Sunday, 15 November 2015

Aux armes, citoyens!

Over the last two days there has been much singing of the Marseillaise.

It is a unique national anthem because, long before Friday's tragic events in Paris, it belonged to much more than its native country. It was composed as newly revolutionary France was menaced on all sides by the Armies of reaction and lost its original, rather literal, title, War song for the Army of the Rhine, in favour of its now much more famous appellation, when it was sung in the streets of Paris by volunteers (volunteers!) arriving there from the port of Marseille in 1792 to defend the revolution.

It was banned outright on the Bourbon restoration but whenever 19th century insurrection was in the air, initially in France, but later much widely across Europe, it became a rallying song of the forces of progress. It was even played at the Finland Station when Lenin arrived home there to herald the October Revolution.

But it also became something more. A musical shorthand for the aims of the (first) French Revolution; of liberty, egality and fraternity.

Its most famous cinematic rendition is in of course in the 1942 film, Casablanca. When Victor Laszlo instructs the band it be played to drown out the carousing Germans, it is both insignificant and very significant that Laszlo isn't himself French and it is not just the patrons of Rick's CafĂ© but cinemagoers the world over who find themselves metaphorically rising to their feet. Roy Hattersley once wrote of being strangely moved to tears by a National Anthem that is not one's own. Except that it is our own. It belongs to all of us. All of us who embrace the values of the enlightenment.

But the Marseillaise is something more as well. It is a war song.

It's final lines are these:

Aux armes, citoyens!
Formez vos bataillons!
Marchons! Marchons!
Qu'un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons!

For sometimes it is not just necessary to sing about your values. Sometimes you have to be prepared to fight for them.

And this I suspect may prove to be a matter of great significance for the internal politics of the Labour Party.

On the 12th of September 2001, in the NATO Council resolved that "if it is determined that the [Twin Towers] attack against the United States was directed from abroad, it shall be regarded as an action covered by Article 5 of the Washington [NATO] Treaty".

It was ultimately so determined and as a result NATO as a whole took action against Afghanistan.

That action might have been led by the United States but it was the treaty obligation of all NATO member states to assist the "member state" so attacked. As the United Kingdom did.

But there was another, very much minority, view at the time. That there was no reason or at least purpose to an attack on Afghanistan. That, in any event, to some degree or another, the United States had brought this assault on itself.

This body of opinion coalesced around the Stop the War coalition. It was that war,  not the later Iraq War which brought it to much greater prominence, that is referred to in the organisation's title.

And there was at least a logical conclusion to the organisation's position. A conclusion that the UK should abrogate its NATO treaty obligations and, by implication at least, leave its framework of collective security altogether.

Now, at the time, this organisation had as one of its immediate leading lights, indeed later as its Chairperson, one Jeremy Corbyn MP. Within nine days of September the 11th he had declared himself opposed to any retaliatory military action whatsoever. And he remained thereafter consistent. As recently as September 3rd 2015, asked at the final Labour leadership debate if he could see any circumstance in which he would support the deployment of British troops abroad he replied that, while he was sure there were some, he couldn't think of any for the moment.

Well, that might have been a hypothetical question but this is not.

One of our oldest allies has been attacked. The home of the enlightenment, with, although this should be no more than incidental, one of the few socialist governments in Europe.. Attacked by people whose motivation appears to have been in part disgust at liberated women and whose specific targets at the Bataclan Theatre appeared to be particularly the disabled patrons in attendance. Attacked without warning and in the minds of almost all people of liberal opinion, without reason. In any sense of the word reason.

It appears Article 5 of the NATO treaty is again to be invoked and that, further to that, France is likely to take direct retaliatory military action against the places from which this outrage was planned. Action which we are treaty bound to assist.

So, Jeremy, is this finally a circumstance in which you will support the deployment of British troops abroad?

I suspect on the answer to that question will depend either the future of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party. Or, alternatively, the future of the Labour Party itself.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Blue Remembered Hills

Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went

And cannot come again.

A.E. Houseman (from) A Shropshire Lad

I started off intending to write about the debacle last weekend's Labour Party Scottish Conference.

Except I really did begin to think what was the point.

There remain two questions about next year's Scottish Parliament Election. The first is whether the SNP will secure a second overall majority. That's more of an issue than some realise. I might come back to that on a future occasion.

But the second is increasingly the question of the day. Will Labour even be second?

And that begs the wider question. Can Labour ever win again, in the UK or in Scotland?

And while the events of the three days past, last weekend, lead to the conclusion that both of these latter questions have an increasingly worrying probable answer, that in turn suggests that it is perhaps time to take wider stock.

