Sunday, 17 February 2013

Scotland and Complicity

The cursor hovered "Michael Moore launches defence of Zero Dark Thirty" for a second before I realised it was the other Michael Moore, not the mild mannered Scottish Secretary, the Guardian was quoting over the critically acclaimed Osama Bin Laden film.
It must happen from time to time though - mail for the guerrilla film maker arrives at Dover House and invites from the Scotch Whisky Association find their way to a film production office in the USA.

Moore, the film maker that is, was arguing that ZD30 must be a good movie because "it will make you hate torture". It certainly does, the whole first act of Kathyrn Bigelow's hunt for Bin Laden follows the CIA down the rendition route, and very discomfiting it is too.

The second  part shows how buying a Lamborghini in exchange for a telephone number can be more productive in gleaning intelligence,  and that sends you down the rappelling ropes with the US Navy Seals  to the Bin-Laden lair.

Nothing to do with the Scotland Office, then. Nonetheless there is, as there always is, a direct and an oblique Scottish connection to the whole issue of torture, or there is at the Scotland Office at least.

It is  little know but Alun Evans, the civil service head at Dover House, arrived there last year having served as Secretary of the Detainee Inquiry - the UK investigation into "whether Britain was implicated in the improper treatment of detainees, held by other countries, that may have occurred in the aftermath of 9/11."

The inquiry was shut down prematurely last year and sent hasty conclusions to the government when the Met Police announced an investigation into the allegations the renditioning - the illegal transfer of prisoners of two individuals to Libya.

We still await to a full response to the unquiry but last month the UK government paid £2.2 million to settle a case brought by Libyan dissident, Sami al-Saadi, who alleged British involvement in the rendition and torture of him and his family, to the Gaddafi regime.

Kevin Toolis, the Scottish journalist and documentary film maker, is just back from Libya where he uncovered more evidence of British complicity in torture which might never make it into a report drafted by officials for the inquiry assisted by Mr Evans.

Toolis has a great journalistic track record and makes superb documentaries too. His first foray into drama, a very British take on state torture, is being aired on Channel 4 at 9pm tonight.

Complicit, deals with the very complicated issue of torture through a very layered and human story.  I've seen a preview, and it is a script and performances that make for very worthwhile viewing.

But back to the Scotland Office. Jim Wallace, the Advoate General in the government, the man who makes sure Westminster law and Scottish law knit together, tells a great yarn about Scotland and renditioning.

Wallace, a lawyer who studies historicial precedent, say that one of the first laws, if not the first law, the Westminster parliament passed in relation to Scotland after the Act of Union in 1707 was to ban torture.

Because torture was illegal in England its monarchs were apparently in the habit of sending their prisoners across the border to Scotland to have their conspiracies wrung out of them. The practice was abhorrent to the new state and so torture was outlawed across the kingdom. There is nothing new about renditioning, or Scotland's role in it.

When Wallace mentioned this, I flippantly asked if the English Crown might have used Prestwick airport for renditioning, as the CIA did for numerous flights taking prisoners from to black sites across Europe?

Quck as a flash, Wallace replied no, but they might have used Wick airport - indicating that we might all have been looking the wrong way when we focused on CIA flights in and out of Prestwick.

Sure enough Wick Airport, tucked away there in Caithness, features prominently in the Reprieve report on Scotland and extraordinary renditioning.

I think that's enough Scottish connections with torture for one afternoon, but congratulations to Kevin on getting his fim made. You can watch it on Channel 4 tonight at 9pm as you contemplate if anyone has clean hands when it comes to state torture.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

As its Valentine's Day...let's have a song

Ladies and gentlemen, Swordale's finest Colin MacLeod, aka The Boy Who Trapped The Sun, with a new song - "Last call for the boat".

Colin is playing the Hebridean Celtic Festival this summer, so is Van Morrison incidentally.
He plays in Stornoway every week, Colin that is...

Ed and the 10p tax cut

Ed Miliband never has great luck on his "big" speech days. If the Oscar Pistorius shooting story doesn't knock him off the news agenda then events in the Chris Huhne and Vicky Price trial later today could. 

Then, in some ways the timing couldn't have been better. By the skin of his teeth the Labour leader has beaten the Tories to the draw on a 10p tax rate for low earners.

Cameron dropped an inadvertent hint yesterday at PMQs that Osborne was considering a 10p tax rate for next month's make or break budget.

Opportunistic, ruthless and playing fantasy economics -  all that will be thrown at Miliband today but the Osborne will be grinding his teeth while calculating a counter-attack.

The simplest one is  -do the numbers stack up?

According to Labour £2 billion could be raised from a mansion tax on properties worth more than £2 million.

That £2 billion pays for a 10p tax rate  that will leave 25 million  basic rate tax payers up to £100 a year better off.

A House of Commons Library assessment calculates that the 10p rate would cost £6 billion if came in between the tax free personal allowance (£9,440) and £12,000.

Ed Balls says all tax and spending commitments will have to wait for a 2105 manifesto and depend on the state of the economy and the public purse in two year's time.

Incidentally, reversing Gordon Brown's policy of "simplifying" the tax system by getting rid of the 10p rate also distances Miliband from the old regime, something that is necessary if the One Nation sensation is gong to happen.

But the main  message from Labour is clear - Ed is on the side of low paid workers, Dave is siding with the millionaires. Somewhere in there the Lib Dems will argue that raising the level at which people pay income tax was their idea all along. All this will be drowned out in what looks like a very busy news day.