Scotland’s Becoming Like Belarus

We’ve all got our own favourite horror stories about flying with Ryanair, but being suddenly diverted to Minsk (on a flight from Athens to Vilnius) after the plane has been effectively hijacked by Belarusian security agents takes the biscuit. What should most disturb us in Scotland is why this happened – to capture a blogger who’s been a fierce and formidable critic of President Alexander Lukashenko. While there has been nothing close to such state-sponsored piracy in this country, the Scottish blogosphere and Twittersphere are becoming dangerous territory, for much the same reason as in Belarus: we’re ruled by a regime clearly determined to crush forthright dissent or even politically incorrect mutterings. There’s no need for Nicola Sturgeon to hijack a plane to seize any blogger like Lukashenko ordered. Through political control of the police and prosecutors, she can inflict her own subtle (but highly effective) form of state terror on the ground against anyone who resorts to social media to expose her fake commitment to independence or campaign against the gender ideologists she increasingly indulges.

According to fellow passengers, Roman Protasevich appeared “super-scared” as he was hustled off Flight FR4978. We can be sure he was. Ambushed and arrested in mid-air for running an alternative online news channel accused of inciting protests against Lukashenko, he will be beaten, tortured and possibly executed. Here are a few other things of which we can be sure:

  • We can be sure Mark Hirst was super-scared in May last year when Scotland’s state prosecutors put him on trial for making a “threatening” short video in the wake of the criminal trial against former First Minister Alex Salmond.
  • We can be sure Craig Murray, the former UK ambassador-turned-blogger, is super-scared as he counts down to next Tuesday, when he could be carted off to jail for his coverage of that trial.
  • We can be sure sure the Rev. Stuart Campbell would have been super-scared had he published his anti-Sturgeon website Wings over Scotland in Scotland rather than from Somerset. (Winding it up, he said he was “afraid” to move back north of the Border).
  • We can be sure Marion Millar, an accountant from Airdrie, was super-scared when she was told to report to a police station over allegations that she had posted “homophobic and transphobic” tweets. (She claimed she could hardly sleep or eat when she was put in a holding cell).
  • We can be sure other feminist campaigners were super-scared when they were hounded on social media by Police Scotland officers for putting ‘Women Won’t Wheesh’ stickers on some lamp posts in Kirkcaldy.

Personally, I’m not super-scared as I tap out these words on my iPad. Perhaps because, as a journalist and media academic for more than three decades, I’ve had some close scrapes in real police states, including Stasi-ruled East Germany, China, Kashmir and the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. Or maybe I’m being complacent and naive, for it is obvious that basic legal safeguards and civil liberties I grew up taking for granted have been seriously eroded in recent years. There is something rotten in the state of Scotland: the woman hailed as “reine d’ecosse” (Queen of Scots) by Le Monde seems to believe, like Louis XIV, that “l’état, c’est moi” (The state, that’s me). Not only did she appoint the chief state prosecutor, she also made the Lord Advocate her government’s legal adviser and a member of her Cabinet.

Sturgeon survived Salmondgate under her appointee’s protection

Having just announced his decision to step down, James Wolffe is thankfully on his way out. But there is no certainty the unprecedented powers he singularly possesses will be split once he goes, as opposition MSPs are now demanding. If the First Minister bows to such pressure, she will only do so because she can now afford to loosen her personal control over the criminal justice system a little. She and her husband (SNP chief executive Peter Murrell) are in the clear. They survived Salmondgate under her appointee’s legal protection. Even if his unacceptably dubious dual role is divided, it will still be the obviously politically paranoid FM who appoints the state’s top law officer.

The outgoing one, Walter James Wolffe QC, will go down in Scottish legal history as having to concede in an open court that the prosecution of two men who spearheaded the administration of Rangers FC was malicious. He publicly confirmed that Sturgeon’s Scotland is gradually becoming a semi-police state, in which individuals can be targeted by police Scotland and the state prosecutors without sufficient justification. The magnitude of that public admission did not escape the Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser (a lawyer by profession), who wrote:

A malicious prosecution of innocent individuals is something we might expect from a Third World dictatorship with no respect for the rule of law. But this is not North Korea or Zimbabwe. That it could have happened in Scotland in the 21st century is simply outrageous, and raises the most serious questions about the conduct of the Crown Office.

