Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Denial in Donetsk

David Aaronovich uses his column in The Times to suggest that some of the British-based 'fruit loops' who regularly spread misinformation and propaganda on Russia Today should be exposed.

Well I'm already doing my bit I'm pleased to say, but I'm also prepared to step up the pace because RT is certainly is a joke of a TV news channel.

Which I was reminded of again the other day as I listened to ridiculous conspiracy theories about Flight MH17 that were all cynically designed to divert attention away from the role of Russia in this terrible incident. 

At the same time the evidence piling up against Russia and pouting towards its pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk was completely ignored.

At 33,000ft over Donetsk my fear was turbulence

By David Aaronovich - The Times


Readers may remember that most of last week’s Notebook was set on flights to and from Sydney via Malaysia in the past month. Both journeys involved flying with Malaysia Airlines over Ukraine, the air-map showing a red line with a plane symbol edging over places with newly familiar names such as Donetsk and Dneprpetrovsk. .

I looked at the screen and the thought did cross my mind that there we would be, serene and safe at 33,000ft, while men with a strange taste for weapons roamed about far below. It did not occur to me that we might be in danger. Because it did not occur to me that the leader of a world power would be so reckless and, yes, wicked as to lend a long-ranging surface-to-air missile system to the Cossack equivalent of the English Defence League.

We were in a packed double-decked A380 Airbus carrying 500 people (the same one, both trips) and it could just as easily have been us, or the Air India or Singapore Air flights that use the same route, that took a missile believed by some balaclava-ed drunkard to have been aimed at a Ukrainian transport plane. I could have had my scattered belongings — passport, guidebooks, Mac — put on a pile and photographed, along with the toys of the two small kids in the row in front. It could have been us carted by God knows who to God knows where ending in “sk”.

But it was someone else’s body and different children’s toys — though it is quite possible that some of the charming cabin crew on those journeys are now somewhere between the sunflower fields and the makeshift morgues. And there I had been, 33,000ft up and, like you, maybe, worried about turbulence.

In denial

In 1988 the USS Vincennes, operating in the Gulf of Hormuz, shot down an Iranian civil airliner flying at about 10,000ft, mistaking it for a fighter-bomber coming in to attack: 290 people were killed.

Although the Americans “expressed regret” and paid reparations of about $130 million, they never apologised. But there was at no stage an attempt to deny responsibility. Nor, given the scrutiny of American and western press and media could such a denial have fooled anyone.

Not so of Mr Putin’s Russia. Most of its most influential media is state-controlled, its editorial and management staff in effect appointed by the government. And they have been assiduous in creating scenarios in which anyone but the Russian authorities and their militia allies take the blame for shooting down Flight MH17.

The problem is that there are no plausible or evidence-based alternative explanations, so they have been forced to improvise a new sub-genre of conspiracy theories. These include the idea that the Ukrainians shot down the plane, thinking it was carrying Mr Putin (who was visibly in South America at the time), that it was seen from the ground being accompanied by Ukrainian fighters (at 33,000ft!), and — most rococo — that pro-Russian militias reported the bodies to be bloodless, so the plane had been filled with dead people and dropped out of the sky to discredit the freedom fighters of Donetsk.

Ridiculous? Yes, and so was Abu Hamza.

Their master’s voices

An important aspect of the theorising and routine propagandising that helps Russians to believe the unbelievable is that much of it appears to be corroborated by foreigners. To this country’s shame, some of those parading across English-language channels such as RT (formerly Russia Today) and active on social media are British.

Anchors, such as Rory Suchet, “reporters” like the ex-Central Office of Information employee Graham Phillips and contributors such as the conspiracy theorist Tony Gosling play an important role in keeping Russians and others misinformed. It’s time they were exposed.

Strange Coincidences (20 July 2014)

Alexander Mercouris, is a self-styled 'legal expert' and blogger, who pops up on Russia Today (RT) regularly and his views are all slavishly pro-Russian which seems to be a prerequisite for appearing on RT if you ask me.

Now I don't know Mr Mercouris, but how strange is it that someone with exactly the same name was struck off by the Bar Standards Council in 2012 according to this report from The Lawyer magazine.

Could it be that the two men are known to each other? 

Barrister who forged Baroness Hale's signature struck off by BSB

By Sam Chadderton - The Lawyer

A former Middle Temple barrister has been struck off by the Bar Standards Board (BSB) for concocting a web of “tortuous deceit” over a “phantom” £1m payout to his client.

Baroness Hale

Alexander Mercouris broke down in tears at the BSB disciplinary tribunal as he admitted bringing the profession into disrepute by forging Supreme Court Justice Baroness Hale’s signature and claiming that Supreme Court president Lord Phillips had tried to blackmail him.

The ex-Citizens Advice Bureau employee had worked in the Royal Courts of Justice for 12 years before being called to the bar in 2006.

In October 2009 he offered to represent Lorna Jamous in a damages claim against Westminster Council over a care hearing involving her son Tariq.

