Monthly Archives: July 2014

IT’S THE GOVERNANCE, STUPID

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It’s the governance, stupid. This’s what should be printed on every Yes activist’s clipboard, bag and canvass sheet as we get into the business end of the referendum. Because, in the last few weeks what we’ve got to get across to every household in Scotland is the central question – from where should the Scottish people be governed, Westminster or Scotland? This is the supreme question- all others are secondary. The democratic deficit of Tory rule we didn’t vote for is the one thing that the Noes have done everything to keep out of the debate. For them the referendum is to be about anything else.

From the first moment they sat down to plan their campaign they concluded that if a No vote was to prevail, the Scottish people would have to be fearful and anxious with little confidence about the possible success of an independent Scotland. Their whole case has been predicated on the sapping of confidence and the sowing of doubts. The pillars of an independent Scotland cannot be guaranteed and it’s all a leap in the dark, is the gist of their message. It has been a rotten campaign, which has curiously sort-of worked, but spectacularly failed at the same time. They have managed to engineer several parameters of the debate and engaged an overwhelmingly compliant press onto their ‘questions’, which they believe critically hole the Yes case. But conversely, they have infuriated and driven many Scots away, who just won’t be told that they ‘can’t’ or that we ‘won’t’ and who have become nothing other than irritated by the incessant and increasingly ridiculous scare stories. What accounts as the ‘positive’ part of the campaign are vacuous themes of unity, solidarity, the ‘family of nations’ and the cross border symbolism of jointly created and managed institutions.

When the democratic deficit is put to them, the Noes half-heartedly suggest that some English ‘regions’ also don’t get the Government they vote for, and where that’s true, even they have the self-awareness to know how badly this goes down in the ‘nation’ of Scotland. Labour also tell us all we have to do is vote for them to address unwanted Tory rule, but all that does is demonstrate the full depth of the democratic deficit. We have already voted out all our Tories (bar one) and there is no more we can do. We have to hope for a result elsewhere, like a football team knowing its battle against relegation is out of its hands.

If we vote No, we willingly submit to continued Westminster rule and will just have to accept the Government that others will chose on our behalf. We will have lost the right to say that things can’t be done to our nation that we don’t approve of, because we will have handed over the right that allows them to do just that. In the last two UK elections UKIP came first and second. They are now tipped to win seats at the next election. If you didn’t like Cameron and Clegg, just imagine Cameron and Farage? Welcome to the possible next government you didn’t vote for, Scotland. That’s the democratic deficit. It’s the governance, stupid.

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DRIP, DRIP, DRIP

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): I have massive concerns about the Bill. I do not like the way in which it has been brought to the House. I do not like the way in which we have to rush through this process at breakneck speed, even though this is an issue that was flagged up to the Government some three months ago. I am suspicious about the reasons why we are doing all of this now. I do not like the fact that it seems little more than a half-hearted attempt to get around a European Court of Justice ruling that declared the European directive invalid and thereafter practically everything that the Government are doing on data retention probably illegal.

I am suspicious about the way in which all the UK parties and party leaders have been brought into line around these unspecified threats. That is reminiscent of the dark days of the creation of the anti-libertarian state by new Labour; unspecified threats were the things we had to address then. I particularly do not like the fact that the Scottish Government, who have responsibility
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for the judiciary, policing and even delivering parts of RIPA in Scotland, were not consulted about the Bill. Most of all, I do not like the way in which the Government are trying to pretend that this is just business as usual when it clearly is an extension of what the Government can do in the collection and retention of an individual’s personal data.

I want to take that last concern first. I listened very carefully to all the party leaders last week when this was presented. The Prime Minister said that the Government were not introducing “new powers or capabilities”, but clauses 3 to 5 make significant amendments to the range of powers included in RIPA. The Bill extends the Government’s surveillance powers in two very important ways. Clause 4 clearly extends the territorial scope of RIPA, and the Government can now issue interception warrants for communications data to companies outside the UK. It also extends the definition of what “telecommunications services” means within RIPA to include webmail services such as Gmail. The hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab), who is no longer in his place, said that the most fundamental change is in that relationship between ISPs and the state.

The Government must now come clean with the British people. This is not business as usual. These are significant and substantial new powers. The Bill is more than the sum of its parts. It is a statement of intent. The Home Secretary said as much last week when she introduced it. Her real intention is, of course, to reintroduce her much-coveted snoopers’ charter in this Bill. The way in which the Bill brings on board the overseas ISPs is little more than a paving Bill for the reintroduction of that most unwanted anti-civil libertarian measure.

There has been a lot of talk about what is and what is not included in the Court judgement. The Government have had three months to address the Court’s findings. It is not the threat of terrorism or of criminal activity that has forced the Government’s hand in bringing this forward today. It is the threat of legal action by organisations such as the Open Rights Group and others that has prompted this emergency legislation. The Government should not mislead us about the urgency of the Bill. Given its significance and the issues it raises about our civil liberties, it should not be passed without proper parliamentary scrutiny. Truncating the Bill in this way is nothing short of appalling. It does a massive disservice to our constituents who have taken a real interest in this.

We all agree that the targeted retention of communications data can help the police to tackle serious crimes such as terrorism and child abuse. We all want to ensure that our communities are safe. But it has to be done proportionately and responsibly, and first and foremost, it should be legal.

What the European Court of Justice said was that we have a very low threshold for the retention of data, and it made it clear that the retention of data of every single person strikes the wrong balance between the need to tackle serious crime and our right to privacy and a private family life.

What most disappoints me is the total disrespect shown to Scottish Ministers. The first any Scottish Minister got to hear about this Bill was several hours after the statement was made in this House about its
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introduction, yet Scottish Ministers are responsible for policing and justice. It is Scottish Ministers who sign off any request for intercept on serious crime grounds. Part of RIPA required an Act of the Scottish Parliament and it puts in place the authority to conduct directed surveillance, undercover intelligence and intrusive intelligence. It is therefore staggering that this Government would proceed with this measure without exchanging even the slightest word with Scottish Ministers.

We believe that it will always be necessary to collect and retain the personal data of individuals in the pursuit of serious crime and we will take those responsibilities very seriously as an independent nation, but because this Government have got the balance so badly wrong, we will oppose the Bill today.