Bill's Archived Comments

for the week beginning: Monday, 11th March 2002

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Contents of this page (scroll down the page to see the full text of the article which interests you)

- US Nuclear Attack Options for Seven Countries (11 March 2002)

- Jamaican Education Initiative (11 March 2002)

- Labour Refuses to Back the Nomination of Henry McLeish (11 March 2002)

- Scottish Parliamentary Seats and the Boundary Commission (13 March 2002)

- Lockerbie Bomber Loses Appeal (14 March 2002)

- Zimbabwe: Mugabe 'Wins', but Many Doubt the Validity of his Victory (14 March 2002)

US Nuclear Attack Options for Seven Countries (11 March 2002)

It is reported  (in a leaked document signed by Donald Rumsfeld, US Defense Secretary and confirmed as accurate by the Pentagon) that the US Bush administration has drawn up secret plans for nuclear conflict with at least seven countries.

The report says that America must be ready to use nuclear weapons against China, Russia, Iraq, North Korea, Iran, Libya and Syria. It is understood to identify three circumstances in which nuclear weapons could be used:

The report also reveals that the Pentagon is considering how small-scale nuclear weapons might be developed as a more effective deterrent against terrorist attacks. It is reported that "Mr Rumsfeld is determined that America's enemies understand that its nuclear weaponry is not confined to mass-destruction warheads".

It seems to me perfectly reasonable for the United States to discuss in detail its plans as to how it might respond to various contingencies and it is in the nature of such 'brain storming' exercises that some pretty bizarre ideas are floated, even if there is no real likelihood of such notions becoming policy. It is also correct, in my view, that such internal discussions MUST be free and uninhibited if they are to be of real value. However, this document seems to go beyond this - the changes in policy seem to have been accepted as, at the very least, worthy of serious consideration. It appears the Pentagon has been forced to bring forward the publication of this 100-page document (it states that it was always its intention to publish it in due course) and has stated "We can't let a liberal-leaning newspaper take the lead in setting out our policy to the world." The newspaper referred to is the Los Angeles Times, to whom the report was apparently leaked, and most of my information comes from a report published in The Sunday Telegraph yesterday.

The policy, if adopted, does seem to run quite counter to the long-standing NATO nuclear doctrine of minimum deterrent and the use of nuclear weapons only as a last resort. This leaked report heralds a potentially very worrying change in policy.

Jamaican Education Initiative (11 March 2002)

On today's TODAY programme on BBC Radio 4 was an item about new initiatives in Jamaica relating to the education of young males, being studied by a visiting group of British educators anxious to know if they can learn anything from there which may improve afro and afro-caribbean male educational attainments here.

This sounds like a good idea on the surface. However, I hope this study will also take into account the prevalent Jamaican very negative cultural attitude toward homosexuality - I do not think, as a gay man, that this type of attitude is one we wish to emulate here. I'd like to hear that this aspect of Jamaican culture will be factored into anything done here and countered appropriately.

By the way, it always seems these trips to countries with warm climates take place in the depth of a British winter. I hope this is not just another 'spin' initiative.

Labour Refuses to Back the Nomination of Henry McLeish (11 March 2002)

Until four months ago Henry McLeish was First Minister of Scotland. He was forced to resign from this position in November 2001 (see my article on the matter by clicking here) because of revelations about his corruption - he had been claiming Parliamentary allowances whilst still a Westminster MP for the whole of his Fife constituency office, even though he had been sub-letting a part of these premises to various tenants (six that we know about) for upto fourteen years.

Initially Mr McLeish had  been forced to declare the fact that he had rented to five tenants, and the feeling at the time was that with a statement on the matter to the Scottish Parliament he could ride out the storm and remain in office. But when he was confronted with evidence that there had in fact existed a sixth tenancy, what had been expected to be his statement to Parliament the next day turned out to be his resignation speech. He stated at the time that he had been 'unaware' of the sixth tenancy. Whilst most were pleased to see the back of him, it is true to say that there was also some surprise that he had chosen to resign.

The reason why he chose to resign so precipitately became clear, publicly, only about a week ago.

The sixth tenant was a charity called "Third Age". It seems that Mr McLeish's wife, Mrs Julie McLeish, who is a senior social work manager with Fife Council, had authorised the payment of public funds to the charity to pay for the rent of its office space within Mr Mcleish's constituency office. Quite apart from the possibility that there may have been a conflict of interest (and the fact that Mr Mcleish did not declare this income when claiming parliamentary allowances for his constituency office), a more serious aspect with regard to Mrs Mcleish's involvement is that a payment of £40,000 of public funds from Fife Council was authorised by her after the management committee of the charity had been disbanded in 1998.