Today the BSB’s counsel, Stephen Mooney of Bristol’s Albion Chambers, told the tribunal that the barrister-client relationship went from “supportive and helpful” to “bizarre, unhelpful and profoundly dishonest”.

The tribunal heard that Jamous had been offered a without prejudice £5,000 settlement by the local authority, but Mercouris told her he could take further action to get her hundreds of thousands of pounds. She accrued debts based on the promise of a future windfall.

Mooney told the hearing that there was never any litigation and that Mercouris “embarked on ever more bizarre assertions to hide the truth”.

These included fabricated meetings with barristers and then a forged letter alleging to be from Baroness Hale expressing concern that the £983,000 payment from Westminster Council had not been forthcoming.

But there was no such settlement and Mercouris then talked Jamous out of attending a hearing where she would have discovered the truth, claiming her presence would “derail sensitive negotiations”.

Next he told her he had applied for an interim £50,000 payment, then tried to say that his brother had stolen the whole £983,000 payout, before coming up with what Mooney described as “the most peculiar allegation” of them all.

Mercouris claimed that after he made a phone call to try to recover the money, bogus police officers kidnapped him and took him to a meeting with Phillips SCJ. He alleged that Phillips SCJ told him to drop the claim in return for a £50,000 bribe, plus his debts and mortgage paid off.

Mercouris admitted making up the allegations that the senior law lord threatened to take away his 102-year-old grandmother and put her into care.

Mooney summarised the “extremely convoluted story” as a “tortuous deceit”. He said: “In my opinion, Mr Mercouris is not fully in control of his faculties.”

The panel then heard from Mercouris, who was diagnosed with depression after a nervous breakdown in the autumn of 2007 due to caring for his sick grandmother.

Representing himself, Mercouris broke down as he said: “Mr Mooney has referred to some of my actions as bizarre, I cannot dispute that. I’m very sorry. I worked very hard to become a barrister and disbarment is a bitter thought.”

He told the panel he was out of work, living alone with two cats.

He admitted five counts of bringing his profession into disrepute through misconduct and panel chairman Crawford Lindsay QC struck him off.

Lindsay called the “fantasy scheme” a “sad case”, adding: “These are extremely serious allegations where you deceived the client, involving two distinguished members of the judiciary.

“Mr Mercouris has worked for a number of years at the Citizens Advice Bureau in the Royal Courts of Justice and no doubt helped and gave advice to a number of people.

“He went completely off the rails.”

In a break in proceedings a member of the public who was attending the hearing began berating Mercouris about another case. She had been in contact with Jamous through the ’Solicitors From Hell’ website.

Comic Book Journalism

How would you guess that the author of this piece of comic book journalism from The Mirror, Kevin Maguire, is aspiring to be a Labour Party MP.

Now propaganda as bad as this sounds like it has been written for a presenter from Russia Today, apart from the reference to kicking President Putin 'in the roubles' whatever that Benny Hill style double entendre is supposed to mean.

Vlad the Impaler indeed, the UK's tabloid press has sunk to another low.  

Lightweight David Cameron is no match for Vlad the Impaler


British colonialism was bloody, nasty and unjust and our columnist Kevin Maguire does not feel any pride for the current empire

Weak: David Cameron hasn't done enough to stop Russian rebels - Photo PA

David Cameron’s championing of Britain as a servant economy for the world’s plutocrats gives a hollow ring to his empty threats against Vlad the Impaler.

Putin, Russia’s new Tsar, feels ­impregnable because the judo black belt is up against a 10-stone wimp.

The indignity in death of the 298 victims of Kremlin imperialism, armed rebels refusing to let bodies be recovered, demands a tough response.

Behind the rhetoric little will happen when Cameron values the banksters of the City of London over Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 shot down over the Ukraine by Russian rebels or, perhaps, the Russians themselves.

How else can we explain the Prime Minister’s refusal to freeze the bank accounts and seize assets of the regime’s oligarchs?

London remains the playground of the rich who looted and swindled fortunes in Putin’s gangster land.

To inflate the prices of mansions we continue to allow Russians to buy ­property with dirty money.

Relationship: Cameron talks to Putin during a visit to the 2014 Winter Olympics - Getty photo

Rather than kick Putin in the roubles where it hurts we watch as Cameron lets a Moscow elite launder money in London.

he puny sanctions imposed to date are an indictment of the PM’s grubby politics.

In opposition, when Cameron posed as a principled politician to con electors to vote Tory, he posed as a St George prepared to slay a ferocious Russian dragon.

After Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, the Conservative leader declared: “Russian armies can’t march into other countries while Russian shoppers carry on marching into Selfridges.”

Russia was provoked by Georgian shelling but there is no excuse for the destabilisation and destruction of Ukraine.

Whether the fatal missile that killed 298 on a passenger jet was fired by Russian-backed rebels or Russian forces is unresolved yet the trail leads back to Putin.

And those Russian shoppers carry on marching into Selfridges.

