There is no perfect remedy for Scottish Labour's broken record. Photo: Flickr/steve
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Frank Sinatra, Future Islands and Status Quo: a musical history of the SNP and Scottish Labour

Just noise?

These days you’d be hard-pressed to find any credible indie rock kids willing to admit they're Status Quo fans. There are no breakbeats, hip hop samples or underground indie kudos here. It's just the old guard cranking out the same old hits of yesteryear, pushing nostalgia tours on their ever-diminishing audience.

A once mighty commercial force, Scottish Labour, according to all the polls, are now passé. As far as the electorate is concerned, they have become the Status Quo, minus the ponytails and denim shirts (although perhaps Jim Murphy and Co are missing a trick there.)

How did these formerly psychedelic rebel rockers turn into yesterday’s news? They took their ear from the underground, hooked up with commercial producers to smooth out their sound, and now all they can do is tell the kids that the new music sucks.

Scottish Labour has failed to realise that in the current climate, trying to rubbish SNP policy on austerity or threatening the electorate with another Tory government is the equivalent of Frank Sinatra describing that new-fangled rock'n'roll music as "the most brutal, ugly, degenerate, vicious form of expression it has have been my displeasure to hear". Frank, the kids just don't care.

A vote for the SNP has become nothing less than a rejection of the current political establishment – a repudiation of the two-party system that only offers voters a choice between Status Quo and... well, Status Quo. That's not a particularly enticing DJ set, unless you like all your songs sounding the same.

Sturgeon and her nationalists are smart enough to side with the anti-austerity vibe and sing that song in the hope it brings them closer to their dream of independence. Surprising no one but establishment politicians, they have become the first viable mainstream voice of protest to have risen in the United Kingdom since the beginning of the Occupy movement.

While their stance on austerity is far removed from that of Occupy, the political reaction to their slight economic deviance loudly echoes the times we live in. To even question the prevailing austerity wisdom amounts to an act of rebellion so severe it generates horror from both Labour and the Tories. 

This time, however, the rebels may have a political mandate that has completely blindsided the prevailing powers. As far as Cameron, Miliband et al are concerned, the anti-austerity tide has found a way to successfully infiltrate the system at the highest level.

You can see why the entire political class and media are doing their best to undermine the democratic validity of an SNP surge in the House of Commons. “Call that music?” they shout at the kids in the street. “That's just noise! You can’t even play your instruments properly.”

Right now, anyone with a care in their hearts and a stake in shaking up the mainstream about the future of these islands should enjoy clicking on that metaphorical YouTube link to the latest viral music sensation. It's Future Islands on the Letterman Show, the singer beating his chest, belting out something primal and entrancing. It's the sound of a pissed off populace. It's rage at having the democratic voice of the people limited to a binary choice of Tory and Labour.

You could have heard this new song in all the villages and cities of the UK anytime over the last seven years if you were willing to listen. But when you go for that middle ground vote like the big boys of politics always do, you tend to lost touch with real life and your instinct for what really matters.

The SNP’s day at number one will come and go. All great political love affairs eventually sour. That's understood. But right now, Status Quo is wondering why it's not cool anymore. It’s because it is incapable of even countenancing the kind of songs the Scottish electorate wants to hear. Right now the freaks and outsiders have stolen their fanbase and there's not much Labour can do except crank out the old hits and remember a time when its songs used to mean something.

Kev Sherry is lead singer of Scottish indie band Attic Lights. He tweets @KevSherry1

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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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