Gordon Brown attends a Better Together rally on August 27, 2014 in Dundee. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Brown takes charge as Cameron backs his plan for "Scottish Home Rule"

The former PM seizes the initiative with a timetable for further devolution to Scotland. 

Gordon Brown may not be in office, but he is in power. After the former prime minister, in his own words, seized "the initiative" by announcing a timetable for further devolution to the Scottish parliament in the event of a No vote, Westminster was bemused. Downing Street had said this morning that details would be given "in the coming days", with Wednesday briefed as the likely date. But here was Brown jumping the gun and promising "a modern form of Scottish Home Rule within the United Kingdom, published by St Andrews Day on 30 November, with the draft laws around 25 January – interestingly enough by Burns Night." 

The former PM will say in his speech in Midlothian tonight: 

On 19 September we will start bringing into law the new, stronger Scottish Parliament, and to secure the change we want we will work with the other parties. The Scottish people will expect nothing less, not only because that is the right thing to do, but because we need an agreed timetable with deadlines for delivery and a roadmap to our goal.

Last week I spoke to the Speaker of the House of Commons and requested a parliamentary debate for the first week to bring the issues to the House of Commons at the earliest opportunity. He has promised me his answer by Wednesday.

But I think it is right anyway that on its first week back the House of Commons agrees a motion to set a new Scotland Act in train I hope this can be agreed.

But even though we are not in power, Labour is now taking the initiative proposing a timetable for strengthening the Scottish Parliament

It is this: by the end of October, just over five weeks after the referendum, we seek a command paper that sets out all the plans, including the agreed ground that unites us, and the issues that need to be resolved.

By the end of November, we seek Heads of Agreement on a new Scotland Act published in a White Paper, or its equivalent, will report back on an intensive month of consultation with Scottish civic society and with the groups who were engaged in talks during Scottish Constitutional convention, who like the Scottish Parliament, will be able to scrutinise and challenge the proposals.

By the end of January 2015,we seek  draft clauses ready for legislative enactment as the new Scotland Bill and Scotland Act. I want to see draft clauses giving effect to these policies as soon as possible because I want legislation to happen as soon as possible. And from November to January we would continue to consult the Scottish Parliament.

Labour since Keir Hardie has been the Party of Home Rule for Scotland within the United Kingdom so the plan for a stronger Scottish Parliament we seek agreement on is for nothing else than a modern form of Scottish Home Rule within the United Kingdom, published by St Andrews Day on 30 November, with the draft laws around 25 January – interestingly enough by Burns Night.

Downing Street refused to say whether Brown discussed his plan with Cameron before it was announced (which suggests the answer is no), before later stating that "The Prime Minister very much welcomes Gordon Brown's announcement today" and that "This is exactly the sort of thing we have been discussing for some time".
If it seems surprising that Cameron has so fulsomely endorsed his predecessor's plan, it's worth remembering how desperate the situation is. The 307-year-old Union is on the brink of break-up and Brown is regarded by many as the only man who can save it (Cameron is self-aware enough to recognise that he and his fellow Tories can't). The former PM is one of the few Unionist politicians that even Alex Salmond concedes poses a threat to the nationalists. He is significantly more popular in Scotland than he is south of the border and has a strong connection with the working class swing voters that the SNP hopes will break for the Yes side on 18 September (and has been converting in recent weeks). At the 2010 general election, while Labour's vote fell by 6.2 per cent across the UK, it rose by 2.5 per cent in Scotland and the party held onto all 41 of its seats. This was thanks in no small part to Brown, whose own constituency vote rose by 6.4 per cent. 
In his speech at the TUC general council dinner this evening, Ed Miliband will also hail his former mentor's plan, vowing that "if we win the general election, we will move with utmost speed in our first Queen's Speech to enact this legislation." 
He will say: "Gordon Brown and Scottish Labour are right to propose a timetable to give us deadlines for delivery for a new Scotland Act. Not an Act agreed between Westminster politicians but based on the aspirations of the people of Scotland.
"I make this commitment as Leader of the Labour Party: if we win the general election, we will move with utmost speed in our first Queen's Speech to enact this legislation. We will act as we did in 1997 when the incoming Labour Government immediately delivered its promise of devolution. It is Scottish Labour who have drawn up a timetable and a plan for a new Scotland Act. A Labour government will deliver it."
After tonight, it no longer feels an exaggeration to say that if the Union survives, Brown will be recorded by history as the man who saved it. But that his intervention comes so late, after thousands have already voted by post, and seems so desperate, means it may have little positive effect - and could even harm the Unionist cause. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Cambridge Analytica and the digital war in Africa

Across the continent, UK expertise is being deployed online to sway elections and target dissidents.