The days are thankfully long gone when a Lord Palmerston could send a British gunboat to settle a dispute.
Reckage: The remains of doomed flight MH17 remain in the Ukraine  - AFP photo

British colonialism was bloody, nasty and unjust – and I for one feel no pride in the Empire era.

We aren’t going to settle this dispute by dispatching an aircraft carrier, not least because Tory defence cuts leave the Royal Navy without one.

But we could impose tough financial and travel sanctions to match Cameron’s rhetoric.

Putin must be laughing when Cameron waves a nail-studded baseball bat in his speeches then produces a feather duster.

US President Barack Obama and the European Union haven’t covered themselves in glory either. Cameron can’t hide behind them forever.

Inaction over Russia underlines a character flaw glimpsed by Cameron dumping reshuffled friend Michael Gove to save his own skin.

The PM is morally bankrupt.

Power and Responsibility

Boris Johnson, the London Mayor, makes some very telling points with his call in this Telegraph article for Vladimir Putin to accept Russia's responsibility in the shooting down of Flight MH 17 with the loss of 298 innocent lives. 

This is Putin’s war, and this disaster is his responsibility

Russia’s response to the destruction of a civilian airliner stands in stark contrast to America’s

Vladimir Putin Photo: Getty

By Boris Johnson - The Telegraph

On the morning of July 3 1988, a passenger jet was taking off from the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. It was an Airbus A300 operated by Iran Air, and on board were 290 people including 66 children. They were about to make a routine flight to Dubai, where many of them intended to have a holiday – Iran being a bit miserable at that time, since it was the middle of the Iran-Iraq war. At 10.17am, the plane left the Tarmac and began to climb to 14,000 feet for the 28-minute flight. They took an entirely predictable route. They turned on their transponder – in accordance with normal practice – so that it emitted a “squawk code” identifying the aircraft as civilian. The crew was experienced, and at all times maintained communication, in English, with air traffic control.

It was a tragedy for all concerned that on that same morning, a state-of-the-art US warship, the USS Vincennes, was lying more or less beneath them in the Straits of Hormuz. The USS Vincennes had been involved in an engagement in the past few hours, when one of its helicopters had come under small arms fire from Iranian vessels. It was only a year since 37 US sailors had died in an airborne attack by Iraq on the USS Stark. It would be fair to say that the crew on the bridge of the Vincennes were in a state of high battle alertness, if not nervousness.

At any rate, they somehow managed to mistake the Iranian Airbus flight 655 for an F-14A Tomcat fighter of the kind used by the Iranian air force. They thought the plane was descending in an attack run, when it was actually climbing. When the plane failed to respond to their calls, they took this to be a sign of hostile intent. With only minutes to spare, they made a decision to neutralise what they thought was a threat to their lives. They fired SM-2MR missiles at an unarmed jet, and blew it out of the sky, killing everyone on board. There were passengers from Iran, India, Pakistan, Yugoslavia and Italy. It was an appalling and unforgivable blunder, for which America and her allies were to pay a heavy price – not least at Lockerbie.

Today, we mourn the 298 passengers and crew of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 – 10 of them British – who have just been massacred by thugs backed by Vladimir Putin. We look in incredulity and rage at the scenes in eastern Ukraine: the looting of the site; the obvious tampering with the evidence; the callous and shameful treatment of the bodies of the deceased and of their possessions.

The reason I mention the Iranian Airbus is not to suggest that there is some kind of moral equivalence between the two disasters – both of them the accidental shooting-down of a passenger jet – but rather the opposite. My purpose is to show the difference between these two events, and the difference that consequently emerges between a great and open democracy and the Russia of Vladimir Putin.

I will not pretend that the Americans were perfect in their handling of the Airbus tragedy. They never made a formal apology to Iran, and for some (incredible) reason the captain of the USS Vincennes was later awarded the Legion of Merit. But the first and most important difference was that when America erred, there was no significant attempt to deny the truth, or to cover up the enormity of what had happened. An inquiry was held, and it was accepted that there was absolutely no fault on the side of the Iranian plane. It was concluded that the bridge crew had essentially made a disastrous error in thinking the plane looked hostile, and this was ascribed to “scenario fulfilment”, whereby people trained to respond to a certain scenario (attack by air) carry out every detail of the procedure without thinking hard enough whether reality corresponds to the scenario.

Many in the US Navy went further, and said that the captain, William Rogers III, was at fault in the sense that he was notoriously willing to “pick a fight”. Furthermore, the US actually compensated the Iranians for the disaster, in that they eventually settled an international court case by paying $131.8 million, most of the sum going to the families of the deceased. In accepting some measure of responsibility towards the bereaved, and in trying to get at the truth, the US showed a degree of maturity and wisdom. Contrast Putin, with his evasion and obfuscation and lies. Can you imagine him ever accepting the reality of what has happened, let alone doing something to atone, such as sending money to the families of the victims?

Then there is the final and fundamental difference in the circumstances of the downing of the two passenger jets. The Americans made a horrific mistake, as they admitted; but they were not in the Straits of Hormuz as belligerents. On the contrary, the US Navy was trying to keep those seas safe. They were there to try to protect all the civilian and commercial traffic that was vulnerable because of the Iran-Iraq war.

