Brexit – what next? Thinking about the outcome.

I regard the referendum outcome to leave the EU as a disaster for many reasons, as will be clear from my last blog posting, written shortly before the vote. I’ll maybe write something short about my reaction to the outcome in the coming days.

Brexit: what happens next? Click to download the report.

Brexit: what happens next? Click to download the report.

In the meantime, the report from the House of Commons Library makes for fascinating reading (tweeted in the early hours of 25.6.16).

There are countless useful resources here, such as this note (p12) about devolution and how this situation may affect Scotland, citing Sionaidh Douglas-Scott:

It would still be necessary to amend the relevant parts of devolution legislation. But this would be no simple matter and could lead to a constitutional crisis. Although the UK Parliament may amend the devolution Acts, the UK government has stated that it will not normally legislate on a devolved matter without the consent of the devolved legislature. This requires a Legislative Consent Motion under the Sewel Convention. However, the devolved legislatures might be reluctant to grant assent, especially as one feature of the ‘Vow’ made to the Scottish electorate was a commitment to entrench the Scottish Parliament’s powers, thus giving legal force to the Sewel Convention. So the need to amend devolution legislation renders a UK EU exit constitutionally highly problematic.

Section 7 on the future options for Scotland are also very interesting for me (pp17-19), given that England (and to some extent Wales) voted to leave, but Scotland voted overwhelmingly to stay. It will be for Holyrood and Nicola Sturgeon’s government to chart a course through this situation; I am confident that she and her allies in Holyrood will do this well. Her speech after the referendum indicates as much:

I think it is safe to say that independence for Scotland looks much more likely in the meantime.

Sleepless in Stuttgart, Stockholm, Stirling…

The stupid EU referendum that the Conservative Party have called is causing me – quite literally – sleepless nights. The danger that too many people, especially in England, are falling for the lies peddled by the demagogues controlling the right-wing press, is deeply worrying.

As so many have done, I grew up and live as a European:

  • my mother is from Germany, my father is from Britain;
  • I have both passports, and have lived in both states;
  • I am married to a someone from Germany who has a German passport, but has lived and worked here since the early 1990s;
  • our son has both passports and like his parents speaks both English and German fluently;
  • my wife’s family all live in Germany;
  • my parents, who both now have only British passports, have retired to Germany, and can do that because of reciprocal healthcare arrangements and the like;
  • we visit family in Germany with ease – in fact, my wife is visiting her sister in Hamburg right now.
My British and German passports

My British and German passports

I am very aware that purple passports are markers of incredible privilege in the global context – and having two means I can choose which one to use when, so I’m even more privileged than most! This freedom to travel is a privilege that I would rather everyone could share.

There have been many arguments against leaving because it would damage Britain’s interests (for example, I liked Carolyn Leckie’s take on this in yesterday’s National and Maggie Chapman’s recent piece on the fallacy behind the so-called Lexit). But it would also damage more than our direct economic or working interests. Given all that I have said about my family, Britain leaving would have profound personal consequences, many of them completely unpredictable, but it’s hard to see how any can be positive. And yet, all these things can be overcome, even if they would be difficult. For example, my parents after a lifetime of constant moving house (my father was in the British armed forces), have finally settled in Germany, but would almost certainly have to move back here – now in their mid-70s – when reciprocal healthcare arrangements end. It’s not great, but it can be done.

No, what worries me even more than the unfolding disaster for Britain or the personal difficulties I or my family might encounter is the complete unravelling of the European ideal (Jonathan Freedland elaborated on this in polemical form recently). Let me add to the family story:

  • my British grandfather (my father’s father, of Irish descent, marrying a woman from Peebles in southern Scotland, and eventually settling in Northumberland) fought in World War Two;
  • my German grandfather (my mother’s father, originally from the Saarland, near the present border with France, eventually settled in the Harz mountain area, later moving to Bonn) also fought in World War Two – on the opposite side.

When my parents wanted to get married, my mother’s father was reportedly somewhat sceptical about his daughter marrying a British man, and a soldier at that. But this did not last, and my father and my mother’s father developed a deep affection for one another over the years. My family is as dysfunctional as many, but it is also a great example of European integration, and the EU has – for all its faults, and I think they are many, as my MEPs will know from my emails and letters to them! – embodied much of that. We need structures, we need frameworks, we need patterns around which to build our lives, and the EU offers precisely that. The Brexiteers are wanting to throw all that away, and the readiness with which people are falling for their lies is what is causing me so many sleepless nights. I am, like so many of my generation and younger, a convinced European, right to my core (I often identify as European before I identify with any nation state):

We are the ones whose future will be most damaged by a vote for Brexit, sacrificed on the altar of Conservative Party internecine rivalry. That is unforgivable, and I’d go so far as to say it is a grave dishonour to all those who, like my two grandfathers, fought in World War Two and yet afterwards found ways to reconcile themselves to changed realities, even letting a daughter marry a descendant of the former enemy. Love across borders – what more powerful symbol can there be of what the European ideal is? And yet, we seem to be at risk of losing it all, in a mad headlong rush towards the Brexit cliff edge.

