Nicola Sturgeon. Photo: Getty
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If Northern Ireland gets a soft Brexit, what happens to Scotland?

One Labour activist warned: “There will be hell to pay.”

Forget “Freeeeeedom” – the true cross-party rallying cry of those who live north of Berwick-upon-Tweed is “But what about Scotland?” So far, Holyrood has managed to keep fairly quiet while the debate about the Irish border has, appropriately enough, focused on the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. But if the reports from RTÉ, Ireland's national broadcaster, are correct, Ireland (and its big daddy, the EU27) just won the fight. According to the report, the draft negotiating text promises no divergence of the rules covering the EU single market and customs union on the island of Ireland post-Brexit. In other words, it’s a soft Brexit for Belfast.  

If this is true, as Stephen Bush has catalogued, there are huge implications for the UK government and its relationship with the pro-Brexit Democratic Unionist Party as well. But on the Atlantic winds comes another demand: “But what about Scotland?”

While the Scottish independence referendum famously didn’t end in campfire renditions of Auld Lang Syne, there is one thing that unites a majority of Scots – opposition to Brexit. The reaction to a deal for the island of Ireland is likley to fall into two categories. 

The first is green envy. Scotland’s pro-independence First Minister Nicola Sturgeon greeted the news by tweeting: “Right now, Ireland is powerfully demonstrating the importance of being independent when it comes to defending your vital national interests.” Yet even those who don’t see Ireland as a pin-up for an independent Scotland’s future noted the difference when it came to Brexit. Jamie Glackin, a prominent Labour activist, tweeted: “If Northern Ireland gets to remain in the single market but Scotland doesn't then there will be hell to pay.”

The second is, depending on the details of the concession, attention may shift to the border between Scotland and the island of Ireland, particularly the ferry port north of Stranraer (best avoided on the day I last crossed, 12 July, unless you really enjoy the sound of flute music and anti-Catholic songs). Any proposition that involves border checks at Stranraer is ammunition for the Scottish National Party, which has constantly attacked Westminster for imposing an immigration policy on Scotland that does not suit the needs of its rapidly ageing population. 

Neither of these reactions is likely to be healthy for pro-union parties that have been trying to make the case for some years now that Scotland needs to get over its victim complex and focus on getting things moving at home. 

Indeed, the new question which is likely to do the rounds in Holyrood will not be “what about Scotland?” but “what about Northern Ireland?”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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People are not prepared to see innovation at any price - we need to take care of our digital health

Correcting the course of technology in Britain does not need to mean taking backwards steps and becoming an anti-innovation zone.

As individuals, we have never been better connected. As a society, we are being driven further apart.

Doteveryone’s People Power and Technology report, released this week, found that half of the 2,500 British people we surveyed said the internet had made life a lot better for people like them - but only 12 per cent saw a very positive impact on society.

These findings won’t be news to most people living in Brexit Britain - or to anyone who’s been involved in a spat on Twitter. The fact that we’re constantly connected to our smartphones has not necessarily improved our communities or our understanding of one other, and the trails of data we’re leaving behind are not turning into closer social bonds.

Many of the positives we experience are for ourselves as individuals.

Lots of consumer tech puts simple self-sufficiency first - one-click to buy, swipe right to date - giving us a feeling of cosy isolation and making one little phone an everywhere. This powerful individualism is a feature of all of the big platforms - and even social networks like Facebook and Twitter, that are meant bring us together, do so in the context of personalised recommendations and algorithmically ordered timelines.

We are all the centre of our own digital worlds. So it is no surprise that when we do look up from our phones, we feel concerned about the impact on society. Our research findings articulate the dilemma we face: do we do the thing that is easiest for us, or the one that is better for society?

For instance, 78 per cent of people see the Internet as helping us to communicate better, but 68 per cent also feel it makes us less likely to speak to each other face-to-face. 69per cent think the internet helps businesses to sell their products and services, while 53 per cent think it forces local shops to compete against larger companies online.

It’s often hard to see the causality in these trade-offs. At what point does my online shopping tip my high street into decline? When do I notice that I’ve joined another WhatsApp group but haven’t said hello to my neighbour?

When given clear choices, the public was clear in its response.  

We asked how they would feel if an online retailer offered free one-day delivery for lower income families, but this resulted in local shops closing down - 69 per cent found this unacceptable. Or if their bank invested more in combating fraud and cyber crime, but closed their local branch - 61 per cent said it was unacceptable. Or if their council made savings by putting services online and cut council tax as a result, but some people would find it hard to access these services - 56 per cent found it unacceptable.

It seems people are not prepared to see innovation at any price - and not at the expense of their local communities. The poorest find these trade offs least acceptable.

Correcting the course of technology in Britain does not need to mean taking backwards steps and becoming an anti-innovation zone.

A clearer regulatory environment would support positive, responsible change that supports our society, not just the ambition of a few corporations.

Some clarity about our relationship with web services would be a good start. 60 per cent of people Doteveryone spoke to believed there should be an independent body they can turn to when things go wrong online; 89 per cent would like terms and conditions to be clearer, and 47% feel they have no choice but to sign up to services, even when they have concerns.

Technology regulation is complicated and fragmentary. Ofcom and the under-resourced Information Commissioner’s Office, provide some answers,but they are not sufficient to regulate the myriad effects of social media, let alone the changes that new technologies like self-driving cars will bring. There needs to be a revolution in government, but at present as consumers and citizens we can’t advocate for that. We need a body that represents us, listens to our concern and gives us a voice.

And the British public also needs to feel empowered, so we can all make better choices - adults and children alike need different kinds of understanding and capability to navigate the digital world. It is not about being able to code: it is about being able to cope.

Public Health England exists to protect and improve the nation’s health and well-being, and reduce health inequalities. Perhaps we need a digital equivalent, to protect and improve our digital health and well-being, and reduce digital inequalities.

As a society, we should not have to continually respond and adapt to the demands of the big corporations: we should also make demands of them - and we need confidence, a voice, and representation to begin to do that.

Rachel Coldicutt is chief executive of Doteveryone.