Saturday 26 July 2014

Gaza: towards an ethical foreign policy for the new Scotland

Graphic by Tawfik Gebreel, Gaza
Jean Urquhart MSP, one of our excellent crop of independents, has tabled a motion in the Scottish Parliament calling for sanctions against Israel in response to the current crisis in Gaza. In considering how to persuade my constituency MSP, Alex Fergusson, who is that most old fashioned and endangered species, an honourable Tory, to add his name to it, I thought about how I envisage - hope to see - the foreign policy of our reborn nation develop; how it can establish its place and distinctive voice in the world.

I thought about the history of the Palestine issue, and the United Kingdom's sorry role in it. Appealing to Mr Fergusson, I thought, over the current plight of the Palestinians was unlikely to succeed; presenting that appeal in the context of our responsibility for the construction of the problem and our consequent responsibility to aid in its resolution might do so. Of course, it's highly unlikely I'll succeed in also persuading him to turn from unionism to internationalism, but - with this issue particularly in mind - I think it's worth a try.

Scotland - our Scotland - really does have a chance to make the whole world a better place.

Dear Alex Fergusson

As Scotland moves towards independence next year, it's time we started taking up our responsibilities on the world stage, and establishing our reputation as one of those smaller, more enlightened nations, like our neighbours in Scandinavia, which have the luxury of being able to act not as the world's policemen, but as its peace builders.

The situation in Gaza now is a crying shame to the whole globe. It's a situation for which the British state cannot evade responsibility. By failing properly to discharge our responsibilities under the Palestinian mandate, by offering to resettle Jewish refugees on lands which were already inhabited, by then permitting Zionist terrorists to carry out ethnic cleansing in territory for which we were nominally responsible, we created the conditions for this cancer. Scotland, of course, inherits a share of the responsibilities for the failings of the United Kingdom. But, by this time next year, Scotland will not be the United Kingdom. We can take up these responsibilities with fresh hands, with fresh eyes.

The situation in Gaza must stop. The progressive illegal theft of territory in the West Bank - Israel's policy of Lebensraum in the East - must stop. The bulldozing of homes and of olive groves must stop. These are not anti-Jewish statements: they're not even anti-Israeli statements. Israel must find a path to peace as much for Israel's sake as for the sake of the Palestinians. The corruption of this dreadful conflict has brought the government of Israel down to the level of the states of old Europe - yes, including Scotland - which oppressed the Jews over the past seventeen hundred years. There is no moral distinction, now, between Gaza and the Warsaw Ghetto.

But just as Germany has, over the past seventy years, been able to step back from the dreadful moral hazard in which it stood in the early 1940s, so Israel can, too. But before they can, they must be brought to see the enormity of what they are now doing.

None of this is to say the Palestinians are innocent. Hamas are not innocent. Firing rockets at civilians - whoever does it - is a war crime, and should be. But no more were the heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto, whom Hamas so closely resemble, innocent. They were people driven to desperation, as the world - the Allies - stood back and allowed their people, their families, their homes - to be obliterated. Just as we are doing now, with Gaza.

Scotland cannot walk by on the other side. Scotland, like the good Samaritan, is an inheritor of what the Palestinian people must rightly see as an old enemy. We must step in and stand decisively with Palestine - not because the Palestinians are innocent, but because unless they have people who will stand with them, who will give them confidence to know they are not friendless in the world, who can offer them places away from the front line where the different Palestinian factions can meet, discuss and plan their approach to their necessary and inevitable negotiations with Israel, who will have their backs in those negotiations and who can help them to remain reasonable, flexible and unmastered by anger through them, they will not be able to find a path to peace.

In saying this I'm not suggesting that Scotland should usurp Norway's role as the primary peace-broker in this conflict. I'm seeing Scotland's potential contribution as different, but part of the whole process of building peace. This is something we small, unimportant, unthreatening nations - unburdened by imperial ambition, by weapons of mass destruction, by seats on security councils - can do, must do, that the ancient leviathans cannot.

So I urge you today to sign Jean Urquhart's motion, S4M-10638, calling for sanctions against Israel. But I also urge you, strongly, to listen to your conscience and vote Yes on September the 18th: not just for Scotland's sake, not even for Britain's, but for the world's.

Scotland has responsibilities. We must show we are prepared to take them up and acquit ourselves well of them.


