Scottish First Minister and SNP leader Alex Salmond with David Cameron at the men's Wimbledon final last year. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Salmond plays the class card against Cameron with Eton jibe

The Scottish First Minister says that "while I was compiling the oil and gas index, David Cameron was still fooling around on the playing fields of Eton".

Even during a highly technical discussion of north sea oil on the Today programme this morning, Alex Salmond managed to find room for a spot of class war. "In the 1980s, while I was compiling the oil and gas index, David Cameron was still fooling around on the playing fields of Eton," he jibed (a remark reminiscient of Gordon Brown's declaration in 2009 that "your inheritance tax policy seems to have been dreamed up on the playing fields of Eton"). 

The line is a reminder of the extent to which Salmond believes that attacking the Tories in general (the party holds just one of the 59 Westminster seats in Scotland) and Cameron (who is not merely a Tory but a rich and southern one) in particular, could aid his quest for independence. Cameron, who has taken the cabinet to Aberdeen today, (Salmond and his team will meet just 10 miles away) is keenly aware of this, knowingly remarking recently that "my appeal does not stretch to all parts of Scotland". It's for this reason that he has been largely content to leave the fight against Scottish nationalism  to Alistair Darling, the head of the Better Together campaign and has declined Salmond's invitation to go head-to-head in a live debate. But with the referendum now less than seven months away, it would be rather odd if Cameron, as the Prime Minister of the UK and the leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party (someone, in other words, with a bigger stake than most in the Union enduring), did not speak out on the issue. 

Even after the recent tightening of the polls, the No campaign continues to enjoy a double-digit lead over the pro-independence camp. One of the few factors that could help to tilt the odds in Salmond's favour at this late stage would be a significant Tory recovery.  The fear of another five years under the Conservative yoke, and a government wedded to permanent austerity, could help to push many undecided voters towards independence. But if Labour is still comfortably ahead in the polls in September 2014, far fewer will fear what lies ahead. The uncomfortable truth for Cameron is that the better his party performs, the worse the chances of saving the Union become. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

The problems with ending encryption to fight terrorism

Forcing tech firms to create a "backdoor" to access messages would be a gift to cyber-hackers.

The UK has endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 7 July 2005 and the threat level has been raised to "critical" for the first time in a decade. Though election campaigning has been suspended, the debate over potential new powers has already begun.

Today's Sun reports that the Conservatives will seek to force technology companies to hand over encrypted messages to the police and security services. The new Technical Capability Notices were proposed by Amber Rudd following the Westminster terrorist attack and a month-long consultation closed last week. A Tory minister told the Sun: "We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in. The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long."

Put that way, the plan sounds reasonable (orders would be approved by the home secretary and a senior judge). But there are irrefutable problems. Encryption means tech firms such as WhatsApp and Apple can't simply "hand over" suspect messages - they can't access them at all. The technology is designed precisely so that conversations are genuinely private (unless a suspect's device is obtained or hacked into). Were companies to create an encryption "backdoor", as the government proposes, they would also create new opportunities for criminals and cyberhackers (as in the case of the recent NHS attack).

Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security, told the New Statesman's Will Dunn earlier this year: "Nobody in this organisation or our parent organisation will ever ask for a 'back door' in a large-scale encryption system, because it's dumb."

But there is a more profound problem: once created, a technology cannot be uninvented. Should large tech firms end encryption, terrorists will merely turn to other, lesser-known platforms. The only means of barring UK citizens from using the service would be a Chinese-style "great firewall", cutting Britain off from the rest of the internet. In 2015, before entering the cabinet, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned of ending encryption: "Such a move would have had devastating consequences for all financial transactions and online commerce, not to mention the security of all personal data. Its consequences for the City do not bear thinking about."

Labour's manifesto pledged to "provide our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe." But added: "We will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties". The Liberal Democrats have vowed to "oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption."

But with a large Conservative majority inevitable, according to polls, ministers will be confident of winning parliamentary support for the plan. Only a rebellion led by Davis-esque liberals is likely to stop them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

0800 7318496