Recent speculation about a new oil find in the Clare field west of Shetland has caused a backlash amongst the commentariat. Both the Spectator’s Alex Massie and the Herald’s David Leask were gleefully mocking about the idea that the UK government could, conceivably, have it in them to re-frame, disclose or distort a big oil find. This was just laughable and anybody exploring the notion was fair game to be ridiculed.
I have no idea about oil, and I doubt whether in today’s day and age David Cameron could conceal a trip to Scotland successfully. But it seems pretty clear from industry sources that a very large new oil find has been discovered. Don’t take the word of a crazed Nat bloggers like me, a report published in March this year by those wild-eyed gooks over at Investors Chronicle, part of the FT group, described Lancaster and Whirlwind as “major discoveries” and concluded that “abundant new and under-explored plays could yield significant resources.”
So lets dispense with the conspiracy theories. It wasn’t covered up and there isn’t a D notice.
But what else is going on here?
Leask and Massie’s responses smack of the supremely comfortable wing of the UK:OK mindset. In the world of Pangloss, from Candide, all is for the best in this best of possible worlds. Or if you want a more up to date version: Everything is Awesome.
In this world the very notion that the British Government, would, or could try and distort or manipulate affairs is simply preposterous. It’s the wild rantings of febrile Nationalist paranoia. Online writers looking at the collapse of Rangers FC were subject to the same dismissive contempt as that particular story unfolded. From way up on high they were ridiculed by the Fourth Estate, the same journalists who had joked and dined with their masters at Ibrox before the whole rotten edifice collapsed around them, and lo and behold the silly online amateurs were right, and the Succulent Lamb professionals were wrong again and again as the biggest story in Scottish sport history passed them by.
But if Leask and Massie seem to suffer from a sense of smug entitlement, what is the evidence for their ridicule? Is it ridiculous that the British State might try and get up to ‘dirty tricks’?
Extraordinary allegations about the Elm House Guest House – the horrendous role of M15 and the RUC in covering up child abuse at Kincora Boys Home in Northern Ireland (‘Kincora abuse investigation stopped by MI5 says ex-army officer‘) – Zircon – the Stalker Inquiry – the attempts to destabilise the Wilson government by the security services – or more recently the collusion of GCHQ exposed by Edward Snowden, to name but a handful of examples, all show concrete real-world examples of British State operating beyond the law and against its citizens. These facts are now uncontested.
These isn’t some fanciful paranoid statement, these are examples of a way of operating, proven again and again over recent decades.
This doesn’t prove anything about oil fields or British government secrecy, but it does prove that to laugh at such suggestions dismissively is just lazy journalism.
This is parapolitics not conspiracy theory. This is about the media. As Robin Ramsay wrote (‘Getting it right: the security agencies in modern society’):
“Meanwhile MI6 have returned to planting disinformation in the British media – most of it that I can see is going into the Sunday Telegraph. Tomlinson* told us about the 20-strong I/Ops – Information Operations – unit in that shiny building on the Thames. But its existence had been visible for a long time. It is increasingly difficult to take the talk of official secrets seriously. The Sunday Telegraph of 24 September carried two pieces from MI6. There was a puff piece by former MI6 officer Alan Petty, using his nom de plume Alan Judd, on the MI6 building in the wake of the IRA attack on it; and there was the latest in the long line of anti-Gaddafi pieces, this one claiming that Libya now has some North Korean ballistic missiles. The only stated source for the allegation was a ‘Western intelligence official’.
But four months before, on 28 May 2000, the Sunday Times article ‘IRA investors make 300% profit out of Gaddafi cash donations’, sourced back to ‘MI5 documents seen by The Sunday Times‘, concluded by telling us that Swiss police were ‘investigating the supply to Libya from Taiwan of plans and parts for Scud missiles.’ Well, does Gaddafi have Taiwanese Scuds (MI5 story planted in the Sunday Times) or North Korean missiles (MI6 story planted in the Sunday Telegraph)?
Sometimes these MI6 planted stories are really laughable. The Sunday Telegraph of 30 July carried a story by Christina Lamb, ‘Diplomatic Correspondent’ which claimed that Saddam Hussein had sent belly dancing assassins to London to murder his opponents there. Lamb sourced this to ‘a Foreign Office official’, the traditional euphemism for MI6.
This may seem comic, frivolous even – at worst a waste of public money. But it’s more serious than that. The Sunday Times was a serious, respectable newspaper until Andrew Neil became its editor in the mid-1980s and turned it into a mouth-piece for MI5 and the MOD to run their rubbish through. The Sunday Telegraph shows all the signs of going down the same dangerous path. But then I’m an old-fashioned kind of a person who thinks the quality and independence of our mass media is important.”
Much of conspiracy theory is nonsense, from Chem Trails to the Yeti and back the internet is a fast breeding ground for all kinds of mentalness. There’s no surprise that the high-point of conspiracy theory coincided with the collapse of ideology. As people had no framework through which to make sense of the world, explore power relations and engage in serious analysis, they were open to manipulation and conjecture aimed at ‘the hidden hand’ and the secret world.
The truth is there is no secret, the rich are quite naked in their flaunting of their power. Why bother hiding it?
Churnalists and loyal scribes may laugh – for the Spectator and the Herald writer’s – It’s a Wonderful World! – but the reality is that Britain is desperate to keep hold of Scotland. It proves that each day. The truth is that Britain is a secretive state that covers stuff up. The gist from Leask and Massie is ‘leave it to us’ – it’s the same message handed down from Better Together – leave it to London and from the political classes in general: ‘leave it to us’.
That’s not really going to work any more.
* Richard Tomlinson whistle-blower, see WikiSpooks