The difference between Sturgeon’s Scotland and outright dictatorships is that we still have what appears to be a largely independent judiciary. The Crown Office case against Mr Hirst for publicly stating that those involved in an alleged plot against Mr Salmond would “reap a whirlwind” was quickly thrown out at Jedburgh Sheriff Court. Sheriff Peter Paterson did “not accept [the comments made in the video] would cause a reasonable person fear and alarm.”

A falsely accused suspect can sleep on a concrete cell floor for six nights

Far more likely to trigger such anxiety were the revelations of what the falsely accused Rangers administrators had to endure. Arrested for white collar crimes he never committed, David Whitehouse says he was “treated worse than a terrorist”. Faced with bewildering allegations of fraud simply for conducting his profession, the financial expert was flung in a cell in a Govan police station and forced to sleep on a concrete floor for six consecutive nights. Such was their ordeal, he and his colleague Paul Clark were each awarded £10m in damages – and look set to get a lot more.

Obviously encouraged by their legal victory, the former STV and Russian Sputnik Radio journalist Mark Hirst is trying to crowdfund his own malicious prosecution action against the Crown Office for abusing its power and authority. Should he receive what his lawyers anticipate, he promises to repay all donations. Contending that the action he is mounting isn’t solely about him, he has created a website called Civil Liberty Scotland, in which he states on the home page:

We are living through very dangerous times in Scotland where we face unprecedented threats not only from Covid-19 but also to our very basic rights of freedom of expression and civil liberties.

We know that Ms Sturgeon’s minions in St Andrew’s House (and maybe she herself) take an inordinate interest in hyper-hostile political websites. We know this because the most mischievous (of many) Freedom of Information requests submitted by the Rev Stuart Campbell concerned the frequency of accessing different political websites on Scottish Government IT devices. The winner was his Wings over Scotland site. Within a six month period last year it was accessed almost 1,100 times by the First Minister’s officials – significantly above the number of views (890) notched up by the SNP’s official website. What was the purpose of Sturgeonistas on the public payroll scrolling through posts carefully crafted to get right up their noses?

Commenting on the hounding of Mr Hirst by the Crown Office, Tim Crook, Professor Emeritus at Goldsmiths, University of London, stated:

We are very conscious that poor decisions by investigating and prosecuting authorities have a chilling effect on the vital public interest of protecting freedom of expression.

They certainly do. Nothing is sending more of a chill through the Scottish blogosphere at present than the plight of Craig Murray. Although in a fragile state of health, this 62-year-old father of two young boys has been sentenced to eight months in prison, pending appeal, for “jigsaw identification” of some of Mr Salmond’s accusers in his nationalist blog. The fact that no member of the mainstream media has even had their collar felt for committing the same crime has led Mr Murray to argue:

The truth is that in Scotland we now have a police, prosecutorial and justice system which is at the disposal of the Sturgeon clique for the pursuit of their private vendettas against political opponents…Please note that all of these political prosecutions have been based on thought crime. People in a small and definable political group – all people I know – are being prosecuted merely for publishing or saying things which annoy somebody in the Sturgeon clique.

Before you dismiss that as some mad conspiracy theory, consider this statement by Professor Robert Black QC, Professor Emeritus in Scots Law at Edinburgh University:

Equality before the law is a crucial component of a civilised justice system…My concern is that the conduct of the Scottish police and Crown Office, in the aftermath of the acquittal of Alex Salmond, has failed to respect and promote that value.

We’ve never had full equality before the law in this country, of course. Feudalism was founded on the poor having no lawyers and Scotland remains a semi-feudal society, in which legal aid is not available to right many wrongs. Even a skilled communicator like Mark Hirst is struggling to drum up sufficient donations to pursue the Crown Office: he reckons he needs £100,000 but has managed to raise only £18,140 so far.

Taking on any publicly-funded body can lead to financial ruin

Taking on taxpayer-funded public bodies can soon lead to financial ruin. It requires particularly deep pockets, along with awesome courage and determination, to put the state prosecutors in the dock. Very unusually, David Whitehouse and Paul Clark possessed all of these requirements in ample measure.

There is a wide expectation that the eventual cost of compensating the Rangers administrators for malicious prosecution might yet run to more than £120m – the Crown Office’s entire annual operating budget. But the Cabinet Finance Secretary, Kate Forbes, has reassured MSPs that the state prosecutors will get whatever top-up they need to continue functioning as they do. Her Holyrood colleagues were doubtless comforted to hear that their beloved SNP Government believes no price can ever be put on the administration of injustice in Scotland.

