Spooks scotched nationalists

[Sunday]

And it continues to this day?

Files prove that MI5 spied on SNP
MARC HORNE

THE SNP was spied on by British secret service agents, previously classified Government files seen by Scotland on Sunday have finally proved.

Claims of surveillance of nationalist politicians by intelligence officers have circulated for years, but the new papers provide the first incontrovertible evidence that the state spied on the SNP in the 1950s.

Agents from MI5 and Special Branch infiltrated the party as part of a campaign to undermine support for Scottish independence, the papers show.

The revelations have put First Minister Alex Salmond – who in opposition complained about closed Government files on the SNP – under pressure to close a legal loophole that allows the secret services to intercept the calls of Scottish parliamentarians.

The files, which have been opened and placed in the UK National Archives in Kew, show that throughout the 1950s Special Branch officers posed as nationalist supporters and attended party meetings and rallies.

The dossiers contain first-hand accounts from numerous unnamed agents of party meetings, and also include names of SNP members and sympathisers. They also provided transcripts of speeches and give particular attention to members they believed were on the more radical and militant wing of the party.

The dozens of documents also contain the remarkable claim that Dr Robert McIntyre, the then SNP leader, wanted Scotland to pull out of the UK and apply to be the 49th state of the USA.

A number of present-day MSPs, including former SNP leadership contender Alex Neil, claim MI5 still monitors pro-independence politicians and may even have stepped up surveillance since the Nationalists won power in May.

So far the new SNP administration has rejected calls to extend the “Wilson Doctrine” – which bans the secret services from tapping the phones of MPs – to Holyrood.

Alex Neil, deputy convener of Holyrood’s European and External Relations Committee, said: “It does not surprise me in the least to have it confirmed that the UK Government has used dirty tricks against the SNP in the past.

“I would certainly not discount the idea that the British state is still acting to undermine the SNP, especially given the substantial progress it has made recently.

“We need to get clear assurances from Westminster that nothing is being done to undermine the democratic wishes of the Scottish people.”

Margo MacDonald, the independent nationalist MSP and former SNP deputy leader, added: “Scotland is strategically important and energy rich, and I think it would be extraordinary if the security services weren’t taking a close interest in recent developments in Scotland.”

Advertisements

Highly devolved?

[Tuesday]

So here’s two items on the slow break-up of the UK as a centralised state.

First of all:

Parties discuss Holyrood powers

Opposition parties have met in Holyrood to begin talks on how to bring more powers to the Scottish Parliament.

The talks between Labour, the Conservatives and Lib Dems were held in response to the SNP government’s plan to hold a referendum on independence.

The topics discussed included the possibility of allowing Holyrood to raise its own revenue.

The three main opposition parties have pledged to oppose the SNP’s white paper outlining plans for a referendum.

‘Work together’

In a joint statement, Lib Dem leader Nicol Stephen, Labour MSP Cathy Jamieson and former Scottish Conservative leader David McLetchie said their parties would work together to fight the SNP’s independence plan.

“Our three parties share the aim of building a strong and prosperous Scotland as part of a strong and prosperous United Kingdom,” they said.

“We reject independence. The real conversation, and the one in which the overwhelming majority of Scots wish to participate, is about how devolution can develop to best serve the people of Scotland.

“Today’s exploratory meeting was to start that process. Our initiative will not be confined to MSPs alone, any single parliament, nor to any one part of the United Kingdom.

“The three parties have agreed to continue to work together on this issue, and will now hold discussions with party colleagues across the UK with a view to meeting again when parliament has reconvened.”

It is thought the opposition MSPs may set up a special committee to consider the parliament’s future.

However, the parties have played down suggestions they will look at forming a shared programme and use their combined total of 78 MSPs to drive through their policies.

In response to the statement, a spokesperson for First Minister Alex Salmond said the talks proved there was now no party at Holyrood opposed to increasing the Scottish Parliament’s powers.

He said: “These talks come in the wake of the Scottish government’s national conversation on Scotland’s constitutional future, which is driving forward the entire process.

“By talking about developing the parliament, it’s clear that the status quo is no longer supported by any party. We are delighted.

“The national conversation train has left the station – it’s a matter for the London-based parties which compartment they want to get on.”

The significance of the meeting is analysed by Brian Taylor, BBC Scotland’s political editor, on his blog:

Here’s what I think they’ll come up with. A formal parliamentary mechanism to consider and consult.

