Wednesday, 17 May 2017

2017 Election Campaign: On Israel and Palestine

I have received letters from various correspondents for my views on Israel and Palestine.  Here is the Liberal Democrat view from our 2017 manifesto.

“[We] Remain committed to a negotiated peace settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which includes a two-state solution. We condemn disproportionate force used by all sides. We condemn Hamas’ rocket attacks and other targeting of Israeli civilians. We condemn Israel’s continued illegal policy of settlement expansion, which undermines the possibility of a two-state solution. We support recognition of the independent State of Palestine as and when it will help the prospect of a two-state solution.”

My personal view coincides with the party view insofar I condemn force used in all cases apart from self-defence. Disproportionate force is never right, nor is the targeting of civilians.  Any civilians.

As a liberal, I condemn the suppression of equal rights and any form of discrimination or threat, whether it occurs in Israel, occupied territories or anywhere across the world.

Where I potentially disagree with party policy is the pursuit of a two-state solution. Owing to Israel’s policy of settlement expansion (illegal under international law), there is now not enough land left to a potential Palestinian state to make it viable.  Pragmatically, all I want to see is a country where all citizens have equality under the rule of law and protection against discrimination.  The current situation is a long way from that.  For evidence of Israel’s attitude to a twin-state solution, I suggest the reader researches the siting of the proposed Palestinian airport.  Under a variety of proposals, not once has Israel offered Palestinian control of the airport.  This is not sovereignty on offer.

As for whether I back broad economic and cultural sanctions against Israel, the answer is that I do not.  While the Palestinian people are undoubted are under oppression, citizens of Israel are under compulsion.  Failure to undertake compulsory service in the military either results in a prison sentence or removal of rights following a diagnosis of mental incapacity.  Sanctions tend to hit the most vulnerable of the affected society and this in turn will, in my view, only increase the suffering of all people and reinforce nationalist opinion.  Besides, the material effect of sanctions would be debatable unless the USA were to undertake them and this is not going to happen.

In my view, the root cause of the continuing conflict is that of weapons.  Both from reading and my own experiences in Israel, the nation “benefits” from being lavishly supplied by weapons, not all of which are declared openly.  For an historic example, please refer to Robert Fisk’s book The Great War For Civilisation - The Conquest of the Middle East (search Hellfire missile) and my own experiences in country (see links below).  I do not support ongoing UK co-operation with the Israeli arms industry.

I feel desperately sorry for all people involved in this ongoing conflict.

Below I offer a selection of blog posts outlining my own experiences while in Israel.

Blog links:

Campaign Facebook page:

Saturday, 13 May 2017

General Election 2017: Reply to Concerns on Animal Welfare and Fox Hunting

Thank you for your recent email on animal welfare. 

The Scottish Liberal Democrats are strong supporters of animal welfare and will continue to protect wildlife, pets and farm animals in the next parliament.

Up to 2015, Liberal Democrats at Westminster were able to make significant progress on improving animal welfare. Many of these achievements affect the whole of the UK, including the ending of housing hens in battery cages and tackling the smuggling and illegal trade of wildlife through the Border Force.  Previously, I have visited livestock farms in the Pentland Hills and seen best practice at work.  I know that animals can be both treated well and see farmers with a fair deal.

Wildlife crime remains a significant problem and I am pleased that, as part of the Coalition government, Liberal Democrats made the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) one of its wildlife crime priorities. However, further action is needed to ensure that penalties are properly applied and prosecutions, where necessary, are carried out. 

On your particular point on fox hunting, this is a retrograde step by Thesesa May’s Conservatives. I would have no problem supporting the views on the constituents of Edinburgh North and Leith in blocking the reintroduction of fox hunting from Westminster.  As an MP however and owing to the nature of devolution, I would have little power over Scottish legislation and therefore I suggest a direct approach to current SNP minister responsible, Roseanna Cunningham, at Holyrood.

In general though, I am willing to work across party lines to deliver improved conditions for all animals in the United Kingdom, whether they are domesticated or wild.

Kind regards,

Martin Veart
Edinburgh North and Leith
Scottish Liberal Democrats

Campaign Facebook page: 

Friday, 12 May 2017

2017 Election Campaign: Refugees and the UK Arms Trade

[Original Post from]

Today Tim Farron announces LibDems plans to accept 50,000 Syrian refugees.