No wonder I’m having sleepless nights.

Eleven brief comments on the Scottish elections

Scotland Can... the Scottish Green Party's campaign banner

Scotland Can… the Scottish Green Party’s campaign banner

Eleven short comments on the Scottish election:

  1. I’m delighted my party did pretty well, electing 6 MSPs on various list votes, including Mark Ruskell in my own region. It is excellent news that Andy Wightman is now in the Scottish Parliament – serious land reform becomes more possible. I am very sorry that Maggie Chapman and Sarah Beattie-Smith in particular did not get elected.
  2. The SNP did amazingly well, in a system not designed for such large votes (156,000 more than last time). They polled more votes than Labour and the Tories together, and gained 59 constituency seats (previous record: 53 Labour in 1999, 53 SNP in 2011). Most of Scotland’s cities went to the SNP: Aberdeen, Dundee, Glasgow, Inverness, Perth, Stirling. It’s also very good to see that the percentage of women who were elected SNP MSPs has risen from 28% to 43% (we Greens have one woman out of six MSPs…).
  3. The Liberal Democrats did badly, though I wish they had not even won the constituency seats they had (especially Orkney and Shetland, given the scandal of a self-confessed liar in the form of Alastair Carmichael as the Westminster MP): although the LibDems have the same number of seats as before, their constituency vote is down to the lowest level they’ve ever had.
  4. Labour did disastrously badly: the lowest Labour vote in Scotland in living memory. I was at the Stirling count, and was shocked when sampling at how few Labour votes there were – it was clear early on that this was shaping up to be an awful night for them. I agree with Paul Mason to some extent: I cannot see how the Labour party can be relevant in Scotland again until they sever the link to Labour in London and realise that independence is the only way forward. They’ll sink further into irrelevance if they don’t do this. It probably has to happen within 2-3 years – half-way through this parliament – and be genuine. That is going to be tough. I don’t know if it can happen, or if Kezia Dugdale can manage to get her party to do that.
  5. The Conservatives did well in certain regards: it’s still a lower share of the vote than they had in the 1992 general election, but it has been effective, partly because they are clearly the party of the unionists: I suspect most of their support is not about welcoming the vicious policies the Tories espouse, but about wanting a solid unionist bulwark against the SNP. This will become apparent very soon: Ruth Davidson will get to be the first to ask questions at Holyrood’s First Minister Questions, and this gives the SNP a glorious opportunity to make Davidson defend, week after week after week, the pernicious effects of Tory Westminster policies on normal people in Scotland. Whilst Ruth Davidson is good at media stunts, Nicola Sturgeon is far more accomplished as a debater and will relish the challenge, I am sure, of attacking the Tories directly on such a regular basis. This has the potential to cause the Tories considerable harm.
  6. Rejoice: UKIP failed dismally across the board.
  7. Unsurprisingly, RISE did not rise. I still think most people will go for the Greens if they want a party of the clear left with environmental concerns.
  8. Although the SNP are the largest party, they cannot form a majority, so need an alliance. The only realistic party they can rely on are the Scottish Greens (seriously, the LibDems?!). Whilst I cannot see a formal coalition taking place (and the Greens’ co-convener isn’t expecting that either), having the SNP reliant upon SGP votes to get legislation through will help keep the SNP veering to the left. This is important, because an SNP majority with the Tories as second party would probably not do this as they would then pander to the right, the natural home of several SNP MSPs, such as Fergus Ewing. We know that most Yes campaigners and ergo most newer SNP members were to the left of the party’s elected representatives – we’ll see if that has changed as a result of this election – and a connection to the SGP will help to solidify that.
  9. I think it was a mistake for the SNP to try and push the #BothVotesSNP line so hard. It was entirely predictable, after the Westminster election last year, that the SNP would dominate the constituency vote, and that then means to achieve anything significant in the list requires an absolutely massive number of list votes (for my own region, Mid-Scotland and Fife, results were: Conservatives (4 list seats) 73,293, Green (one) 17,860, Labour (two) 51,373; SNP had 120,128 but no list seats). That was always unlikely given the diversity of list parties on offer, and whilst no party will ever say “don’t vote for us”, a more nuanced approach might have led to better results for the broad pro-independence parties and therefore let fewer Tories in. This is something many people tried to argue, but certain die-hard SNP-supporters have done themselves no favours by shouting such voices down. The Scottish parliament is not designed for majority government and I don’t think the system can be gamed to achieve that – as reputable psephologists such as John Curtice repeatedly explained – so the 2011 result should be seen as an anomaly and not an expectation.
  10. In some ways, the future appears to be like the past shortly before the Scottish parliament: the main opponents of Scottish independence (or even constitutional change) are the Tories. The choice, articulated as putative in the independence referendum by many on the Yes side, is now clear: independence or the Tories.
  11. The SNP cannot deliver independence on its own, as the 2014 referendum showed, based as it was largely on an SNP approach. For example, arguments for reducing Air Passenger Duty, blind support for oil and gas with no vision for change, keeping the United Kingdom’s monarchy etc. were not things that most Greens could fully subscribe to, and we therefore had to make complex arguments about all these things being proposals that could be decided upon after independence. There are many who argue this case (for example, here), and I broadly agree with that argument. However, the SNP connecting with the SGP as another clear pro-independence party will help in this regard, and make independence a surer prospect when the next referendum comes. And it will.

