Breaking-up Britain is a breeze compared to challenging Chinese rule
Anyone who thinks Scotland faces an awful struggle for independence and freedom of expression should sit down and watch the latest TV images from Hong Kong. The sight of editors on a brash tabloid being led away in handcuffs whilst other hacks fled for the airport, all knowing they might end their days in prison, was distressing. Particularly for those of us who have spent many happy hours marvelling at how a city-statelet with a million more inhabitants than the whole of Scotland could function so harmoniously in a geographical space no larger than Glasgow or Edinburgh. And especially harrowing for a hackademic like myself who has also personally experienced living and working on the Chinese mainland. Although not there for long, I saw enough to know what sort of justice awaits these fellow journalists. It certainly puts Craig Murray’s plight into perspective.
The most dewy-eyed admirers of the diplomat-turned-rebel blogger would doubtless reply that dissidents like him and Julian Assange are just dealt with more subtly by the British State and the Anglo-American empire. The UK and US legal systems are equal shams, many regularly blurt in the below-the-line comments section on Mr Murray’s still very active blog. To which I would reply: why then is their idol putting so much feverish effort into crowdfunding an appeal in the Supreme Court? Why’s he grabbing their donations any which way he possibly can – PayPal, direct debit or international bank transfer? And why, for that matter, is the Scottish Government preparing to take a case against the UK government over indyref2 to the same legal appeal forum in the UK capital?
Mr Murray might continue to lambast how the state he represented turned a blind eye to appalling human rights abuses in Uzbekistan when he was the British ambassador there, but he well knows (unlike some of the daft groupies he’s attracted) that rule of law applies in London in a way it never has done in Tashkent – and clearly no longer does in Hong Kong. Article 23 of the Hong Kong Basic Law (香港基本法第二十三條) prohibits any act of treason, secession, sedition or subversion against the Central People’s Government.
We saw what that means last week when 500 uniformed goons raided Apple Daily’s headquarters and arrested five top executives, including its founder and funder, Jimmy Lai, a rags-to-riches maverick millionaire now considered a leading enemy of the state. To which, one of the (sadly many) regular, below-the-line ranters on Craig Murray’s site responded:
I would suggest Jimmy Lai and all the other CIA assets either shut up or pack their bags and f*ck off to the west, see how the rich, yellow men get treated there.
Like those lucky colleagues who got away in the nick of time, I’m sure Mr Lai would love to board a plane to almost anywhere else on the planet right now. A devout Catholic, he named his scrappy, subversive rag after the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Its advertising jingle was a clever rhyming couplet: “An Apple a day, no liars can hold sway.” But last week, when the authorities froze his media group’s bank accounts, his paper’s parting comment to its readers had a plangent tone: “Here we say goodbye. Take care of yourselves.”
For some years the 800 journalists on Apple Daily knew that no words they served up to their half million readers would make a blind bit of difference in Beijing. The same went for all of the dozen dailies that compete for the attention of Hong Hong’s six million-strong population. The cold apparatchiks who run the People’s Republic of China are impervious to any pleas for mercy or compromise. The situation is now beyond hope for Hong Kongers who prayed in vain that Xi Xinping might honour the promise his predecessors made of upholding ‘one country, two systems’. It’s very much one country, one system now and that system is totalitarian.
Those who think there isn’t any fundamental difference between that country and ours need to catch themselves on. Holyrood isn’t Hong Kong. Secession is not sedition in Scotland. Nor do our present (predominantly English) Conservative political masters hold all the cards – as the Chinese Communist Party does over Hong Kong. The fact is David Cameron did concede a legally-binding referendum on Scottish independence on September 18. Aye, one reason he did so was because he felt absolutely confident that there was no serious threat to the status quo. But the fact is he did it. And his gamble could have gone tragically wrong for him – as happened with Brexit. He knew that only too well on the night of September 18 as he and George Osborne were slumped on a sofa in Downing Street watching the referendum results roll in on TV. According to Mr Osborne, they nervously munched pizza as they wondered if they might go down in history as the cretins who allowed their country to be broken up.