I have no problem with the UK taking more refugees. The problem I have is the UK's role in creating refugees. We should not be supporting any side in the wars in the Middle East. I have worked and travelled in the region (and beyond) over the decades. My fear is, which have been confirmed by Michael Fallon on the Today Programme this morning, is that we are selling weapons purely for profit and, in doing so, enable the continuation of the wars. Saudi Arabia hasn't been threatened by Yemen but Fallon claimed this in order to justify the continued bombing of Yemeni cities using UK-made weapons.
The Second Gulf War started in 2003. There has been no peace in the region since then, despite being flooded by weapons from the USA and Europe, including the UK. After 14 years of continuous conflict, no one is speaking of peace. The language of politics is becoming increased more belligerent. 
Now the UK is the second largest arms manufacturer after the USA, but our armed forces continually complain of lacking equipment. So where is all these weapons going? If the wars stop, what will happen to our industries? What will happen to the US economy?
Continuous warfare is no basis for a long term economic strategy. It is a recipe for a long term refugee problem.

Campaign Facebook page: 

Thursday, 11 May 2017

2017 Election. Campaign Blog 10 May 2017.

[Original post from]
My papers are in and, in the eyes of the law, I am now your Liberal Democrat candidate for Edinburgh North and Leith for the general election to be held on the 8th of June, 2017.
While campaigning over the past few years, and living in Edinburgh from 2008, I have come to know and appreciate this city and the people. Perhaps it is na├»ve of me, but we are often told that the public, us, demand a new type of politics. I’m ready for that. I’m listening.
I know that the constituency has many concerns. In West Pilton and Muirhouse, there simply isn’t enough of anything: shops, recreational facilities, doctors’ surgeries. In Leith we have some of the most tightly packed residential housing in Europe. In New Town, property prices are so high that the diversity of the area is under threat as the young are simply being priced out of the market. Everywhere, old housing stock is expensive to heat and our heritage status means that it is even more challenging to upgrade the energy efficiency of our housing stock. Around where I live at Western Harbour, I have had to call the police several times in the past year as I have witnessed attempted break-ins. 
Being part of this community means listening to everybody who lives and works here. So what I will do is keep this page open, even beyond the election. If there is an issue you want to bring to my attention, or if you want my view upon a particular topic, just get in contact. I won’t pretend to have the answers to everything. Some of you will disagree with some of my views. But I am here to help, as best I can and, if elected, I will seek to represent you

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Casanova, Northern Ballet (Festival Theatre: 23 – 25 March ’17)

[Below is the text of my review which first appears on the review website]

Casanova, a brand new ballet on it’s world premier tour, choreographed by Kenneth Tindall in his first major work. This could have gone either way  but be reassured: this is a really exciting piece.

The story itself is based upon the life of Giacomo Casanova, taken from Ian Kelly’s biography of Casanova. It starts with Casanova (Giuliano Contadini), a trainee priest, intent upon following his vocation when he meets musicians the Savorgnan Sisters, Nanetta & Marta (Abigail Prudames and Minju Kang). Together the sisters seduce the young priest and take his virginity. Upon discovery, Casanova is cast out of the seminary with only his violin and a book: a forbidden text given to him by Father Balbi (Jeremy Curnier), a renegade priest who, being hunted by Inquisition, offloads the book on to the young man.

What follows is a story of the rise and fall of Casanova, first in his native Venice and afterwards again in Paris after being forced to flee by the Inquisition. Casanova takes himself seriously: he is an intellectual, a mathematician and a social climber. Ultimately though it is a story of talent wasted through dissipation and through that, he loses the women who loved him and whom he loves in turn: Henriette (Hannah Bateman) and Manon Balletti (Ayami Miyata). 

In the central role of Casanova, Contadini (almost literally) carries the entire production. This is an incredibly demanding performance, having to show a wide range of emotions, the intellectual acuity, the boredom of unending lust and upmost despair to the brink of self destruction. Contadini is a good choice: the proportions of his Italian frame adds a level of authenticity to the production. The role itself is incredibly physical, one of the toughest I have seen for a male dancer, so it is with little wonder that was the slightest sign of fatigue by the end. As Henriette, Bateman’s performance is very moving and, as the nun M.M., Ailen Ramos Betancourt is extremely seductive. The cast delivered their roles wonderfully in a fabulous ensemble performance. Casanova should be sexy and frankly this lot are sex-on-a-stick. Christopher Oram (Costume and Set design) really delivers on this point: creating dance costumes that invoked the 18th. Century while being as revealing as a Berlin cabaret. His set is extremely versatile, which along with the change in lighting (Alastair West) allows the action to be set in the grandeur of Venice, the glitter of Paris and the dungeons of the Inquisition. 