Edit 7.5.16:  added Mid-Scotland and Fife results to point 9.

Manifestos and Mandates

Andy Wightman (Scottish Green Party candidate) tweeted last night:

Even if your manifesto is a joke, as UKIP’s clearly is (this interview with STV’s Bernard Ponsonby is a must), at least it’s possible to decide that for yourself if you have a manifesto you can read.

I read somewhere recently that Labour are only releasing a manifesto eight days before the election – I find this utterly incredible, given that we can use postal votes and therefore some people will decide their vote long before that. This morning, their manifesto page shows ‘A note from Jim Murphy’ on it! This is obviously from the 2015 Westminster election:

Scottish Labour website; screenshot, 15.4.2016 (click the image to go to this page)

Scottish Labour website; screenshot, 15.4.2016 (click the image to go to this page)

The SNP website doesn’t yet appear to include any mention of a full manifesto at all, as far as I can see (I can’t be bothered looking up the LibDems, but I’ll take Andy Wightman’s word for it).

Such lack of respect to the voters should be impermissible. Even a shambolic semi-democratic system like ours should be able to require parties to release a manifesto a set time before postal ballots are sent out – even if it was just a week or 10 days, that would probably be sufficient.

Expecting voters to place blind faith in a party that isn’t prepared to outline it’s proposed programme in some detail is a singular failure in the democratic process.

——

I’m delighted that my party, the Scottish Greens, launched our manifesto before the postal ballot began.  You can read all about it on our website:

Scottish Green Party; screenshot 15.4.2016 (click image to go to this page)

Scottish Green Party; screenshot 15.4.2016 (click image to go to this page)

You can also download our full manifesto as a PDF in two different formats:

Scottish Green Party; screenshot 15.4.2016 (click image to go to this page)

Scottish Green Party; screenshot 15.4.2016 (click image to go to this page)

Why vote for the SNP in the Scottish Parliamentary elections?

On 7.5.16 Scotland will vote for a new Scottish parliament.

It’s worth understanding how our voting system works. Stephen Paton’s wee video is excellent:

In thinking about how to vote, it’s important to know my background. Very simplistically put, I…

  1. … am broadly on the left;
  2. … am a vaguely active member of the Scottish Green Party (SGP) and have been involved at various levels for a few years;
  3. … campaigned alongside Scottish National Party (SNP) members and others in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum and voted Yes;
  4. … voted SNP in the 2015 Westminster elections (I know, I know, it’s bad for an SGP member to do that when an SGP candidate was standing in my constituency, but I wanted to be absolutely sure the racist Labour candidate Johanna Boyd didn’t win, and I wasn’t trusting enough of the polls predicting an SNP victory… I also couldn’t campaign for the SGP at this time, so hadn’t sought to persuade others to vote in a way I wasn’t prepared to do… all this is one of the bad side effects of Westminster’s FPTP voting system).

I still want Scottish independence, and am sure it is coming. I cannot foresee any circumstances in which I’d ever vote Conservative or LibDem (the former basically hate everyone not part of the 1% and are profoundly racist, sexist, and just downright awful for anyone with a social conscience, whilst the latter are mendacious and equivocal, actively supporting blatant liars like Alistair Carmichael). Although I voted Labour solidly for years I doubt I’ll ever do so again: this is not only about having watched them celebrate the 2014 referendum outcome at the Stirling count with their Tory Better Together friends, but that is a potent symbol for their broader failing to represent the interests of the vulnerable in society, which I think is one of the primary roles of political parties. As the Greens are not putting forward a constituency candidate in my area (it’s just SNP, Conservative, Labour, LibDems), I therefore need to think carefully about how I vote. Many might see the options as:

  1. constituency vote: SNP, list vote: SNP
  2. constituency vote: SNP, list vote: Green
  3. constituency vote: SNP, list vote: RISE
  4. or…?

One of the things Paton points out in his video is that the list vote allows you to vote as you really want to. However, the constituency vote also impacts on the list vote, reducing the value of the list vote for parties that do well at constituency level – and that has serious implications for those who want to vote for a broadly pro-independence and left position. Lots of SNP supporters on Twitter and elsewhere follow the SNP’s line of arguing for #BothVotesSNP (option 1 above) – and of course the SNP would be a very strange party if it didn’t argue that people should vote for it whenever possible! But I don’t think option 1 is a good idea, in part because the SNP is likely to win most constituency votes with a substantial margin and so the number of SNP votes needed in the list to not let Labour, Tory or LibDem candidates in would have to be absolutely huge.