For maybe it is over.

Not just for 2016 and not just for Scotland.

Maybe the whole idea of a "Labour" Party has had its day.

I joined the Labour Party between the February and October General Elections.

Then,  elections were both more common and less common. More common because there was a burgh election (in rotation) every year but less common in that, notwithstanding the exceptional year in which  I joined, "big" elections came along only occasionally.

And big elections, in Paisley at least, were always won by the Labour Party.

For Paisley read Falkirk. Or Dunfermline. Or Kilmarnock. Or Barnsley. Or Tredegar. Or Bethnal Green.

Labour places.

The "campaign" at these big elections was not really a campaign. It was more a general reminder to everybody that there was an election on. So they'd better get out and vote. Vote Labour didn't even really require to be expressly stated.

Public meetings were even then regarded as a waste of time: a magnet only for Trots, or Nats, or cranks, more or less the same thing to our mind, but factory gate meetings were a different thing. At Babcocks, and Rolls Royce and at whatever the great Linwood car factory was being called that year. The "stewards" would be asked to suggest a date and as thousands of men (an intentional use of gender here) rushed either in to their work or out to their tea, or to the pub, or to wherever, leaflets would be pushed into their hands, stickers pressed to their clothing and in a brief stump speech listened to, at least, by the stewards themselves, the working men were reminded that a week on Thursday was polling day. "Don't forget to vote! And don't forget to get your wives to vote as well!"

And on polling day you stood outside polling stations to thank people for their support. Alright, some of them hadn't voted for you, but you thanked them as well. It reassured you that you were living in a democracy and that your victory was genuinely merited.

At close of poll, those then not going to the count, retired to a safe zone. In Paisley, at that first election, to the Labour Club on the Renfrew Road; in future years to the AEU Halls in Incle Street. Elsewhere in the country to a Miners' Welfare or a factory social club or a Co-op Hall. To await the result. Delivered on a portable television with a dubiously functioning inside aerial. Not your own result, for that would be inevitably a Labour hold, but the result from around the Country in the places where the election was actually decided. Then not just in the commuter belt around London or in the sprawling West Midlands but in Glasgow Cathcart, or Edinburgh Central, or Aberdeen South.

But win or lose the big election you woke up the next morning knowing that there would always be a Labour Party. For there would always be places like Paisley and Dunfermline and Kilmarnock and Barnsley and Tredegar and Bethnal Green. That was as certain as that there would always be factory gates, and Miners' Welfares, and Co-op Halls. And indeed that there would always be portable televisions and the AEU.

It is all gone, or going.

Only the Labour Party remains.

Except maybe it has also gone. Like the pensioners struggling with ever decreasing bar takings in a "works" social club, attached no more to a "work" itself long departed, perhaps we are deluding ourselves that, one day, the good times will return. That the factory will reopen, that young people will work there again, and that on a Saturday night no-one will have anything better to do than turn up for a few pints while being entertained by Lena Martell or the Alexander Brothers.

I watched the Party Conference from afar. Kez made a good speech. Although you can't help feeling that to have someone who, at a stage in their career, should be getting marked down as "one to watch for the future", instead being sacrificed to a future likely to end at five past ten on the first Thursday in May next year, is merely indicative of how desperate things have become.

But beyond that the whole event was just so ridiculously anachronistic. If you had brought back smoking in the hall and black and white telly you might well have been watching archive footage from the nineteen sixties. Except that, at least, in the nineteen sixties the generals on screen spoke for an industrial army offstage. Now they speak only for a phantom army and, more importantly, speak in a language long since fallen into misuse among the general population.

Party conferences get on the telly. So sensible Parties, Parties interested in power, see them as an opportunity to persuade people who might vote for them to actually vote for them. That calculation, Kez's speech aside, played no part in the Labour Party's deliberations in Perth.

It wasn't just the ludicrous Trident debate. Where, as I observed on twitter, we chose (chose!) to debate something over which we had no control so that we could adopt an unpopular policy while demonstrating how divided we were. It was even more the tone of both the TTIP debate that preceded it and the TU Bill debate that followed.

These might be worthy matters but, frankly, they are of no interest at all to more than 95% of the population. And the remaining 5% either vote Labour already or are irredeemably lost to the ultra left or the flag eaters.

There is no point in protesting that "They ought to be of wider interest!" They are not. And, equally frankly, worthy speeches, delivered with whatever amount of indignation, to a hungover Labour Party Conference are unlikely to persuade anybody otherwise.