Simon Brooke

The wheelchair users of the Internet

I know I've banged on about not posting text-as-graphics to the Internet often enough. I know all my friends are bored of me doing it. But this picture, which I've seen for the first time today, makes the point far better than anything I could write could.

For those of you who can't see the image, it's a visual joke: what is called a sight gag. It shows a very expensively built, obviously architect designed, building. All across the front is a flight of steps, leading up to the plinth on which the building stands. And the joke is this: the building is emblazoned with the words 'Wheelchair Foundation'. We take in the dissonance between the sign, and the steps which clearly make it impossible for a wheelchair user to access the building, and we laugh.

Computers have made a wonderfully accessible space for people who cannot see. Screen-reader software intercepts the stream of characters as the computer prints them on the screen, and reads them aloud. No longer do books and newspapers have to be painstakingly transcribed into Braille. Someone who cannot see, can still have access to everything that is available as text to their computer.

The Internet, then, is for those who cannot see, like a beautifully laid out, modern, level town centre with wheelchair ramps into every building is for a wheelchair user. It's a space in which they have sudden, unexpected freedom to interact with others on an equal basis, on a level playing field...

Until some unthinking person needlessly builds steps across the wheelchair ramps. You wouldn't do that, would you? You wouldn't needlessly prevent a wheelchair user from a building they otherwise could use. You'd see that as an impolite, a disrespectful, a boorish thing to do.

Well, that's what you do when you post text-as-graphics to the Internet. You're planting bollards in the middle of the wheelchair ramps. It's impolite, disrespectful, boorish - and almost never necessary. Don't do it.

Sunday 13 July 2014

Dear Feeble Fifty: an epistle anent 'emergency' legislation on communications data

As the Feeble Fifty go, Russell Brown is actually a fairly decent man; he takes an interest in mental health and in rural poverty, and is a 'good constituency MP', which is to say a hard working advocate for individual constituents who have problems with the state. As a legislator, though, he's a total waste of space. He has never once voted independently of his party. We seriously would be as well sending a clockwork monkey to Westminster.

Dear Russell Brown,

I know that you have never voted against a Labour Party whip, and I think it's highly unlikely that you will now change the habits of a lifetime and vote to for the interests of the people against the interests of the state. However, I feel that, given that this is 'an emergency', it is my duty to try at least to persuade you.

Angela Merkel, now Chancellor of Germany, grew up under the Stasi, a regime which viewed the state's right to snoop on its citizen's private data as sacrosanct. Needless to say, she still considers it offensive that her phone should be monitored, that who she talks to should be recorded; and so the post of intelligence chief in the United States' Berlin embassy is now vacant.

The Deutsche Demokratische Republik is not often held up as a model of how to run a liberal democracy, yet the Stasi would have given their eye teeth (or possibly the eye teeth of their 'guests') for the powers that your party proposes to nod through parliament in support of your Conservative and 'Liberal Democratic' allies.

To a degree, of course, we know that this is all theatre; that GCHQ will continue - with the complaisance of Westminster - to bug our communications anyway, just as the British security state co-operated with the establishment and operation of the US torture centre on Diego Garcia whilst Tony Blair, Jack Straw and David Milliband blandly denied its existence in Parliament, because Westminster is either not able, or else not willing, to hold the security apparatus to account.

However, Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights guarantees each of us the right to a private life, a right which cannot be squared with the pervasive snooping proposed by the current 'emergency' bill. Like its predecessor, it will undoubtedly fall foul of that convention and consequently of the European Court of Human Rights. More importantly, though, it will enhance the European view of the UK as an increasingly undemocratic, uncommunitaire, pariah state, which will in turn influence the negotiations as David Cameron prepares for his referendum on the UK's continued membership of the EC.

Which brings us on to your own narrow self-interest, because before that referendum we have another, closer to home, which is likely, it seems, either to be narrowly won, or else narrowly lost. If won, of course, your comfortable Westminster job will evaporate. But if lost, do you think the Left in Scotland will easily forgive a Labour party which sided with the Tories against their own people? If ever there was a time for the Feeble Fifty to demonstrate that you are not merely drones entirely controlled by your party apparatus, it is now. You need to demonstrate to us, your electors, that you have spine, cojones and independence of mind, and that you will defend the public interest even in defiance of the whips; that, or seek a new career.

Yours sincerely,

Simon Brooke

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The fool on the hill by Simon Brooke is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License