hopeA talk given at the Solas Festival

This week saw a major gaffe by the No campaign – listing a series of institutions that we would need to create in an independent Scotland – only to have it explained to them that many of them already existed. Stephen Noon’s comprehensive response here was devastating (‘Perspectives: Knowing little and caring less‘) but what did it show about a campaign that knows so little? Who’s running No that they don’t know such basic information?

One of the big claims made was that we benefit from ‘soft power’ citing the London Olympics opening ceremony as an example. It was perhaps an unfortunate one given that the Olympics drained Scottish tourism of visitors (‘Olympics put a dampener on Scottish tourism’), which is exactly what you would expect if you hadn’t been already bombarded with propaganda telling you otherwise. But also because, in retrospect, the whole NHS-focus of Danny Boyle’s much lauded ceremony now looks like a sick joke as the Tory-Liberal coalition has continued taking a wrecking ball to the health service.

But revelations this week give another reason for being extremely doubtful of the positive benefits of being tied to the British State. Today Edward Snowden revealed that PRISM was just the thin end of the wedge, and far from private internet companies being forced purely by US security services to give up information about us, the UK had its own plan:

Britain’s spy agency GCHQ has secretly gained access to the network of cables which carry the world’s phone calls and internet traffic and has started to process vast streams of sensitive personal information which it is sharing with its American partner, the National Security Agency…More here.

This plan called MTI ‘master the internet’ has certainly trumped anything us Cyber Nats can do – while we call for democracy and equality state-backed Cyber Brits are operating on a completely different scale. William Hague, who took this week to attack the independence campaign is in charge of GCHQ and must have been fully aware of the MTI plans.

When you take these extraordinary revelations alongside the allegations that the Met had a secret team for infiltrating green groups who not only sired children, formed long term relationships and (it’s alleged) bombed shops as well as writing the pamphlet that caused the McLibel trial, and you have a toxic mix of British state authorities operating covertly and off the leash.

Such is the soft power much heralded by No that the ‘This is for Everyone’ message celebrating the creation of the internet at the Olympic opening ceremony now has a completely different tone.

Henry Porter writes:

As the enormous implications of this story become clear, about such things as the lack of meaningful oversight in both countries, the use of commercial companies and the wholesale disregard for the fundamentals of our two democratic systems, it’s important to recognise that a decisive moment has been reached…This is about the unscrutinised power of a deep state and its burgeoning influence on society. Thanks to Snowden, the world has evidence of the totally monitored future that GCHQ and NSA plan for us, and that political establishments turn a blind eye to.

As Porter writes this is only possible because ‘fear still trumps everything’ (does that sound familiar to anyone?).

As we extricate ourselves from the British State we need to examine what institutions and practices and values we can put in place to create a society that is free and open and which uses new technologies as means for creative expression and sharing rather than as tools of oppression. Hope is the rejection of the status quo as we strive for better and hold up an aspiration that civil liberties are a core value and a precious one and that the police and security services must be held accountable.