I have watched all the conferences now. I am no Nat and no Tory. But each of these Parties reached out to speak to, albeit different, nations. Labour didn't even content itself with speaking to itself. It spoke to itself of forty years ago. Prior to the compromises that gave it any chance of being elected in a modern age. Indeed, in active denial of them.

There is no going back. Co-op Halls and Miners Welfares are not going to re-open, any more than are the pits or these huge industrial factories. The AEU is not going to re-form, designating time served men as always slightly superior to their brethern.

And, overall, that is a good thing. For it means no more industrial deafness, or pneumoconiosis, or contact dermatitis or, possibly worst of all, mesothelioma.

It is a good thing that working conditions today are much better. That housing conditions are as well. That the consumer now outranks the producer. But increasingly the Labour Party behaves as if it regrets its own achievements. That we would like to turn the clock back to a golden age of clearer hardship but also clearer class struggle.

That is not how it should be. The great socialist philosopher R.H. Tawney famously observed that, for the left, if there is a golden age it lies not in the past but in the future.

We seem to have completely lost sight of that. Bizarrely, the Party most in tune with the modern age is now the Tories, who have adopted a different maxim, this time from Lampedusa.: "Things will have to change if we want them to stay the same", while the most conservative Party is now, even more bizarrely, Labour. Fearful of change, fearful of modernisation. Positively wishing it could turn the clock back.

Maybe it is just all over.

Except that only the Labour Party itself fails to realise that it has gone.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Hatred and Fear

So, the SNP have had their biggest Conference ever to round off their most successful year ever.

Congratulations to them

But the really big thing that happened was what happened at the Conference's start. Nicola ruled out having a commitment to a second referendum in next year's SNP manifesto. That means, for the avoidance of doubt, before 2023 at the earliest.

The last referendum took so long that you forget how it started. With a lengthy negotiation between the Scottish and British Government over the terms on which Holyrood would be given the legal competence to hold a referendum. That power was ultimately ceded only for a time limited period, now expired, so this process would require to be repeated even if the SNP won in 2021 with a clear commitment to re-run the vote. And, for the avoidance of any doubt, that legal competence is critical. Anybody who thinks otherwise should ask the Catalans. And even if consent was given, there would then need to be another Referendum Bill passed.

So, eight years at the least. Which is a lot of conference time to occupy in some way.

For some it appears they think they'll be able to pass it with an annual hate fest. The hatred of all things English is never far from the surface within much of the SNP but other hates don't even need to be concealed. Hatred of the press in general and the BBC in particular. Hatred of the Tories, which might at least have some logic, were it not that it is accompanied by hatred for the Labour Party as well, just because. At some points during the debate over fracking it even appeared to extend to hatred of the entire modern world.

Who knows, maybe it's possible this will do for the next eight years but somehow I doubt it. However in attempting to find something else to talk about the Nats would have to actually do something about their increasingly obvious failure  to use the powers of the existing Scottish Parliament to address the developing crises in our public services.

Yet reform requires change and change always makes enemies. And in maintaining their fragile coalition which delivers them their electoral successes the SNP can't afford to make enemies. So the easy solution is to avoid reform.

Which kind of gets you back to where I started. With not having much to talk about. For eight years.

And to the second emotion which wasn't far away in Aberdeen.


What have the SNP got to fear, I hear you ask? They are commonly believed to have more or less already won next year's Scottish General Election. The Labour Party is currently in disarray and while the Scottish Tories may be experiencing a modest revival the adjective modest remains well justified.

Well here's what they have to fear. If now, with a uniquely popular leader, with no effective opposition, with virtually every Westminster MP and a more or less nailed on return to Government at Holyrood. With the army of the 45 defeated but still far from demobilised and with a UK Government virtually closed to Scottish influence. If with all these advantages they still can't risk a second referendum then when are they ever going to be in a position to do so?

Maybe 2023? Who knows.

Which kind of brings me back to hatred. The hatred the Nats are only slowly realising that even they possess. Hatred for the people of Scotland for failing to rise to the historic challenge fate had offered them last year

I suspect this won't end well. Hatred and fear together rarely do.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Follow the money

Sometimes longevity in politics allows you a bit of perspective and I've now been in this game a very long time.

At some point in the Autumn of 1976 I went to the Kelburn cinema in Paisley to see the film "All the President's Men".

This was in a different age. A "big" film had to be seen on the big screen unless you wanted to wait three years to see it on the telly. No Sky, no Netflix, no You Tube.

And this was a big film. And certainly one I wanted to see. Not just big in its cast and in its staging but big in the story it told. Of how two junior Washington Post reporters, sticking to their story like limpets, eventually brought down the President of the United States himself.

