Thursday, August 22, 2013

Don't read this. The Internet is not secure.

"Snowden", "surveillance", "Islam" , "bomb", "terrorist". That's all it takes. Those key words, written in any order on an email - or indeed this column - could be enough for my name to be identified as a 'person of interest' by the security services of the United States of America or Great Britain. Probably both.

Indeed, if you are reading this on the internet, you might well be alerting the attention of some internet 'bot' somewhere in cyberspace, which will by now have logged your IP address, traced your browser history and even had a peek at your email inbox.

The consequences could be quite profound. You might be held at an airport, denied a visa to travel. You might find yourself held for questioning by the police for nine hours with no explanation. Threatened with prison if you don't divulge all your internet passwords.

Paranoid? Absolutely. But that is the world we are now living in, where it must be assumed that everything you do or say on the internet or on the phone is being monitored. Perhaps not by some PC plod on headphones as of old - those of us brought up on television series like The Wire have a very antiquated notion of what surveillance means in the digital age. Now it is all done automatically, anonymously, by computer programmes that search millions, even billions of digital messages in seconds.

The Home Secretary Teresa May made clear yesterday that, under her interpretation of Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act, any individual may be detained by the police merely on suspicion that they  possess information that might be of use to terrorists.   I could hardly believe my ears. That is very close to the definition of a police state.

 It may not seem a great hardship, to be detained at an airport and questioned. But anyone who has had experience of interrogation will tell you that a lot can happen in nine hours, and the psychological stress is intense. This is supposed to be a free country. It is shocking that a citizen can be held and interrogated when there is no evidence that he or she is engaged in acts of terrorism - and in the case of David Miranda, the Brazilian partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, there was none.

We are now being told that Mr Miranda, was not an innocent citizen but a "mule" carrying security sensitive material on behalf of the Guardian newspaper. What a ridiculous concept:  to equate journalism with drug trafficking! It is also said that he was "uncooperative" and "asked for his own lawyer". Good for him.

No free citizen should be forced to co-operate with police going on a blatant fishing expedition, as even the Labour Peer Lord Falconer - who was Lord Chancellor in the government that passed the Terrorism Act 2000 -  made clear yesterday. What we are seeing now looks very like a campaign of intimidation of the press.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Road to Referendum.

    Road to Referendum, the TV documentary.  To be shown on ITV, 19th August 2013 at 10.30pm.  Repeated, STV same night, 11.30.

    This is condensed version of the three part series, presented by me, shown in Scotland in June.

    Meanwhile: "Road to Referendum", my account of the national question since the Middle Ages, published by Cargo is available in bookshops near you in a bewildering range of prices. .

We need more immigration, not less.

from Sunday Herald, 10/8/13

Suddenly, everyone's doing it. Following the royal baby. and the news that Edinburgh Zoo's giant panda, Tian Tian, may be pregnant, we hear that the birth rate in the UK is at its highest rate since 1972, according to the Office for National Statistics. It's official: we're bonking for Britain.

And for Scotland - at least a little. For the astonishing news is that Scotland's population is now higher than it has EVER been : 5,31 million - 14,000 more than the previous peak recorded in 1974. Yet only a decade ago, we were being told that Scotland was dying out, as the population dwindled to less than 5 million.

Back in 2003, the Registrar General forecast that, by 2017, there would only be 4.84m Scots. The workforce would fall by nearly 10%; the number of under-sixteens by 80% while the number of Scottish pensioners would increase by 25%. This was called the Demographic Time Bomb, and we were told that public finances would be destroyed by the greyquake.

As recently as 2005, the First Minister of the day, Jack McConnell, was desperately looking for ways to reverse what looked like a terminal decline in Scottish population. And meeting resistance from Westminster for his plans to increase immigration by, for example, allowing foreign students to remain in Scotland after graduation.

Professor Robert Wright of Stirling University, dismissed the Scottish Executive's measures as too little too late: "The demographic problem in Scotland is very, very serious," he gloomed. "The government is very näive to believe this problem can be solved by trying to retain a small number of foreign students."

Well, it seems that the problem was not quite as serious as supposed, and that under their duvets, Scots were taking matters into their own hands, as it were. Perhaps, with diminishing incomes, people have turned to sex as a low-cost recreational activity.

But more important than the increase in the birth rate in recent years (it actually dipped last year) has been the decline in the death rate. Thanks to remarkable work by the NHS, combatting heart disease and cancer, Scots are not popping their clogs as they were even ten years ago. Measures like free personal care and the smoking ban in 2005 have had a remarkable impact on the health of Scots. People are drinking less, taking few drugs and some of us are even exercising.

However, this most remarkable demographic turnarounds in Scottish history could not have been achieved without another significant factor: increased immigration. Not only are more people coming to Scotland, they are having larger families when they get here. And this is a UK phenomenon - which takes us into rather murky waters.