –
Presenter: Well, if you’re focusing on standing up to the Tories, why do you keep talking about a second referendum? Why not move past that and focus on your work at Westminster, or on governing here in Scotland?
Derek McSmug: Frankly Gary, I’m shocked and disappointed that you’ve said that. You know that it’s for the people of Scotland to decide whether there should be a second referendum and I don’t think it’s for the media to tell the people of Scotland that they mustn’t discuss their constitutional future.
Presenter: With respect Derek, it’s you that keeps talking up a referendum, not the people of Scotland.
Read the rest. It’s brilliant. Also good comments underneath.
Ebenezer Elliott, iron monger, Radical and Corn Law poet wrote a lament for the enemy of his country, Napoleon Bonaparte. To a later generation it sounded shocking. W H Auden said of it, that it was like finding a poem saying Now Hitler lies dead in Berlin.
When working blackguards come to blows,
And give or take a bloody nose,
Shall juries try such dogs as those,
Now Nap lies at Saint Helena ?
No, let the Great Unpaid decide,
Without appeal, on tame bull’s hide,
Ash-planted well, or fistified,
Since Nap died at Saint Helena.
When Sabbath stills the dizzy mill,
Shall Cutler Tom, or Grinder Bill,
On footpaths wander where they will,
Now Nap lies at Saint Helena ?
No, let them curse, but feel our power;
Dogs! let them spend their idle hour
Where burns the highway’s dusty shower;
For Nap died at Saint Helena.
Huzza! the rascal Whiglings work
For better men than Hare and Burke,
And envy Algerine and Turk,
Since Nap died at Saint Helena.
Then close each path that sweetly climbs
Suburban hills, where village chimes
Remind the rogues of other times,
Ere Nap died at Saint Helena.
We tax their bread, restrict their trade;
To toil for us, their hands were made;
Their doom is seal’d, their prayer is pray’d ;
Nap perish’d at St. Helena.
Dogs! would they toil and fatten too?
They grumble still, as dogs will do:
We conquer’d them at Waterloo;
And Nap lies at Saint Helena.
Elliott was living through the early nineteenth century. Habeas corpus suspended, tough censorship laws, men press ganged for the navy, a cruel penal code, the poor starved by Corn Laws and shut out of enclosed lands. To many it was a tyranny and the French Revolution, and Napoleon, the Revolution’s saviour, meant hope of a transformation. Elliott’s poem is full of scorn and bitter anger at the injustice within the legal and economic system.
Napoleon was much admired by the progressive spirits of his day as an alternative to old rotten regimes. Martin Kettle in The Guardian:-
William Hazlitt, the most ardent of all British radical admirers of Napoleon, called the battle of Waterloo “the greatest and most fatal in its consequences of any that was ever fought in the world”. William Godwin, another of the Waterloo dissidents we should be remembering this week, railed against the “miserable consequences of that accursed field”, and continued throughout his life to believe that, however flawed Napoleon might be, he was still to be preferred to the restored Bourbon kings.
… William Cobbett put it in this way: “The war is over. Social Order is restored; the French are again in the power of the Bourbons; the Revolution is at an end; no change has been effected in England; our Boroughs, and our Church, and Nobility and all have been preserved; our government tells us that we have covered ourselves with glory.”
William Hazlitt and William Cobbett are two of the best writers and the most generous minds that Britain has ever produced.
Kettle says that they may seem like useful idiots and it is reminiscent of how a powerful figure in a foreign land – Lenin, Stalin, Chavez – is picked up as a sign of hope that the old oppressive power can be broken. Sections of the Left fell into despair when the USSR collapsed, as better a false hope than no hope at all.
Napoleon was no Stalin and a reformer in many ways but his scheme for a conquered Britain sounds more like propaganda than actuality. “I would have proclaimed a republic and the abolition of the nobility and the House of Peers, the distribution of the property of such of the latter as opposed me amongst my partisans, liberty, equality and the sovereignty of the people.”