The whole production is driven, almost relentlessly, by the score written by Kerry Muzzey. Again the music is modern while being true to the roots of the period.  For this writer it brought back memories of the film The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover.  The music certainly is cinematic in quality, which is reasonable given this is Muzzey’s background. One audience member was heard to say afterwards “You could have watched that blind. The music!”  Kenneth Tindall is reported as saying that he approached Muzzey to create the music because neither of them have had the experience of creating a major production for ballet before. It shows, but not in a bad way. If one is used more to the Russian style, the choreography perhaps lacks the ostentation and even some of the elegance in comparison. Instead the audience is offered something a lot more visceral and therefore more approachable. During the interval I met a friend in the audience who had never seen a ballet before. Her eyes were glowing as she said “It is sooo awesome!”

In Casanove, Tindall has created a new ballet which is quickly going to be accepted as a modern classic. 

Friday, 17 February 2017

Global Population and Energy

I had not heard of Hans Rosling before I saw his 2013 programme Don’t Worry: The Truth about Population which the BBC re-aired after Rosling’s death this month at the age of 68.  It was really impressive: a great communicator and a first-class mind has left us.  My condolences to Rosling’s family and colleagues.

What Rosling has to say though about population growth is vital for all of us to understand if we care about humanity’s future.  The planet will be fine: over geological time it has seen many mass extinctions.  After a few million years there is always a flurry of evolution as descendants of surviving species exploit the available ecological niches and, in their turn, evolve into new species.  If this happens, then the chances are that humanity will not be around to see it.  No, it is what Rosling said about the population growth by 2100 that must concern us.

Before watching his lecture, I was led to believe that global human population would be capped by available resources at nine billion.  Apparently it is not so, as Rosling is predicting a population of eleven billion by 2100 and probably continuing to rise, albeit more slowly, thereafter. Currently the world is at seven billion - an increase of three billion during my own lifetime. Population levels have already stablished in the northern nations: Europe, North America and Russia.  Latin America and Africa will see a doubling of their populations but Asia will see the bulk of new people.  This growth is not led by large families either.  Rosling points out that even in 2013, the average family in Bangladesh only has 2.5 children.  No, it is through most of us living longer that the the numbers of humanity will continue to growth.  Failing some drastic cataclysm, the momentum is now unstoppable.

Today we are in a world where the first stresses of this population rise are being felt.  The northern nations are the first to be living longer and having fewer children so our populations are stable, if not falling slightly as the old start to outnumber the young.  On the whole, people are defensive when it comes to foreigners and it is that that is leading to the rise of nationalism in all parts of the north: Putin, Trump, May and Le Pen.  This will only be a phase though as the momentum of humanity will ultimately be too great for such barriers to withstand.  The more serious struggle will be that of resources.

In my own field, that of energy, part of the social-conservative backlash has been directed against the new technologies of renewable energy.  I recently put up a comment on Twitter pointing out that while there is nothing wrong with the government investing in a new centre to maximise the exploration of North Sea oil and gas, they have severely cut investment in renewable energy at the same time.  Responses I got back were “Good: anything that requires a subsidy is a waste of time” and, more succinctly, “Green crap.”  Both responses come from the same source: social conservatism.  Or as a Tea Party member once told me: “All we want is simple.  Leave us the hell alone.”  That is not going to happen but it is nothing to do with political ideas.  It would be through weight of numbers.

There is also resistance from developing nations too.  Many see that the North has built wealth on the back of fossil fuels but now a section of us are saying that renewable energy is the only viable future.  The suspicion is that this is just a cover for the North to keep the fossil energy for themselves and slow down the economic development of people in the South.  “Why cannot we use oil and coal to generate wealth has you have done?” they ask.

Although the demise of fossils fuels have been predicted for some time, they will eventually run out.  If Rosling is correct and the population will rise even further than the often-cited nine billion, this will inevitably happen sooner rather than later.  That is an obvious problem for us all.  For instance, there is not one scenario being offered to the UK government that does not involve fossil fuels.  That is including from Friends of the Earth.  Even they cannot see a society model that, by 2050, we have cut our dependency on fossil fuels by more than fifty percent from current levels of consumption.  What happens to human civilisation when we are literally burning up our last scraps of coal?  I do not know but considering out current state, there cannot be a good outcome.