Think they’ll table a motion at Holyrood, jointly, setting up an ad hoc committee of MSPs to look at the devolution settlement, 10 years on.

Think that committee will then open up a public consultation, engaging with civic Scotland, business, unions etc.

Not convention mark two. “So 80s”, as one put it to me.

Plus there is now a Parliament in place with elected members, with real (if devolved) clout. That cannot be sidelined. Indeed, the opposition parties will argue, it should take the lead.

Which leaves the SNP executive where? Watching with interest.

I do not believe the SNP would nominate members of this parliamentary committee. For why? Because, they argue, it is for those of a Unionist persuasion to come up with their alternative to independence.

Nationalists say they know what they want: a referendum on Scotland becoming a sovereign state. It is up to the Opposition parties – Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats – to decide what they want.

Potentially, as Alex Salmond envisaged when he launched his “conversation” white paper, there could then be a referendum providing people with three choices: the status quo, independence and the scheme for enhanced devolution adopted by the opposition parties.

There is, of course, one other aspect to be borne, strongly, in mind. If further powers are to accrue to Holyrood, that would require Westminster legislation.

The opposition parties in the Scottish Parliament have already pledged to involve Westminster in their consideration.

From a sluggish start, this is beginning to get intriguing.

Indeed. And the movements towards further devolution in Scotland are having an impact on Wales.

Which brings us to the second item of news:

Plaid independence inquiry on the cards
PLAID Cymru is likely to set up the biggest inquiry ever into the implications of independence for Wales, we can reveal today.

Despite forming a coalition Assembly Government with a Labour Party that is firmly Unionist, Plaid’s national executive will over the next couple of months discuss setting up its own commission on independence.

Llanelli AM Helen Mary Jones, Plaid’s director of communications, told the Western Mail, “My own extremely personal view is that the time is right to update our understanding of what independence for Wales would mean.

“The party has done work on this in the past – Dr Phil Williams (Plaid’s economics guru, who died in 2003) in particular examined the question in detail. But there have been such enormous political changes in Europe over the last 10 years that we need to look again at what an independent Wales would mean, be and look like.

“Things are at a very early stage, but I know that a number of colleagues share my view that setting up a commission on independence would be a good thing to do.

“Obviously it would be appropriate to get expert contributions from people who are not necessarily party members, just like the policy commissions we had in the run-up to the recent Assembly election.

“It would also be worthwhile to look at how newly independent small nations in the EU have managed their new status, like the Czech Republic and the Baltic states. A commission would look at the whole picture, from economic, cultural and linguistic points of view.”

Ms Jones said one of the big bugbears for all who wanted to assess what the economic impact of independence on Wales would be was the lack of accurate information about the amount raised in the country from taxation.

“The UK Government does not have an all-Wales breakdown,” she said. “That is something we would like to see addressed. There are those who argue that independence would be unaffordable. We don’t agree, but there is a clear need to have accurate information about the amount of tax raised in Wales.

“If the NEC does decide to set up such a commission, it would obviously be quite a long time before a report was published.”

Ms Jones said a fresh look at independence by Plaid did not conflict with the terms of the One Wales coalition agreement with Labour.

She said, “It is made very clear in the preamble to the One Wales document that it is a programme for government that lasts for one term. Both parties are committed to campaigning for a Yes vote in a referendum on full law-making powers for the National Assembly.

“But the question of independence for Wales goes beyond what is contained in the One Wales agreement. Plaid Cymru has a long-term aspiration for Wales to be an independent nation, and the time is right to look at all the implications of that in the context of contemporary Europe.”

Opinion polls suggest that only around one in five of the electorate supports independence for Wales.

A poll conducted for the BBC in January this year put the figure at 19%. Some 33% in Wales thought independence would enhance Welsh culture, but 49% believed the nation would lose out economically. Only 14% thought that Wales would benefit financially.

Nevertheless, Plaid MP Adam Price argued last week in his column in the Welsh language magazine Golwg that Wales was likely to be independent by 2020 and that people needed to get used to the idea.

Earlier this month the SNP Government in Scotland launched a White Paper on independence. Although the SNP wants to hold a referendum on independence before 2011, that is unlikely to happen because the party runs a minority administration and opposition parties do not want one.

Cameron felled by a Redwood

Tax cuts for the Tories, courtesy of John Redwood.