Look at what Putin is doing in Ukraine, and the distinction is obvious. There is only one reason why those drunken Russian-backed separatists had access to a Buk surface-to-air missile. It was a present from Vladimir in the Kremlin. He has set on this conflict. He is fanning the flames of violence in a sovereign European state. This is his war. He bears responsibility, and he must not be allowed to get away with it. If he wants to prevent the reputation of Russia from being deeply and globally tainted, he must act fast: to secure the site for a proper international inquiry, to accept the truth of what has happened, and to cut off the rebels from further supplies.

As for the rest of us, we need to be willing to put pressure on Putin that will make him comply. If we are to make any sense of this feeble “European Common Foreign and Security Policy” now is surely the time. Putin thinks that it will all die away, that the outrage will pass. We must prove him wrong.

Tremendous Strike

Milan Gajic scores a great goal with this amazing strike in a match between FC Gallen and Young Boys which ended in a 2-2 draw.

Such a pity he smashed the ball into his own net, but then these things happen in football although I'll bet he could do it again even if he had another thousand attempts.

Deafening Silence

I can't begging to imagine the fury, violence and condemnation that would be unleashed if Muslims were persecuted in the way that is reported by Patrick Cockburn in The Independent.

Now it may be that Islam's religious and political leaders are speaking out elsewhere - the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, the most influential Sunni Muslim in the world apparently, or his counterpart amongst Shia Muslims, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani of Iran.

But if so, I've yet to come across anything these powerful religious figures have to say which is odd, don't you think?      

Time runs out for Christian Iraq: Isis deadline passes with mass flight

The ultimatum imposed by militants for Christians to convert to Islam, pay a tax or be killed has passed with the collapse of communities that have existed for millennia

By PATRICK COCKBURN  - The Independent

The last Christians in northern Iraq are fleeing from places where their communities have lived for almost 2,000 years, as a deadline passed for them to either convert to Islam, pay a special tax or be killed.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) issued a decree last week offering Christians the three options accompanied by the ominous threat that, if they did not comply by midday on 19 July, “then there is nothing to give them but the sword”.

It is the greatest mass flight of Christians in the Middle East since the Armenian massacres and the expulsion of Christians from Turkey during and after the First World War. Isis, which now rules an area larger than Great Britain, has already eliminated many of the ancient Christian communities of eastern Syria, where those who had not escaped were given a similar choice between conversion, payment of a special tax or death.

Christians leaving Mosul – which was captured by Isis on 10 June – in order to seek refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan are being stripped of all their possessions.

A Christian man said: “The Islamic State [Isis] stopped my relatives at a checkpoint when they were fleeing and when they found out they were Christians, they took everything they were carrying, including their mobile phones. They left them only with the clothes they were wearing.”

Mosul is one of the most ancient centres of Christianity and on the east bank of the Tigris river that flows through the city is a mosque housing the tomb of the Biblical figure of Jonah. This is now in danger of being destroyed by Isis, whose puritan and iconoclastic version of Islam is opposed to the worship of tombs, shrines, statues and pictures.

Tens of thousands of Shabak and Shia Turkmen, demonised as polytheists and apostates by Isis, have fled their homes following raids by Isis gunmen.
The persecution of Christians, of whom there were over one million in Iraq before the US and British invasion of 2003, was slower to develop.

But a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) says that from 14 July a number of homes in Mosul were painted with the letter “N” for Nasrani (the Arabic word for Christian). Others were painted with the letter “R” for Rafidah, a word commonly used by Sunni to describe Shia.

Mosul previously had a great diversity of Muslim and Christian communities, all of which are vulnerable. The Christians are mostly Assyrians, known as the Church of the East, or Chaldeans, an Eastern rite of the Catholic Church.

The Yazidis are linked to the Kurds and have a 4,000-year-old religion that centres on the Peacock Angel
The church of Mary in Mosul, 225 miles from Baghdad, was closed by Islamic militants

The Shabak, also ethnically connected to the Kurds, are mostly Shia, though some are Sunni, while the Turkmen are majority Sunni with a Shia minority.

Christians were ordered by Isis to attend a meeting with them on 16 July, but they refused to go and a decree was issued the following day offering the three options of conversion, payment of jizia or special tax by non-Muslims or expulsion on pain of death.

The decree had the black logo of Isis and was issued by “Caliph Ibrahim”, who is otherwise known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the group’s leader. But even before the decree was issued, the report says that money was demanded from Christians: one merchant with a mobile-phone shop was asked to pay between $200 (£117) and $250 a month.

Two Christian nuns and three orphans were kidnapped for 15 days when they stopped at a petrol station. Christian churches in Mosul have been progressively occupied and despoiled.
The reclusive Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi preaches jihad at a mosque in the centre of Iraq’s second city, Mosul, according to a video recording posted on the internet

Chaldean Archbishop Nona told HRW that four cars had come to his archdiocese compound: “Each car carried three gunmen, most of them with masks. They broke open the doors and took some small statues from inside the property and broke them outside. They took control of the premises and placed their black banners on the roof and entrance.