There would have been some liberal measures – emancipation of the Jews for instance – but Napoleon’s habit was to install one of his useless siblings on the thrones of the countries he conquered. During the nineteenth century Britain went its own way to a more liberal and democratic government, out of Old Corruption to cleaner politics and a less jobbing civil service.
So I’m glad that the Emperor of the French got done over by Wellington and Blucher at Waterloo, the battle that Wellington described as “ been a damned nice thing — the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life. “ Blucher had wanted to call Waterloo the Battle of La Belle Alliance but Wellington decided on Waterloo as more easily tripping off the English tongue. I’ve always had a liking for Wellington if only for his laconic pithiness of speech compared to Bonaparte’s bombast and grandiosity.
There’s plenty of French Empire bling in the television series that Andrew Roberts, the military historian and an admirer of Napoleon, is presenting.
He also has a five parter on Radio 4 on the Corsican Usurper and yesterday he was telling us how Napoleon screwed up winning the Battle of Waterloo.
“The history of a battle, is not unlike the history of a ball. Some individuals may recollect all the little events of which the great result is the battle won or lost, but no individual can recollect the order in which, or the exact moment at which, they occurred, which makes all the difference as to their value or importance. .. “ Wellington.
I can’t say I’ve been keeping much of an eye on Scottish culture and if the outward looking artists she’s talking about are J K Rowling and Alexander McCall Smith she’s talking popularity rather than quality, but I found this article by Gillian Browditch interesting. The whole National Collective project, when a bunch of artists got together to call for independence so at the same time they could be against the establishment (Westminster) while doing the work of another establishment (SNP’s Holyrood) did strike me as a little bizarre.
I do note the writers that really did make their mark on the world stage – Boswell, Conan Doyle, Stevenson, John Buchan even, Spark – left Scotland and wrote about other places and for other places as well as their homeland. The exception is Walter Scott, who really invented Scotland for Europe, and as well as being a pioneer in Scottish folk studies was also a convinced Unionist from his home in the Borders.
Narrow cultural focus will tie us all in a tartan straitjacket
From Gillian Bowditch Published: 3 May 2015
“The kindest interpretation was of a small nation coming to terms with itself in the face of the relentless march of globalisation”, says Bowditch
It is just as well it is nearly over. The way things are going you’d be pushed to get odds of more than 10-9 on the Scottish National party taking 60 of Scotland’s 59 seats. It’s only a matter of time before the Sturgeon surge defies political gravity and Scottish politics enters a fourth dimension.
As it was, Ipsos Mori produced a poll last week which, if translated into seats, would give the SNP the whole of Scotland, wiping out Labour, the Lib Dems and the Tories. In the past, such a result would have had pollsters overhauling their methodology or wondering whether someone had tampered with the water supply.
Polls are a snapshot not a forecast, but they can identify trends and the trend for a nationalist monopoly, six months after a resounding “no” vote in the independence referendum, appears to have reached its zenith. A similar pattern is to be expected at the Holyrood election next year.
Of course, the chances of the SNP turning the whole of Scotland yellow are slimmer than the likelihood of the royal baby being christened Nicola. Undecideds, the level of voter turnout and the extent of tactical voting will all play a role, but we are now looking at a scenario where if Labour lost three-quarters of its Scottish seats, it would be spun as a triumph.
The political consequences will be significant but the cultural consequences could be seismic. Scotland has been through many iterations over the past 60 years; from cultural cringe to Scottish exceptionalism, from a crisis of confidence to a surfeit. Each phase has been dissected, analysed, picked over and then, just when we thought its ghosts had been laid to rest, revisited, exhumed and revised. We have conjured up the past and bejewelled it with a retrospective conceit.
Returning home in the 1990s after a decade of living in London, the Scottish obsession with identity struck me as faintly unhinged. The kindest interpretation was of a small nation coming to terms with itself in the face of the relentless march of globalisation. At worst it seemed to represent a particularly corrupt form of nostalgia. Our writers and artists always seemed to have one eye on the rear view mirror.