But even in 1976 I was sufficiently cynical to doubt the neat, feature length, version on offer. So I bought the book.

It remains an influence on me to this day.

It is a worthy tribute to probably the greatest piece of political investigative journalism ever undertaken, written by the practitioners themselves. But it also has a third hero, their editor.

Woodward and Bernstein have got a great story, but Ben Bradlee is the man who insists they properly stand it up.

And he, Bradlee, is correct to be cautious. This is not a casual piece of gossipy political reporting. It concerns a story so important, if true, that it must be capable of unimpeachable verification. In the end it is verified and the rest is history but the crucial qualification comes before that, "if true".

For the story Bradlee is initially presented with is this. That the President has, first of all, condoned illegality and then conspired in its cover up. Much as Bradlee himself, no less than his enthusiastic reporters, is no fan of President Nixon,  he doubts whether even Nixon would be so crooked. Indeed, for the sake of the system, he almost hopes his scepticism to be justified.

But there is something even beyond that that bears on Bradlee's consideration. This is such a big story, such a scandal, an event with such potential repercussions that, surely, it can't be true?

Now, nostalgic though I am, you would be right to speculate that I am not here just writing about the reading habits of my youth.

For two weeks back I wrote a wee blog about the significance of the previous day's Sunday Times story regarding the business activities of Michelle Thomson, one time leading light in the group Business for Scotland and the then, two weeks ago, SNP, but now independent, Member of Parliament for Edinburgh West.

I say with due modesty that it had something of an impact, not least in Ms Thomson's now "independent" status.

Yet at the time I did not appreciate the can of worms I had opened.

For something approaching panic then broke out within the ranks of our governing Party, despite their currently enjoying a 30 point lead in the polls. And panic is seldom an aid to sensible decision making.

But such a decision was made, by somebody. A decision to throw Ms Thomson to the wolves. The chosen mechanism the disclosure of internal emails from the Yes Campaign revealing that her participation in the referendum campaign was not the unalloyed triumph it had previously been maintained to be.

Indeed, in a momentary lapse of judgement that will have a tail so long that I suspect that we might well still discussing it ten years from now, it was revealed that Peter Murrell, the Chief Executive of the SNP, had decided, mid referendum campaign, that Ms Thomson was no longer worthy of remunerated employment by Business for Scotland.

A not insensible view. Indeed quite the opposite. Except that, from the perspective of the law governing the referendum, Mr Murrell was not entitled to have any view at all as to the activities of Business for Scotland, let alone to be deciding who they should or should not be remunerating. For he had his, the SNP's, money to spend on referendum campaigning, which he was proceeding to do more or less to the legal limit. Meanwhile Business for Scotland was repeatedly maintaining itself to be completely independent of the SNP, and indeed of Yes Scotland. It needed to be so if it wished to incur election expenditure separately, and in addition to, either. It was, after all, registered as an "independent" permitted participant in the referendum.   If the SNP, through Mr Murrell, was controlling the expenditure of another "permitted participant" then that had to be declared as part of the SNP's permitted referendum expenditure . And if that control existed and if it was not to be disclosed, then Mr Murrell would be breaking the criminal law. A breach significantly aggravated by it meaning that the SNP intended to exceed the money they were legally permitted to spend overall during the referendum campaign.

These are not trivial matters.

The law in this matter takes a bit of digging but it eventually found in Schedule 4, Paragraph 24, sub paragraph 5, sub sub Paragraph (b) of the Scottish Independence Referendum Act 2013. By virtue of that provision,  a person who "knowingly or recklessly" makes a false declaration [as to election expenditure] commits an offence bringing with it the potential penalty of a fine or even of a term of imprisonment "not exceeding twelve months".

Now, in conclusion, if Mr Murrell was merely some minor Party functionary then he, like Ms Thomson, could be disowned by the SNP hierarchy, consoling himself that, if no-one else, at least his wife would stand by him if he was prosecuted. Except of course Mr Murrell is not some minor Party functionary. Dare I say it, perhaps I am not wrong to be reminded of Ben Bradlee's initial reaction these forty years past. Surely this can't be true?

Monday, 28 September 2015

Mortgage Fraud.

It's the September weekend and for once it isn't raining.

Better still, for once I've actually had the whole weekend off. I was meant to be doing a jury trial last week, tailgunner on a wee stabbing, but as it turned out the case ahead of it overran so I spent most of the week unable to make client appointments, in case my trial started,  but with time on my hands to clear my desk.

So really, really, the last thing I wanted to be having to do today was write a blog about mortgage fraud.

But needs must.

