Ed Miliband visits Standard Life on November, 11, 2013 in Edinburgh. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Why Ed Miliband is Alex Salmond's biggest foe in the fight for Scottish independence

The Scottish First Minister's claim that independence is needed to make Scotland and the rest of the UK more "progressive" is undermined by the prospect of the election of Labour in 2015.

After the UK cabinet's recent foray to Aberdeen, Alex Salmond will enter the belly of the Westminster beast today. The Scottish First Minister will deliver the New Statesman lecture (sold out) on "Scotland's Future in Scotland's Hands" at 6:30pm. In the address, which is trailed in today's papers, he will urge the English centre-left to embrace Scottish independence as a "progressive" cause. As he said when the lecture was announced, he believes an independent Scotland would act as "a progressive beacon and a powerful economic counterweight to the pull of London", helping to "rebalance the social and economic structure across these islands which has seen the UK become one of the most unequal societies in the developed world". In a reversal of the assumption that Scottish independence would consign the rest of the UK to permanent Conservative government, Salmond's pitch is that a more "progressive" Scotland will help to create a more progressive Britain. 

The First Minister is right to downplay the fear that the loss of Scotland would lead to unending Tory rule at Westminster. On no occasion since 1945 would independence have changed the identity of the winning party and on only two occasions would it have converted a Labour majority into a hung parliament (1964 and October 1974). Without Scotland, Labour would still have won in 1945 (with a majority of 146, down from 143), in 1966 (77, down from 98), in 1997 (139, down from 179), in 2001 (129, down from 167) and in 2005 (43, down from 66). What those who say that Labour cannot win without Scotland are really arguing is that the party will never win a sizeable majority again. History shows that England and Wales are prepared to elect a Labour government when the conditions are right (although the loss of Labour's 41 Scottish seats, compared to the Tories' one, would certainly make the task harder). 

Salmond's wider contention is that his pursuit of progressive policies (such as investment in early years education, higher social security spending, and nuclear disarmament) in an independent Scotland would encourage their adoption in the rest of the UK. But its appeal is diluted by one central fact: there is a better-than-average chance that the next UK general election will result in the formation of a radical Labour government. As leader of the party, Ed Miliband (who will address the Scottish Labour conference on Friday 21 March) has adopted precisely the kind of centre-left policies championed by Salmond. He has pledged to scrap the bedroom tax (which, like the Poll Tax, has become a symbol of Conservative callousness in Scotland), to reverse the privatisation of the NHS, to invest more in early-years education and childcare, to reintroduce the 50p tax rate, to spread the use of the living wage, to rebalance the economy and to increase infrastructure spending. He has condemned the invasion of Iraq (which so alienated progressives in Scotland and elsewhere), prevented a rush to war in Syria and pledged to pursue a foreign policy based on "values, not alliances". Finally, he has denounced the rise in income inequality (which, as Salmond rightly laments, has made the UK one of "the most unequal societies in the developed world"),  and has made its reversal his defining mission. If the UK elects a Labour government next May, it won't need Scotland to serve as a "progressive beacon". Rather, it will become a more progressive country through its own means. 

In other respects, Salmond's claim that Scotland would help pull the rest of UK to the left is risible. While Labour has pledged to increase corporation tax from 20 per cent to 21 per cent in order to fund a reduction in business rates for small firms, the SNP has vowed to reduce it to 3 per cent below the British level. Rather than a progressive race to top, Salmond would fire the starting gun on a race to bottom. The unflattering comparisons do not end here for the First Minister. As James Maxwell, an SNP supporter, has written on The Staggers, "When Miliband challenged Rupert Murdoch's reactionary influence over British media and political life, Salmond remained strangely loyal to the News Corporation chairman. When Miliband attacked corporate tax avoidance, Salmond handed Amazon £10m worth of Scottish government money and encouraged the company to establish distribution centres in Scotland. Where Miliband has pledged to rein in monopolistic energy companies, Salmond opposed George Osborne's windfall tax on North Sea oil profits. Since becoming leader, Miliband has displayed a willingness to confront 'vested interests' generally lacking in the Scottish First Minister."

One of the few factors that could aid Salmond's flagging cause (the latest poll puts support for independence at just 32 per cent with 57 per cent opposed) is a Tory recovery. With just one Conservative MP in, the fear of another five years under the Tory yoke, and a government wedded to permanent austerity, could help to push many towards separation. By the same measure, then, Labour's consistent poll lead (which stands at nine points today), and Miliband's progressive promise, is one of the forces helping to drive them away. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.