The new Fantastic Four looks rubbish. Photo: Getty
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4 things we learned from the Scottish TV debates

Nicola Sturgeon isn't half as impressive when someone gets up in her grill, and Labour must thank their lucky stars that Ruth Davidson isn't moving south any time soon.

Nicola Sturgeon benefits from condescension

"You can have your opinions, but you can't have your own facts," Jim Murphy told Nicola Sturgeon, "You might get away with it in England but you won't get away wit it here." The First Minister was still a dominant figure but she was some way distant from the imperious figure she cut in the UK-wide debates. What happened? There, she was effectively left unmarked by Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, despite the threat she poses to both their parties. Here, she faced an audience and a group of political opponents who were willing to get in her face and really challenge the SNP's record, leaving her a much-diminished presence. Challenged on her record she cut a cantankerous and at times marginal figure. Team Miliband should take note ahead of their second clash with Sturgeon on April 16. 

The Liberal Democrats need a new tune

The Liberal Democrats haven't done too badly, you know. Stronger action against female genital mutilation than any other government. The 0.7 per cent aid target enshrined in law. And they've done more to remove the stigma around mental health than any other party. Yes, there have been disappointments and the Janus act over tuition fees has, rightly, cost the party a great deal. But they have a more positive message, surely, that "look at this shower". A miserable "plague on both your houses" message did nothing for Nick Clegg last week and did even less for Willie Rennie tonight. Time for the party to start shouting about its values and achievements, not merely attacking the other parties. 

Labour will thank their lucky stars that Ruth Davidson is unlikely to cross the border anytime soon

Ruth Davidson lists kickboxing as one of her hobbies but, on this evidence, it should really be listed as a key skill. It's all too easy for the third party to end up squeezed in these affairs but she was more than a match for Jim Murphy or Nicola Sturgeon. More importantly, she seemed to have a hunger for the fight that, as Ian Leslie noted, appears to have abandoned David Cameron. She has the advantage, too, that she doesn't sound posh; when she talks about people who struggle, it sounds like something she's lived, not something a focus group spat out. "The best leader Scottish Labour will never have," was the quip of one Labour strategist during the referendum. Labour will hope she remains the best leader that the Conservatives will never have at a UK-wide election, too.

The Union's not done yet

45 per cent. A narrow loss in an independence referendum, a narrow majority under the Holyrood election system, a crushing defeat under the Alternative Vote,  and a landslide at Westminster. But not a majority, and there was a reminder of that tonight when Nicola Sturgeon was booed for not ruling out another referendum for the forseeable future. The SNP's monopoly on the forces of independence looks unlikely to be challenged at Westminister - although at Holyrood the Greens will have a thing or two to say about that - but there's no evidence yet that there is any real movement towards the SNP's preferred solution. Scottish politics, which feels so vital at present, could in fact be headed for a period of prolonged stasis, with the Nationalists unassailable at Westminster and Holyrood, but continually frustrated on the question that provides them with a raison d'etre.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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It's not WhatsApp that was at fault in the Westminster attacks. It's our prisons

Britain's criminal justice system neither deterred nor rehabilitated Khalid Masood, and may even have facilitated his radicalisation. 

The dust has settled, the evidence has been collected and the government has decided who is to blame for the attack on Westminster. That’s right, its WhatsApp and their end-to-end encryption of messages. Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, wants tech companies to install a backdoor into messages like these that the government can then access.

There are a couple of problems here, not least that Adrian Russell aka Khalid Masood was known to the security services but considered to be low-risk. Even if the government had had the ability to gain entry to his WhatsApp, they wouldn’t have used it. Then there’s the fact that end-to-end encryption doesn’t just protect criminals and terrorists – it protects users from criminals and terrorists. Any backdoor will be vulnerable to attack, not only from our own government and foreign powers, but by non-state actors including fraudsters, and other terrorists.

(I’m parking, also, the question of whether these are powers that should be handed to any government in perpetuity, particularly one in a country like Britain’s, where near-unchecked power is handed to the executive as long as it has a parliamentary majority.)

But the biggest problem is that there is an obvious area where government policy failed in the case of Masood: Britain’s prisons system.

Masood acted alone though it’s not yet clear if he was merely inspired by international jihadism – that is, he read news reports, watched their videos on social media and came up with the plan himself – or he was “enabled” – that is, he sought out and received help on how to plan his attack from the self-styled Islamic State.

But what we know for certain is that he was, as is a recurring feature of the “radicalisation journey”, in possession of a string of minor convictions from 1982 to 2002 and that he served jail time. As the point of having prisons is surely to deter both would-be offenders and rehabilitate its current occupants so they don’t offend again, Masood’s act of terror is an open-and-shut case of failure in the prison system. Not only he did prison fail to prevent him committing further crimes, he went on to commit one very major crime.  That he appears to have been radicalised in prison only compounds the failure.

The sad thing is that not so very long ago a Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice was thinking seriously about prison and re-offending. While there was room to critique some of Michael Gove’s solutions to that problem, they were all a hell of a lot better than “let’s ban WhatsApp”. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.