They get away with all this because, as we have just seen, there is scant public interest in holding our political chieftains to proper account so long as they serve up a fresh set of political retail offers at election time. As most eyes around the world yesterday were fixed on news of that hijacking by Belarusian goons, I suspect a larger number of Scottish voters were far more interested in the first holiday flights to Faro resuming. Grateful no doubt to the Covid Queen – who has a sun-drenched pad in Portugal herself, of course – for slightly relaxing medical martial law.

28 thoughts on “Scotland’s Becoming Like Belarus

    1. True, KS.
      I’m still feeling down at the realisation of how many Scottish women voted SNP, apparently in blissful ignorance of what some upcoming Bills will do to their rights and, by extension, to their lives

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  1. What I find astonishing is that the Westminster Unionists and mainstream media are not commenting on any of these goings on. (The single exception has been David Davis who, using Parliamentary privilege, memorably tried to give a brief taste to his fellow politicians of some of the aspects of the Public Inquiries into the Sturgeon and Sturgeon’s government).

    Rationally, you would think that the British establishment could use this suppression of free speech in Scotland as a stick with which to beat the SNP/Scottish government.

    It follows, if you think that, that you have to ask yourself: why aren’t they?

    Liked by 6 people

    1. It has become as plain as the nose on my face that the uk see the present SNP as upholders of the present iniquitous constitutional settlement.
      There has been a conscious agreement in the media not to rock the snp leadership who’s largess to them is common knowledge.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Another totally honest piece of writing. Depressing. But thankful that you have the knowledge and confidence to inform us. Problem is how do we get Scotland out of this disastrous regime in order to establish a true democracy? It has taken a very few years to set up the Sturgeon state of affairs and she has another 5 years at her disposal.

    By the way, it’s whispered in the SNP that she has a refuge in Europe but I didn’t know which country.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. While I’m on public record in calling for a judge led enquiry into the Crown Office’s decisions to prosecute the Rangers and AS cases you are fundamentally wrong in insisting that the FM had any involvement in the decisions made by the Crown Office.

    I’m old enough to recall the U.K. governments appointing previous Lord Advocates from their own ranks then the LA would appoint himself as Lord President and Lord Justice General when a vacancy appeared.

    There was overt political control in the appointment of these positions but there were few claims of any political bias in judicial decisions by the judges once appointed.

    It’s part of the job of our FM to appoint the LA in terms of the Scotland Act. All her predecessors have done the same.

    Just because there are questions to ask about how the Crown office has operated does not justify gratuitous claims that the FM has been involved in this directly it through her colleagues.

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    1. All previous lord advocates have been simultaneously the Scottish Government’s chief legal adviser and been a member of the Scottish Cabinet, hence meant to be 100% politically loyal to the FM? All have served under Nicola Sturgeon, a politician who plainly brooks no political dissent or disagreement (as Joanna Cherry can readily testify)?

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      1. When Alex Salmond was FM, he thought it inappropriate to have the lord advocate part of the government, so he tried to sever the link, and have him outside the political administration. He understood the basic tenets of a liberal democracy rest on the separation of powers. Sturgeon reversed that move, with the consequences we now have, and Salmond one of the victims.

        Liked by 4 people

    2. One thing we know about Sturgeon’s modus operandi is that her government buys influence by directly funding their preferred feedback loops and by placing people under her influence into strategic positions. Hence her choice of permanent secretary ( who cannot be sacked for her loyalty). The crown agent is her subordinate and was appointed in 2016 at the same time as the Lord Advocate was appointed by the FM.

      https://mobile.twitter.com/permsecscot/status/718066834398949377

      The enquiry into the bungled harassment procedure threw light on the attempt by the permanent secretary and crown agent to go public on the report. This drew a reprimand by the police. Very soon after this the story was criminally leaked to the Daily Record.

      A previous Westminster Lord Advocate, Lord Falconer said about the legal advice Wolffe gave Sturgeon regarding the judicial review

      “It is interesting seeing the whole thing set out like this because you can see the way that Wolffe has been corrupted by politics. I don’t mean corrupted in any financial sense. I mean corrupted by the need to say whatever your boss or your client wants to hear. And that is the last thing that is helping your client.”

