Postcards
from Scotland

We asked a selection of SR
contributors for a memory
of an outstanding holiday in
Scotland – good or bad



Marian Pallister in Tobermory
George Chalmers in Ayr
Islay McLeod in Rockcliffe
Judith Jaafar in Carrick Castle
Barney MacFarlane on Arran



Bill Jamieson on Bute
Tessa Ransford in North Berwick
Michael Elcock on Harris
Ronnie Smith in Largs

Katie Grant on Mull
Thom Cross in Kirkcaldy
Morelle Smith in Glencoe
Bob Cant in Carnoustie

Robin Downie on Arran
Bruce Gardner in Glen Livet
Fiona MacDonald on Tiree
Walter Humes at home

Jill Stephenson at Loch Duich
Quintin Jardine in Elie
Iain Macmillan in Gleneagles
Douglas Marr on Skye
Andrew McFadyen in Kilmarnock

R D Kernohan on Arran
David Torrance on Iona
Catherine Czerkawska at Loch Ken
Chris Holligan in Elie

Rose Galt in Girvan
Alex Wood on Arran
Andrew Hook in Glasgow
Alasdair McKillop in St Andrews

Sheila Hetherington on Arran
Anthony Seaton on Ben Nevis
Paul Cockburn at Loch Ness
Jackie Kemp in a taxi
Angus Skinner on Skye

14.12.10
No. 340

In the kettle


This family email was sent at 2.30am last Friday by Dr Rosalind Galt, a Scottish-born senior lecturer:

I thought you might appreciate a report from the back of the riot. We were kettled for over eight hours in Parliament Square and Westminster Bridge. This was clearly the plan all along. Their excuse, I imagine, was our breaking down the fences to allow us into Parliament Square. If we hadn't done that, we'd have been crushed as the police didn't plan to allow us any space in front of parliament and more and more people were pouring in.
     Despite what news reports seem to be saying, the vast majority of marchers wanted to leave by mid-afternoon and were not allowed to. We were consistently told we could leave by some other exit, only to walk over there and find literally hundreds of riot police blocking the roads. We were told to go to Whitehall, but at Whitehall we were directed back to the north exits to the square. Back there, they tried to send us back to Whitehall.
     This charade went on until we all gave up and found a safe place to wait. Parents were phoning their kids to tell them that, according to the news reports, peaceful protesters were being allowed out, but it was untrue. To us in the kettle, this was obvious nonsense, but it set up the lie that those remaining were rioters there by choice.
     Mostly, of course, the protesters were students, many high school students. Early on, police on horseback charged a group of protesters who were trying to leave. As the kettle went on for hours and people got increasingly angry, the kids got really scared. When, inevitably, actual violence broke out, the police were essentially trapping thousands of terrified teenagers in a dangerous and unstable situation.
     We had one group of London Met students calling their parents to tell them it was okay, they were with 'sensible adults' ie us. Another group of 16-year-old girls asked us if protests were always like this. We tried to explain that this is not normal and that exercising one's right to free assembly should not be met with threats of police violence, endless detention and removal of all other civil rights. Aren't the police meant to be protecting us too?      Apparently we gave up all our rights as citizens by daring to go on a protest march.
     We kept moving around the square to try to second guess where the police might charge and where we might be safest. One group formed a huge queue, hoping that if they behaved so reasonably, they would be allowed to leave (they weren't). Others sat with laptops or gathered round fires. Finally, after several barefaced lies from the Met about when and where we'd be released, they let us onto Westminster Bridge, only to pen us there for two more hours.
     It was claustrophobic and flat-out irresponsible on the part of the police. In such a contained space, had one person panicked or done something stupid, there could easily have been crushing deaths.
     Of many moments of humour in adversity, the best was a chant of 'Less kettles, more tea!' which was quickly corrected by a passing student to 'Fewer kettles...'
     Anyway, they let us out just in time to miss the last direct train home, but we got here eventually.      We left chanting 'We'll be back...'

The Midgie is still reeling – in so far as it is possible to reel in an ice cube – from his exciting world exclusive last Thursday when he predicted an imminent reshuffle at Holyrood. Two days later, the first minister personally interrupted his weekend to ensure that the Midgie was not made to look foolish.
     It is true that our all-too-fallible political staff got one or two tiresome details slightly wrong. They prophesied that the indomitable snowman, Stewart Stevenson, would be promoted to Cabinet Secretary for Weather Forecasts. Instead the unfortunate digger fell on his icepick and will now be able to study the weather forecast at his leisure from the backbenches.
     Likewise, it was widely thought that jolly Keith Brown, the pride o' the Ochill Hills, would become minister for fun in reward for his amusing performance on Newsnicht with Kenny Roy and Katie Grant. The Midgie is, however, consoled to learn that this jolly ambassador for Tillicoultry will be the next best thing – minister for snow with cabinet responsibility for sludge.