“They told neighbours, ‘this is our property, don’t touch it’.”

Isis’s treatment of the Shia, or any Muslims they do not believe are orthodox Sunni, has been even more brutal than that of the Christians. A statue of the Virgin Mary was destroyed, but so were 13 Shia mosques and shrines. Some 28 Yazidi border guards were held captive for ransom for 25 days, repeatedly beaten with guns and sticks and denounced as “infidels”.

HRW says that “between 13 June and 10 July, Isis rounded up at least 83 Shia Shabak men from villages on the eastern outskirts of Mosul. Seven of the men were later found dead and the rest remain missing”.

Isis raiding parties have been plundering Shia villages, seizing men whose names are on lists, as well as driving off sheep and cattle and telling people to leave.

One man said that Isis told people in one village that the Shia “‘shouldn’t be living here, leave by Friday’. Before they left they tried to make people chant ‘Islamic State! Islamic State’.”

Isis may not be liked by the Sunni population, though there is not much they can do about it for the moment. But there is also deep fear about what government forces would do if they recaptured Mosul.

One woman says that Mosul University has been bombed, adding that she dreads the time when the army of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki “will reach us in Mosul, killing its people or turning them into refugees”.

The Sunni majority has not been targeted by Isis, whose members, a source living in the city said, are mostly non-Iraqis. He added that people “sense that the locals (Baathists, ex-army and tribes) are biding their time.

“There is no sympathy for Isis. The shops have been told to get rid of ‘unsuitable merchandise’ (eg women’s wear, sportswear, etc) and they are complying’.”

The draconian measures are coming from foreign fighters from Libya, Algeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc. Their language is barely intelligible, so here is no attempt to communicate. Money is very tight, so it seems it is going into buying arms.

Rough Justice

The Independent reports on father in America meting out some rough justice to a child abuser whom he caught in the act of sexually assaulting his son.

Now in some jurisdictions the father would be charged with criminal assault, but I can't help thinking that the Daytona Police made absolutely the right decision.

Father assaults man after catching him 'sexually abusing his son'

Raymond Frolander, 18, was found by police lying unconscious in a pool of his own blood after the father rung the police to report his attack.
By JACK SIMPSON - The Independent

A father who says he caught a man sexually abusing his 11-year-old son said he did what he had to do when he beat the suspect unconscious, leaving him with severe facial injuries.

Raymond Frolander, 18, was found by police lying unconscious in a pool of his own blood after the father rang the police to report the attack.

According to a 911 recording, the unnamed father told the operator: "I just walked in on a grown man molesting.... And I got him in a bloody puddle for you now officer.

Adding: “Send an ambulance. He is going to need one.”

He then ended the call by saying: “I did whatever I got a right to do, except I didn’t kill him.”

After police took Frolander into custody, he was charged with sexual battery on a victim under 12 and is currently being held without bail.

Speaking to investigators after the attack, the child said that he had been playing games with friends at the property; however, once those friends had left, Frolander began to sexually assault him.

The child also said that this had not been an isolated incident, and that Frolander had been abusing him since the age of eight.

According to Daytona Beach police Chief Mike Chitwood. Jimmie Flynt, Frolander was “almost like a family member” to his alleged victim and he had groomed his target for a period of time, having sex with the victim on multiple occasions.

Police say the father who carried out the attack is not going to be charged with any crime.

Daytona Police spokesman Jimmie Flynt told the Daytona Beach Journal that the man was just “acting like a dad”, and he didn’t see anything to charge him with.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Independent Thoughts

Here's an interesting article from The Guardian with some thoughts on Scottish independence from some of Scotland's leading writers. 

Scottish writers on the referendum – independence day?

Should Scotland go it alone? As the referendum approaches, leading Scottish writers give their thoughts

Radical Independence Campaign activist wears a t-shirt saying 'Aye' and the date of the Scottish independence referendum in Glasgow, Scotland. Photograph: Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert/Getty Images

Val McDermid
Photograph: Murdo MacLeod for the Guardian

The late, great Michael Marra, the Bard of Dundee, once wrote a heartrending and witty song called "Beefheart and Bones" about a couple divvying up their CD collection after a breakup. It sums up how I've come to feel aboutScottish independence after a long time of swithering (a Scots word meaning "swinging from one position to another".) For a long time, I couldn't make up my mind. In the "Aye, naw, mibbe" discussion, I was a definite "mibbe". But neither side seems able definitively to answer my questions about what will happen after the referendum. Will we keep the pound? Will we get devo max? Will we drive Trident from our waters? Will we keep the Windsors?

Given that, the only basis I could find for making a choice is to look at the track record of what the Scottish parliament has done differently from Westminster since we've had some power restored to us. And, overwhelmingly, I prefer what we've done north of the border – free prescriptions, no student tuition fees, social care for elderly people. So, with a degree of trepidation, I'm going to nail my colours to the mast of aspiration and vote "Yes".