      “And what the Nicola Sturgeon story tells you, by looking at those government documents, is seeing somebody so powerful within her own party and within her own government, that either she can just ignore advice she’s given or else everybody is falling over backwards to give her the advice she wants to hear.”

      https://www.holyrood.com/inside-politics/view,legal-privilege-lord-falconer-on-being-a-lawyer-at-the-heart-of-government

      Since the announcement of Wolffe’s resignation he has been praised as a “man of honour and ability” by Roddy Dunlop Dean of the Faculty of Advocates. That would certainly have marked him out from the rest of the cabinet. Sturgeon would soon have knocked that out of him and instilled obedience. It may be that a political decision was taken such that he had no direct influence over the crown office. Many have been calling for this. However, a lack of interference from honourable people can be an ideal arrangement for malign purpose.

      Liked by 2 people

    3. Reference your comment: “It’s part of the job of our FM to appoint the LA in terms of the Scotland Act. All her predecessors have done the same.”

      All her predecessors… except for Alex Salmond, the First Minister in 2007. He didn’t appoint any Lord Advocate. The Lord Advocate (Mrs Elish Angiolini) appointed in 2006 by Scottish Labour’s First Minister, Jack McConnell, remained in post until 2011 followed by the internal promotion of Frank Mulholland to LA (stepping up from his previous post of Solicitor General).

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  4. And to add to the list of political prosecutions, here is an outline of yet another in the same mould, using once again the same tactics (taking so-called ‘offence’ from a social media post). And once again being silenced from scrutiny with the much abused ‘anonymity’ ruse:

    https://yoursforscotlandcom.wordpress.com/2021/05/24/the-fascist-state/

    This is the one Craig Murray said he couldn’t discuss, because of his invidious position.
    Of course, the mainstream Scottish media will once again have no interest in freedom of speech or the political suppression of what we must now call dissidents.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This rogue First Minister and her odious lieutenants are slowly but steadily eroding our rights slice by slice. So that the Scottish people remain oblivious of what’s happening. Which they wouldn’t if we still had a free press.

    It’s not only our freedoms that are disappearing. The nationalist cause will be ruined if the SNP leadership remain its nominal main representatives. All this suits London just fine.

    It doesn’t matter how few Alba votes there were. It was imperative that a real and democratic nationalist party was formed to carry the spirit of the salutary and pre-Sturgeon SNP.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Call me naive Rob but is there no way such a blog can find its way into more mainstream media? Your article above is tailor-made for the Spectator.

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  7. Good stuff Rob keep it up ,Scotland is rapidly sliding towards a police state. In addition to the cases you outline and Dave Llewellin’s case cited by Maceasy there are other dangerous trends for example did you know jury trials have recently been abolished in libel and defamation cases by the Scottish government so Tommy Sheridan couldn’t have successfully sued the News of the World today and you could be sure the presiding judge Lord Turnbull wouldn’t have awarded him his record damages as did the jury since he was so mad about the verdict he ordered perjury inquiries into Tommy which led to him being sentenced to 3 years imprisonment. This perjury case arising from a civil case was unique in Scottish legal history as Professor Alister Bonnington then legal advisor to the BBC said “ I can only presume that there are people in high places who want to see Mr Sheridan in prison. “! Incidentally the police used 22 officers over 2 years and at a cost of over 2 million pounds to put Tommy in prison very similar numbers to those used in Alex Salmond’s case. ( as we know there were people in high places like Peter Murrell who wanted to see him in jail!) Alex was saved by a jury of 9 women and 6 men but of course his reputation was destroyed by the biased coverage of the mainstream media, none of whom are of course being prosecuted unlike Craig Murray or Mark Hirst.
    Just to make things worse there is now a concerted drive to abolish juries in sexual offences trials and have judges only deciding the guilt of those charged, and guess what, the campaign to abolish juries is being led by Rape Crisis Scotland funded by the SNP government at a cost of £600,000 a year and cheerleaders of the “ alphabet women” in the Alex Salmond trial( at least some of whom were clearly lying !)
    They are working closely with Lady Dorrian the judge in the Alex Salmond trial and the judge who is likely to send Craig Murray to prison for 8 months on June 7th. By the way Lady Dorrian is the second most senior judge in Scotland and is keen to succeed Lord Carloway next year in the top position and of course the appointment is made on the recommendation of the first minister!
    I raised the case of Craig Murray at my Edinburgh NUJ branch yesterday and asked whether it was raised at the NUJ conference at the weekend. The conference was concerned about threats to journalists and free speech all over the world but surprise surprise not to the very real threats to free speech in Scotland! The full time official said “ but he isn’t a member”! I pointed out he had applied to be a member but his membership had been blocked ( I understand at a very high level in the union!)
    Of course by publishing your article and these comments Rob, you and I might be joining Craig Murray as guests of HMP but I’m sure they will put us all in that nice open prison in Dundee I used to visit Tommy at !