A week past on Sunday the Sunday Times carried an article about the business activities of Michelle Thomson, one time front woman for Business for Scotland and now the SNP Member of Parliament for Edinburgh West. It was unattractive stuff, highlighting how her property company had bought up houses and flats from distressed and desperate sellers at knock down prices. These were hardly the actions of a leading member of a supposedly social democratic Party. So the hypocrisy was enlightening but hardly unique in Nationalist ranks.

And, on the other hand, that is of course capitalism. Those with lots of money regularly can, and do, exploit that position at the expense of those who have little. That's certainly not something even the current Labour leadership is proposing be made illegal.

But there was something in that initial article that seemed to the informed eye a bit more sinister. That was the suggestion that, in some of the transactions involved, the price actually paid by Thomson was less than that declared to the Land Registry. "That looks very like mortgage fraud", I thought to myself but to be honest that was as far as I went. I was more focussed on preparing for my stabbing.

But then, yesterday, the Sunday Times suddenly put much more flesh on the bones.*

For they had found the anonymised findings of a case before the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal and had lifted the cloak of anonymity.

Now here I am going to have to get a bit (even more) boring and explain how various types of mortgage fraud work and who and how the perpetrator benefits.

The first relates to "false deposits".

As you will probably know, in the aftermath of the banking crash, the conditions attached to mortgages tightened considerably.

In particular, purchasers were required to fund considerably more of the price from their own resources, a sum commonly referred to as the "deposit". This caused considerable difficulty in the market. There were good numbers of people, particularly first time buyers, interested in buying property but without the ability to raise the deposit.

So, I might be able to afford an £80,000 mortgage, but that didn't mean I could afford an £80, 000 house. For the lender, typically, at he height of the crash, would be prepared to lend no more than 80% of the price. So to buy my £80,000 house I could borrow no more than £64,000. I would need to find another £16,000 from my own resources.

But of course I could afford an £80,000 mortgage. So, here is the thing. What if I didn't buy my £80,000 house for a declared price of £80,000? What instead if I bought it for £100,000. Then, of course, I could use my full £80,000 mortgage. But, I hear you ask, if you didn't have £16,000 for a deposit how did you suddenly get £20,000? And, anyway, why would you pay £100,000 for a house only worth £80,000?

The answer to these two questions are, respectively, I don't and I haven't. I propose, with the assistance of a third party, either the seller themselves, or an intermediary looking to make a profit in the process, to commit a mortgage fraud.

For one or other of these is going to "lend" me the deposit and once the money, combined with the mortgage funds has been tendered as the price, the seller is going to give them their deposit back.

To do this I must commit a fraud in two ways: Firstly, I have to fraudulently mislead the mortgage provider as to my possession of a £20,000 deposit and secondly I have to deceive them as to the true price I am paying, giving them in turn an inaccurate impression of the property's true worth. Meanwhile those providing the deposit, although not directly involved with the lender have almost certainly committed conspiracy to defraud, particularly if, as an estate agent or property developer, they were the instigators of it.

But of course this type of fraud has one major drawback, it requires the knowing participation of the seller.

So that is where "back to back" fraud comes in. It requires more than one principal participant but in this circumstance the seller is completely ignorant and innocent.

Again I will use the an £80,000 deal as an illustration although generally this operates with higher value properties. Mr innocent wishes to sell his property for £80,000. Fraudster one offers precisely that. But, with settlement on the same date, fraudster two then offers to purchase the same property  from fraudster one at a price of £100,000. Fraudster two then gets an 80% loan. Fraudster one never has £80,000. Indeed he or she never has any money. Fraudster two however hands over the full  £100,000 from which fraudster one pays Mr Innocent his £80,000 and proceeds to give Fraudster two the other £20,000 "back". Again fraudster two has committed the frauds outlined above but in this scenario fraudster one, although again never directly in touch with the mortgage lender, has also nonetheless participated in a conspiracy to defraud.

Now there are two essential elements to both these frauds. The first element can be innocent. You need a valuation of the property at the level of the nominal price paid. For a percentage loan is always provided as the lower of the declared price or valuation. At the height of the slump however that wasn't difficult as for a considerable time surveyors continued, sometimes wishfully on other overvalue property.

The second element however can't be innocent. You need a bent solicitor.

For mortgage lenders aren't idiots. Or at least since the crash they haven't been. Any solicitor handling mortgage funds must comply with the standard conditions imposed by the Council of Mortgage Lenders. Two of these are particularly germane here.