Many folk on the pro-independence left are therefore suggesting: vote SNP for the constituency, and then Green (option 2) or RISE (option 3). However, I am inclining towards another option – of not voting SNP in the constituency vote at all, and just voting how I want to in the list.

I like Nicola Sturgeon as a First Minister (and I certainly wouldn’t want Kezia Dugdale or Ruth Davidson as FM!), and Bruce Crawford, our constituency MSP candidate seems a decent person who mostly tries to work for the interests of the constituency. But the SNP as a whole is failing to do more than tinker with some of the great problems we face, such as:

  1. environment – the unbridled enthusiasm for oil and gas (and the SNP’s Energy Spokesperson’s equivocation over fracking) when we actually need to be moving away from fossil fuels and towards additional renewables;
  2. land reform – even the party membership recently rejected the cautious approach of the party leadership;
  3. economics – John Swinney’s fiscal conservatism at times seems remarkably close to Westminster’s Tory austerity: I wonder if he is so caught up in financial concerns that he’s lost sight of the purpose, the telos, of economics, which is to improve society;
  4. Council Tax – based on valuations from 1991(!), the SNP’s revised CT (after years of the anti-democratic interference of local finance through the CT freeze) still means those in the cheapest properties will pay proportionately far more than those in the most expensive properties, as these two tweets show (with the contrasting amounts proposed by key parties contesting this election);
  5. standardised testing in schools – a policy opposed by pretty much anyone in education (but with enthusiastic support from the Tories!), it is hard to imagine why the SNP wants to promote this.

There are many more examples. Although the SNP’s membership is now far to the left of the leadership, this appears to be having little effect on policy, at least for this election. Whilst the SNP has never, to my knowledge, described itself as a left-wing party (it’s broadly centre-left social democratic), its new members might see that differently.

In contrast, the Scottish Green Party is at core progressive, seeing independence as a way to implement progressive policies (as do RISE, but I doubt they’ll do well in May). The SNP – and certainly many of its supporters – see independence as a primary aim after which all other things can be sorted (see many of the comments on sites like Derek Bateman’s): for many, progressive policies are a tool to get to independence. This results in half-hearted and tepid efforts at the truly transformational politics that Scotland needs right now.

Of course Scotland should be freed from Westminster’s priorities, but we can do so much more in the meantime, and the SNP’s timidity in the face of the truly enormous challenges faced by so many people who, after the bankers’ crash of 2008, have suffered from Labour/Tory/LibDem policies at Westminster. The SNP is failing here: ignoring the huge injustices of unequal land-ownership, the reliance on fossil fuels, the Council Tax shambles – these are all things they could act on, but the assurances of electoral victory are perhaps making them too complacent to do so (just as happened with Labour in Scotland?).

I therefore have to ask: why should I vote for the SNP at all? They’re doing too little to earn my vote. After all, we’re not obliged to cast both votes. Option 4 then becomes: no constituency vote (blank or spoiled ballot), and Green (or another preference) in the list vote. And one day, the SNP’s members might help it to become the more radical party so many of them want it to be – in the meantime, my vote for them is hesitant, but I will give it. This time.

Edit 4.4.16: correction to list vote procedure.

Bombs away: anger about UK attacks on Syria

The UK bombing Syria will – according to significant senior military figures – have no strategic effect on ISIS. But the effects on civilians will be devastating: these will be yet more bombs on a country already being bombed and attacked, in particular by Bashar al-Assad, who has killed many times more people than ISIS.

Of course, the key issue here is that Assad has killed Syrians in Syria and our politicians care little about them, as evidenced by the shameful treatment of those fleeing his barrel bombs and trying to come to safety in Europe.  ISIS on the other hand, has not only killed Syrians, but killed Europeans in Europe.  Hilary Benn – supposedly a Labour politician (and I shouldn’t judge him by his father, but…!) – argued yesterday that ISIS are fascists who must be resisted, therefore a ‘fair share’ of the bombing (says David Cameron) should fall on our shoulders, even though the consequences – more dead civilians and more refugees – will by and large be prevented from coming here (according to Theresa May and most of the Westminster parliament).  This is decision-making without responsibility for Conservative, pro-attack Labour and other politicians:

Meanwhile, we can expect to hear of yet more deaths – though that will be disguised by weasel words such as ‘collateral damage’ or ‘targeted killings’ or ‘surgical strikes’ or ‘tragic accidents’ etc. – and there will be yet more parents robbed of children, children whose parents are killed, lovers whose partners are dead, friends who are left alone in the world.

I try hard not to be a vindictive person, but at a deep level my gut reaction, especially after all the catastrophic involvement of the British is conflicts over the years is to feel utter revulsion for all those who voted for these air strikes: I want their nights to be broken by visions of children orphaned by their bombs, by parents crying over the corpses of their dead children, by haunts of wailing lovers, by houses, schools, mosques, churches and hospitals destroyed.