Mr Redwood told the BBC’s Sunday programme the proposals were aimed at improving Britain’s “ability to compete”.

He said there had been previous successes in deregulation, such as opening up the telecommunications market.

Success! For who?

“We need to extend that experience much more widely across the economy and show that getting rid of unnecessary rules and regulations is creative, is enterprising and extremely helpful to those who need some help in life.”

He said businesses which did not have to spend money on such regulations could instead invest the cash.

Or the bosses could pocket the difference…

The report will call for the repeal of working time regulations and many rules affecting the financial services industry.

Other proposed measures include scrapping controversial Home Information Packs (Hips) and relaxing the regulations on herbal remedies, charity bingo and raffles.

The policy package has been drawn up by a policy review group, set up by Mr Cameron and headed by Mr Redwood.

Mr Cameron, who has refused to bow to internal pressure to promise upfront tax cuts, was reported to be fully backing the plans.

Shadow chancellor George Osborne worked on the proposals with Mr Redwood, but a party spokesman said he was only advising him on how to write and present the report.

In other words, Osborne is being instructed that what is needed is a shift away from the touchy-feely stuff.

Labour has seized on the proposals as evidence the right wing of the Tory “old guard” is confidently pushing its agenda again.

Cabinet minister Andy Burnham said it was a sure sign of Mr Cameron’s “loss of grip and authority”.

“And to shore up his position with the right wing, Cameron is letting the old guard sing the old tunes again,” he said.

“But this directly undermines the spending pledges Cameron has been making. He is losing control and all his PR stunts to suggest change are being exposed as nothing more than that, empty stunts.”

Right, but Labour is just as keen to cut regulations, and attacking the Tories on this is mere opportunism.

The Trades Union Congress said the repeal of working time regulations and the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act would be a move backwards.

“If these reports are true, the Conservative Party will put itself on the side of bad employers and undercut the good who are happy to obey these legal minimum standards,” a spokesman said.

The Tory proposal comes amid a poll suggesting Labour has moved to 10 points ahead of the Conservatives since Gordon Brown took over as prime minister.

The poll for YouGov put Labour on 42% – two points ahead of a month ago – with the Conservatives down one on 32% and the Liberal Democrats on 14%.

About that supposed Labour lead, note that the polls suggesting this come from the Murdoch press. Old Rupert seems to have a soft spot for Gordy.

And by the way, Labour is behind by sixteen points in Scotland, where the SNP are going from strength to strength:

SNP Business Manager Angus Robertson MP has commented on the sensational poll in the Daily Mail by Progressive Scottish Opinion which puts the SNP at 48% to 32% for Labour and also shows 40% of the public are satisfied with the new SNP Government with only 12% unfavourable.

Commenting Mr Roberstson said:

“These are sensational figures, showing SNP support up 15 points since the election – and clearly there is no ‘Brown bounce’ in Scotland. The poll underlines the success of the SNP government in delivering our programme for the first 100 days at a pace that has left the opposition parties gasping, and unable to keep up.

“This is the highest opinion poll rating we have ever recorded.

“The SNP has build credibility and competence in government, and that is reflected in the satisfaction figures running at over three-to-one in favour. No previous Scottish government has build up such a solid platform of support in its first 100 days.

“Support for independence depends on how you ask the question – with as many polls in favour as against – and the important thing now is that we will lead a national conversation on Scotland’s constitutional future which will galvanise further support.”

Supposedly, support for independence is down, but there is still strong support for a referendum on the matter, plans for which are being trailed already.

And if Brown does hold a snap election in October, the winners north of the border could be the Scottish Nationalists, who might just translate support for the party at the national level to an increase in seats at Westminster.

Salmond Hussein?

[Thursday, again]

This is a delightfully sniffy article – or should I say articles? – about the SNP. Not a smear piece, exactly, it has a little bit more sophistication: it’s a smart-arse smear. But note well the unease at Salmond’s opposition to imperialist wars…

This version is from OpenDemocracy

Scotland’s nationalist-Muslim embrace
Tom Gallagher

Scotland’s establishment has responded to an abortive terrorist operation by reaffirming support for the country’s Muslim minority. The silences as well as the words are politically significant, says Tom Gallagher.