The first is that the solicitor must inform the lender and get their agreement to proceed if they know that the deposit is not being provided by the purchaser themselves. Obviously this can be entirely legitimate, where for example it comes from the purchaser's parents but where it is less easily explained, it is highly unlikely that the mortgage provider would release their funds. They intended to provide an 80%loan only. That's where we first came in.

The second is that the solicitor must inform the lender if the seller has owned the property less than six months. Again, there can be legitimate reasons for this, most commonly a catastrophic change in the sellers personal circumstance, but, again if the mortgage provider was informed that the seller had bought the property only that day and for a considerably lower price then again release of funds would be inconceivable.

But of course the lenders rely on the solicitor telling them. If at the behest of his client he fails to do so it is highly unlikely they would ever know.

Unless it is picked up by a routine Law Society inspection.

Which is what happened to Christopher William Hales, formerly a partner with Grigor Hales solicitors, Edinburgh.

As a result, it appears, of a Law Society inspection Mr Hales was found to have assisted in mortgage fraud in no less than thirteen transactions for which he ultimately appeared before the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal on 13th may 2014 and was then struck off as a solicitor.

It's all in the judgement which, despite its length I encourage you to read in full. Numerous examples of failing to inform lenders of undisclosed deposits, including examples of Mr Hales personally returning these to the purchasers, and several examples of back to backs, all equally undisclosed to the lenders.

But Mr Hales was not the principal actor here, he was simply the facilitator.

The principal actor, time and time again, was a woman referred to in the judgement as Mrs A. Sometimes she acts directly, on others she provides a third party deposit in exchange for a "fee".

And, thanks to the Sunday Times we now know that Mrs A is Michelle Thomson and from there, on reading the judgement, you can deduce that the others involved in the frauds include her business partner, their joint company and, occasionally, her husband.

Now, in May 2014, when the Tribunal decision was issued, Michelle Thomson was something approaching a national figure as one of the public faces of the SNP front organisation Business for Scotland. Indeed, at first appearance, one of the few genuine business people involved with that organisation, most of the others being little more than jumped up PR men. If her up to the neck involvement in mortgage fraud had come to light just three months before the referendum this would have been disastrous for Yes Scotland, for the SNP by association, but most of all for the economic credibility of the Independence cause.

I've got a bit of knowledge however of how solicitors get drawn into mortgage fraud. It usually starts with agreeing to "bend the rules", for a valued client, "just this once". The problem is that once done there is no way back. For, once done, any future reluctance can invariably be met with the response from the client "it would be a pity if the lender, or the Law Society, found out about that first matter". After all, the client could probably maintain they didn't realise they were doing anything wrong. It's not the sort of thing the solicitor would have been likely to have confirmed to them in writing.

And that can be a problem in other walks of life. For example, a political Party reluctant to enrol an individual as an approved candidate could hardly face down a response that they had known of that person's character when the self same person had performed a previous valued service for them. Nor indeed could they take immediate disciplinary action once matters became public. "It wouldn't look very good if Paul Hutcheon got to know how long you've known about this".

But unless the findings of the SSDT are wholly inaccurate, and you will note that the facts were agreed by Mr Hales, Thomson personally is toast. The sentencing guidelines are here. It qualifies for what is commonly known as exemplary sentencing so she'll probably get several years in jail giving rise to an interesting by-election.

With Bill Walker the SNP got away with murder. I wrote about that at the time here and here. It was simply unsustainable on the known facts that they were unaware of his history at the time he was selected as a parliamentary candidate. But the Nats simply stuck to that line and somehow got away with it.

This time, once the dust settles, there must be a more thorough investigation as to who in the SNP knew what and when. The only pity is that this is unlikely to be before next May.

*Unfortunately the Sunday Times second article doesn't appear to be online.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015


In 2010, I voted for Ed. Well, actually, I voted for the other Ed, for I was a Broonie to the end. But by the time I did so it was clear that my second vote, for one bro or the other, was the important one.

To be honest I didn't cast either of my Eds votes with any great enthusiasm. It was more that neither was David. For David was Blair. And Blair was Iraq.

And Iraq was unforgiveable.

I read with interest the Lord Ashcroft focus group report. Patently it reflects that Corbyn has no chance of winning a General Election. Which is why I didn't vote for him.

But, let us be clear. Sure there were lots of £3ers whose loyalty to the Labour Party, or anything,  is, at best, ephemeral. Sure there was some dodgy dealing when it came to affiliated members. But Corbyn won among full members of the Labour Party. Peter Kellner's research seems to indicate that he probably won among Party members of more than five years standing. Even if he might have, among that group, ultimately faltered after transfers, nobody doubts that he won a plurality.

And the reason was Iraq.