This will, of course, become a constructive anger at the betrayal of values most of us hold dear, and I think that things will change as a result:

In broad terms, I think/hope that the situation in this country is now quite different to 2003, and that this reckless action is the undoing of Cameron and his warmongering allies in his own party, as well as in other parties.  The maps here demonstrate this transformation.

——–

This is the list of MPs who voted to attack Syria, courtesy of the Guardian, are as follows (1, 2):

Conservative MPs – 313
Nigel Adams (Selby & Ainsty), Adam Afriyie (Windsor), Peter Aldous (Waveney), Lucy Allan (Telford), Heidi Allen (Cambridgeshire South), Sir David Amess (Southend West), Stuart Andrew (Pudsey), Caroline Ansell (Eastbourne), Edward Argar (Charnwood), Victoria Atkins (Louth & Horncastle), Richard Bacon (Norfolk South), Steven Baker (Wycombe), Harriett Baldwin (Worcestershire West), Stephen Barclay (Cambridgeshire North East), Guto Bebb (Aberconwy), Henry Bellingham (Norfolk North West), Richard Benyon (Newbury), Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley), Jake Berry (Rossendale & Darwen), James Berry (Kingston & Surbiton), Andrew Bingham (High Peak), Bob Blackman (Harrow East), Nicola Blackwood (Oxford West & Abingdon), Crispin Blunt (Reigate), Nick Boles (Grantham & Stamford), Peter Bone (Wellingborough), Victoria Borwick (Kensington), Peter Bottomley (Worthing West), Karen Bradley (Staffordshire Moorlands), Graham Brady (Altrincham & Sale West), Julian Brazier (Canterbury), Andrew Bridgen (Leicestershire North West), Steve Brine (Winchester), James Brokenshire (Old Bexley & Sidcup), Fiona Bruce (Congleton), Robert Buckland (Swindon South), Conor Burns (Bournemouth West), Simon Burns (Chelmsford), David Burrowes (Enfield Southgate), Alistair Burt (Bedfordshire North East), Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan), David Cameron (Witney), Neil Carmichael (Stroud), James Cartlidge (Suffolk South), Bill Cash (Stone), Maria Caulfield (Lewes), Alex Chalk (Cheltenham), Rehman Chishti (Gillingham & Rainham), Jo Churchill (Bury St Edmunds), Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells), James Cleverly (Braintree), Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswolds, The), Therese Coffey (Suffolk Coastal), Damian Collins (Folkestone & Hythe), Oliver Colvile (Plymouth Sutton & Devonport), Alberto Costa (Leicestershire South), Geoffrey Cox (Devon West & Torridge), Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire), Tracey Crouch (Chatham & Aylesford), Byron Davies (Gower), Chris Davies (Brecon & Radnorshire), David Davies (Monmouth), Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire), James Davies (Vale of Clwyd), Mims Davies (Eastleigh), Philip Davies (Shipley), Caroline Dinenage (Gosport), Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon), Michelle Donelan (Chippenham), Nadine Dorries (Bedfordshire Mid), Stephen Double (St Austell & Newquay), Oliver Dowden (Hertsmere), Richard Drax (Dorset South), Flick Drummond (Portsmouth South), James Duddridge (Rochford & Southend East), Alan Duncan (Rutland & Melton), Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford & Woodford Green), Philip Dunne (Ludlow), Michael Ellis (Northampton North), Jane Ellison (Battersea), Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East), Charlie Elphicke (Dover), George Eustice (Camborne & Redruth), Graham Evans (Weaver Vale), Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley), David Evennett (Bexleyheath & Crayford), Michael Fabricant (Lichfield), Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks), Suella Fernandes (Fareham), Mark Field (Cities of London & Westminster), Kevin Foster (Torbay), Dr Liam Fox (Somerset North), Mark Francois (Rayleigh & Wickford), Lucy Frazer (Cambridgeshire South East), George Freeman (Norfolk Mid), Mike Freer (Finchley & Golders Green), Richard Fuller (Bedford), Marcus Fysh (Yeovil), Roger Gale (Thanet North), Edward Garnier (Harborough), Mark Garnier (Wyre Forest), David Gauke (Hertfordshire South West), Nus Ghani (Wealden), Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis & Littlehampton), Cheryl Gillan (Chesham & Amersham), John Glen (Salisbury), Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park), Robert Goodwill (Scarborough & Whitby), Michael Gove (Surrey Heath), Richard Graham (Gloucester), Helen Grant (Maidstone & The Weald), James Gray (Wiltshire North), Chris Grayling (Epsom & Ewell), Chris Green (Bolton West), Damian Green (Ashford), Justine Greening (Putney), Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield), Andrew Griffiths (Burton), Ben Gummer (Ipswich), Sam Gyimah (Surrey East), Robert Halfon (Harlow), Luke Hall (Thornbury & Yate), Philip Hammond (Runnymede & Weybridge), Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon), Matthew Hancock (Suffolk West), Greg Hands (Chelsea & Fulham), Mark Harper (Forest of Dean), Richard Harrington (Watford), Rebecca Harris (Castle Point), Simon Hart (Carmarthen West & Pembrokeshire South), Sir Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden), John Hayes (South Holland & The Deepings), Sir Oliver Heald (Hertfordshire North East), James Heappey (Wells), Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry), Peter Heaton-Jones (Devon North), Nick Herbert (Arundel & South Downs), Damian Hinds (Hampshire East), Simon Hoare (Dorset North), George Hollingbery (Meon Valley), Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk & Malton), Kris Hopkins (Keighley), Gerald Howarth (Aldershot), John Howell (Henley), Ben Howlett (Bath), Nigel Huddleston (Worcestershire Mid), Jeremy Hunt (Surrey South West), Nick Hurd (Ruislip, Northwood & Pinner), Stewart Jackson (Peterborough), Margot James (Stourbridge), Sajid Javid (Bromsgrove), Ranil Jayawardena (Hampshire North East), Bernard Jenkin (Harwich & Essex North), Andrea Jenkyns (Morley & Outwood), Robert Jenrick (Newark), Boris Johnson (Uxbridge & Ruislip South), Gareth Johnson (Dartford), Joseph Johnson (Orpington), Andrew Jones (Harrogate & Knaresborough), David Jones (Clwyd West), Marcus Jones (Nuneaton), Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury & Atcham), Seema Kennedy (South Ribble), Simon Kirby (Brighton Kemptown), Greg Knight (Yorkshire East), Julian Knight (Solihull), Kwasi Kwarteng (Spelthorne), Mark Lancaster (Milton Keynes North), Pauline Latham (Derbyshire Mid), Andrea Leadsom (Northamptonshire South), Phillip Lee (Bracknell), Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford), Charlotte Leslie (Bristol North West), Oliver Letwin (Dorset West), Brandon Lewis (Great Yarmouth), Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater & Somerset West), David Lidington (Aylesbury), Peter Lilley (Hitchin & Harpenden), Jack Lopresti (Filton & Bradley Stoke), Jonathan Lord (Woking), Tim Loughton (Worthing East & Shoreham), Karen Lumley (Redditch), Jason McCartney (Colne Valley), Karl McCartney (Lincoln), Craig Mackinlay (Thanet South), David Mackintosh (Northampton South), Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire Dales), Anne Main (St Albans), Alan Mak (Havant), Kit Malthouse (Hampshire North West), Scott Mann (Cornwall North), Tania Mathias (Twickenham), Theresa May (Maidenhead), Paul Maynard (Blackpool North & Cleveleys), Mark Menzies (Fylde), Johnny Mercer (Plymouth Moor View), Huw Merriman (Bexhill & Battle), Stephen Metcalfe (Basildon South & Thurrock East), Maria Miller (Basingstoke), Amanda Milling (Cannock Chase), Nigel Mills (Amber Valley), Anne Milton (Guildford), Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield), Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North), Nicky Morgan (Loughborough), Anne Marie Morris (Newton Abbot), David Morris (Morecambe & Lunesdale), James Morris (Halesowen & Rowley Regis), Wendy Morton (Aldridge-Brownhills), David Mowat (Warrington South), David Mundell (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale & Tweeddale), Sheryll Murray (Cornwall South East), Dr Andrew Murrison (Wiltshire South West), Bob Neill (Bromley & Chislehurst), Sarah Newton (Truro & Falmouth), Caroline Nokes (Romsey & Southampton North), Jesse Norman (Hereford & Herefordshire South), David Nuttall (Bury North), Matthew Offord (Hendon), Guy Opperman (Hexham), George Osborne (Tatton), Neil Parish (Tiverton & Honiton), Priti Patel (Witham), Owen Paterson (Shropshire North), Mark Pawsey (Rugby), Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead), John Penrose (Weston-Super-Mare), Andrew Percy (Brigg & Goole), Claire Perry (Devizes), Stephen Phillips (Sleaford & North Hykeham), Chris Philp (Croydon South), Eric Pickles (Brentwood & Ongar), Christopher Pincher (Tamworth), Daniel Poulter (Suffolk Central & Ipswich North), Rebecca Pow (Taunton Deane), Victoria Prentis (Banbury), Mark Prisk (Hertford & Stortford), Mark Pritchard (Wrekin, The), Tom Pursglove (Corby), Jeremy Quin (Horsham), Will Quince (Colchester), Dominic Raab (Esher & Walton), Jacob Rees-Mogg (Somerset North East), Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury), Mary Robinson (Cheadle), Andrew Rosindell (Romford), Amber Rudd (Hastings & Rye), David Rutley (Macclesfield), Antoinette Sandbach (Eddisbury), Paul Scully (Sutton & Cheam), Andrew Selous (Bedfordshire South West), Grant Shapps (Welwyn Hatfield), Alok Sharma (Reading West), Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet & Rothwell), Keith Simpson (Broadland), Chris Skidmore (Kingswood), Chloe Smith (Norwich North), Henry Smith (Crawley), Julian Smith (Skipton & Ripon), Royston Smith (Southampton Itchen), Nicholas Soames (Sussex Mid), Amanda Solloway (Derby North), Anna Soubry (Broxtowe), Caroline Spelman (Meriden), Mark Spencer (Sherwood), Andrew Stephenson (Pendle), John Stevenson (Carlisle), Bob Stewart (Beckenham), Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South), Rory Stewart (Penrith & The Border), Gary Streeter (Devon South West), Mel Stride (Devon Central), Graham Stuart (Beverley & Holderness), Julian Sturdy (York Outer), Rishi Sunak (Richmond (Yorks)), Desmond Swayne (New Forest West), Hugo Swire (Devon East), Robert Syms (Poole), Derek Thomas (St Ives), Maggie Throup (Erewash), Edward Timpson (Crewe & Nantwich), Kelly Tolhurst (Rochester & Strood), Justin Tomlinson (Swindon North), Michael Tomlinson (Dorset Mid & Poole North), Craig Tracey (Warwickshire North), David Tredinnick (Bosworth), Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Berwick-upon-Tweed), Elizabeth Truss (Norfolk South West), Thomas Tugendhat (Tonbridge & Malling), Ed Vaizey (Wantage), Shailesh Vara (Cambridgeshire North West), Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet), Charles Walker (Broxbourne), Robin Walker (Worcester), Ben Wallace (Wyre & Preston North), David Warburton (Somerton & Frome), Matt Warman (Boston & Skegness), Angela Watkinson (Hornchurch & Upminster), James Wharton (Stockton South), Helen Whately (Faversham & Kent Mid), Heather Wheeler (Derbyshire South), Chris White (Warwick & Leamington), Craig Whittaker (Calder Valley), John Whittingdale (Maldon), Bill Wiggin (Herefordshire North), Craig Williams (Cardiff North), Gavin Williamson (Staffordshire South), Rob Wilson (Reading East), Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes), Mike Wood (Dudley South), William Wragg (Hazel Grove), Jeremy Wright (Kenilworth & Southam) and Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon).

