Apr 062012

At the next meeting of Aberdeen CND on Monday 10th April, Jonathan Russell, Chair of Aberdeen CND and also a member of Campaign Against the Arms Trade, will be leading a discussion on the Arms Trade. The meeting will take place at 7.30pm on the Top Floor of the Belmont Cinema, Belmont Street, Aberdeen.

The arms trade is a deadly, corrupt business. It supports conflicts and human rights abusing regimes while squandering valuable resources which could be used to deal with the many social and environmental challenges we face here on Planet Earth. It does this with the full support of governments around the world, in particular the five permanent members of the United Nations  Security Council: the United States, Russia, France, China and the United Kingdom.

These are the very countries which are meant to be our global custodians, but are in fact the very countries which are feeding global insecurity and conflict.

While very few countries sell large volumes of weaponry, the buyers are spread across the world. Other than to the five permanent UN Security Council members, the largest buyers are in the Middle East and South East Asia. The arms themselves range from fighter aircraft, helicopters and warships with guided missiles, radar and electronic warfare systems, tanks, armoured vehicles, machine guns and rifles.

The common misconception is that it is the illegal trade that is damaging, while the legal trade is tightly controlled and acceptable. However, the vast majority of arms sold around the world including those to human rights abusing governments or into areas of conflict are legal and are supported by governments. In 2007 the value of legal arms around the world amounted to 60 billion dollars. The illegal market is estimated at 5 billion dollars:  many illegal weapons end up as legal weapons.

The arms trade exists to provide weapons to those who can pay for them. What the buyers do with the arms, what political approval the sales signify, and how money could be better spent appears irrelevant to the arms companies and our governments. The UK Government’s 2010 Human Rights Annual Report identified 26 countries of concern. In that year the UK approved arms licences to 16 of these.

There’s a sense that in the past we were embarrassed about supporting defence exports. There’s no such embarrassment in this Government.

David Cameron was in the Middle East on a high-profile mission to sell arms when the democracy movement started in the Middle East. Selling arms to a country in conflict whether internal or external makes the conflict more deadly and longer lasting.
If there is tension between countries or within a country, then arms purchases are likely to increase this tension and make actual conflict more likely.

Even when conflict has ended, arms, particularly small arms, may remain in large numbers (as in Libya at present), fuelling further conflicts and/or criminal activity.

Every year the UK Government authorises the sale of arms to well over 100 countries. This is hardly surprising given that it is Government policy to vigorously support arms exports. Peter Luff, Minister of Defence Exports in the present UK Government, has stated that:

“There’s a sense that in the past we were embarrassed about supporting defence exports. There’s no such embarrassment in this Government.”

Arms companies and Government are inseparable when it comes to selling arms. The Government’s UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) department is a vital element of UK’s arms dealing. In 2008 the Government opened the Defence and Security Organisation which promotes weaponry on behalf of arms companies. There are 158 civil servants in the Defence and Security Organisation while other non-arms sectors have137 staff. This is despite arms accounting for less than 1.5 Percent of UK exports.

• Arms export jobs as a percentage of total employment:  0.2%
• Arms as a percentage of exports:  1.5 %
• UK Government Research Expenditure Spent on Arms:  27%
• UK trade and investment staff committed to selling arms:  54%

Research carried out for Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) by the Stockholm International Peace Institute assesses the level of subsidy by Government to the arms trade in the UK to be around £700 million a year.  In 2010 the UK Government issued 10,850 arms export licences, refused 230, and revoked 14.

Half of the refusals related to proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, with a maximum of 76 being revoked on the grounds that they contributed to internal repression, internal conflict or regional instability. Foreign office embassies also promote the arms sales, as do the Ministry of Defence armed services. Arms fairs are common in the UK and around the world.  The governments of host countries provides support for their arms firms.

Arms sales from the UK seem to vary from year to year:

• 2007    9651 million   (particularly high because of sales of Typhoon aircraft to Saudi Arabia)
• 2008    4367 million
• 2009    7261 million also high as included Typhoon support services to Saudi Arabia)
• 2010    5819 million

Of the 16 countries identified by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute as locations of major conflict in 2009, the UK sold arms to 12.

Columnist Will Self –  “War, the arms trade and the abuse of language”

BAE arms are the UK’s main arms company and has military customers in over 100 countries. BAE’s focus over the past few years has been on increasing sales to the US, specifically targeting equipment for conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, and supplying Euro fighters and other arms to Saudi Arabia. BAE routinely supplies countries which the UK Foreign Office considers as having ‘the most serious wide-ranging human rights concerns’.

The casualties of conflict are now overwhelmingly civilian, increasing from 50% of war related deaths in the first half of the twentieth century to 90% near the end of the century.