In the days of Labour’s central belt hegemony, the kind of privation humanity has spent centuries struggling to escape seemed to be preserved, lauded and endlessly reproduced. From Ralph Glasser’s Gorbals memoirs to the work of Jeff Torrington, and James Kelman to Irvine Welsh, the view of Scotland that was promulgated was that it needed a good boil wash. In the work of Peter Mullan, Ken Loach and Lynne Ramsay, Glaswegian grot was exported around the globe.
In the early years of the 21st century, something rather wonderful happened: there was a cultural renaissance in which Scottish artists no longer felt the need to examine and re-examine the Scottish condition. Alexander McCall Smith, Ian Rankin and JK Rowling were wowing global audiences. Janice Galloway won international acclaim for her book on Clara Schumann. Artists such as David Mach, Alison Watt, Douglas Gordon, Martin Creed and Jenny Saville were finding their way into international collections. Composers and musicians as diverse as James McMillan, Craig Armstrong and Nicola Benedetti were hailed abroad. Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Gerard Butler and John Hannah were the hot stars in Hollywood. They were, as in the words of Auden: “Like some valley cheese, local but prized elsewhere.” After decades of cultural dreichness, it was no longer quite so grim up north.
These talents still exist, but their influence has begun to diminish. The generation following in their wake does not shine as brightly. Patriotism has replaced miserablism as the key to our identity. Culturally, we have started to look inwards again.
If I were a young artist, musician or writer starting out in Scotland, I would feel quite depressed about the situation. There is now so much focus, not to mention grant aid, on such a narrow tradition that, unless you fit the cultural stereotype, it’s hard to see where the acknowledgement or encouragement is going to come from. It’s difficult to imagine the Scotland of today throwing up a writer with the breadth and depth of Dame Muriel Spark.
Perhaps at a time of great political change, when nationalism is the predominant force, that is to be expected, but cultural separatism inevitably leads to parochialism. Our heritage and icons are co-opted to the cause. The focus in education in recent years has not been the pursuit of excellence but the pursuit of Scottishness.
While more Scottish literature and history in the curriculum may be overdue, the tartan straitjacket is concerning. Teachers have been urged to find a Scottish perspective from which to approach topics. One told me that under the Curriculum for Excellence, she had to find a Scottish element to the Holocaust — solipsism taken to a whole new level.
It is no coincidence that the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy 2014, published last week, has found the ability of Scottish school children to be in decline. The percentage of S2 boys doing well or very well in writing is now below 50% at 47%, down from 58% in 2012. There is a similar fall in standards for S2 girls, from 70% to 63%. It’s not as though we were at the top of the international league tables in 2012.
We keep hearing from the Scottish government that, with more powers, more jobs will be created and an economic boom will ensue of such magnitude that it will render irrelevant the pesky oil price fall and the deepening deficit that independence or full fiscal autonomy would bring.
But these children are the employees of the future and if less than 50% can string a written sentence together after nine years in the Scottish education system, we have a problem. Economic growth requires a highly literate, educated and productive workforce.
The education minister Angela Constance has now pledged to redouble efforts but this is to miss the point. If excellence is not at the heart of the education system, then no amount of effort will improve attainment. What is happening in universities is just as worrying. Because of the disparity in tuition fees, a whole generation no longer even explores the possibility of leaving Scotland for its tertiary education.
One of the most depressing things about the referendum was the number of Scottish writers and artists cravenly hitching their wagons to the SNP. Last week, National Collective — a pro-independence cultural movement which engaged thousands of people, organised petitions and campaigned — shut up shop. Its key founder has been absorbed into the SNP as “an engagement strategist”.
The nationalists’ programme for government is called One Scotland, but for a truly confident nation we need to let a thousand Scotlands bloom.
Here’s a sober rebuttal of the nonsensical and totally irresponsible remarks George Galloway made about forced marriage.
It’s from the Muslim Women Network.
