Every word is sacred; free speech, again.


Needless to say that there’s been a wee bit of a debate going on in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo killings.  Leaving aside, for a moment, that this debate has been stirred by the death of 12 people in Europe and not the 191,000 dead in Syria, it’s still worth looking at a few of the questions.  Anyway.

Mehdi Hasan has written what I’d consider the best article on the subject, although I disagree with some of his assertions.


“Yet now, in the wake of another horrific terrorist attack, you appear to have updated Dubya’s slogan: either you are with free speech… or you are against it. Either vous êtes Charlie Hebdo… or you’re a freedom-hating fanatic. I’m writing to you to make a simple request: please stop. You think you’re defying the terrorists when, in reality, you’re playing into their bloodstained hands by dividing and demonising. Us and them. The enlightened and liberal west v the backward, barbaric Muslims.”

The “liberal pundit” may be pushing a false dichotomy but many of us are actually able to hold two orthogonal arguments in our heads at the one time.  I’m a strong believer that divided we stand and united we fall: history has a harrowing message for us about this ideal of unity that people seem to seek.

At the moment, we should be acutely aware of the legislation that Cameron is wanting to push through Parliament: if we voluntarily cede any freedom of speech or expression, it’ll be gone for good and we’ll all pay dearly — Muslim and non-Muslim alike.


“Please get a grip. None of us believes in an untrammelled right to free speech. We all agree there are always going to be lines that, for the purposes of law and order, cannot be crossed; or for the purposes of taste and decency, should not be crossed. We differ only on where those lines should be drawn.”

Actually, we don’t all agree.  There are people who believe freedom of speech should not be abridged at all, although most of them live in the US.  The law in the UK however is fairly carefully drafted: it deals with law and order, not bad taste which is an entirely subjective notion.


“Has your publication, for example, run cartoons mocking the Holocaust? No?”

Well, I would have thought that obvious: millions of people died in the Holocaust.  It’s not wise to mock an atrocity of that scale lest you legitimize the actions of the oppressor.  In the UK – as far as I know – it is however not illegal (I’m open to being corrected on this point).

On the other hand, seeing a comic portrayal of a religious figure – even if it is your favourite Prophet or Deity – doesn’t tacitly approve of genocide nor cause people to suddenly drop down dead.  Although if the latter did happen then it may lend some small amount of legitimacy to religious teaching.


“Consider also the ‘thought experiment’ offered by the Oxford philosopher Brian Klug…”

Definitely not advisable but not inconceivable either.  For those of us who grew up in the West of Scotland, all I need say is “Orange Walk”.


“And why have you been so silent on the glaring double standards?”

Presumably because our mainstream press couldn’t blame the attack on the disabled or unemployed this time.


“Muslims, I guess, are expected to have thicker skins than their Christian and Jewish brethren.”

Not really.  It was more that people ran out of material after Monty Python’s “every sperm is sacred number” in 1983… although Benedict V is still somewhat of an untapped goldmine.  Where are all the satirists when you need them, eh?

Seriously though, most people deal with offensive comments on a daily basis, e.g. the Scottish have to routinely put up with lovely people such as Katie Hopkins; although, I was more offended that the Police investigated it than the comment itself.

The acid test of when it crosses a line is when people get hurt or actually oppressed.  Did the Charlie Hebdo cartoons do so – did they actually cause real harm, or merely cause offense?  Would it be wrong to levy criticism at the practice of Islam in the UK to tackle “honour” abuse/killings; after all, our comedians very much do take on the Catholic Church over child abuse?


“You ask Muslims to denounce a handful of extremists as an existential threat to free speech while turning a blind eye to the much bigger threat to it posed by our elected leaders.”

This, I agree with.  Which is why I implore everyone to continue to relentlessly hold our glorious leaders to account, with vigour.  David Cameron’s attempt to protect free speech by limiting free speech is a good starting point.