The paramount leader of the Chinese Communist Party would order another Tiananmen-style massacre before he would tolerate any secessionist rebellion anywhere subject to his diktats. No one in the upper echelons of the CCP cares a jot what anybody else in the world thinks about China’s complete charade of a criminal justice system. But that is not the situation in Britain. Many powerful members of the British Establishment do care about international public opinion. We saw that recently when UK legislation aimed at curbing prosecutions of military personnel came under heavy fire in the House of Lords. Peers including ex-military chiefs and a former senior judge warned that the bill, sponsored by the Ministry of Defence, could damage Britain’s international image.
Even a former defence minister and secretary-general of NATO, Lord (George) Robertson of Port Ellen, piped up with a warning that granting unlimited immunity to members of the armed forces for crimes committed during overseas deployments “opened the door to others questioning the integrity of the UK’s legal processes”. He clearly doesn’t want Great Britain to be seen in the same light as the “forces of darkness” around the world which, he warned during the 2014 referendum campaign, would revel in Scotland splitting away from the UK.
As it struggles to make its way in the world as a shining beacon of independence, integrity and enterprise, Brexit Britain cannot afford to be seen as a brutal state which denies indefinitely the democratic re-testing at the ballot box of demands for Scottish independence. However dismissive they might be on public platforms, privately senior Conservatives (including, I suspect, Mr Gove) know that they’re skating on thin legal ice on a Scottish loch.
Sources suggest the new Lord Advocate, Dorothy Bain QC, is likely to give a green light to a referendum bill now that she has been sworn as the Scottish government’s senior legal adviser. Were Holyrood’s right to hold indyref2 given the seal of approval by Scotland’s top law officer, the international optics of a British government with scant support north of the Border brusquely dismissing that would not be good. If it wants to rule the waves again, Britannia cannot be seen to waive the rules for ever.
Be they forced to concede another referendum, English Tory leaders will naturally do everything in their power to maximise the likelihood of another Unionist victory. There will be a real tussle over the timing of the poll and over the question that appears on the ballot papers: Yes/No might very well be replaced by Leave/Remain, as in the 2016 referendum on the UK EU membership. Doubtless there will also be attempts to let Scots residing south of the Border have a say in Scotland’s future. Yet even the disclosure that UK ministers are discussing how to rig the rules of an indyref2 might contain a hidden morsel of hope for those impatient for a rematch. Because, as Nicola Sturgeon pointed up in her reactive tweet: “In doing so, they also concede that it’s going to happen”.
So next time any of us advocates of Scottish independence are feeling sorry for ourselves, we should stop and consider how far more scary and hopeless it is for our counterparts in Hong Kong, as well as in other subjugated stateless nations such as Xianxing (home of the Uighurs), Tibet, Kashmir and Catalonia. It’s time to stop just snivelling in the blogosphere and bellyaching in the BTL sections of newspapers. We need to start applying some real, hard, critical thinking to how the case for independence can be excitingly renewed. Then how sufficient people power can be then mobilised so we can triumph in the most important court of all – the court of international public opinion.
As it currently stands, we’re woefully far from that. The chances of Messrs Johnson and Gove spending a nervous night together in BoJo’s controversially redecorated Downing Street flat watching the Scottish independence movement sweep to victory look slim. And not just because of the Cabinet Office Minister’s statement that he “can’t see” a second referendum before the next general election. Nor can most of the Aberdonian’s compatriots: a poll in today’s Sunday Times shows that barely a fifth (22%) of Scottish voters think independence will happen within five years, a drop of 8% since April. The Panelbase survey found that support for independence has fallen from 52% to 48% since April and now stands at its lowest level for two years. Professor Sir John Curtice, of Strathclyde University, detects “a cooling of the independence ardour” since the Holyrood elections last month.
Even if they were minded to, the Old Etonians in charge of the Conservatives clearly don’t need to adopt Chinese Communist tactics to quell such a far-from-fervent secessionist movement as currently exists in Scotland.