A question I can answer easily –
Has Azeem Ibrahim the right to use his formidable intellect and business acumen to contribute to the Referendum Debate?
Answer: Undoubtedly, yes.
Two questions I can’t answer so easily –
Has Azeem Ibrahim the right to use his wealth to contribute to the debate?
Does Azeem Ibrahim believe he is neutral – or undecided - in the debate or is he committed to YES or No?
Answering them is complicated by the fact that the questions are inter-related, and in the timescale for the referendum, subject to legal constraint. He is free within any relevant legal constraint to donate to political parties that reflect his position on YES/NO, if indeed he has one.
If he has no position or is truly undecided, or wishes to remain neutral despite holding a specific position, he is free to donate to all parties, and to both the YES and No campaigns, again within any relevant legal constraints.
What I would argue is that no person is free to present themselves as neutral, to invest substantial resources which they claims are to facilitate and inform the debate, while in reality holding a preferred position and loading the dice heavily in favour of one side or the other. To do that would be to try to deceive the electorate and to circumvent the electoral law.
Has Azeem Ibrahim done this? Would he do such a thing consciously? I have no means of definitively answering the first question, because in a rapidly polarising debate in which I am highly partisan as a YES, my perceptions are inevitably coloured by my position, as would be those of any but the most heroically objective of YES voters.
But I do have an opinion on the second part of that – I do not believe he would do such a thing consciously or deliberately, because I believe on all the evidence of what I think I now know of the man that he is ethical, brave (no one can be a reservist in IVth Para without being brave!) a caring humanitarian, and that he truly has the interests of Scotland and Scotland’s people at heart. He had – and still has – the potential to make a major positive contribution to the referendum debate.
Yet I am left with the fact that, on everything I have seen and heard, in my perception the Scotland Institute is, to all intents and purposes, part of the NO campaign, from its launch through to Monday’s media launch of the Defence and Security paper, indeed it could almost be an extension of Ian Davidson MP’s Scottish Affairs Committee, which under the label of an objective UK Parliamentary committee, is openly partisan under a partisan Chair against what it calls the Separation of Scotland.
How can two such apparently contradictory beliefs of mine be reconciled?
The answer I believe lies in grand narratives, and I believe that Azeem Ibrahim, as he moved from being a successful businessman and financial entrepreneur and used his exceptional analytical powers to consider national and international politics, was swept into and ultimately seduced by the failed narratives of the US/UK/NATO military/industrial complex, and absorbed their flawed and dangerous values by a process of osmosis. I will go further, and say that exactly the same thing has happened to many academics and experts in the fields of strategic studies, international relations, departments of War studies, interagency, international security studies, etc. with the key difference that Dr. Ibrahim is rich enough to be immune to career and financial pressures.
Dr. Ibrahim is now Adjunct Research Professor at the Strategic Institute, and the US Army War College, served as an International Security Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and has recently been appointed as policy advisor to Imran Khan, the PM-in waiting of Pakistan – a nuclear state.
One might think Scotland was small beer in such exalted circles, but of course because of its strategic position as the postern gate of Europe and NATO’s crucial nuclear base, its possible independence and non-nuclear status, the removal of Trident WMD from Scotland and the consequential real possibility that rUK would be forced to abandon its nuclear deterrent, the organisations and countries listed above - in which Dr. Ibrahim plays a significant role - are anything but neutral about Scotland’s referendum.
At the very least, I believe Azeem Ibrahim is influenced subliminally by them, by their positions and attitudes, and may even have assimilated their values and world view to the point that his is indistinguishable from theirs. In either case, his behaviour in deciding the Scotland Institute’s priorities and focus cannot in my view be neutral or wholly objective.
If he wants to end such a perception, then his path is clear – he should simply make large, legal and equivalent donations to both the Better Together Campaign and YES Scotland, and offer the benefits of his intellect and strategic perspective as a speaker at key events in both campaigns – and he should wind up the Scotland Institute and Scots Politics.
Alternatively, he can come out firmly for one campaign or the other – YES or NO – and throw his considerable talent and influence behind the one he chooses. If he makes such a choice, I would ask him to reflect on the choice made by a great man in 1947, Muhammad Ali Jinnah - محمد علی جناح - as he established the independence of Pakistan from India – and from the British Empire.
(My analysis of the Defence and Security paper, planned for today or tomorrow, must be postponed in view of the length of this blog. My apologies!)