Not actually Iraq but what Iraq represented.

The vast majority of Labour Party members knew Iraq was a mistake. Obviously we have within our ranks a peacenik cadre who think any war is a mistake. That appears to include our current leader. But most of us don't take that view. We are certainly for the use of military force. But only when it is for a justified purpose and reasonably clear as to its objectives.

And we simply could not see the justified purpose of Iraq. Or, in so far as it seemed to have objectives, agree with these objectives.

But even that wasn't the point. The point was that something opposed by the vast majority of Labour Party members; that something opposed in their hearts by a majority of Labour MPs; that something which the second most important figure in the Party (Brown) could send coded signals was not his doing; that this something happened anyway.

For the iron grip of New Labour was such that the Party's view was irrelevant. And worse still that for anybody even at the very top of the Party to dissent was instant political death. When Robin Cook resigned he did so in the certain knowledge that he wouldn't be back. Any back bench MP, no matter how able, joining the rebellion, knew that doing so would end their career. Forever. You can't help feeling the younger Miliband was only saved from this fate by not being an MP. That is, of course, assuming he would truly have voted with his conscience if he had actually been there.

It would be an interesting exercise, if you could, to go back to that 2003 PLP and ask them, unattributally, how they would have voted in a genuinely free vote. Not hiding behind the "if we knew then" formulation but, truly, what was their view at the time. My feeling is that even among the "Red Tories" there was nothing like a majority for participation. For all of these people had been elected as Labour MPs. And nobody achieves that imprimatur without some feeling for our Party. And the Party's view was more or less unanimous. But they knew that dissent was suicide.

In Scottish terms there was the march. I was on that march. It was a great day. Possibly the last great march of my lifetime. NUS Scotland reunited over several generations. And now able to afford a good lunch afterwards. But where were my comrades of twenty years standing? Jack, Wendy, Frank, Pauline, Jackie and so many others? They were at the march's destination, inside the SECC. For Blair was there and as MSPs they were expected to stand beside him. Or die. Who knows, perhaps if I'd been an MSP I'd have made the same call. Although I can't help feeling that last September the 15% who got the blood and soilers to their 45% were incubated that day.

And then of course we, Party majority opinion, after Iraq, were proved right. And yet, under the iron diktat of New Labour, even that could not be acknowledged. No matter how patently true subsequent events proved it to be.

But, and I emphasise the but, the long term significance of this was not really about Iraq. It was about the disconnect between the leadership of the party and the opinions of the thousands of activists who had worked to get them elected which that represented.  Iraq was just the lightning rod.

And, twelve years on, Corbyn has proved to have been the earth to that lightning rod.

Almost all the post election analysis has been about why Corbyn won. But, at least as importantly to those of us who haven't given upon the Labour Party altogether is why the others lost.

None of them offered any role to the wider Party except followship. To the right for Liz; straight on for Yvette and whatever the day of the week the polls suggested for Andy.

Corbyn, if not perhaps many of his ultra left allies, suggested that we let a thousand flowers bloom. It's hopeless politics in the real world. But he wasn't appealing to the real world. He was appealing (as it turns out very appealing) to the Labour Party.

He won't last.

But let us be clear. If next time round any of the contenders stand on a platform of "I'll be your leader and you'll shut up" then they'll suffer the same fate as Andy, Yvette and Liz.

For we remember Iraq.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Refugees Welcome?

I've been a legal aid lawyer all my life.

And what goes with that is a lot of interaction with homelessness.

Not just in relation directly to "housing" matters. To people losing their home for reasons related to the house itself: its uninhabitable condition; its occupants inability to meet the continued cost of living there or its owner's unwillingness to allow their occupation.

No, homelessness also arises for other reasons: domestic violence; pathologically antisocial neighbours; vigilantism against certain types of offenders; chronic private debt; failed business ventures.

It is all part of my "daily grind".

And I do what the law allows me to do to help while recognising that, to some degree at least, many of the clients are the partial, or more, authors of their own misfortune. And regrettably, even some of those who are not, would not be people with whom you would wish greater familiarity.

But, every so often, you do get a case where you have someone who seems a genuinely decent individual, or family, who is facing uncertainty as to where they would be sleeping that very evening.

And here is the thing. I've got a big house. Until Maureen became ill, we had three spare bedrooms and one spare bathroom. We even have a largely unused garage that could be used for storage. Arrangements that have, now that we have to accommodate Maureen's illness and the carers who go with it, proved to be a Godsend but which were, for many years, a middle class indulgence. We bought the house perhaps in anticipation of kids who never came but we stayed in it because we liked it and we could afford it. Simple as that.