“Then there are your readers. Will you have a word with them, please? According to a 2011 YouGov poll, 82% of voters backed the prosecution of protesters who set fire to poppies.”

There are also veterans who are refusing to wear a poppy, cf. Harry Leslie Smith.  I’d assume polls are also susceptible to the Hawthorne Effect (or such revised modern terminology) and how the question is drafted and posed.


Anyway, we’ve just past 317 years since Thomas Aikenhead was executed for blasphemy: a prime example that free speech, although difficult, is incredibly valuable and that criticism is not necessarily equivalent to lack of respect.


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Yes, yes, yes! Why you should vote for Scottish Independence.

Harry Met Sally, Yes Yes Yes scene

I am voting Yes on Thursday. Here’s why:

  • Scotland’s voters have precious little influence over what party is in government at Westminster.  In 2010, we returned one lone Tory MP yet have been subjected to a Tory government.  In 1979, 1983, and 1987, we returned a Labour majority in Scotland but got a Conservative government.  For anybody who experienced the poll-tax or has been subject to an ESA assessment, well, you get where I’m headed with this point.
  • Scotland’s general political ideology is divergent from much of rUK.  Neither is correct or better than the other but there are distinct differences.  rUK does however have almost ten times the population, so if we stay in the union we will continue to have to go with what they decide.
  • More influence domestically.  With a population of over 60m and first-past-the-post elections, an individual has little influence over politics at Westminster.  The Scottish government represents only 5.3m people and has a mixed electoral system.  In short, your voice will be louder in an independent Scotland.
  • More influence in the EU.  Due to the UK being our representation in the EU, the population per head of EU seat is really quite bad for Scots at the moment.
  • No nuclear weapons.  Of all the post-independence issues, Trident is the one that has pretty much unanimous agreement.  In terms of weapons of mass destruction, the UK is a rouge state: we are set to spend an amount comparable to Scotland’s entire GDP on weapons that have a sole purpose of killing millions of people.
  • A chance to shape the birth of a nation and create a written constitution.  In Britain, our constitution is a combination of common law, Monarchy, custom, and what Parliament makes law.  You have no ultimate protections.  If we did, the Commons wouldn’t have been able to enact punitive retrospective legislation last year.  Most countries have a written constitution that guarantees basic rights, Scotland should too.
  • At the moment, Holyrood is only there by virtue of Westminster.  Remember, the law the Commons makes is constitutional, the Scotland Act could be revoked at any time.
  • Holyrood has delivered.  In every term, the incumbent party has in general held to its manifesto promises and the Parliament has operated efficiently.  So we can do this.

There are many scare stories in the media but I will not address them other than to say that the UK has hardly been immune from problems, very serious problems at that.  Every country has problems; an independent Scotland will have problems too.  We are not safe either in the UK or independent, no country is.  The critical aspect is having the opportunity to solve our problems in a manner that is best suited to national sentiment and interests.

If I can make one final argument in favour of a Yes vote.  Imagine the UK were presented an offer from President Obama: we are their biggest ally, so he wants Britain to become an American state.  In return for this, we get protection from their military, access to the American electoral system, and all the trappings that the US has to offer.  We would however have to cede power to Washington, naturally.  Does it sound appealing?  Do you think your voice would be heard amongst the drone in Capitol Hill?  Now consider that a no vote maintains an even weaker and unbalanced relationship with rUK.

So, vote Yes.  Vote yes, yes, yes!


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12 Angry Men; the importance of debate.

At the moment, the Scottish Referendum debate is in full swing. It is both exciting and frightening: we have I think 97% voter registration in the midst of stark divisions, even between friends and family. I have heard people say that they wished the referendum had not been organized because as a country we’ll have to deal with the inevitable after-effects, whatever the result. This is true but the debate is necessary.

For better or worse, we live in a democracy. Many people moan about the poor state of our democracy and that the people are not represented. There is a reason for that: collectively, we’re bone lazy and don’t care enough to make an impact on the important issues. Corporate and military lobbyists creep in through those cracks and bang! We’re selling weapons to repressive regimes, propping-up bad banks, starting illegal wars, and building more nuclear weapons. But we are to blame, no-one else, us. That almost certainly includes you.