9 – 08 – 2007

The terrorist attack that narrowly failed to inflict mass slaughter at Glasgow airport on 30 June 2007 has had a singular impact on Scotland’s public life. A universal sense of shock was followed by vigorous official efforts to build bridges to the country’s approximately 60,000 Muslims. A week later, on 7 July, the cream of Scotland’s establishment gathered in George Square in Glasgow’s heart to offer them protection and reassurance. The institutions represented included the ruling Scottish National Party (SNP), the police, the Church of Scotland, the trade unions, and the vocal anti-war movement. Nobody wondered aloud about the religious dimensions of the violent ideology that had evidently motivated the would-be massacre. Indeed, Scotland’s health minister and SNP deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon was explicit that “Islam is a religion of peace”.

Muslims at the 1,500-strong rally mixed freely with the representatives of political and lobbying groups who made up the bulk of the crowd. The central spot was reserved for Osama Saeed, an articulate young Muslim activist (and former SNP candidate) whose intensity and fluency have made him a sought-after guide to the mood and concerns of Scotland’s Muslims since the airport attack. Saeed’s argument that the Muslim community’s moderation is a given might be confirmed by the absence (in those parts of Glasgow where most Scots Muslims reside) of the Islamic bookshops, bitter young men and fully-covered women that are characteristic of parts of London and of other English urban conurbations with large Muslim populations.
Tom Gallagher is chair of ethnic peace and conflict studies at Bradford University, northern England. Among his nine single-authored books is Theft of a Nation: Romania since Communism (Hurst & Co, 2005), published in the United States as Modern Romania (New York University Press, 2005)

Tom Gallagher has written extensively on sectarian and religious issues in modern Scotland, including Glasgow, The Uneasy Peace: Religious Tensions in Modern Scotland (Manchester University Press, 1987). He is currently embarking on a research project exploring the reaction of the British state and society to the emergence of Muslim radicalism from the Salman Rushdie affair of 1988 to the present

Also by Tom Gallagher in openDemocracy:

“Understanding Slobodan Milosevic: between the cold war and Iraq” (13 March 2006)

“The European Union and Romania: consolidating backwardness?” (27 September 2006)
At the same time, Osama Saeed is an unapologetic advocate of the hardline Islamism espoused by the organisation whose Scottish branch he heads, the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB). He has enthusiastically defended the idea of a global Islamic state and urged Muslims not to cooperate with the police. Media outlets which have reported police appeals for vigilance have not raised with Saeed his political track-record; none appears to have approached him in the spirit of sceptical inquiry that animates coverage of other prominent figures (for example, suggesting that there might be a tension between his extravagant condemnation of the Glasgow attack and support for radical Islamism, even that that this combination might be part of an intellectual taqiyya [deception]).A shaken Scotland, it seems, is not in the mood for tough questions.

A story for solidarity

Glasgow’s brush with disaster has proven to be a windfall for Scotland’s left-of-centre pro-independence Scottish National Party, which has led the government since the May 2007 elections to Scotland’s devolved parliament in Holyrood, Edinburgh. The SNP has assiduously cultivated Scotland’s Muslims, and its historic (if narrow) victory in May included the election of the country’s first Muslim MSP, Bashir Ahmad. The party’s shrewd leader (and Scotland’s first minister) Alex Salmond has used the airport attack as an opportunity to place his party at the foreground of national affairs in much the same way as Tony Blair used the death of Princess Diana in 1997 to project himself as New Labour’s leader of destiny.

At the 7 July rally, Salmond’s chief lieutenant Nicola Sturgeon offered perfunctory praise for John Smeaton, the airport-worker whose presence of mind and unassuming manner on 30 June has made him a hero in many quarters; but she soon moved on and declared that “I wish to particularly praise the Muslim community in Scotland”. On 1 July, hours after the foiled atrocity, Salmond had made a well-publicised visit to Glasgow’s central mosque to assure the city’s Muslim religious leaders of his determination to prevent the community from being an object of attack. Sturgeon reinforced the point, promising that Scotland’s tough legislation designed to stamp out public aggression between feuding Catholics and Protestants would be used against anyone tempted into a twisted form of retaliation.

The tenor of the SNP’s public statements suggests that Salmond, in private conversation, did not ask for greater effort from religious leaders in challenging extremism or disavowing attacks on free speech even when Muslim sensibilities are offended.