A report published by Fife Council Chief Executive Douglas Sinclair on Friday 8 March 2002 revealed the facts detailed above and in addition the links between Mr McLeish, his wife, Fife Council officials and the Labour Party. Some might be forgiven for describing this as blatant cronyism. After pressure from politicians from rival political parties, it seems the report has now been passed to Fife Constabulary, although the report concludes that all the money had gone to help the charity carry out its work of looking after the elderly.

One senior Labour MSP is quoted as stating: "Police investigations and Procurator Fiscal reports take a long time. It could be that this time next year (*) we are still awaiting the outcome of the police and Procurator Fiscal inquiries. That's the last thing we need as we come up to an election." The upshot of all this is that Scottish Labour would much prefer that Mr Mcleish not contest his Scottish Parliamentary seat at the next elections and he is therefore the only person out of 24 prospective candidates to fail to be nominated by the Party on Saturday 9 March 2002.

(*) - elections to the Scottish Parliament are scheduled for May 2003.

Scottish Parliamentary Seats and the Boundary Commission (13 March 2002)

Historically there has been a larger number of Members of  Parliament (MPs) representing Scottish constituencies at Westminster than would have been justified solely by the size of its population; this was one of the provisions of the Act of Union 1707, and was designed to compensate partially for the fact that, quite obviously, Scottish representation would always be much smaller than that of England because of the great disparity in populations of the two constituent countries. However, with the creation of the new Scottish Parliament in 1999, when it was given legislative powers covering most purely Scottish domestic matters, it was decided that it would be appropriate to equalise Scottish representation to the United Kingdom Parliament at Westminster on a similar basis to that used for England; this was one of the provisions included in the Scotland Act 1998.

As a result, a recent Boundary Commission report recommended that the number of Scottish MPs at Westminster be reduced from 72 to 59 at the next but one General Election.

A further provision of the Scotland Act 1998 was that the number of constituency members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) should be the same as the number representing Scotland at Westminster (this is substantially true, although because the Shetland and Orkney constituency at Westminster is split into two constituencies for the Scottish Parliament it is not totally the same); as a result of the Boundary Commission recommendations, therefore, the number of constituency MSPs would necessarily be reduced by a similar number. However, there is resistance to such a reduction from a majority of current MSPs and specifically from the present First Minister, Jack McConnell, because they state that the committee system which forms such an important part of the functioning of the Scottish Parliament could not function optimally with fewer MSPs.

In addition to the constituency MSPs, there are currently 56 'regional list' MSPs (elected under a form of proportional representation) and the Scotland Act 1998 provides that the ratio of constituency to regional list MSPs should be as close as possible to 73:56, the numbers existing when the Scottish Parliament first sat in 1999. The Boundary Commission recommendations indicate that regional list MSPs be reduced from 56 to 48, and that as a result the total number of MSPs reduce from 129 to 108.

Alone of the political parties (so far), the Scottish Conservative Party Leader David Mcletchie has insisted that the terms of the Scotland Act 1998 must be followed. He denounces as "self-serving nonsense" the notion that the Scottish Parliament could not function effectively with fewer than 129 MSPs, and that "MSPs need to accept that the parliament will not win the trust of the public until we are seen to put the interests of the public ahead of our own."

I agree wholeheartedly with his sentiment.

The Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats want the Scotland Act 1998 to be amended so that the number of MSPs can remain at 129, whereas Labour (in the person of First Minister Jack McConnell) has said that the number should remain constant until at least the 2007 election.

We must resist this self-serving notion and insist that the terms of the Scotland Act 1998 are adhered to strictly, in this regard. No doubt there will arise situations in the future when it will be necessary to amend the Act, but I do not believe this is one of these occasions. The only justification for the existence of the Scottish Parliament, indeed any parliament, is that it serves the needs of the people it represents - it must not be allowed to become a job-creation scheme for politicians. (You can read about later developments in this saga by clicking here.)

Lockerbie Bomber Loses Appeal (14 March 2002)

Abdelbaset ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, who was convicted in January 2001 for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which exploded over Lockerbie in December 1988, leading to the deaths of 270 people, today lost his appeal at the High Court of Justiciary of Scotland, convened at the Special Scottish Court at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands.

Scotland's most senior law officer, Lord Advocate Colin Boyd QC, said: "I believe that these proceedings have demonstrated what the judicial process can achieve when the international community acts together. I hope that this can be the enduring legacy of the Lockerbie trial. It is one that cannot and must not be forgotten". The decision, which took less than three minutes to deliver, was read out by Scotland's most senior judge, Lord Justice General Lord Cullen. He said: "For the reasons given in the judgement, in which we all concur, we have concluded that none of the grounds of appeal is well founded. The appeal will accordingly be refused."