When you realise you're in a relationship in which the two of you want different things, where your hopes and dreams are taking you in different directions, you don't hesitate because you're not sure what you're going to get in the divorce settlement; you make the decision and then you sort things out afterwards. We shouldn't be held back because of the fear that seems to be the major plank of the Better Together campaign. And if we don't get the Beefheart CD, we can always go out and buy a new copy.

Irvine Welsh
Photograph: Murdo MacLeod for the Guardian

The most interesting thing about the independence referendum is how the yes campaign has gone from being perceived on the left as anti-British, to part of the vanguard of a broader populist movement to restore democracy across these islands. In the larger context, this is isn't surprising; the Conservatives have long given up even pretending to represent anybody other than society's elites and their cohorts, who have taken the country to the cleaners for the last 35 years. (Anybody who doubts this should look at the continuing flow of wealth from the many to the few.) Labour has also presided over this ongoing obscenity, while occasionally hinting that they can perhaps wring some begrudged concessions from those elites. This seldom, if ever, happens; the UK is simply not set up that way.

With its morally bankrupt party system, zero-esteemed career politicians, and plethora of coverups and conspiracies reaching into the heart of a seedy, decadent, self-serving establishment in business, politics, the media and the judiciary, the UK is now perceived as a failed state by many of its citizens. It has entrenched the entitlement of power and privilege above that of the aspiration to any true democracy.

But now people are thinking about the public school elites, aristocracy, City of London investment bankers, corporate lobbyists, and the imperialist warmongers, apologists and conspirators in the media, not as instruments of good government and a healthy democracy, but as dangerous impediments to it. All those will be eliminated, or their influence largely diminished, in Scotlandfollowing a yes vote and the establishment of a constitution that confers genuine rights on citizens. If Scotland moves in that direction, I wouldn't expect England to hang around in developing a true grassroots democratic movement.

The yes campaign has empowered people to take control of their own destiny, and offered hope that they, their families and communities can have a genuine future. The principle is a simple one: it involves national resources going into education, health and housing, instead of being siphoned off into the offshore accounts of the super-rich or squandered on sordid overseas conflicts, instigated by the inadequate for the profit of their paymasters. (This is what they mean by "influence on the world stage".) The yes campaign deserves to succeed in September with a positive vote. Either way, the genie is now out of the bottle, and the issue, and the newly empowered citizens it has created, certainly will not be going away.

On a personal note, I've lived most of the last decade in Ireland and America, two countries that were once ruled from London. I've yet to meet a single person in either who is in a hurry to go back to that arrangement. Once Scotland and England have freedom from the corrupt, imperialist and elitist setup, I can guarantee that their people will feel exactly the same way.

James Meek
Photograph: Murdo MacLeod for the Guardian

The "Great" in "Great Britain" is so often taken for a boastful adjective that we forget it's a comparator. It doesn't mean "Excellent Britain". It means "great" as in "great crested newt" or "great auk" or "Greater London". We forget that "Great Britain" is simply the geographical name for the largest island of the hundreds in the British archipelago. It's our Honshu; our Java. Perhaps "Greater Britain" would be a clearer name, or "Big Island".

You can, and perhaps will, mark out a conceptual east-west line dividing the island in two, and decree that on either side of the line people will pay different taxes, deal with immigration in different ways, permit or not permit nuclear weapons. What you cannot do is physically make one island into two, or move the island elsewhere.

I can imagine a number of unhappy consequences of Scotland voting for independence in September. I can also imagine good ones. The assumption that political fragmentation means more nationalistic, inward-looking, self-aggrandising cultures in the separated nations, particularly England, might be wrong. What if the death of Britannia heightened awareness of the non-political culture that spans the entire archipelago – the islandic world?

It would be different were Scotland to be speaking a different language. But modern Scots hasn't been systemised in a way that makes it practical to learn to speak for everyday use, or to prepare Scots to accept hearing it spoken with a non-Scottish accent, and Ireland's experience suggests even universal Gaelic teaching doesn't make Gaelic a first language.

Adjacency, entwined histories, entwined families, a common language, vernaculars of everything from diet to architecture to sailing to hillwalking to drinking – there is much in common in islandic culture, like Scandanavian, that will transcend islandic borders.

Last year I was invited to the book festival in Dún Laoghaire, near Dublin. I was on stage with AL Kennedy; two writers, brought up in Dundee, now living in London, speaking in Ireland. It was an islandic experience, and I found myself intoxicated by the pleasure of small differences. Dún Laoghaire was not quite like anywhere I had been before. But the way it seemed different from Brighton or Ayr was exactly the same as the way in which Brighton and Ayr seem different from each other. That's not something you change with a vote.

Richard Holloway
Photograph: Murdo MacLeod for the Guardian

The referendum debate reminds me of those arguments for and against the existence of God that were such a feature of the cultural scene about 10 years ago. The cases offered in support of either side were rationalisations of convictions reached on other, usually subconscious, grounds, which is why they tended to fortify beliefs already held rather than make new converts; and they left agnostics undecided. The same thing seems to be going on here, with the agnostics the group likely to swing the vote, depending on which side they find less satisfactory on the day. I am an agnostic who has decided to vote yes, and what I want to do here is describe some of the factors that prompted me to that decision.