How much do we have left?  According to my current lectures at Heriot Watt University, the planet has about 40 years of oil, 50 years of gas and 90 years of coal left to use.  This is based upon rising demands for energy up to 2035.

Perhaps at this point I should address the basic issue about finite fuels.  After all, we always seem to be able to find more of the stuff.
Coal, oil and gas comes from the buried fertility of life on the planet.  Soon after the first plants were able to leave the seas and colonise land, there was an explosion of life. (Remember what I said about ecological niches being occupied?).  The first forests formed about 360 million years ago, during the geological period known as the Carboniferous.  Although there are coal reserves from younger periods (such as the lignites of Poland), it is mostly the remains of these ancient first forests we are burning.  Dry gas is associated with these coal beds.  That is the source of the gas fields of the Netherlands and the Southern North Sea.

In contrast, oil comes the biological productivity of ancient oceans.  The Northern North Sea oil comes from the Kimmeridge Clay, a carbon (fossil) rich layer of mud laid down only over a few million years about 155 million years ago.  Different areas of the world will have different sources but roughly similar mechanics.  The source rocks for the Gulf area (Saudi Arabia, UEA, Kuwait, Iraq and Iran) were laid down over a protracted length of time (about 80 million years!) during the formation and destruction of the an ancient ocean called the Tethys.  That is why about half the world’s oil reserves are to be found in this region.  As these muds, rich in the remains of marine plants and microscopic animals, are buried and heated, the chemical reactions start, over millions of years, to produce crude oil.  If that oil is heated further, wet gas is produced.  Heat it too much though and all the hydrogen is driven off, leaving only inert carbon.

Traditional drilling and oil exploration focuses upon finding the accumulations of this oil and gas as the fluids migrated and are trapped in rocks.  Fracking is only different insofar that the hydrocarbons still trapped in the original source rocks are freed up by mechanically breaking up the mudstones.   The point is about fracking is that after the source rocks have been exploited, there is nowhere else to go.  Fracking is a symptom that the sponge is starting to be squeezed in order to extract the final drops.

What of nuclear though?  Current power stations are based upon the fission of uranium.  This technology is problematic because of the weaponisation of byproducts.  Nuclear weapon technology is jealously guarded, even if that particular genie is out of the bottle.  However, this particular blog is about energy and not nuclear weapons.  Although there is plenty of uranium left in the planet, most of it is beyond the reach of human extraction. Only small quantities are trapped in the Earth’s crust and therefore mineable.  Current reserves are thought to be good for another seventy years.  Thorium is a far more plentiful element but there has been little investment in extracting the power contained within it.  Probably because its byproducts has far more difficult to weaponise.

In short, the world is not expected to have a single finite source of fossil energy expected to last beyond this century.

I haven’t even started to talk about what burning all these ancient reserves are doing to the climate.  The big question is:
Is mad-made climate change, caused by the burning of fossil fuels, real?

Quick answer is yes.  Yes, it is real.

Climate-change deniers use the figure that “only” ninety seven percent of scientists claim that climate change is man-made and that they speak for the brave three percent.  Even this is a lie.

Have a look at this graph from  Climate change deniers have had zero impact on the scientific debate on the evidence.  This means that there is either a global conspiracy involving millions of scientists or, more likely, the evidence for man-made global warming is effectively unanimously accepted by those who consider the evidence.

Climate change deniers also point to natural climate change variation during geological time.  This indeed happens.  The next graph, from the University of Berne, shows the natural carbon dioxide level (CO2) over the past 60,000 years in terms of parts per million (ppm).  The ramp up from 20,000 to 12,000 years ago covers the period of glacier melting at the end of the last Ice Age.  The spike, right at the end, covers the last two hundred years up to 2004 - the period of the industrial revolution.  In 2016 CO2 have now past the 400 ppm.  As explained previously, the majority of fossil fuel energy which as been locked up in the planet’s crust is now being liberated into the atmosphere.  