In many parts of the world, expressing political opinion often results in one being rapidly deprived of knee-caps, finger-nails, or life. People in Syria are caught in the most horrifically terrifying situation, while in many countries around the world you can be executed merely for being homosexual.

Still. I’m being told the Scottish Independence Referendum is bad news; it’s apparently bad for the country. Well, no, it manifestly is not — we needed a firm boot up the arse. And a country deciding upon self-determination without a shot fired and no blood on the street is a fucking achievement.

Whatever your allegiance for Thursday: debate it, try to convince others, push for what you want, and listen to others. Almost all of my political and social opinions worth having have been obtained by other people telling me I’m an idiot, and explaining why. As recent as a few months ago I changed my mind on nuclear weapons but it was only after someone spending their time to debate with me; rational debate is a gift to be welcomed.

The caveat is that to be effective, your debate must appeal not only to others’ emotional response but be rationally and factually sound. Just like in 12 Angry Men, it is attention to detail and the facts that win the day. And you must respect other people: you are trying to convince, persuade, and reason with people. Hearts and minds were ne’er won with a sledgehammer.

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Don’t leave me hanging on the telephone; Craighouse call-in.

In our modern world, hardly a day passes in which we are not made aware of yet another instance of corruption by the powerful, abuse of the vulnerable, adverse influence of corporate lobbyists, or just outright failure of the democratic tradition.  It easy and understandable to become inured to the ceaseless torrent of news reports and scandals.  The hearing over Craighouse on Wednesday last week was however in stark contrast: it hit many, including myself, with a raw, visceral shock.  This was very, very personal.

Craighouse, Edinburgh

Not only did the applicant’s proposals go against almost every local and national planning policy we have, it was granted in the context of some 1,039 letters of objection, and vigorous opposition from the Friends of Craighouse, three Community Councils, all the local councillors, the leader of the Council, two MSPs and our MP.  I was inspired by the arguments advanced by our elected representatives, it felt like democracy in action and that our corner was being fought with vigour.  The representations made by everyone speaking were convincing, robust, and entire.

In fact, the only question of the day was that of “enabling development”.  It was accepted by the Planning Officers that the application wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of being passed without it.  What we the public were given in support of the “enabling” case was, quite frankly, fetid.  The whole point of enabling development is that it must protect the heritage in question yet as Sandy Howat adroitly pointed out, the planning report confirmed quite clearly that the proposals are doing precisely the contrary.  The “enabling” case also requires a clear financial argument and analysis, which is something that has been almost entirely obscured from public scrutiny; what we were given were high-level figures in which a five year old could find flaws.  The “enabling” case – despite breaking most of the English Heritage guidelines against which it was being assessed – was convincing enough for nine councillors though.

That’s the bad news.  Ready for the good news?

The application is still that, it’s not yet granted: it’s “minded to grant”.  Because Craighouse is of national importance this means the Scottish Ministers can still, at their discretion, “call-in” the application pursuant to section 46 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997.  What makes this more likely to happen is that Scotland hasn’t really seen much enabling development before – especially over sites as important and unique as Craighouse – so it raises policy questions that will need answered lest the rest of Scotland continues in the same vein as last Wednesday’s decision.

The question of time-scale arises.  At a minimum we have until the CEC and Craighouse Partnership agree the relevant s75 and such like, i.e. before the “granted” notice is inked.  However, a read of Planning Circular 3/2009 suggests that the Ministers have 28 days and should be notified by the CEC: in the Schedule of “Descriptions of Development for which Applications Must be Notified to Scottish Ministers”, we read in s1,

“1. Development in which planning authorities have an interest


(a) for which the planning authority is the applicant/developer;

(b) in respect of which the planning authority has a financial or other (e.g. partnership) interest; or

(c) to be located on land wholly or partly in the planning authority’s ownership or in which it has an interest;

in circumstances where the proposed development would be significantly contrary to the development plan for the area.”

