Anas Sarwar campaigns during the Scottish independence referendum campaign. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Anas Sarwar resigns as Scottish Labour deputy leader

The shadow cabinet is likely his next stop.

Anas Sarwar's decision to stand down as Scottish Labour's deputy leader, which he announced at the party's gala dinner tonight, does not come as a surprise. There is a common recognition across the party that it needs fresh figures at the top and that they must be MSPs (Sarwar represents the Westminster seat of Glasgow Central).

The next Scottish Labour leader (almost certainly Jim Murphy) will now be free to take office with a new deputy. The contest for the latter will run alongside that for the former, with the winners announced on 13 December. Shadow education secretary Kezia Dugdale, who some urged to run for the leadership, Jenny Marra and James Kelly (who co-chair Murphy's leadership campaign) are regarded as the frontrunners for the post. 

Sarwar told the Daily Record"After thinking about it long and hard over the last few days I have decided that I believe Scottish Labour should be represented by a leadership team that is focused on the Scottish Parliament. It has been a privilege to serve as deputy leader for the last three years and a honour I never thought I would receive.

"But I think the leadership contest that is going on now is a time for everybody to reflect on what is best for Scottish Labour. And after much soul searching I have come to the conclusion that I believe the Scottish Labour leadership team should be focused on Holyrood.

"I have spoken to Ed Miliband and informed him of this decision and told him I want to devote my efforts to securing a Labour victory at next year’s general election and help make Ed Miliband Prime Minister."

But Sarwar is unlikely to fade into the shadows. Having relinquished his position, there is a strong chance that he will enter the shadow cabinet as part of the reshuffle that will be triggered by Murphy's decision to stand for leader. One move suggested by several Labour sources is for shadow Scottish secretary Margaret Curran to replace Murphy as shadow international development secretary, with Sarwar taking on her brief. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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.

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