The SNP is a grievance party par excellence. Salmond is proving skilful at stage-managing events in which an inept central government based in Whitehall is seen as reluctant to consult with the elected Scottish government. In this light it is not surprising if a party adept at exploiting the real discontent felt by many Scots towards a British state which often seems to reflect English priorities also appeals to increasing numbers of Scots Muslims. Many of the latter have travelled far to settle in Scotland and worked mightily from a starting-point at or near the bottom of the social scale to establish a sustainable life for themselves and their families. A land whose repertoire of national, public attitudes includes on occasion a finely honed sense of grievance can thus offer to a minority a resource which can provide a convenient channel to aid integration – all the more so when the minority itself is not the object of suspicion.

In some respects at least, south Asian migrants to Scotland (many of them Muslim) have found their path easier than in parts of England because they have arrived in a society that often defines itself as a minority culture – one where articulate nationalists (and not only they) have portrayed the national story in terms of a constant struggle to exist in the shadow of a larger, arrogant and sometimes threatening English neighbour. The dominant Scottish self-perception is that of a small outward-looking country with robust anti-imperialist traditions (even though Scots were arguably the main architects of empire in many places during the heyday of Britain’s overseas role). This progressive anti-imperialist image too is one that a significant number of Muslims find it easy to relate to.

An additional factor is that the Scottish establishment’s embarrassment – even guilt – about two centuries of religious conflict between Catholics and Protestants (one that has affected education, housing patterns, sporting rivalries and employment) means that it nowadays makes great efforts to accommodate minorities.

Alex Salmond’s moment

The Glasgow rally on 7 July was the first public opportunity to view the balance of forces in the Muslim community after a week of turmoil. Elderly figures like Bashir Maan, Scotland’s first-ever Muslim city councillor, had their place of honour. But a younger generation of campaigners, who helped organise the assembly in the city’s main square just days after co-religionists almost succeeded in destroying the city’s airport, are now making the running. Osama Saeed declared that the community had nothing to apologise for and roundly criticised the “rightwing press” for asking uncomfortable – and in his view divisive – questions. He called for an enquiry into the root causes of terrorism in Britain and appeared confident that the finger of blame would be pointed at departing prime minister Tony Blair, who was condemned at the rally more often than any bomb-carrying doctor.

Alex Salmond may never have worn a uniform, but he is projecting himself to religious minorities previously loyal to the Labour party – not just Muslims but the much larger Catholic one mainly drawn from past waves of Irish immigrants – as Scotland’s answer to Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt or the Irish leader Michael Collins, who both struck out against an overmighty Britain in the last century with impressive effect. The cause of Scotland’s freedom was personalised in the May elections by a ballot-paper which said “vote Alex Salmond for Scotland’s First Minister”. This natural populist in a country usually known for its colourless politicians likes nothing better to tweak the tail of the mangy old British lion. For Salmond the equivalent of the Suez canal is Britain’s fleet of nuclear submarines whose home base is in a deep-water loch northwest of Glasgow.

A potent aspect of Salmond’s ebullient political persona is his lack of shame, a quality reinforced by an amnesiac media who show no willingness to examine his record in relation to issues where Muslims have been centrally involved. In March-June 1999, for example, Britain was a leading participant in the war over Kosovo in the attempt to halt the Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic’s systematic repression of the (mainly Muslim) Kosovar Albanians. Salmond was a vehement opponent of the Nato campaign, and famously described the organisation’s (so far) only military action on European soil as “an act of unpardonable folly”. This capped a decade when he had remained silent throughout years of Milosevic-sponsored aggression against the Kosovars’ co-religionist Bosniaks in former Yugoslavia.

The British foreign secretary at the time of the Kosovo war, Robin Cook – also the country’s most respected centre-left leader at the time of his premature death in 2005 – witheringly branded Salmond as Belgrade’s stooge, “the only European leader to stand side by side with Milosevic” in a way that showed him as “simply unfit to lead”. The SNP’s poor performance in the inaugural elections to the Scottish parliament in May 1999 (while the war was underway) was widely attributed to Salmond’s intervention.

The world’s wind

Alex Salmond’s dream is for Scotland to join an arc of prosperous north Atlantic nations from Ireland and Iceland to Scandinavia. But it might at best prove to be a northern version of Ken Livingstone’s left-leaning multicultural metropolis in London. The party lacks skilled political leaders, other than Salmond himself, and it seems hard to imagine a majority of Scots voting for independence. But perhaps such a scenario could come to pass if the increasingly neurotic mood among large sections of English opinion, as their identity is seen to be threatened in multiple ways, leads to a backlash against the Scots.