For those familiar with the application, the applicant is to transfer land to the City of Edinburgh Council and money is to change hands.  It has already been acknowledged that the development is significantly contrary to the local development plan.  So, if all parties are playing by the rules we have 28 days to convince the Ministers to call-in the application.

So, go for it – get advice from the Friends of Craighouse website and please ask the Ministers to call-in the Craighouse application soon as possible.

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Asking the wrong questions; Brendan Eich, boycotts & freedom of speech.

In recent days, the appointment of Brendan Eich as CEO of Mozilla has caused somewhat of a stir.  This is in no small part due to Eich’s history of political donations to various right-wing curiosities, specifically his donations to campaigns working against equal marriage rights for homosexuals.

While I find Eich’s purported view to be regressive and harmful, the vehement reaction on social media sites has been arguably more problematic.  Sites like OkCupid have asked people to boycott Firefox, and there is a growing crowd wanting his head on a silver platter or at least whatever counts as a silver platter on Twitter these days.

People – as far as I can tell- aren’t asking whether his views affected his work but are asking only of his views.  Since when did we blithely disregard the right to free speech, e.g. First Amendment to US Constitution, Article 19 of the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and the somewhat mealy-mouthed EU Convention on Human Rights.  The overriding feature of a right is that is must apply to everyone – no matter how much of a prejudicial bawbag that person may be – at least up till the point that their rights don’t interfere with other peoples’ rights.

The important question should be whether Brendan Eich’s views have affected his work decisions, not whether we are opposed to his views.  If it has affected work decisions, yes, of course he should step-down; if not, we are ourselves heading into dangerous territory.

Are we really willing to go down the path of petitioning companies and charities not to post people in prominent positions because we oppose their political views, which is ironically one of the first criticisms we levy against repressive regimes?  If people are hired-and-fired according to personal belief, is that not discrimination?

I don’t like Eich’s views.  At all.  I am however alarmed at the scant regard we as a society have for the very rights we proclaim to protect.

As a final thought: how many people who have boycotted Firefox have also turned-off Javascript support in their new browser of choice…



Posted in Freedom of Speech & Censorship, Observations | Leave a comment

A question of principle; Edinburgh Napier University’s Principal, Dame Joan Stringer, issues press release on Craighouse.

Presumably in response to the recent letter sent by Friends of Craighouse, the Principal of Edinburgh Napier University, Dame Joan Stringer, has issued a press release.

Given this is one of the precious few public statements made by Joan – and no, I am not being rude by “first naming” her, she is referred to by first name in the press release – I shall proceed to make comment on each section.

First off the bat we have,

Craighouse view towards Arthur's Seat Sunny Day

Craighouse view towards Arthur’s Seat Sunny Day

“Dame Joan Stringer, Principal and Vice Chancellor of Edinburgh Napier University, has set the record straight over the proposed housing development on the former Craighouse Campus.”

Auch, no, that is not going to work.  There has been no setting straight of records at all.    For starters, there is no explanation of why the estate was sold at a bargain basement price of £10m to a property development company – Mountgrange Investment Management LLP – ran by people who, arguably, have a colourful record.

The two senior partners listed for Mountgrange Investment Management LLP are the same two people who were directors of Mountgrange Capital plc – Martin Myers and Manish Chande – that ran the Caltongate development, and we all know how well that little pet project went.  What you may not be familiar with is Mountgrange Capital plc’s accounts; well, I wouldn’t want to spoil the fun for you, so I shall link to an easily available source, here (login using either Facebook or Google to download accounts) – 2006, 2007 and 2008 are the most interesting.

Getting back to the release,

“Dame Joan said she was disappointed that an emotive disinformation campaign was being mounted by campaigners against the development.”