    Liked by 4 people

  8. “what appears to be a largely independent judiciary”

    The Elitist Scotland Report (2015) confirmed that much of Scotland’s senior judiciary (and meritocratic elite generally) is still predominantly drawn from the same rather narrow background of privilege and this may also help us explain where we are to some extent. It is well known that culture influences justice processes and decisions; this may be even more explicit in a colonial environment, which by its nature is oppressive.

    There is some evidence to suggest that mainly working class Scots may have suffered from what is a rather oppressive justice system for a very long time. For example, the reality is that the nature of what passes for ‘Scottish justice’ is hardly a new phenomenon given that Scotland already has:

    – the highest prison population rate per head in Western Europe,
    – the highest proportion of probationers under supervision for “offences against persons” in all of Europe, and
    – Scotland’s prisons have seen a significant rise in remand prisoners also.

    It may be that the nature of the Scottish ‘justice system’ has only relatively recently come to the notice of the intellectual and bourgeoisie classes through a series of prosecutions of notable individuals/independence campaigners, which reflects the fact that independence is perceived to be ever closer, thus generating a collective reaction from what are still colonial ‘authorities’; what George Osborne calls ‘the arms’ of the British state in Scotland.

    As Frantz Fanon said, the native “should expect little from a colonial justice system”.

    https://www.scottishlegal.com/article/scotland-has-highest-prison-population-rate-per-head-in-western-europe
    http://howardleague.scot/news

    A fine article Rob.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Good comment Alf, this puts Malta ahead of Scotland in the amounts of incarcerations per 100,000, (circa 2020) I did read somewhere though that Glasgow’s Sheriff court is the busiest court in Western Europe. Interestingly Alf, the media reported last week that three-quarters of Civil Servants come from privileged backgrounds, and that the remaining percentage cannot advance due to not knowing the rules of unspoken etiquette.

      https://www.statista.com/statistics/957501/incarceration-rate-in-europe/

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  9. The act itself of hijacking the plane was terrible but I wouldn’t feel so sorry for Protasevich.

    “Roman Protasevich is, like his partner the Atlantic Council fellow Franak Viačorka, a U.S. trained and financed regime operator who tried to violently overthrow the government of Belarus to then install a neoliberal U.S. client regime”

    David Llewellyn is the latest person to feel the COPFS Sword of Damocles hanging over his head, and of course as you say Craig Murray will find out next Tuesday his fate. I think Manny Singh was the first prominent indy supporter to be imprisoned.

    Scotland appears to be moving towards a Kafkaesque society where to be outspoken can easily be construed as hate speech, even more so if your that rare creature, a indy blogger and fan of Alex Salmond and the Alba party, and have a handle on what the SNP under Sturgeon is up to and you’re willing to blog about it.

    Just be careful Rob, I’m sure you’ll pop up on the COPFS radar over the next five years.

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    1. Chris, I didn’t endorse that blogger’s views, with which I am completely unfamiliar. Wherever he sits on the political spectrum, I think most reasonable people would agree that a commercial passenger plane shouldn’t be hijacked by state goons to silence him.

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      1. The plane was not hi-jacked. As proven by emails sent to Athens, Vilnius and Minsk, and fully released recordings of radio traffic, the bomb scare was genuine, although there was no bomb. The Belarus authorities reacted strictly in accordance with international aviation law. The couple were only arrested once they were checked at customs, when attempting to reboard the plane. MoA provides all the details.

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  10. Didn’t know your blog existed till I saw the link on Wings – yet another reason why I hope he ‘returns’ on a more permanent basis once he has had a good rest. Enjoyed the above, if ‘enjoyed’ is the right word in the circumstances!

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    1. Jaggy’s just four weeks old today but already proving a prickly presence in the Scottish blogosphere I hope. What’s wonderful about Wings isn’t just the Rev Stu’s own sermons but that through it newcomers to the Fifth Estate like me get a chance to point people like yourself to our sites. We need as many fighters for freedom of expression in the current climate as possible.

      Liked by 1 person

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