CO2 is a vital atmospheric component for preserving solar radiation and keeping the planet warm and habitable.  Never in the course of geological history however has there been such a rapid and concentrated injection of CO2 into the planet’s atmosphere and all scientists expect the result to be rapid increases in global temperatures.  These changes in temperature will not be evenly spread but will see higher rises at the poles and more modest increases over the equator.  The effect upon habitats and ecosystems are also expected to be drastic as most species cannot react quickly enough to such rapid change.  Sea levels will also rise, mostly due to thermal expansion of ocean waters.

These are the challenges.  What is to be done?

If we do not do anything, human society is in for a very rough time that will effect us all, even social conservatives.  It is possible to do nothing to address the energy situation but then one is into a series of short-term military interventions, killing millions without any permanent solutions.  It is possible that in the face of huge population growth, usable energy will give out almost completely, leading to catastrophic problems in food production and supply. 

I tend not to be a doom-monger though.  Even without wilful negligence of current conservative thinking, solutions often still arise.  Again though, these tend to be short term and limited in scope, especially in democratic systems.  Authoritarian systems such as China do have an advantage when performing long-term planning.  The Chinese are indeed one of the highest investors in renewable energy technology.  This is perfectly understandable because their own history shows the negative results that social upheaval can have.  People tend to remember only the Second World War and the Communist revolution but they also remember events like the Taiping Revolution: one of the bloodiest civil wars in global history.  The challenge for Western nations is achieving desirable long-term outcomes without having to resort to dictatorship and the crushing of individual human rights.

Therefore I call upon all governments, but especially nationalist governments in the west, to first of all accept the scientific evidence and give no heed to climate change deniers.  The same can also to be asked of the mass media organisations.  Giving equal weight to the deniers is not upholding their right to free speech, it is simply propagation of a lie.  I am not going to stop people to state there is no such thing as global warming: it is just that they are simply wrong and are continuing to say so in the light of all available evidence.

Secondly, once the evidence is accepted as real, act upon it.  This does not mean leaving it to the market place.  Wise government is able to foresee trouble ahead and act in good time to minimalise the worst outcomes.  If this means having to subsidise prices from renewable energy resources and invest in energy storage research, then do it.

Thirdly, this appeal is to both governments and green activists.  We will need all the resources available to us over the next century.  This includes fossil fuels and nuclear.  Do not arbitrarily block  the exploitation of these reserves.  They will be needed.  Instead we need a long term policy approach to manage these resources, having them last as long as possible while taking measures to minimalise the effects of CO2 release: either through carbon capture or keeping the carbon in situ while releasing the hydrogen for energy usage.  We cannot have a position where hydrocarbons are bad: renewables good.  Yes, we need to maximise our investment and research in renewables but we will also still have to use fossil fuels.

By nature, I am not a pessimist.  These are huge challenges but, if we are smart, we as a species and civilisation, may be able to get through this next century.  We all need to wake up, look to the future and not harken either back to the past or some green nirvana that can never be.  We all need to accept and act upon the evidence.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Preserving Oilfield History

Last week I gave a lecture to a small audience of post-graduate students at Heriot-Watt’s Institute of Petroleum Engineering.  The topic was on an obscure branch of geophysics (known as borehole seismic) and the life of a oilfield service hand.  It is not my intent to write upon the topic here, you will be glad to learn.

While researching what is effectively personal history, I really found the limits of both my own records and that of the Internet.  The workhorse of Western Atlas for borehole seismic work was a tool system called an MRL - Multi-Level Receivers.  It simply does not exist online.  At least Google cannot find it.  As employees and contractors, we were never encouraged to photograph our work places.  Partly a safety issue - unrated electrical items can potentially cause a spark of radio transmissions trigger an explosive, but in the main oil companies simply do to encourage photography of their installations and business practices.  It is only when I was trawling through my old files and albums do I realise how diligent I have been in obeying such corporate edicts.

Since then, I have put out an appeal to colleagues to share their old pictures, especially those of older technology.  It is not that I have any strong sentiment attached to these tools: most are heavy and inferior to today’s offerings and I spent far too much of my life dragging the damn things around in tropical heat, North Sea gales and winter ice.  As a record of industrial history though, the records are already starting to fade.  They are already hardly known and will be lost completely if people like me do not organising and compiling their files.

Some of my friends have already been in contact and are willing to share their records, which is great.  I hope more of you get in contact.  This blog post has a wider appeal though.  If you work with specialised equipment, if might be worth while having a think now about the memory of the tools and the work practices are preserved for posterity.

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Photo credit: Alex Rennie.