Scotland receives considerably more in state subsidies than much of England. It is not beyond reason that Scottish policies, such as the decision to absolve Northern Irish students from tuition-fees at Scottish universities which English ones must nevertheless still pay, could result in a coherent campaign in which Scotland is told to exit via the door marked “Britain” and not come back. Salmond would relish such an outcome,and some believe he is trying to provoke it by upsetting English sensibilities.

A separate Scotland could turn out to be a modern, efficient state that harnesses the energies of its people, including those achievers who previously had to go abroad to make their mark in the world; or it could be a kind of leftist London authority on a larger canvas, committed to redistributionist policies and a neutralist foreign policy garnished with fashionably right-on rhetoric in the hope that a durable patriotic consensus would emerge.

Whatever Scotland’s ultimate fate, the times ahead are bound to be testing. Scotland’s Muslim minority will not be immune from the same attention as their co-religionists elsewhere as long as a terrorist threat persists in western Europe. At least some Scots Muslims may find it difficult to remain aloof from transnational radical currents that see Islam primarily as an ideological tool to create a revolutionary new state. The resources of political Scotland are at present being mobilised on the community’s behalf, but not always in a thoughtful or acceptable way. Whether Muslims will find the Scottishness on offer an acceptable way to combine a religious identity with a national, secular one remains to be seen.

Gallacher defends himself against claims he is a stooge of imperialism in the comments section with this amazing line:

There are other forms of imperialism much worse than that produced by the mangy British lion and whose true potential for causing harm in the world has not been fully realised.

And this is another version of the article from the dire Prospect:

August 2007 | 137 » Web exclusive » Scotland’s radicals

Alex Salmond’s willingness to fish in the wilder waters of Muslim politics is irresponsible and offensive to the heroes of 30th June

Tom Gallagher

Alex Salmond is fast turning into one of the most nimble politicians in British politics since Lloyd George. Since becoming Scotland’s first minister, Salmond has proven not only to be a skilful media politician but a formidable operator in the corridors of power. Since taking charge of the executive in May, with a one-seat majority, his Scottish National party (SNP) has launched a blizzard of initiatives.

Unusually for a nationalist leader, Salmond has cultivated a range of minorities, notably Scotland’s growing Muslim population, which is concentrated in a number of seats the SNP hopes to wrest from the Labour party. On 31st July, Salmond held a reception for Scottish Muslim leaders at his official Edinburgh residence where he declared that, in terms of engaging with Muslims, “We are ahead of virtually every other European country.”

He made more headlines on 7th August when he presided over a civic reception in Glasgow in honour of the men and women whose courage helped save Glasgow from disaster on 30th June, the day when two would-be bombers struck the terminal building of Glasgow airport. One of the heroes that day, 31-year-old baggage handler John Smeaton, later commented that he was only doing his civic duty when he intervened to help the police overpower one of the bombers. Yet there is growing evidence that Salmond is intent on strengthening his support among those members of Scotland’s 60,000-strong Muslim community who are all too ready to champion an ethno-religious identity rather than a civic one.

The chief tactician upon whom Salmond relies to build bridges with Scottish Muslims is Osama Saeed, the Scottish organiser of the Muslim Association of Britain (MAP). Saeed stood as an SNP parliamentary candidate in 2005, and has enthusiastically defended the idea of a global Islamic state in the press, on one occasion urging Muslims to withhold co-operation from the police. Following the failed bombing, Saeed was chosen by the BBC in Scotland to speak for Scotland’s Muslims. Largely excluded from the broadcast media were Muslims such as Glasgow university lecturer Amanullah de Sondy, who appealed in the Scottish press for more attention to be directed at “what I call progressive Muslims, the silent majority who do not wear their religion on their sleeve, and are open to discussion and debate about western dress, gender relations, social norms and other aspects of Scottish life.”

This July, Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon, his deputy first minister and close ally, went to great lengths to deny the argument that religious ideology might be motivating Muslims to carry out acts of mass terror. The contrasting position had in fact already been argued in the press with considerable fluency by ex-radicals such as Ed Husain and Hassan Butt. Sturgeon repeatedly stated on television, and at a rally organised by the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) on 7th July, that “Islam is a religion of peace.” While this may be true, Sturgeon’s repeated use of the phrase betrays an unwillingness to offend the sensibilities of religious pressure groups whose value is their capacity to swing voters towards the party that is most amenable to their agenda.