She’s disappointed, well, now that is a pity.  Although, precisely why the incumbent of the top post for an institution that has an annual income of £110m is disappointed at a community campaign is beyond me.

If she indeed feels that the information the campaign has published is not correct then perhaps she would wish to furnish the local community with relevant documentation to prove otherwise?

While on the subject of documentation, Napier appears to have misplaced their financial records relating to their continued financial interest in Craighouse, as least as far as the reply to my Freedom of Information request suggests.  Despite not bothering with such frivolities as paper-work for a multi-million pound business deal, we do get some meagre confirmation later, perhaps she has memorised the salient figures.

Moving on,

“She said: ‘I am saddened that that certain individuals appear to be attempting to distort the facts and discredit the name of Edinburgh Napier University.'”

Now, I am not sure whether by “certain individuals”, she refers to the 5,000 people that have signed a petition against the new build development.  On second thoughts, maybe she was referring to Jim Eadie MSP’s statements opposing the current proposals.  No, well, it could be that she was referring to the statements made by numerous politicians.  Oh, I really don’t know, she could even have been referring to the very detailed and considered letter from the Cockburn Association.  If she is going to be vague, I suppose we shall not get to know who those these people of whom she speaks are.

She is quoted verbatim,

“‘I am not prepared to get drawn into a war of words but I am determined to put the true facts into the public domain.'”

That’s fantastic news: we have been waiting for the true facts about Craighouse for well over a year now!  I wonder when Stringer & Co. will release this promised information.

She goes on to say,

“The university continues to be a good neighbour to the people of Craighouse. This is one of the reasons why the university is a co-applicant on the planning application, as we can continue a monitoring role.”

So Napier is undertaking a monitoring role, curious.  Well, if Napier stand to make money from the development, is that not somewhat a conflict of interest?  I also did not know that being a good neighbour was the main concern here, rather more preventing the destruction of a vital piece of Edinburgh’s heritage and preserving precious green space in the city.  Personally, I am not convinced that neighbourly politeness has much to do with protection of green space, planning law, conservation or use of public funds.

I also thought neighbours listened to each others’ concerns.  If we are to continue on this analogy then currently all her neighbours are shouting rather loudly over the fence telling her she cannot build on the garden while urging her to implement essential repairs to prevent her house falling down from dry rot damage.  Maybe if the community went round with a casserole and a bottle of wine, she would be more receptive to the complaints?

She goes on to say,

“‘The university would not have supported a development of high density, as was presented in some of the tenders.'”

The University should not be supporting this proposed development nor should Craighouse have been sold-off on the cheap to an off-shore investment fund.  Is it only I that hears alarm bells with the words “off-shore investment fund”?  No?

Thankfully, not too much public money was poured into maintaining the estate, oh, nope, sorry, that’s wrong.  There was a rather big grant from Historic Scotland, if my memory serves me right, over £2m.  Also, there was a fair amount ploughed into the estate from Napier itself.  So Mountgrange really have got a good deal!

To finish off, she says,

“’We continue to have a material interest in the site and that allows us to influence the final plan. 

However, there are details of the agreement which remain commercially sensitive but we are not making a ‘killing’ on the sale as has been claimed. We received £10m as an initial payment and we will receive a further payment at a later date.

The second payment will not be anywhere near the millions of pounds that are being quoted by certain individuals. We estimate that this is likely to be around £1.5m.'”

For that, we must be thankful.  If it were not for her good memory, the projected profit may have been lost to the ether!  Although, I suspect £1.5m is, in most peoples’ definition of money, “millions of pounds”.


Being more serious for a moment: The Craighouse Partnership which comprises Mountgrange Investment Management, Sundial Properties and Edinburgh Napier University are proposing to build more than 100 residential units in a pervasive and extensive new build development across the open green space.  This is despite their proposals being contrary to the Local Development Plan, Craighouse sitting within a conservation area, the green space at Craighouse been designated as Open Space  and an Area of Great Landscape Value, and the pending Special Landscape Area designation.  There is an exceedingly heavy legal presumption against development on the green space or woods at the Craighouse estate.  For Napier to be part of a consortium that is intending to run contrary to all of that should be serious cause for concern.