Muslim Women’s Network UK (MWNUK) is a charitable organisation with the aims of promoting equality, diversity, social inclusion and racial/religious harmony, and does not support, nor is affiliated to any political party. However in order to defend and strengthen women’s rights and in particular to promote the empowerment of Muslim women and girls, we regularly engage with, and if required challenge, politicians, political candidates, public servants and any other body or organisation where considered necessary.
It is for this reason that MWNUK deems it necessary to challenge certain insinuations made about forced marriage and domestic violence victims by George Galloway, currently the Respect Party’s PPC for Bradford West, when he commented on Labour candidate Naz Shah’s forced marriage and domestic violence experience. Given his influence, we consider Mr. Galloway’s insinuations to be irresponsible and which will have a wider, counter productive impact on victims of forced marriage and domestic violence or those at risk.
When Ms. Shah shared her story publicly, she explained that she was married at the age of 15 and suffered from domestic violence. Many women tend to remain in abusive relationships and suffer in silence. Cultural concepts of honour and shame often prevent women from articulating their experiences openly even when they have escaped their situations. We therefore commend Ms. Shah’s courage in sharing her very personal experiences. It is important that when survivors share their stories, which is often very difficult, that they are heard. Only with open discussion will more victims or those at risk come forward and ask for help.
Although we cannot comment on the details of Ms. Shah’s personal experiences, we are very concerned about the misleading information regarding forced marriage and domestic violence being alluded to in the statements made by Mr. Galloway and his officials. MWNUK challenges the assertions that have been made as follows:
¥ It has been alleged that Ms. Shah could not have been married as a minor at the age of 15 because her official marriage certificate registered with the authorities in Pakistan states her age as 16 and a half.
It is not uncommon for victims of child marriage to have an unregistered Islamic (nikah) ceremony while they are under age and to later register the marriage officially once the child is over 16 especially if documents are needed to make an application for a spousal visa. It is important to recognise this can happen to children. In fact we have come across victim stories where this has indeed happened.
¥ It has been alleged that Ms. Shah’s marriage could not have been forced because her mother was present at the marriage.
Parents are often the instigators of forced marriage, coercing their children to marry against their will and therefore present at the marriage ceremony. In fact parents themselves can be pressured by members of the extended family to accept marriage proposals for their children and feel they cannot back out due to dishonor.
¥ Ms Shah has been questioned as to why she did not (as a British citizen) simply get on a plane and come back to the UK if she had been forced into marriage.
Girls are more aware of their rights now due to forced marriage campaigns, yet the crime continues to be under reported. Twenty-five years ago victims faced even greater barriers to disclosing. The Forced Marriage Unit did not exist then and there were far fewer women’s rights organisations. To imply that it is easy to escape a forced marriage suggests that victims are at fault for not leaving abusive situations.
¥ Ms. Shah has been questioned about why she had not gone to the police, social services or an imam if her husband had subjected her to violence.
This indirectly suggests that women who do not report their abuse cannot be suffering from domestic violence. Such assertions are very dangerous. Women from all communities find it difficult to come forward and report abuse and the reasons can vary such as: fear of consequences; women blaming themselves; women not realizing they are victims; lack of awareness of the help available; being isolated from family and friends and not being able to reach help; being worried about finances; and hoping the partner may change. Asian women face additional cultural barriers that prevent them from seeking help such as, fear of dishonouring family, shame, stigma, taboo and being rejected by the community. Also women in these communities are expected to suffer in silence. They are also usually blamed for any problem within the family including the violence and abuse to which they are subjected. This fear of blame can also prevent women from coming forward and getting the help they need. Not surprisingly domestic violence is therefore under reported in Asian / Muslim communities.
¥ Ms. Shah was questioned about her domestic violence and child marriage because her first husband has denied the abuse. [WELL HE WOULD, WOULDN’T HE?]
Denial by the alleged perpetrator should never be used as evidence to determine whether abuse has occurred or not.