The two tellers for the ayes were also Tories: Gavin Barwell (Croydon Central) and Jackie Doyle Price (Thurrock).

Labour MPs – 66
Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East), Ian Austin (Dudley North), Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West), Kevin Barron (Rother Valley), Margaret Beckett (Derby South), Hilary Benn (Leeds Central), Luciana Berger (Liverpool Wavertree), Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South & Cleveland East), Ben Bradshaw (Exeter), Chris Bryant (Rhondda), Alan Campbell (Tynemouth), Jenny Chapman (Darlington), Vernon Coaker (Gedling), Ann Coffey (Stockport), Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract & Castleford), Neil Coyle (Bermondsey & Old Southwark), Mary Creagh (Wakefield), Stella Creasy (Walthamstow), Simon Danczuk (Rochdale), Wayne David (Caerphilly), Gloria De Piero (Ashfield), Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South & Penarth), Jim Dowd (Lewisham West & Penge), Michael Dugher (Barnsley East), Angela Eagle (Wallasey), Maria Eagle (Garston & Halewood), Louise Ellman (Liverpool Riverside), Frank Field (Birkenhead), Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar & Limehouse), Colleen Fletcher (Coventry North East), Caroline Flint (Don Valley), Harriet Harman (Camberwell & Peckham), Margaret Hodge (Barking), George Howarth (Knowsley), Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central), Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central), Alan Johnson (Hull West & Hessle), Graham Jones (Hyndburn), Helen Jones (Warrington North), Kevan Jones (Durham North), Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South), Liz Kendall (Leicester West), Dr Peter Kyle (Hove), Chris Leslie (Nottingham East), Holly Lynch (Halifax), Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham & Morden), Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East), Conor McGinn (St Helens North), Alison McGovern (Wirral South), Bridget Phillipson (Houghton & Sunderland South), Jamie Reed (Copeland), Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East), Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry North West), Joan Ryan (Enfield North), Lucy Powell (Manchester Central), Ruth Smeeth (Stoke-on-Trent North), Angela Smith (Penistone & Stocksbridge), John Spellar (Warley), Gisela Stuart (Birmingham Edgbaston), Gareth Thomas (Harrow West), Anna Turley (Redcar), Chuka Umunna (Streatham), Keith Vaz (Leicester East), Tom Watson (West Bromwich East), Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) and John Woodcock (Barrow & Furness).

Liberal Democrat MPs – 6
Six Liberal Democrats voted in favour: Tom Brake (Carshalton & Wallington), Alistair Carmichael (Orkney & Shetland), Nick Clegg (Sheffield Hallam), Tim Farron (Westmorland & Lonsdale), Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) and John Pugh (Southport).