In my opinion, a University should be acting as educator, undertaking research and pursuing academic interests.  Mountgrange and Sundial are private companies in the property business, so their interests in this context are to an extent understandable.  In contrast, the public purse does not fund academic institutions to go off and play property developer, especially on protected land and against the context of massive public opposition.

In my own view, Joan Stringer’s handling of Craighouse has been poor and I would invite her to consider whether her continued position as Principal is tenable.

Posted in Edinburgh | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

In Defens; voices resolute in opposition to new build at Craighouse.

After Napier University sold the estate at Craighouse to an off-shore holding company owned/handled by Mountgrange Investment Management LLP, there has been grave fear in the local community that the beautiful green space would be decimated.

The plans put forward by the almost cabal-esque Craighouse Partnership – comprising Napier University, Mountgrange and Sundial – have been put to the community, rejected and put forward again in a more severe form.  Their current proposals would see the Orchard, the green space at the bottom of the lawn, and several other key areas of the site destroyed.  The essence and brilliance of the site would be forever lost.

Despite being contrary to the Local Development Plan and proposing extensive new build on a heavily protected site, for some reason it appears the Craighouse Partnership are still blithely promoting their plans.

Thankfully, the protests against these proposals are gathering apace.  Friends of Craighouse have secured formal opposition from two community councils, a petition comprising over 4,500 signatures, strong statements from a number of politicians, a letter of opposition from the Cockburn Association and yesterday Jim Eadie MSP stated he will “…vigorously oppose any planning application based on these proposals”.  You can read their article in full here.

I hope you will stand with us and oppose any new build on the Craighouse estate.  Originally designed as an asylum, it has survived for over 200 years as a pristine example of how the natural environment can heal.  Thousands of people from the local community use the land to relax, walk, take in views of the city and view the fireworks during the festival.  From families and children to romantic couples and the elderly, there are few people nearby that do not take amenity from the site.  Should we all be deprived and Edinburgh left so much poorer to satisfy the avarice of the few?

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Promise me this; manifestos for the Edinburgh local Council elections 2012.

The local Council election campaigning in Edinburgh is heating up before people go to the polls next Thursday, 3rd May.


As an easy point of reference, here are links to the manifestos of the five main parties a number of the main parties and independent candidates along with my preliminary opinions on having skim read the documents.  If any independent candidate or other party wish their manifesto linked to as well, feel free to leave a comment here and it shall be done.


While I have admittedly so far only read the manifestos in a rather rapid fashion, Labour’s production does seem to me as by far the best.  Aside from the initial diversion into negative campaigning, it quickly regains focus on some fairly concise and well thought-out plans.  Their policies appear to be derived from a public consultation exercise, which certainly shows and is to their credit.  Whether you agree with their plans or not, it is the only manifesto of the main five that have set out in fairly concrete terms what they intend to do and actually “put their head on the block”.


Well, it is in a very presentable format but left me slightly disappointed.  There is a distinct lack of engagement and it has essentially missed the mark.  When one reads into it further, there are good policies there, written in an non-obvious way.  A hint of passion behind those words and it would have been a winner, however the reader very much has to work for it.

Scottish National Party – SNP

Whether this has been created through disinterest or misplaced intent, I do not know.  From my own perspective, it completely and manifestly failed to engage and sounded like it was pitched to businesses rather than voters.  Not impressed one bit and I suspect SNP have probably lost any chance of obtaining my vote in these elections.

Liberal Democrats – LibDem

Whoever wrote this should probably not be writing material for public consumption.  Their writing style is akin to my own, which is precisely the type of writing you do not want for enticing voters.  In the same sentence that they accuse Labour of having been arrogant and remote they use the word “profligate”; fine, it may be the most suitable word but ornate language is likely to be interpreted by many a voter as a sign of showing-off.  Despite the poor formatting and the absolutely inappropriate style of prose, there are some interesting policy nuggets carefully burried in there.  I suspect it is worth the time to read, how many voters have that time is another story.