The arms trade affects development both through the money wasted on arms purchased and through the conflicts fuelled by arms.

A study in 2007 by Oxfam of the economic cost of armed conflict to Africa estimated that Africa  loses around 18 billion dollars a year due to wars and that armed conflict shrinks an African nations economy by 15%.

As well as the direct effects of military spending, medical costs and the destruction of infrastructure, there are indirect costs on the  economy and employment suffers ( this does not take into account the countless human misery caused by loss of life and sustained injuries effecting families and friends as well as the individuals concerned).

The study estimated that the cost  of conflicts in Africa since 1990 was equivalent to the aid provided to them by major donors.

Even when conflict is not taking place money diverted to arms is a drain on government resources and takes away from vital spending on health education and infrastructure. The massive 1998 South African arms deals for aircraft, helicopters, warships and submarines cost the country over £8billion. Yet most of the population live in shanty towns and other poor housing and South Africans with HIV/AIDS were told that the country could not afford ant-retroviral medication.

Despite desperate poverty and its recent appalling history of armed struggle, the UK government is actively promoting arms struggle to Angola. The UK government not only approved arms exports to Angola it actively organised an “industry day’’ when HMS Liverpool docked in Angola waters and hosted Angolan political and military officials.

The arms trade causes countless misery in our world; it is a poor use of limited resources which should be used to make this world a better place. We need to question the thinking in the world that believes you only get what you want by force. The five members of the Security Council should start taking on their responsibilities and use conflict resolution rather than warfare to sort the many conflicts that take place both between and within countries.

May 122011

Voice’s Old Susannah, thrown by the absence of interesting local news this week, takes us on a humorous diversion and challenges our grasp of local knowledge.

Not much going on in the Granite City this week.   There is the lovely new £120,000 statue of Robert the Bruce for openers; I have seen people gasping at awe at this wonder.

Some old Lib Dem was found guilty of hanging about in a dodgy part of town at night, apparently looking after the well-being of his younger constituents.
Then again, perhaps he was only after some votes or help with his polI.   There was also something about a deer cull, but I can’t recall what it was.  Doubtless the Council have everything in hand.

Perhaps it’s time for a bit of humour, and so here is the first (and maybe last) Old Susannah News Quiz.  The first correct entry drawn out of a hat wins a coffee date with Aileen Malone (to be confirmed), or failing that, I will plant a tree in my garden in the winner’s name.   Or buy you a Brewdog (proof of age required.  Drinking to excess can cause health problems and leave you looking like some of our councillors.  Don’t vote on important issues while drinking).

Good luck.  Actually – good luck to us all.


Question 1: Billionaire Sir Ian Wood had his photo in the Evening Express this week on the occasion of having been put on the UK’s rich list.  He posed in front of a verdant green background ablaze with red flowers, against a dramatic Aberdeen city centre skyline.  Where was this eyesore, and what should become of it?

Question 2: Match the cartoon character in Aberdeen with their fictional counterpart

a.  Dolores Umbridge – in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter novels Umbridge is described as short, squat, looking like a toad, and is often wearing pink sweaters (in an attempt to look a bit feminine).  She has iron-coloured curls, and works for the Government.  She is more often than not hurting the vulnerable and abusing her government office.  She wants to dominate everyone around her, and is a supporter of the forces of evil.

b.  Boss Hogg –  from the Dukes of Hazzard TV series and movie, this jumped up little man has his finger in every pie.  Greedy, scheming, unethical, always trying to own everything in the county.  Folically challenged, Boss Hogg often wore silly things on his head to disguise his baldness.  This short-of-stature villain was also short on morals and treated the police as his paid flunkies.

c.   Cruella deVil – a coarse, cruel, scheming woman out to destroy innocent creatures for her own strange fulfilment.  Willing to stop at nothing to achieve her bloody ends.  Frightening to children of all ages.

d.  Father Ted – who can forget grey-haired Father Ted and the rest of Craggy Island’s inhabitants?  Father Ted, for all his scheming and quests for money, was always caught with his hand in the kitty, and was forever forced to explain financial conundrums.  “The money was only resting in my account” was his frequent catchphrase.

Fictional figures:

A.  Former Councillor Scott Cassie – he and his wife are helping police with their enquiries about a wee bit of missing money.  This didn’t stop Cassie from voting on some crucial recent issues (I seem to think I saw him at the Loirston Loch hearing).  Alas, he will no longer have a street named after him.  However, there is a rumour that one of the Cayman Island Banks now offers a ‘Scott Cassie Emergency Fund’ account.