Cambridge Analytica, the British political consultancy caught up in a huge scandal over its use of Facebook data, has boasted that they ran the successful campaigns of President Uhuru Kenyatta in the 2013 and 2017 Kenyan elections. In a secretly filmed video, Mark Turnbull, a managing director for Cambridge Analytica and sister company SCL Elections, told a Channel 4 News’ undercover investigative reporting team that his firm secretly stage-managed Kenyatta’s hotly contested campaigns.

“We have rebranded the entire party twice, written the manifesto, done research, analysis, messaging. I think we wrote all the speeches and we staged the whole thing – so just about every element of this candidate,” Turnbull said of his firm’s work for Kenyatta’s party.

Cambridge Analytica boasts of manipulating voters’ deepest fears and worries. Last year’s Kenyan election was dogged by vicious online propaganda targeting opposition leader Raila Odinga, with images and films playing on people’s concerns about everything from terrorism to spiralling disease. No-one knows who produced the material. Cambridge Analytica denies involvement with these toxic videos – a claim that is hard to square with the company’s boast that they “staged the whole thing.” 

In any event, Kenyatta came to power in 2013 and won a second and final term last August, defeating Odinga by 1.4 million votes.

The work of this British company is only the tip of the iceberg. Another company, the public relations firm, Bell Pottinger, has apologised for stirring up racial hostility in South Africa on behalf of former President Jacob Zuma’s alleged financiers – the Gupta family. Bell Pottinger has since gone out of business.

Some electoral manipulation has been home grown. During the 2016 South African municipal elections the African National Congress established its own media manipulations operation.

Called the “war room” it was the ANC’s own “black ops” centre. The operation ranged from producing fake posters, apparently on behalf of opposition parties, to establishing 200 fake social media “influencers”. The team launched a news site, The New South African, which claimed to be a “platform for new voices offering a different perspective of South Africa”. The propaganda branded opposition parties as vehicles for the rich and not caring for the poor.

While the ANC denied any involvement, the matter became public when the public relations consultant hired by the party went to court for the non-payment of her bill. Among the court papers was an agreement between the claimant and the ANC general manager, Ignatius Jacobs. According to the email, the war room “will require input from the GM [ANC general manager Jacobs] and Cde Nkadimeng [an ANC linked businessman] on a daily basis. The ANC must appoint a political champion who has access to approval, as this is one of the key objectives of the war room.”

Such home-grown digital dirty wars appear to be the exception, rather than the rule, in the rest of Africa. Most activities are run by foreign firms.

Ethiopia, which is now in a political ferment, has turned to an Israeli software company to attack opponents of the government. A Canadian research group, Citizens Lab, reported that Ethiopian dissidents in the US, UK, and other countries were targeted with emails containing sophisticated commercial spyware posing as Adobe Flash updates and PDF plugins.

Citizens Lab says it identified the spyware as a product known as “PC Surveillance System (PSS)”. This is a described as a “commercial spyware product offered by Cyberbit —  an Israel-based cyber security company— and marketed to intelligence and law enforcement agencies.”

This is not the first time Ethiopia has been accused of turning to foreign companies for its cyber-operations. According to Human Rights Watch, this is at least the third spyware vendor that Ethiopia has used to target dissidents, journalists and activists since 2013.

Much of the early surveillance work was reportedly carried out by the Chinese telecom giant, ZTE. More recently it has turned for more advanced surveillance technology from British, German and Italian companies. “Ethiopia appears to have acquired and used United Kingdom and Germany-based Gamma International’s FinFisher and Italy-based Hacking Team’s Remote Control System,” wrote Human Rights Watch in 2014.

Britain’s international development ministry – DFID – boasts that it not only supports good governance but provides funding to back it up. In 2017 the good governance programme had £20 million at its disposal, with an aim is to “help countries as they carry out political and economic reforms.” Perhaps the government should direct some of this funding to investigate just what British companies are up to in Africa, and the wider developing world.

Martin Plaut is a fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London. He is the author of Understanding Eritrea and, with Paul Holden, the author of Who Rules South Africa?