Conservative and Unionist Party – Tory

Despite my holding the current Westminster government in utter contempt, I did decide to be fair and at least skim read their local election manifesto.  I feel further comment is unnecessary.

Gordon Murdie; Independent (Newington / Southside)

From all other evidence, Gordon Murdie appears to be a very capable and committed candidate. Certainly, it is heartening to again see candidates stand for election purely for the purpose of changing things they perceive as wrong, a refreshing counter-point to career politicians. His manifesto is unfortunately not up to scratch and it is probably better either checking his blog here – which has far more concise information and relevant information – or tweeting/emailing him.

Pirate Party

If you are looking for an easily digestible, clear and concise manifesto then this has come top for me so far: I could read it and comprehend the policies advanced in less than five minutes. The policy content itself is unlikely to garner voters though. I get the impression there has been some significant difficulty in shoe-horning their very well delineated national policies into a local context. There are sensible suggestions in there such as allowing a connected journey on a single far bus ticket or the bike sharing scheme, however they are consistently undermined by oddities such as motorising the aforementioned bikes. More seriously, I suspect the true complexity and practicalities of the major issues have not been fully appreciated. I would posit the singular success of Phil Hunt’s campaign will be awareness of the party at a national level, which is not a bad result.


For those who use Twitter, I have compiled a list of all the local election candidates I could find.

In the future, all parties should really take a leaf out of Labour’s book and list your candidates with email AND Twitter or Facebook addresses – it would have saved me a substantial amount of time doing Google searches and rummaging through other peoples’ followers.

Anyway, the full “official” Council list can be found here (I did have an easier list but cannot find it, typical).

For the Twitter list I compiled, it can be found here.  Again, if there are any omissions or errors, feel free to notify me.


- 28th/29th April, correct spelling mistake.
- 30th April, add Gordon Murdie's manifesto
- 1st May, add Pirate Party manifesto

Posted in Edinburgh | 6 Comments

Pistols at nightfall; Wikipedia blackout and shelving of SOPA.

In the last few hours, the English language version of Wikipedia has confirmed that it will go dark for 24 hours on Wednesday this week (18th January 2012) in protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which has been debated in the US House of Representatives recently and drawn opposition from wide circles including 83 prominent internet inventors, pioneers and engineers.  Curiously, the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform have also released a statement in a rather hurried manner asserting that the hearing pencilled in for Wednesday on DNS issues has been postponed and that no move for a vote will be made until a consensus can be obtained.

The PROTECT IP Act / Senate Bill 968 is still very much alive and – from a careful reading of Chairman Issa’s words – SOPA is definitely not dead but merely held in waiting.  With battle-lines being drawn, the move to hold off on SOPA appears less of a retreat than a consolidation until public hostility is mitigated or peoples’ attention more distracted.

The rampant commercial interests backing SOPA may have gained a bloody nose but if anything is clear at this moment in time – the fight is far from over.


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Watch yer language; David Cameron compares Ed Miliband to someone with Tourette’s.

Not a month ago, I had written about Daniel Moylan’s comment in the London Evening Standard where he described Ken Livingston as “schizophrenic”.  Hot on Moylan’s heals we have our glorious leader, David Cameron, in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph describe speaking opposite Ed Miliband as

“… like having someone with Tourette’s permanently sitting opposite you.”

What a charming utterance from our Prime Minister.  To his credit – and probably on the behest of his advisors – he did apologise, although one really would not expect such comments from a skilled orator with a first class honours degree from Oxford to begin with.

