01 November 2016

S5M-02203 UK Referendum on EU Membership: Justice and Security

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-02203, in the name of Michael Matheson, on the United Kingdom referendum on European Union membership: impacts on justice and security in Scotland.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I gently disagree with Liam Kerr. The person who really defeated Napoleon was a guy called George Scovell, who was Arthur Wellesley’s code-breaker. George Scovell broke Napoleon’s le grand chiffre, and thus, in the peninsular wars in 1812, the man who became Lord Wellington knew exactly what Napoleon’s plans were.

In the modern world, perhaps the use of, access to and protection of data will be equally important, and important things on the European stage relate to that. Government Communications Headquarters was the home of public key cryptography: Crookes and Clifford Cocks were the original inventors, although now its invention is attributed to the 1977 Massachusetts Institute of Technology patent in the name of Rivest, Shamir and Adleman. The secrecy of GCHQ meant that the UK was denied the commercial advantage and intellectual approbation of the world for inventing the software and algorithms that continue to protect our data to this day.

If we cut ourselves off from the world in the way that it appears will be the case, we will not be in a position to develop the means to make and to break cryptography. When we are dealing with crime, we need to be able to break into the codes and encryptions that criminals use and we need to produce robust protections for our data, because that is the very basis of our national security.

Rather than involving the old arguments about hardware, the future will be much more about fighting cyberwars and cybercrime. With people from around the world coming to our universities to share their intellect and their ideas, we are in a position to develop the kind of protections that we need. However, with the cutting of ties to European institutions and the setting up of barriers to the free movement of people, we will not have the intellectual and multinational capacity to fight the world in the internet.

The internet de facto knows no boundaries; it creates commercial, intellectual and cultural opportunity, but it also creates threats to which we need to respond. The internet is a place with fewer rules than we would probably put in place if we developed it from scratch today. It enables people to create spoof emails, it enables phishing attacks by spoof websites and, with wi-fi moving into domestic things such as fridges and lights—the internet of things, as that is now called—it creates further vulnerabilities that require international collaboration.

Only last week, an attack by a bot infected many pieces of domestic equipment and wi-fi via the internet, and it brought down the domain name server that allows people to access Twitter. Some of us might think that having Twitter off the air for four or five hours is probably a very good thing. However, that attack is indicative of the threats that will exist in the future from the activities that can take place on the internet.

We must not pretend that the world of the future is one where barriers will be more controllable than they were in the past; they will be more permeable than at any time in recent history.

Terrorism is not a new thing. The Metropolitan Police special branch was founded in 1883 in response to the Irish republican brotherhood—a domestic terrorist organisation in the United Kingdom, which included Ireland at that time.

International terrorism existed then, too. In January 1911, Winston Churchill attended the siege of Sidney Street, where Latvian revolutionaries—who had been conducting a series of bank raids—had holed themselves up. Special branch and the Army were there to dig them out. Churchill claimed that there were lead bullets in his astrakhan coat from peering from behind the wall to see what was going on and getting himself shot at—whether that is true is perhaps a matter for debate.

In more recent times, we had the Balcombe Street siege in London in 1975, which again involved Irish terrorism. We had the Baader-Meinhof gang in Germany and the red brigades in Italy, both of which were entirely domestic. Terrorism crosses boundaries, but it can also grow in communities that are not socially adept at responding to changes.

We have just been through the fifth referendum organised by central Government. The first was in 1975, although there was also a referendum on the League of Nations in 1934. That one was organised by the churches, but everyone in the UK voted. We are now discussing the impact on the justice system of the most recent referendum. Let us go back and think about what that referendum was about.

The question on the ballot paper was a simple one: should the United Kingdom remain a member of the EU or should it leave? That was all. It was not a referendum on immigration, the single market or the European convention on human rights. In fact, the question that we were asked made no reference to matters of justice, the economy or a wide range of other areas. Therefore, we should not read into the result the idea that it tells us that we should leave the single market or unsign the European convention on human rights, which—as Claire Baker reminded us—was very much the brainchild of Winston Churchill, who was at that time a distinguished Conservative member and former Prime Minister. We cannot look at the vote and decide what it means.

Margaret Mitchell told us that we should not reveal anything about our negotiating hand. I predict that, if we go into the chamber where the negotiations take place with a blank sheet of paper, we will come out with a blank sheet of paper.


Stewart Stevenson
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