DUP MPs – 8
There were eight Democratic Unionist Party ayes: Gregory Campbell (Londonderry East), Nigel Dodds (Belfast North), Jeffrey Donaldson (Lagan Valley), Ian Paisley (Antrim North), Gavin Robinson (Belfast East), Jim Shannon (Strangford), David Simpson (Upper Bann) and Sammy Wilson (Antrim East).

Others voting for airstrikes
The two UUP MPs voted for airstrikes: Tom Elliott (Fermanagh & South Tyrone), Danny Kinahan (Antrim South).

Also in the aye lobby were Ukip MP Douglas Carswell (Clacton) and independent Sylvia Hermon (Down North).

The government wants to deprive you of secure encryption – but why does this matter?

In early October I wrote a blog posting on my academic blog about the need for strong encryption for academics; when tweeting this posting, I noted that it actually applied to all areas of life.

Now, according to an article in the Daily Telegraph, our dreadful Conservative government at Westminster wants to prevent anyone in the UK from having proper encryption.  That is not how they describe it, but it is very clearly what they intend.  They want to ensure that nobody can use encryption services that the government cannot access – in other words, the government is going to ban you from securely encrypting your data.  This is not what they say they are doing, but: if your data can be read by anyone other than the intended recipient (another person or yourself), then it is not securely encrypted.

You may think this does not matter to you, because you have no deep dark secrets that you communicate on Facetime or iMessage (the Apple examples given in the Telegraph).  I would dispute that view (see below), but even if that is not a concern to you, bear in mind that all your financial transactions are put at risk by idiocy such as this: if secure encryption is no longer allowed in this country, it is certain that not only will the government be able to access your data as it is transmitted, but before long others will be able to do so as well – others with aims at least as nefarious as those of the government.  Think about the implications of this next time you enter your credit card details to buy a book online, or transfer money using your online banking, or give someone (your employer?) your bank details so they can give you money.

The Telegraph article says:

Companies such as Apple, Google and others will no longer be able to offer encryption so advanced that even they cannot decipher it when asked to, the Daily Telegraph can disclose.

Measures in the Investigatory Powers Bill will place in law a requirement on tech firms and service providers to be able to provide unencrypted communications to the police or spy agencies if requested through a warrant.

But data is either securely encrypted or it is not.  Semi-secured encryption is an oxymoron.  To be sure, there are different levels of encryption (see the note below), but that is not the same as allowing a backdoor that can bypass the encryption altogether – that’s simply insecure.

If the government is allowed to pursue this madness, no communications in the UK can possibly be trusted, nor will it be possible to trust devices or software bought here.  The economic and computing argument is lucidly laid out in this blog posting.

More generally, as the leaks from Edward Snowden and others have shown, governments are absolutely not to be trusted with personal data. I believe we have a duty as members of the public to not be a totally predictable or transparent population.  As soon as we are transparent in our lives – whether this be our shopping patterns or our political views – we are tearing at the fabric of democracy, and governments of all kinds will appreciate us doing that for them! As responsible individuals, we must use encryption for ourselves in order to maintain the appropriate balance between our personal lives and the public good.  The government seeks to make the personal public by removing our right to privacy, whilst at the same time taking what is public away from us as persons.  This proposed removal of the right to secure encryption coupled with the current attacks on civil liberties – whether cuts to legal aid, restrictions on trade union activity, or the ever-diminishing space for public protest etc. – is a profoundly worrying situation.  Responsible citizens should use secure encryption, and we should resist the government’s attempts to take that away from us.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a very good guide to all kinds of security issues on its Surveillance Self-Defense pages – I highly recommend going through these and seeing what might apply to you.

I also strongly encourage you to write to your MP about this issue; you can find out who this is by clicking here.

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Note: Regarding the different levels of encryption: this is about determining the ease with which an attacker could break the keys, perhaps by trying to reverse-engineer or brute force guessing of the password/passphrase etc.  Different levels of activity warrant different key lengths: clicking on the padlock in my browser bar shows that the WordPress site I am typing this text on uses 128 bit keys, which is ok for a simple blog:

Screenshot of Firefox's Security tab in the Page Info screen - click to see a larger version

Screenshot of Firefox’s Security tab in the Page Info screen – click to see a larger version

My online banking uses 256 bit keys which is better; my GPG encryption uses 4096 bit keys, which as far as anyone knows, means it is practically unbreakable at the present time: the only way to read something I have encrypted with GPG is by asking (or torturing…!) me or the recipient to provide our respective passphrases.  Of course, even GPG (which is based on Phil Zimmermann’s Pretty Good Privacy, or PGP) is not going to be secure forever, but at the moment it is the best there is for email (even Edward Snowden uses it), particularly because the code is open-source meaning that countless experts have studied and reviewed it and found it to be secure.

The EFF link above makes useful suggestions for other forms of communication, including text messaging (eg Signal/TextSecure), chat (eg ChatSecure), and more.