Why aren’t the citizens of Bradford pissing themselves laughing when the intending candidate for Bradford West (Respect) tweets this:-
plus this picture:-
Why aren’t the gutters of Bradford running with streams of urine as people double over hooting at the bombast and sheer grossness of this garbage?
(Oh, and the Israeli people waving flags – you are going to be horribly disappointed with Naz Shah if she wins. Her views on Israel are anti-Zionist, of course.)
However, Galloway always has his ardent followers. He makes statements about forced marriage which are both false and extremely damaging to its victims and gob-smackingly horrible – but still they follow. Prove Naz Shah was sixteen rather than fifteen when forced into marriage, and you’ve made a huge point against her. Point out her parents were attending, and of course it wasn’t a forced marriage at all – against every definition of forced marriage, all experience of young women and men forced into marriage – but you’ll stroke the cocks of the men who would hate to have a particular sexual power over women as forced wives and forced offspring taken away from them.
Tendance Coatesy has a couple of posts on Galloway’s outrageous shittiness and a Galloway groupie called Neil has arrived in the threads. Among his general dishonesty and fatuousness are suggestions that women who find Galloway’s politics vile must be secretly attracted to him. Galloway holds this view too of women e.g. Helen Pidd who as part of her job as a journalist, writes about him, must get an odd flutter in their heart and other tender parts at the thought of him. It’s false and grossly insulting and stupidly conceited but it no doubt raises a little frisson among his posse.
I’d guess that a lot of the Galloway groupies would like to be him – to have the multiplicity of pretty wives, the attention of Big Men in the Arab world like Hussein and Assad and senior leaders in Hamas, the media spots, the hefty income, the attention. They share his own fantasies of his importance.
And the arseholes vote for him.
Update from Private Eye:-
I wrote to Amnesty expressing concern about their association with Cage and got the following reply:-
“Amnesty no longer considers it appropriate to share a public platform with Cage and will not engage in coalitions of which Cage is a member. Recent comments made by Cage representatives have been completely unacceptable, at odds with human rights principles and serve to undermine the work of NGOs, including Amnesty International.”
We had engaged with Cage together with several other organisations on the specific issue of UK complicity in torture abroad, on which they had particular expertise. At the time that Gita Sahgal left Amnesty International, we commissioned an independent external review into our work with Cage and Moazzam Begg which concluded that it was reasonable for Amnesty to campaign with Cage and Moazzam Begg in his capacity as a former detainee at Guantanamo Bay. Gita’s view was that it was inappropriate for Amnesty International to share a platform with individuals and organisations whose religious or political views were inconsistent with the full range of rights and women’s rights in particular.
Amnesty International has never questioned the integrity of this view or the sincerity with which Gita held it. However, it is not uncommon for NGOs to enter into coalitions with other organisations or groups on one specific issue despite their disagreement on others.
Based on an extensive review of comments made by Cage Prisoners (as it was then known) then available to the public, we concluded that limited cooperation with Cage on the narrow issue of accountability for UK complicity in torture abroad was appropriate, given their consistent and credible messaging on this issue. Comments made by Cage recently have clearly changed that assessment and have led to our decision to terminate such relations. But this does not alter the fact the decision in 2010 to continue this limited work was taken for good reasons and after extensive reflection.
Further to that, the refusal of a Cage spokesperson to condemn violence such as FGM and stoning – themselves examples of torture and degrading treatment that we are campaigning for an end to – is of huge concern to Amnesty and has made any future platform sharing with Cage impossible.”
Amnesty have now made a statement on their website.
“Amnesty no longer considers it appropriate to share a public platform with Cage and will not engage in coalitions of which Cage is a member.
“Recent comments made by Cage representatives have been completely unacceptable, at odds with human rights principles and serve to undermine the work of NGOs, including Amnesty International.”