The MAB has campaigned against the British presence not just in Iraq but also in Afghanistan, and is closely linked to the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood. Salmond, who has a long aversion towards western military engagement, shares many of the MAB’s concerns. He has met with its best-known figure, Azzam Tamimi, who declared in 2004, “If I can go to Palestine and sacrifice myself, I would do it.” In December 2005, while addressing Islamic activists in Glasgow, Tamimi declared that the SNP was the best party in Scotland to represent Muslim interests. He cited the party’s stance on Iraq, Palestine and the war on terrorism, declaring, “We have been impressed by the warm and welcoming attitude of the SNP.”

Salmond’s willingness to fish in the wilder waters of Muslim politics is clever—albeit risky—electoral politics. Despite his tiny majority, he intends to stay in government for a full four-year term by picking strategic quarrels with Downing Street and Whitehall not only over Anglo-Scottish matters, but over British foreign policy too. Yet the strategy conceals a glaring absence of both religious literacy and—I would contend—public responsibility.

There is no sign that Salmond wishes to reach out to those Muslim Scots who are committed to integration. Such people don’t usually form lobbies capable of delivering baskets of votes to parties at election time. They prefer to fit in with the rest of society rather than to emphasise their separation from it.

The message being promoted by Alex Salmond is: in Scotland, Muslim identity is welcome, while British identity is a thing of the past. But surely there is a danger that Scottish nationalism, because it is so clearly lacking in substance, will end up disappointing young Muslims searching for a durable radical cause. The SNP’s obsession with alleged English “overlordship,” and its failure to move beyond gimmicks and slogans on many policy areas, is unlikely to impress idealistic Muslims preoccupied with global concerns.

Salmond’s party is uninterested in engaging with many of the social problems that blight urban Scotland, instead preferring to grandstand on constitutional issues. In 2004, Nicola Sturgeon opposed the plans of the Labour administration in Edinburgh to target gang violence through its antisocial behaviour bill. She argued that it risked causing a complete breakdown in relations between young people and the police. This was not long after “Operation Gadher,” set up in 2002 to confront an Asian gang culture controlling much of Glasgow’s drug trade, was closed down because it was considered politically incorrect in influential quarters. Gangs, including Muslim ones, blight Sturgeon’s Glasgow Govan constituency and the neighbouring areas. There is a danger that the party’s privileging of religious identity could give urban violence a disturbing Islamic edge.

Much though the SNP hates to be reminded of it, establishing a partnership with religious figures and community activists—rather than reaching out to individual Muslim citizens—is a failed English policy. It backfired on a Conservative home secretary, Michael Howard, after he was instrumental in setting up the Muslim Council of Britain, and it backfired on Tony Blair and Jack Straw, who for even longer periods sought to manage Muslim concerns by working through religious gatekeepers.

Salmond seems to be uninterested in the new thinking from Whitehall about the need to treat Muslims as individual citizens, not as part of an amorphous and ill-defined community. This enables the concerns of women and other disadvantaged groups to be noticed, groups that religious campaigners usually prefer to overlook. It will be ironic if Salmond emerges as a social authoritarian eager to remake the face of the biggest Scottish cities, whose voters have vexed the SNP by rejecting it on numerous occasions. Plenty of evidence this summer suggests that this is exactly the direction he is moving in. It may well mean that Smeaton and the other heroes of 30th June will be wondering why Salmond is saluting them for their civic valour on the day the bombers tried and failed to destroy Glasgow airport.

I expect that it is only a matter of time before Gallagher is quoted in the gutter press as an authority on the dodginess of the SNP in power. The day will come when The Sun prints an Islamophobic hit piece on the SNP with the headline, SALMOND HUSSEIN!

PS:
There is another version for The Spectator, luridly entitled The SNP is playing a deadly game with Islam, which includes the following:

Despite leading a supposedly mainstream party, Salmond seems intent on copying Trotskyite agitators who seek to prosper by sweeping young Muslims into their ranks on an ‘anti-imperialist’ agenda. To the chagrin of English revolutionaries, their sects are proving only a halfway-house for young Muslims who prefer a revolutionary cause based on global Islam. Will Scottish nationalism prove a more attractive long-term draw for idealistic young Scottish Muslims? I doubt it.

Well, that says it all, really…

We’ll have to wait and see where he pops up next. Certainly, he is adept at tailoring the message for the audience. A thinking man’s Nick Cohen?

