Leaders: Labour’s pains | Counter-terrorism

SCOTLAND is facing political transformation as diffusion of No voters plays into the SNP’s hands

Thousands are deserting Labour, moving instead into the embracing arms of the SNP. Picture: Getty

NOT so very long ago, the joke ran that Labour could stick a rosette on a monkey and it would be elected in Scotland. The party’s dominance of the political landscape seemed absolute.

In building a fortress across Scotland, Labour saw off the Conservatives, leaving them all but extinct. Meanwhile, the SNP remained a minority interest; a sizeable one, but a minority nonetheless.

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It hardly needs restating that things have changed, and changed dramatically. Opinion poll after opinion poll shows backing for the Labour Party in Scotland evaporating. And, at the same time, the nationalists enjoy what appears to be unshakeable support by almost half of all Scots.

When the SNP-led Yes Scotland campaign failed to deliver victory in last year’s independence referendum, any notion that the constitutional argument had been settled was soon shattered. A massive surge in SNP membership revealed that, for a great many Scots, this was only round one in a fight which they wish to see through to the end they desire.

For Labour – many of whose traditional supporters voted Yes last year – this was a disastrous turn of events. Hundreds of thousands of Scots on whom they once depended – or, perhaps, took for granted – have converted their Yes vote into SNP support and there is little sign that they plan to change their minds again.

In Jim Murphy, Scottish Labour has a bright, dynamic leader. He played a major role in the Better Together campaign last year, touring Scotland and delivering speeches on street corners. It was old-fashioned politics that engaged people. But Murphy clearly has not reconnected his party to those Scots who believe only constitutional change can deliver a fairer, more successful country. His opponents will say that Scottish Labour’s leader is part of the problem, but something deeper is at play. It seems that nobody – short of a miracle worker – could currently change the party’s fortunes.

Scots are now in a constitutional stand-off. On one side, almost half back independence and see the SNP as the party to deliver it, while on the other side, slightly more than half support the Union and see either Labour, the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats as the parties that can see off nationalism. This diffusion of No voters among different parties can do nothing but further enable the SNP’s electoral dominance.

As the general election draws closer, Labour is running out of options. The party’s line that support for the SNP would only increase the possibility of another Tory-led Westminster Government has failed to gain traction, while its – perfectly coherent – argument that SNP proposals for full fiscal autonomy could mean cuts to services or massively increased borrowing has similarly fallen flat.

This must be deeply disturbing to Ed Miliband, whose prospects of becoming Prime Minister after May 7 will be severely dented by the collapse of Labour support in Scotland. But neither Murphy nor Miliband appear to have the power to change the situation in which their party finds itself.

Now Labour must not only be ruefully contemplating how they have fallen so far so quickly, but giving real thought to what they can do for the best outcome after the election. If Labour do as badly as the polls suggest, that means politics will again be dominated by the constitution right up to and including the 2016 Holyrood elections, and who now can reasonably forecast what will happen in those? Scotland is facing a political transformation.

Interviewed last week, Prime Minister David Cameron said the Tories were on a long, hard road back in Scotland. It seems clear Labour may now face a similarly arduous journey.

Conundrum at the heart of counter-terrorism

THE arrest of five teenagers suspected of planning an IS-inspired terrorist attack in Australia reveals the ever-changing nature of the threat from extremists.

Where once counter-terrorism intelligence officers may have been concentrating on those moving abroad for training or tracking illegal gun shipments, now it’s increasingly clear that Islamist terrorists can be entirely home-grown.

Those arrested in Melbourne are said to have been planning to target police at an event to mark the 100th anniversary of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps’ battle against Ottoman Empire troops in Gallipoli during the First World War. The suspects are understood to have been planning attacks using edged weapons; blades rather than bombs or guns.

The internet has, clearly, played a significant role in the growth of terrorist cells. Not only does it make contacts between separate groups easier, it provides extremists with a platform from which they might inspire others.

A bloody attack on Anzac Day would have been a significant coup for Islamists. With its symbolic timing – the anniversary of a battle between western and Islamic soldiers – it would surely have been hailed by extremists as an heroic act.

But while we can be satisfied that this planned attack has been thwarted, the intelligence operation that led to the arrests of five suspects throws up difficult questions. Politicians argue that what drives Islamist terrorists is a hatred of Western values, which include personal freedom – which is a fundamental freedom for us. If we believe that the right to a private life is fundamental, then we find it difficult to countenance the monitoring of the phone calls, emails, or internet use of any citizen.

However, we also expect that our security forces should ensure that we are safe to enjoy the freedoms we take for granted. Here, there exists a contradiction that we can’t ignore.

If the state has no place in our private lives, then how can the state protect us from modern terrorism?

There is no easy answer to this conundrum but, at the very least, it is something that we must consider. Do we demand freedom at any cost or do we accept some breaches of privacy for the greater good?