B.  Millionaire Propety Typhoon Stewart Milne – loads of money, just not enough to spend on improving AFC’s team or – heaven forfend – to solve the deer cull crisis at one go.  Good at buying property at less than market value from our ever-vigilant City Council.  Value for Money indeed.

C.  The Nation’s sweetheart Aileen ‘Ho’Malone – Who can forget her brave stance on the deer cull issue?  She alone was not afraid to stifle Nigg Community Council (and yours truly) from speaking this week before the Committee she convenes decided to shoot the deer.  She is all hart, and with her doe-eyed stare, her inner compassion and honesty shine through.  I wonder if she has any fur coats?

D.  Go-getting Kate Dean – Planning supremo.  What can I say about this woman that hasn’t already been said (or that would pass the censors)?  ‘I was elected to do a job, and I’m going to do it’ was her rallying-cry during the cuts protests.  When she is going to start doing what she was elected to do (or resign) is anyone’s guess.

Question 3: What percentage of £50,000,000 (the sum Sir Ian promises for his Union Terrace Garden parking lot) would £225,000 (the sum demanded not to shoot the Tullos Hill Roe deer) represent?  Is it:  a. 10%,   b. 1%,  c. .5%  or  d.  0.5%?

Question 4: Which is an endangered species:  The Tullos Hill Roe Deer or the Liberal Democrats, which were so badly wounded in the recent election.  Deer, Dems – or both?

Question 5: Tiebreaker (answer question of your choice):  How many Liberal Democrats does it take to change a lightbulb?  Why did the LibDem cross the road?


I trust you will all forgive me (or maybe you’re glad) that I am putting in a shorter than usual piece this week.  I’ve been busy fighting the forces of evil, and in pursuing a Freedom of Information appeal, which may yet prove very interesting.  Can’t say more than that yet.

But I can say thank you to those people in the media (Danny Law especially), all the campaigners (you know who you are), and the four brave  councillors who stood up for the deer.  One thing I will say is that the issue will not, despite HoMalone’s wishes, go away.

May 062011

Voice’s Old Susannah casts her eye over recent events, stories, and terms and phrases familiar as well as freshly ‘spun’, which will be forever etched in the consciousness of the people of Aberdeen and the Northeast.

Old Susannah checked her mailbox every day for the past few weeks, but never did get the invitation to the royal wedding.

I still went to London – not to stand out side of the palace to look at two people kissing, mind you – but just to see some friends and catch up on the latest fashions.  Just as well I didn’t go – I would have been wearing the same outfit and hat as Princess Beatrix (you remember the giant beige bow on her head?).

At the end of the day, I can safely say I was as emotional about the wedding as the rest of you .

Then it was time to vote.  The votes are still rolling at while I am writing; no doubt there will be some surprises.  Next year’s election will be key for Aberdeen; if we can only persuade the talented, selfless, intelligent individuals we have in the City Council to stay in place, we can look forward to more of the same prosperity, open government, security and prestige that we have today.

You won’t be surprised to hear that the Tullos Hill Roe Deer are still very high on every thinking person’s agenda – on the 10th I will approach HoMalone and her Committee, asking for a chance to speak on the subject.

Theoretically I shouldn’t be allowed to – the official papers for the Committee don’t mention the deer (these people don’t like mentioning deer, do they – whether in public consultations, or to the Torry Community Council).

No doubt they will let me speak, now that they know that Torry Community Council was bypassed in this sad affair and have unanimously condemned the cull.  Malone is quoted in the P&J this week as saying if the money isn’t offered for fencing, then the deer die.  Still, she sent me an email saying the Committee members were going to vote on the cull.

It is almost as if she is not sure of what is going on.  Still, my being at the Council should give her and me a nice chance to chat and get to know each other.  I hope she will be very happy in the £60 million Marischal building at her new desk in her new chair, safe in the knowledge she saved the taxpayer £225,000 for fencing.

But on with some definitions….


Firstly, most of the police are simply trying to keep the peace and keep us safe.  Hats off to them.  A small minority however are working for the rich and powerful, and some are (literally) taking the piss – I refer to the young officer who tried to dilute his drink-drive urine sample with water – what would have happened to one of us had we been caught in similar circumstances?

1.  to support, fund, encourage – e.g. the Renaissance painters were patronised by the wealthy and powerful Borgia and DeMedici families.  2.  to treat someone as infantile or childlike, or as otherwise incapable of understanding – unusually used in a derogatory sense.

A few months ago, our Grampian police cars sported the Stewart Milne Company logo – people who saw these cars did a double-take and stopped smoking funny cigarettes for a while – and then conducted some research.

It turns out that Stewart Milne Group is patronising the police by actually giving them money for some form of initiative or other.  In return the police take Milne advertising on their cars.  I have never seen this before.  I think it is a great plan.  Perhaps the BNP can pay for some new riot gear/crowd control equipment?  Who knows where this patronising/advertising scheme can take us?