If one were cynical – and when it comes to politics, I always am – his comment could be seen as drawing attention to himself and the associated Sunday Telegraph interview, which contains nice fuzzy items about finally kicking seven-shades-of-bonus out of over-paid corporate execs.  Yes, ok, that is a very appealing notion at the moment: when most people are struggling, it is absolutely obscene that a small minority of people should be paid seven-figure bonuses.  Massive corporate bonuses, however iniquitous, are small compared to the real wealth gap: the Sunday Times “Rich List” top 10 entries have a combined worth of almost £90bn; the OECD notes that the top 1% of earners took a 7.1% share of total income in 1970 but in 2005 were taking a staggering 14.3% (really think about that for a moment, 1% of people taking 14.3% of total income, year-on-year); and I suspect these figures will be dwarfed against the assets held by those stashing most of their doubloons off-shore, or in more inventive investments like third-world arms deals.

Looking back to Big Dave’s “Tourette’s” comment and his public-pleasing proposals on bonuses, are they perhaps to divert attention from a far more important issue?  Well, it turns out Nicolas Sarkozy is currently pushing rather hard for a European-wide financial transaction tax and Cameron has said unless the rest of the world joins in, he will not play ball.

This is a real pity, since four-out-of-five people in the UK, France, Germany, Spain and Italy think the financial sector has a responsibility to clean up its own mess and support for a financial transaction tax in the UK is 65%.  The Robin Hood Tax campaign advocates a tax on certain financial transactions such as bonds, shares, forex and derivatives transfers of around 0.05%; they estimate if their financial transaction tax were to be applied globally, it would raise £250bn per annum and in the UK alone £20bn per annum.  Interestingly, one of the earliest proponents of using financial transaction taxes to control speculation seems to have been John Maynard Keynes in 1936.

Sums in the region of £20bn per annum can make real improvements in peoples’ lives, especially when you compare it to George Osborne’s 2010 announcement that he intended to cut £18bn from the welfare budget by 2014-15.

So why would a Prime Minister not be chomping at the bit to enact such a tiny tax on financial transactions that are almost wholly used for speculation and trading?  It would be very popular with the electorate and would immediately improve the Chancellor’s situation.  Well, that is for the reader to decide but for a moment, lets take a look at the scale of these sort of financial instruments.  On foreign-exchange trading alone there is a global daily trading volume of around $4tr – that is $4,000,000,000,000 traded every day – with UK Sterling comprising roughly 13% of that trading volume.  To put that into perspective, the UK annual GDP is in the region of $2.25tr.  If one calculates the potential tax revenue from forex alone, it suggests the figures from the Robin Hood Tax campaign are very much a conservative estimate of potential revenue.  Now, forex – and I would assume derivatives and bond trading – are what you call “OTC” or “over-the-counter” markets; that means that there is no central exchange nor global record of transactions, instead transactions are made between individual institutions or parties (which also implies there is no single market price, only what others are willing to offer you).  Can you imagine that an industry with daily trading volumes measured in trillions of dollars will be particularly happy with their affairs being subject to the very much tighter scrutiny involved in administering the financial transaction tax?  I certainly cannot.

That is all speculation though, except from fact that David Cameron used a definition of mental illness as an insult.  That is twice in as many months a Conservative politician has done so and is a bit of a poor show.  At least Cameron had the good grace to apologise, Mr Moylan has not.

In a wider context, definitions connected to mental health are pervasively misused or misattributed.  How many times have you heard people employ phrases such as “the shops were absolutely manic today” or “the football today was depressing” in general conversation?  When I was a child, it was common to hear the stem “schizo” – derived from schizophrenia – used as a derogative.  “Psycho” has even made it into film titles, quite whether it refers to psychopathy or psychosis still escapes me.  To those at the sharp end of mental illness, terms such as mania, depression, schizophrenia and psychosis have very real and specific meanings.  For example, mania has fuck-all to do with the town centre being busy.

To date, I have never heard serious illnesses such as cancer, pneumonia or coronary heart disease used in a similar context.  Why is it then considered acceptable to use definitions of mental illness as an insult?

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