Many have pointed out that CAGE hasn’t changed since 2010, and that Amnesty is being disingenuous in suddenly finding them an unfit partner because of unwelcome publicity. A comment below:-
The reply by Amnesty’s Kate Allen contains a contradiction in terms. While she is affirming that it isn’t uncommon for NGOs to enter into coalitions with other organisations or groups on one specific issue despite their disagreement on others, nevertheless now Amnesty is severing ties with CAGE over their views on violence and torture including FGM and stoning. Which one of the two Amnesty holds true – that their partners’ views on ‘other issues’ such as violence does not matter or that do matter? If they do matter now, how can Amnesty explain those views didn’t matter back in 2010 and they considered it perfectly normal to share a platform with CAGE. They either have to admit a gross incompetence and issue an apology to Gita Sahgal (though this is going to be difficult because Gita Sahgal warned them about CAGE’s views) or admit they acted in bad faith and hoped nobody will notice – in this case too, they at least have to issue an apology to Gita Sahgal.
CEMB Forum said in the thread below this post:-
An improvement. However, Amnesty need to do the following:
(1) Put this out as a public statement. Explaining their errors in the past and why they have realised they shouldn’t associate with CAGE again, including a specific expression of moral disgust and distancing from them on these issues. [They have sort of done this – though their words for CAGE “completely unacceptable” and “of huge concern” do not equal “disgust”.]
(2) An acknowledgement of Meredith Tax’s central point in her book ‘The Double Bind’ – that they need to maintain an objective critical distance from Salafi Jihadi apologists / groomers and Islamist reactionaries. [They haven’t mentioned giving Islamist groups a body swerve.]
3) A full public apology to Gita Sahgal. She was right. They were wrong. She is vindicated completely. Amnesty acknowledges the central points she made in her critique of them. Now apologise. [I bet they never do that.]
Over at Liberal Conspiracy Sunny Hundal makes a C minus apology. If you have the energy you can look back at Pickled Politics archives to see the many posts jeering at Gita Sahgal and boosting Moazzam Begg.
5 years ago, when Amnesty UK’s work with Mozazzam Begg was questioned by former employee Gita Sahgal, I came to Amnesty’s defence (though I actually wrote the issue was more complicated than many pretended it was). Recent events show that Gita called it right and I called it wrong, as did Amnesty. I’m happy to admit that, and I regret some of the intemperate language I used.
At the time I was defending Amnesty (not Cage) against people (excluding Gita) who wanted to undermine the organisation for other reasons, i.e. its focus on Guantanamo Bay and Israeli war crimes. I continue to think Amnesty is a great organisation but it should have refused to work with Cage then. I made lots of calls which turned out to be right (unlike many of Amnesty’s critics) but in this case I was wrong. Gita Sahgal’s instincts have been vindicated.
That last sentence does induce some nausea. When you apologise for being badly wrong, don’t point out how often you were right compared to the less enlightened. Also, it wasn’t Gita’s instincts that were right, it was her knowledge and experience and principles – which should have weighed a good deal heavier in the scales than Begg’s glamour as a Guantanamo detainee. But there you are – half a loaf and all that.
We at Shiraz were of course firm in our principles.
Back in 2010 we ran a piece defending Gita Sahgal in her dispute with Amnesty International.
As you will all remember, Gita Sahgal had blown the whistle on Amnesty’s partnership with the jihadist supporting group Cageprisoners (now CAGE). She was suspended for going public and eventually sacked.
For further details of the Amnesty/Cage debacle read the always excellent Jacobin here.
Now of course CAGE (misleadingly dubbed a Human Rights group) came out in defence of Mohammad Emwazi, who among his other faults (beheading hostages and having the filmed results used as PR for ISIS) is, what you could call “complicit in torture”.
Which makes the last letter to the PM that CAGE was a joint signatory to with Amnesty about “complicity in torture” a little well, hypocritical to say the least.
Amnesty has been highly embarrassed by their partnership with CAGE and have been on Twitter and were on Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday saying that all they did was have CAGE as a joint signatory on nine letters. (Listen here at 1:09) 1:09
This is not true. Gita Sahgal stated that among other things CAGE had done research projects with Amnesty and here is one instance of this. Here Cageprisoners are one of the “six leading human rights groups” working with Amnesty to co-author a briefing paper.