I agree with the priest in TS Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral who said he saw "nothing quite conclusive in the art of temporal government". Economics strikes me as no more conclusive a science than theology, which is why I have been more irritated than enlightened by the use each side has made of the dismal science in the debate; but while the arguments of the yes side may not have persuaded me, the arguments of the no side have propelled me in the opposite direction. Rather than making a positive case for the union, the Better Together campaign has wasted its energy on attacking the idea that Scotland could go it alone, a tactic guaranteed to anger those of us for whom the question was never whether we could but whether we should.

And there has been little recognition on the unionist side that the British political system is broken. The major factor in my own mistrust is outrage at the wars we have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan for no valid moral purpose. I am ready to forgive politicians for getting economics wrong, but never for taking us into costly and unnecessary wars. Over-centralised Britain concentrates power in ways that are hard to challenge. I support the Catholic principle of subsidiarity: power should be decentralised to the maximum degree; and that's what the soft form of independence on offer will help us to achieve.

But even if it's a no vote on 18 September, the yes campaign has already won by forcing the unionists to offer Scotland significant new powers. If they had shown that generosity at the beginning of the campaign, history might have turned out to be different.
Allan Massie

There's a general impression that Scottish writers and artists are mostly in favour of independence. A good many certainly are. Some, like Alasdair Grayand James Robertson, have been so for a long time. Other younger ones have perhaps been inspired by Gray's advice that we should imagine we are living in the first days of a better country. Artists for Independence are undoubtedly voicing their opinion more loudly, and campaigning more vigorously, than those intending to vote No.

It's also quite widely believed that the prospect first of devolution then of independence stimulated an artistic renaissance. There's little evidence of this, if only because the condition of the arts in Scotland has been no more – and no less – healthy and flourishing over the last three or four decades than over the preceding half‑century.

It's possible that the achievement of independence might prove stimulating. Many believe it would. But it might not. We might mirror Ireland's experience, where the exuberant creativity of the years of struggle for independence died away soon after the creation of the free state. Of course, an independent Scotland would not resemble De Valera's Ireland; there would be no clerical dominance, no church-inspired censorship. Nevertheless, the battle won, it might prove a duller place.

All this can only be speculation. One thing is clear, however. As far as the state's role in the arts and public provision for the arts is concerned, independence would make very little, if any, difference. The one area that would be affected is broadcasting, where breaking away from the BBC to establish a Scottish BC might conceivably offer new opportunities for writers, film-makers and musicians. In all other respects, however, things would remain much as they are today. We already have our own national institutions: our national galleries, orchestras, opera, theatre, and dance companies. What used to be the Scottish Arts Council, now known as Creative Scotland, is already independent of London and the UK state. There is very little that an independent Scottish government could do for the arts that the devolved Scottish government can't already do now. Nothing, for instance, prevents the devolved government from transferring more of its budget to the support, fostering and promotion of the arts, nothing, that is, except the absence of the will to do so.

Kathleen Jamie
Photograph: Eamonn McCabe for the Guardian

I emailed a dozen yes-supporting friends and asked for a snap response to the question "Where are we at?" Their replies make up this "poem".


We are rolling our tongues around a 3 letter word.
We are finding our voice.
We're resisting the big-bank, multinational-dictated slippage to the Right …
Only bruising, no blood.
It's about money.
It's not about money.
It isn't all about money.
It's about fear, faith, strength.
It can't come fast enough.
We're exploring a different way of organising a country.
This won't go back in the box.
We're questioning everything.
we're resisting all sorts of intimidation from the British establishment
England has been a good neighbour, but …
It's the choice between a maimed culture and a whole country.
Unionism has no new songs.
What a great time to be alive in Scotland!
We're one-thirds way round a big blind bend.

Alan Warner
Photograph: Murdo MacLeod for the Guardian

I fully support the yes campaign: a vote for increased democracy, a vote for the greater representation of a unique populace and a huge chance to break with the moribund, corrupt, militaristic lump that is Westminster today. The democratic dividends for Scotland have been kept well off the agenda by the big-business-led no campaign and its Nicodemite fellow travellers – a few of whom are writers. The no calculation is clear: what kind of future society we want in Scotland is NOT up for discussion; society has vanished and only cynical short-term "economics" and globalised agendas remain. The no "ideology" is numbingly small-minded, ahistorical and most of all, it is cowardly.

After the 1979 fiasco of the home rule referendum, many Scots like myself (I am half-English), felt cheated and disenfranchised. The vote was yes (by about 70,000); the infamous 40% rule was democratically questionable, as it converted abstainers and electoral roll anomalies into no votes. Then came Thatcher, Blair and the Cameronian; decades of rightwing monetarist rule from London.