But for fifteen years I dealt with all these homelessness cases without once considering that, as a final resort, these clients could come and stay with me.

Now, you can rationalise this in any numbers of ways. That individual acts of charity only excuse the failures of the system. That there is "no point" in helping help only some when you can't help more. That it is patronising to select the deserving case(s). Less charitably, that perhaps there is something, on wider acquaintance, that might reveal them to be not quite so deserving.

All of these things might have a grain of truth although similar arguments have never stopped me making any number of charitable donations to domestic causes that I properly believe should be funded by general taxation. Or indeed stopped Maureen, before she was ill and in a way I have continued, sponsoring individual African children, through a charity of her choice.

No, the reason in the end I never took any of these people in was selfishness. I like where I stay and I have no desire to share it with anybody else, no matter how deserving.

So, if I had been a politician asked to take in a Syrian refugee, my answer would have been "Sorry, but no."

And it is utterly delusional to suggest that this would not be the similar response of the vast majority of other British people asked the same question. Not just to their home but to their Country.

So why are we pretending otherwise?

Because no-one wants to admit being selfish. Or at least no decent liberal, let alone socialist, does.

Britain is proud of the 0.7% of GDP we spend on foreign aid and it is to he credit of the Prime Minister that he has maintained that New Labour commitment in the face of siren calls from his own right wing. But could we do more? Of course we could. A 1% increase in the basic rate of income tax could significantly enhance that commitment and, yet, even then, the poorest British citizen contributing to that would remain infinitely better off than every single recipient of that aid.

The right might trot out their arguments: "too much would be diverted to corruption"; "it would still be a drop in the ocean"; "the Lord helps those who help themselves"; etc, etc. But the left should be more honest. The British people wouldn't vote for this. Nor would the Scottish people. The Scottish Government does have devolved competence to develop its own aid programme, notably to Malawi, but why is it not much larger? Because Scots would rather have no tuition fees. Here. And free prescriptions. Here. And, it would appear shortly, to have reduced Air Passenger Duty. Here.

I say all of this only to expose the hypocrisy of those whose response to the Syrian Refugee crisis is apparently "let them all come here."

The one thing you can say about the Greens is that they have a, sometimes unworldly, honesty. Caroline Lucas last week pointed out that if Britain took our share of the Syrian refugees currently wishing to resettle in the EU then that would amount to "only" 240,000 people. A figure Ms Lucas, with commendable consistency, suggested we volunteer to accept as it was "only" 0.4% of the UK population. Although presumably as she trotted out her "we've got room" message she wasn't proposing them housed anywhere in the green belt. Despite that being where the room is.

Nicola, never wishing to be outflanked by the evil Tories, has largely stuck to suggesting Scotland could take "more" than whatever Cameron is suggesting but the only figure that she has actually given is "at least 1000". Which is actually less than our share of Cameron's belated figure of 20,000. But Scotland's share of Ms Lucas's figure would be about 20,000 for us alone. Maybe another 19,000 is implied in the First Minister's "at least" formulation but somehow I doubt it. It seems improbable anyway that the leader of a Party predicated on getting back the money "the English have been stealing from us" wishes to do so only to give it away to people of some other nationality.

For all of these people would need housed; their children educated; their health care needs attended to and, not least, they themselves ultimately found employment. Now, all this could be done. We live in one of the very richest countries in the world. Taxes could be raised; money could be borrowed; the world scoured for the professionals to come here to deliver the support services required

Except that there is no sign at all that the electorate are prepared to make such a sacrifice to address poverty and disadvantage here. So, really, are they going to do so for people from half way across the world?

We should stop kidding these poor refugees on. "Refugees Welcome" might give a warm feeling to those expressing that sentiment but even most of those asserting that are not truly proposing to welcome them in the numbers remotely necessary to solve the problem within these shores alone.

The evil Tory Government is right. Not because they are evil Tories because they are the Government. Any British (or Scottish) Government. Not just people holding up signs. We can only do so much here. Because that is all the electorate will be prepared to fund. The solution lies not in misleading people risking drowning off the Turkish coast that if they are persistent enough they will one day find themselves in comfortable British suburbia. In the short term it can only be by mitigating the conditions in the refugee camps on Syria's borders. And in the longer term by somehow resolving the modern Hell that Syria itself has become.

For the British people are selfish. So, for what its worth, are the peoples of all other Countries in the West. There might be a small minority among us who, genuinely, would make the financial sacrifices involved to make a difference. But it is beyond cruelty for them to ignore their own minority status and, in the process, to give desperate people utterly false hope.