Gordy goes to Washington

[Monday]

Don’t call me Dave
Forget about David Cameron. Okay, he’s trailing in the polls by eight or nine points, his own MPs are mouthing off about him – Graham Brady, who quit the frontbench over Cameron’s stance on grammar schools, for one – and columnist Peter Oborne has raised the possibility that it could be game over for the Tories if Cameron leads them into a fourth consecutive election defeat.

So, the man who was built up by the corporate media now finds himself the subject of ridicule. No ideas, no direction, and no hope. Cameron has an uphill struggle: to convert his party, to beat Brown as a leader. See, Brown has a head start – he’s been crowned without an electoral test. As the current PM, he just has to keep his place at Number Ten, Cameron must prove himself – this is the expectation.

Cameron says he won’t waver, despite criticism he lacks appeal in Midlands and North of England. He is now compromised. If he does another U-turn and obeys the wishes of his party, he looks weak because he swore against it; yet if he soldiers on, more and more detractors will speak against him, and the perception will be of a party in disarray.

The discourse for Cameron is proving that his party has changed. Will Brown be held to his change of relations with US? No, not likely – here we are in realpolitik mode and the media won’t be pressing him on this “change”.

Most unwanted!
We know who Gordy is, don’t we? He tells us often enough. He is change. Well, he doesn’t smile as easily as Blair. He’s a bit awkward, a tad scruffy. It is a change of style, but not substance because nothing has really changed.

No change in relations with the US: we should be grateful for the most powerful empire ever to exist, says Brown. No change in government attitudes towards industrial disputes: the posties – and all other workers – must accept a pay cut to hold off inflation, says Brown. (Presumably he doesn’t want the bosses to accept lower profits and reduced bonuses…)

Why isn’t Brown trailing in the polls? Are they meaningless? How can a man to take over as PM with no election, change only one or two of hundreds of massively unpopular policies, invite generals, coppers, and bosses into government and remain popular?

The answer is, of course, that he is not popular. Remember – these opinion polls are of voters. People who say they will vote in a general election. Not exactly a supermajority of the population; of which, a few thousand are asked to give their opinion. So taking an opinion poll is not the same as taking the pulse of the nation(s).

Severe flooding causing billions of pounds worth of damage to homes and businesses; an ongoing postal strike; deaths and casualties of troops fighting illegal and immoral wars in the Middle East – Brown doesn’t want to talk about this.

No, the flag! The Union flag is Brown’s priority (he’s British, you know!). The butcher’s apron is to be flown all year round from government buildings – but not in Scotland or Northern Ireland.

And terror – Brown is set on doubling the 28 day internment to 56 days, insisting it is needed despite the lack of evidence. It’s partly party political, it lets him out-tough the Tories, but for the most part it serves the interests of the ruling class, who will need such laws on the books should the tide turn on a mass scale.

Right now, Brown’s meeting with George Bush is in the news. What did he mean by “full and frank”? Was he displeased at Bush’s lap of honour in the golf cart? My big talking point is this: considering UK service-personnel are dying in immoral, illegal, and unpopular wars of occupation in the Middle East, what impact will Brown’s commitment to the “special relationship” have on his own reputation?

Independence thirst?
On Scotland, Brown’s abandoned homeland, the head of the Scottish government intends to publish a white paper on an independence referendum within the next two weeks, to mark the SNP’s first hundred days in power.

It won’t be easy to bring forward a referendum: the Scottish Parliament is packed with members of the Westminster parties, and the unionists are dead against giving the Scottish people a say on the future of their nation. If it is true that over a third of MSPs are in favour of independence and that there is not sufficient public support for an independent Scottish state, then the unionists should call Salmond’s bluff and back a referendum wholeheartedly.

Scottish independence is a big deal for socialists in England; we cannot let English national identity become purely defined by feelings of antagonism towards Scotland. The asymmetrical devolution carried out by New Labour is resulting in a resurgence of the English national identity, discrete from that of British “national” identity offered by the ruling class. Socialists should support the Campaign for an English Parliament and socialist bloggers should join the Witanagemot Club.

There is one other factor besides the issue of national self-determination, it must be said. For if it is true that Britain is the most important ally of the US, the world’s number one imperialist power, then it is our duty to break the Union into its component parts, thus weakening Anglo-American imperialism and at the same time fighting for change in the interest of the working class.