The Real Britain

What differentiates each side in the referendum debate is attitude towards Britain rather than Scotland. We say pretty similar things about Scotland and express the same feelings whether unionist or nationalist. It’s when we think about the meaning of Britain that we find the deepest divergence of opinion.

Most people seem to have a fairly benign attitude towards the concept of Britishness whatever petty grievances they harbour. I do not. I keep my deepest resentment for the British state, that nexus of institutions, people and mentality that entrenches inequality, salutes the class system, conspires in war and protects its own. It doesn’t seem to matter very much who is in power, the overall results are similar – politicians with a conventional, compliant, establishment-minded viewpoint who see themselves as the guardians of all knowledge and authority, something the population dispensed with sometime in the 1980’s.

When we needed a left-leaning government we got a repeat of two years of Tory spending policy, two international wars, complicity in torture, the harshest crackdown on civil rights in the post-war era and abuse of executive power. When Blair needed support to save face in the aftermath of Iraq war and the Gilligan affair he found it in a former Diplock judge in a classic establishment stitch-up. Perhaps the biggest lie in politics is the claim of Labour to be a radical party of the left. Their record in office – which contains notable advances on early learning, tax credits, minimum wage and devolution – shows them in reality to be wet Tories in awe of corporate muscle, American foreign policy and reckless capitalist economics while pushing away the unions and chasing the establishment rewards of titles and lobbyists’ hard cash.

We are in the process of uncovering some of the darker secrets of the Blair and Brown years, things we guessed at or speculated but have been unable to confirm but, as ever, it seems the establishment is working diligently to delay and diffuse on behalf of their Labour cohorts.

The Gibson Report is one such meek and self-serving operation which started out as an attempt to uncover the grisly truth about British involvement in torture and rendition and which will now be handled by the compliant Intelligence and Security Committee which spoon-fed the security chiefs ahead of their public appearance by informing them of the questions in advance.

Within weeks of the election David Cameron announced the inquiry to be led by Gibson. He repeatedly rejected suggestions at that time that the ISC should conduct the investigation, telling MPs: “I do not think for a moment that we should believe that the ISC should be doing this piece of work. For public confidence, and for independence from parliament, party and government, it is right to have a judge-led inquiry.” He added: “That is what we need to get to the bottom of the case. The fact that it is led by a judge will help ensure that we get it done properly.” That is the opposite of what has happened as the establishment realizes how damaging to it the torture issue is.

Typical of the duplicity of the British was their courting of Gaddafi and intense behind-the-scenes talks to release Megrahi while condemning the Scottish government for doing so. There is the co-operation between MI6 and Gaddafi’s intelligence agencies and the UK’s involvement in the rendition of two Libyan opposition leaders and their families to Tripoli in 2004 back into the hands of the regime who tortured them , and any role Jack Straw, then foreign secretary, played in authorising those operations. He has denied any wrongdoing, although MI6 is reported to have confronted him with documentary evidence that he personally authorised the agency’s involvement in the Libyan rendition operations…a Labour Cabinet minister. I smell more state collusion is the statement from the retiring head of the FBI Robert Muller that more arrests are expected over the Lockerbie bombing. Really? We were told as soon as anti Gaddafi forces took Benghazi three years ago that they would search the files and find the evidence that Libya brought down Pan Am 103. Since then, nothing. Speculation and visits by the Lord Advocate, but not a shred of evidence let alone a suspect. Odd, don’t you think, that if they wanted an arrest they had in their hands Moussa Koussa, Gaddafi’s security adviser who would surely have known the truth? But then, he was MI6’s link man in Tripoli with whom they exchanged Christmas greetings and rendition victims so they couldn’t put him on trial. If the UK conspired with the US over the war in Iraq, does that indicate it would also conspire over Lockerbie? Are they so close that they are indistinguishable or isn’t that exactly what has been proved by Edward Snowden revealing the mass collection of private data….

There have been allegations of MI6 and MI5 involvement in a series of other operations in Pakistan, Egypt, Morocco and Bangladesh, as well as Guantánamo Bay and Afghanistan, which have resulted in terrorism suspects suffering severe mistreatment. In some cases – the most notorious being that of the British resident Binyam Mohamed – the allegations have been found to be true, while in others the government has paid sums totalling several million pounds in order to settle compensation claims out of court…the British state at work.

Meanwhile, even as further and deeper benefits and budget cuts are announced with pride – at the same time as the government boasts of recovery – we find that British officials  “lost their nerve” in tackling tax avoidance by global corporations and have presided over a £35bn tax gap as they pursue easy prey such as small businesses and individuals, the easy meat.

In a report that highlighted how the Treasury is owed missing tax payments of £35bn, the public accounts committee added that HM Revenue and Customs has left the state with another multibillion pound shortfall by failing to gather £2.6bn of an expected windfall from Swiss banks. How easy is it to savage those with no voice but to bend the knee to the corporate kings who make their own rules and decide how much they will deign to pay in taxes…

To me this is the British state, no matter which party is in power, self-serving and contemptuous of the people it is supposed to serve.

PS When will we get the report of the Chilcott Committee four and a half years since it started?

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