Coincidentally, a few months ago at the Loirston Loch development hearing, the cost of policing the brand-new stadium was discussed – and it was suggested that AFC would have to bear the costs of policing any events.  I almost thought a faint shadow crossed Mr Milne’s shiny forehead at the words.  How unfair!  After all, the stadium will be to everyone’s benefit: the locals, farmers, wildlife – so we taxpayers should be proud to contribute.  I may make an extra contribution and see if I can get the police to wear ‘Old Susannah’ or ‘Aberdeen Voice’ badges on their lapels – we shall see.  At any rate, it must have been my imagination, but at this suggestion of AFC paying policing costs,

Fast forward to 2nd May and the Press & Journal.  Our very own – or rather Stewart Milne’s very own Chief of Police, has made a statement that AFC stewards can handle everything, and police are not needed.  I will have to take his word on this – he is the expert.  Any comments he made will of course be free from the fact that Milne has patronised the police.  No doubt a few stewards will have the same training, crowd control and knowledge of our local constabulary.  I would be quite happy for the police to continue their normal duties (ie contacting social activists about their activities and ‘incidents’ – see below).

Things are now so safe and violence free in the world of Scottish Football that letter-bombs are being posted to football managers, little boys are headbutted for wearing the wrong team’s jersey, and behaviour at ‘Old Firm’ matches are reminiscent of candlelit suppers.

So yes, the police are being patronised by Milne.  This has no influence on them at all.  I wonder, though – why do I feel just a little patronised?


Verb.  to attempt to frighten with threats; to coerce, to deal with political activists.

I hope we are all behaving and keeping in line; if not, you might quite rightly get a social call from the police.

This may be to help them with an ‘incident’ or ‘inquiry’ about protest activity, your taking photos at Balmedie – sorry – Trumpland, or your publicising the fact Aberdeen City has one or two empty buildings which could be used.  The police will show up at  some convenient time, and to let you know they are not intimidating you, they might talk to your friends and employer.

If you have been so bold as to speak to security guards, then you will have some serious explaining to do – or that’s what some activists have just found out.  If this happens to you, you can always ask to go to the police station for a chat rather than having them in your home.  You can always call a lawyer and have them over should the police want a friendly word.  But you should never go public with such a visit – this might make the police involved look bad.  And we can’t have that.

Opportunity Theft:

Noun – a type of petty theivery facilitated by ease of access to the desired objects.

One October about 2-3 years ago, I  found a wallet with a fair amount of cash – but the ID was in Polish, and I had no clue how to contact the rightful owner.  So I dutifully turned it into the Grampian Police Station.

A woman in the lost and found property section (just through the door on the left as you enter the station) took the wallet.  She didn’t seem that keen to take my details, so I offered them.  I also asked her for a receipt, which she declined to give me – probably part of a cost-saving exercise so I thought.  Some weeks passed, and I called to find out if the wallet had been returned to its owner.  I spoke to a woman – I presume the same one who was extremely vague on  the subject.  “If the wallet isn’t claimed, you can have the money” she said.

A few months after that a small piece in the paper caught my eye:  a woman working for the police had been arrested for…. stealing items from the lost property section.  Apparently she had been ‘taking her work home with her’ over a number of months.  I guess a girl’s got to supplement her income somehow.  I have since found one or two other items – but if I can’t find out who owns them, then I hold onto them.

I don’t know what kind of sentence the woman received, but I am sure they will have wanted to make an example of her:  we can’t have bad cops can we?

Military Manoeuvre:

Noun – to practice for battle conditions by scaring the bejesus out of the locals.  Perhaps the invasion of northern Scotland is much more imminent than we realise:  the armed forces are continuously staging ‘exercises’ in our airspace.

We need exercises – it helps burn fuel, increase the demand for military equipment, and thus stimulates the economy.

The truly vigilant jet pilot on exercise will be poised to intercept any aircraft in his path in the interests of national security.  If any oil industry helicopters should happen to be in operation during a manoeuvre, then they get what they deserve.  The military can hardly be expected to tell the civil aviation authorities that an exercise is underway – it would spoil the surprise.

Last July a passenger-carrying offshore helicopter was involved in a near-miss with a Typhoon jet – the jet pilot obviously mistook the copter for an invasion force, perhaps from Greenland or Faroe.  Good on him – you can’t be too careful these days.  The cost of a Typhoon jet is about £90 million in case you’re looking for a last-minute gift.  There have been a few multimillion pound problems with delays, technical difficulties and the like – but I can speak for us all when I say we are much safer with these jets looking for enemies in our airspace.