Why did Amnesty pick up with CAGE? I have heard rumours that the SWP have done their usual entryism. Here’s a comment below Gita Saghal’s article in Open Democracy back in 2010.
Itsn’t it about time to break the silence and name the problem, which is, that AI today, unlike AI in the past, is full of people from the SWP, and is carrying out their line? Obviously people are afraid to say so in public for fear of being accused of red-baiting but they certainly say it in private. I don’t even live in London and I have been hearing this for years.
I was told this by someone else as well. In the Weekly Worker they mention Asad Rehman formerly of the SWP who used to be an events manager at Amnesty International
There are noticeable characteristics of the SWP – the old one of their entryism, whereby they come into organisations with credibility and clout and try to turn them to their own purposes. (I saw that happen at a listings magazine I worked for once which they wanted to turn into a propaganda sheet and they were busy in CND). And a relatively new one – of their sucking up to Islamism to the point of holding segregated meetings at the Brothers’ request.
So Amnesty’s debacle with CAGE, which has damaged their reputation and lost them subscribers may be layable at their door. Amnesty changed direction from being focussed on prisoners of conscience to a fuzzier all-causes organisation seeing nothing wrong, for instance, in “defensive jihad”.*
This is just speculation on my part – anyone got any harder information? Or was Amnesty’s partnering with CAGE simply part of a kind of radical chic which is now starting to look a bit 2010 as people learn more about Islamism and the various organisations which are jihadist fronts.
The Charity Commission has now cut CAGE’s funding. CAGE will no doubt continue in some other form. I doubt Amnesty will co-sign letters with it again – but will they actually come out with a statement saying that they have decided that a pack of jihadist sympathisers are not really a good human rights organisation; and perhaps they could say a few words of apology to Gita Saghal (highly unlikely – but if you’re an Amnesty member – and I am – do write to them and suggest they do so).
*Defensive jihad, in contrast with offensive jihad, is the defense of Muslim communities. Islamic tradition holds that when Muslims are attacked, then it becomes obligatory for all Muslims of that land to defend against the attack. Indeed, the Qur’an requires military defense of the besieged Islamic community.
In contemporary Jihadism, it is impossible to draw an objective distinction between offensive and defensive jihadism, as even unilataral attacks on the soil of non-Muslim states are justified as retaliatory for events conceived of as “attacks on Muslims” (e.g. 2009 Fort Hood shooting, Woolwich attack).
I found Carlton Reid’s Roads Were Not Built for Cars a valuable reference book and a good read.
He’s now kickstarting the funding for a new book, Bike Boom.
Nice video which I can’t get to embed.
Use of bicycles in America and Britain fell off a cliff in the 1950s and 1960s thanks to the rapid rise in car ownership. Urban planners and politicians predicted that cycling would soon wither to nothing, and they did their level best to bring about this extinction by catering only for motorists. And then something strange happened – bicycling bounced back, first in America and then in Britain. Today’s global bicycling boom – even the one in the Netherlands – has its roots in the early 1970s.
And this is what I’d like to explore in Bike Boom, a book that will use history to shine a spotlight on the present, and demonstrate how bicycling in the future has the potential to grow even further, if the right measures are put in place by the politicians and planners of today and tomorrow. ..
Bike Boom will aim to dig down into historical sources to find out how the Netherlands built a world-class network of bicycle paths – and much of the rest of the world didn’t. I’d also like to interview the bicycle advocates and planners of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s (and those of today, too) to hear their stories, and learn from their successes and their mistakes.
Ur-Sustrans built its first cycleway on the Bristol to Bath route from 1979 – 1986. I remember the Innocent Railway stretch Edinburgh when it was still covered with ballast and gave you punctures and the tunnel was blocked – that was the early eighties. It is now a black top path and the main North Cycle Network 1, and this was through my own cycling organisation, Spokes. In the UK the progress has been local and patchy and has taken much patient volunteer effort.
The Innocent Railway – National Cycle Network 1