It is observed that only one avenue of appeal remains open to him under the Scottish legal system; the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which sits in London, has a supervisory jurisdiction over constitutional matters within the UK. However, al-Megrahi can only ask the body to re-examine the case under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Abdelbaset ali Mohmed al-Megrahi will now be taken to H.M. Prison Barlinnie in Glasgow to begin a sentence of at least 20 years. Al-Megrahi showed no emotion as he heard the outcome from the five judges. Libya condemned the decision as a "political verdict" handed down under pressure from Washington and London.

It is unfortunately very probable that al-Megrahi was not the only person who contributed to this terrorist outrage, but it is of at least some comfort that one of those responsible has now been brought to justice by due process before a legal system that is generally regarded as objective (the reservations of the Libyan authorities notwithstanding). It was of course a pure 'fluke' that this case was subject to Scottish Law - had the aircraft been destroyed just a few miles further south, the accident would have occurred in England and English Law would have been the applicable jurisdiction; the fact that it did occur in Scotland was, I am certain, one of the factors contributing to the Libyan authorities agreeing to the release of the suspects into the custody of the Scottish authorities - something it is difficult to believe they would have agreed to had English Law been applicable. The contention now advanced by the Libyan authorities needs to be seen in this light - and dismissed summarily.

Zimbabwe: Mugabe 'Wins', but Many Doubt the Validity of his Victory (14 March 2002)

According to the official results, President Robert Mugabe has been re-elected in the recent presidential election in Zimbabwe, having gained 56.2% of the vote, compared with 42% for his principal rival, Mr Morgan Tsvangirai. The official turnout was 3,130,913 votes, or 55.9% of the electorate.

However, the Commonwealth observer group in Zimbabwe has strongly condemned the country's presidential election, saying it was held in a climate of fear. The Nigerian chairman of the observer group, former military ruler General Abdusalami Abubakar, said its preliminary conclusion was that there had not been a free expression of will by the electorate.

It is to be hoped that this conclusion will, at last, lead to the suspension (at the least) of Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth. To date the Commonwealth has, to put it no stronger, vacillated outrageously in its analysis of what has (according to all the credible evidence) been going on in that country - you can read my earlier report on this matter by clicking here.

Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, it is unlikely to be so straightforward.

Whilst the Commonwealth observer group's statement echoes the declarations of Western nations and election observers following Wednesday's announcement of the result, it is in sharp contrast to the views of many African nations. The group says thousands of Zimbabweans were prevented from voting and a systematic campaign of intimidation against opposition supporters "created a climate of fear and suspicion". It also says it was particularly concerned about the activities of paramilitary youth groups. Laws used to prevent campaigning by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), and the ruling Zanu-PF party's exclusive use of state television to promote its message, are also highlighted. The report was published as South Africa's Deputy President, Jacob Zuma, went to Zimbabwe for talks with government leaders.

Those who take a different view:

The Commonwealth observer group's main supporters are western nations; let's be quite blunt about this - they are the 'white' nations and (apart from the Commonwealth observer group itself) those who think the election was 'hunk-dorey' are 'black' African nations and many (with the notable exception of South Africa) have domestic political systems which are perhaps less than totally stable or democratic:

While the controversy rages around him, Mr Mugabe is remaining quiet. Expectations that he would make an address on state-run television on Wednesday were confounded. There is still no official word on when he might speak. It could simply be that the 78-eight-year-old leader is waiting to take account of local and international reaction before commenting, or that he has come under pressure from fellow southern African leaders not to inflame an already tense situation. Equally, it could be an assertion of power. The veteran leader will speak when it suits him, rather than when he is expected to do so. If history is anything to go by, Mr Mugabe is likely to try to adopt a statesman-like tone. The opposition does not recognise the election result, and Zimbabwe faces further international sanctions. Short of offering to form a government of national unity, there is little Mr Mugabe can say to heal the wounds of his scarred and impoverished country, and after the rhetoric of recent months, the chances of that appear slim.

The key to this whole mess is most probably South Africa, because it is the economic powerhouse of that part of Africa. Were Nelson Mandela still the president, I would be a great deal more optimistic about the immediate future of Zimbabwe, but as the matter is now in the hands of President Thabo Mbeke, like President Mugabe a person who shared Marxist beliefs, I think that the tragedy that has been developing in Zimbabwe for a number of years has far from reached its full extent.

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 Copyright © 2002 William Cameron