What then are the implications for Scottish literature today? I am not self-important enough to believe it is part of many voters' deliberations, but a yes vote would free us as Scottish writers from a hidden war that rages inside our minds; it would grant us the light wings of a new responsibility. A No vote will have sinister and depressing implications. Our literature has been and is still bound up with concepts of independence, cultural assertiveness, language and that quaint old term: freedom.

Think on this: if there was a no vote, has there ever been another European country where a "progressive" – and to use two pompous words – "intelligentsia", has united in a liberation movement, yet the majority has finally voted against the aspirations of this movement? A no vote will create a profound and strange schism between the voters of Scotland and its literature; a new convulsion. It will be the death knell for the whole Scottish literature "project" – a crushing denial of an identity that writers have been meticulously accumulating, trying to maintain and refine. With a no vote, a savage division will suddenly exist between the values of most of our writing – past and present – and the majority of our people.

Strong cultures endure, and if the vote is very close, some might find room for optimism. I won't. Scotland will have become a mere global brand, its reality officially cancelled by its own people, and only approved by Westminster when sufficiently convenient, as a nuclear military base etc. Ultimately, Scotland will have voted Tory.

There is an 18th-century Scottish poem, by this guy, I can't seem to quite recall; it's all fading away. Something about "bought and sold … for … gold"? On our conscience it will rest.

John Burnside
Photograph: Eamonn McCabe for the Guardian

Naturally, I favour independence, not just for Scots, but for all citizens, which is why I reject the SNP's phoney independence referendum in September. For me, real independence would mean liberation, finally, from a feudal system in which more than half of Scotland is owned by fewer than 500 people and where, last year, the government paid out £663,695,661 in agricultural, forestry and food-processing subsidies, much of it to rich individuals and corporations. The injustice of this system is clear, yet, according to former Scottish Land Reform Review Group member Jim Hunter: "We're now six years into an SNP government that has so far done absolutely nothing legislatively about the fact that Scotland continues to be stuck with … the most undemocratic land ownership system in the entire developed world."

I also want independence from high-level meddling in local affairs the government's aggressive support for the Viking wind turbine project (which was rejected at judicial review, only for that judgment to be overturned last week – in a single day). Scotland, it seems, is open for business, no matter what the environmental costs.

I could go on but this government's record speaks for itself. Yes, Scotland needs to become independent – but independent of the charlatans, liars and chancers who have run it for too long. The way forward, in Scotland, as elsewhere, is direct representation, genuine redistribution of land and wealth, and, first and foremost, environmental policies that foster the health and wellbeing of all living things.

Janice Gallloway
Photograph: Murdo MacLeod for the Guardian

It seems a long time ago now, but what I looked forward to in the runup to September 2014 was information. I'd be briefed, right? I'd hear a positive and strong pro-union case and a strong and positive independence case. I thought I deserved that much. What has been most genuinely shocking this far down the line is the tenor of the no campaign. The initial flurry of panda-reclamation threats, Scotland being "disallowed" the BBC's Doctor Who, the half-cock threat of enforced border controls (not required by independent Ireland) and Baron Robertson of Port Ellen's rant about "the forces of darkness rubbing their hands in glee" at the prospect of Scottish secession, seemed daft enough. But they were tasters of what the no campaign thought the electorate deserved, ie not much.

Scaremongering is not a vote-winner – it is an appeal to fear, an invitation to lack confidence, an attack on openminded voters who imagined they deserved better. Alistair Darling's impression of Private Frazer from Dad's Army consistently telling me I am doomed is not a "case" for union, it is a case against aspiration. Belittling yes voters as "bravehearts", "death-eaters" (whatever they are) and Harry Lauders, whose deepest fear is how much anything costs in only the most literal sense is not a case either. It is dismissal.

The moral climate, the educational and social climate, and greedy and messianic big-government politics concern me. How to deal with London's already independent city-state status and unconnectedness to the rest of the UK concerns me. I want my vote to mean something. But the no campaign seems not to notice that people like me (or my thoroughly English, thoroughly yes-inclined husband) exist. I hope they find out we do. If not, all of us might end up with nothing but more of the same to look forward to.

AL Kennedy
Photograph: Murdo MacLeod for the Guardian

It's both inspiring and depressing to see how interested and excited an electorate can become when they are given the chance to consider possible futures that have (quite often) not been pre-packaged and spun by party machines. Scotland on both sides of the yes/no divide is considering paths ahead that diverge from the tottering Westminster model, and is largely embracing ideas of national identity that aren't based on racist assumptions. The more measured and nuanced middle ground of the debate is considering positive and creative approaches to democracy and the challenging economic circumstances faced by people all over Britain. With an established parliament in place we seem to have been willing to lower our expectations of behaviour and levels of public service. (Although it's increasingly hard to lower our expectations enough to keep pace with the ever-sinking reality within the House of Commons and local government.) Perhaps one lesson we could learn from the indy debate would be to maintain the demand for hope and higher standards that plans for a new status quo can produce. Harnessing the potential within the idea that elections can actually bring about change could serve everyone in the British Isles