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Intimate details of our lives

are being 'monitored' and

shared by public bodies

in Scotland without

our knowledge

 

Open Secrets

Part I of a Scottish Review investigation

 

Kenneth Roy

Some of the five million candidates for
Scotland's citizens' database
Photograph of Glasgow Central Station by Islay McLeod


We no longer need to imagine a futuristic world in which everyone has a number known only to the authorities; a world in which the most intimate details of our lives are able to be shared without our permission or even knowledge; a world in which we are electronically tracked from the womb to the grave. We no longer need to imagine such a world because, in Scotland, we are already living in it.
     The database state is not unique to us, but it is being pursued here with unabated zeal. Within weeks of coming to power, the coalition government scrapped Contact Point, a notorious data-sharing scheme in England and Wales, in response to concerns about its intrusion into private lives. There is no sign of a similar initiative north of the border, where the full extent of the database state, with its profound implications for civil liberties, is only now emerging.
     Two months ago, SR revealed how GIRFEC ('Getting It Right for Every Child'), an apparently innocuous Scottish data-sharing project with the ostensible aim of alerting the authorities to children at risk, is being universally applied regardless of circumstance. We gave examples of GIRFEC's invasion of privacy, including such sinister absurdities as the recording of the names of family pets. We did, however, claim, because we believed it to be true, that the electronic sharing of information, which starts pre-birth, stops at the age of 18. We wondered in passing what happens to all that data. There was no official response.
     It now seems unlikely that the files on our children are being destroyed. It is much more likely that they are being fed into an adult database, or series of linked databases, which will continue to be available for sharing by government agencies, the health service, local authorities, the police, even some voluntary organisations. The eventual aim is nothing less than the universal profiling of the people of Scotland. This colossal undertaking has begun – certainly in the Western Isles, Ayrshire, Tayside and Grampian, and perhaps more widely than SR has been able to establish.
     Following our initial revelations, sources close to GIRFEC – that is to say, involved in its implementation – contacted SR to express misgivings about the project and its very much wider context. For obvious reasons these sources cannot be named. But they have helped us to piece together the full story of Scotland's 'citizens' database', as it is known to insiders.

 

Each person will have a 'Unique Person Identifier, a number which can be used as a common reference number across information systems to identity an individual'.


     The technical bible of the citizens' database – the blueprint – is an obscure document called the 'Scottish Social Care Data Standards Manual' first published five years ago, when Labour was still in power on both sides of the border, by the data standards and e-care division of the Scottish Executive. Being obscure and rather obviously a product of New Labour ideology does not, however, make it any less disturbing. Unless its generally overlooked progress is halted by political action of the kind we have seen in England and Wales, the citizens' database will grow to cover the whole of the country and every citizen.
     The manual states at the outset:
     Under Joint Future initiatives, public sector agencies such as social care, health, housing and education are being encouraged to deliver care and services on a joined-up basis, supported by high-quality, shareable information about people, their care needs and the services they require...Using these data standards will maximise the commonality of recorded data thereby increasing its shareability and potential usefulness.
     The bureaucratic jargon is, as always, execrable, but the intentions are plain enough: anyone who accesses a vital public service runs the risk of having personal information requested, recorded and shared by 'local public sector agency partnerships throughout Scotland'. The material shared will include, as well as 'generic core information' such supplementary intelligence as 'processes, events and status episodes'. We can only speculate what these amount to.
     Each person will have a 'Unique Person Identifier, a number which can be used as a common reference number across information systems to identity an individual'. This number, unlike our National Insurance number, will not be known to the subject: only to the agencies which are party to the citizens' database and sharing the information electronically.
     A 'positive recording approach' is recommended. (In other words: no field on a person's computerised profile should be left blank). The Scottish government wishes to promote 'an information culture where people are free to withhold potentially sensitive personal data, but there is an expectation that positive answers to other data will normally be provided'.

 

The Scottish government not only expects us, as patients or clients, to provide this information, but also proposes to make it available for sharing electronically among a variety of approved 'practitioners'.


     Let's, then, take a closer look at the information which we will be 'expected' to provide or, in a few cases, be 'free to withhold'.

Name
Marital status
Ethnic group
Religion (Apparently 'Atheist' is a religious group – it is included in a long list between 'Associate Synod' and 'Baha'i')
Country of birth
First language
Address
Telephone number
E-mail address
Sex at birth
'Lives Alone' – in this way identifying anyone who does so
'Associated Person' – details of 'people who have a significant involvement, or relationship with, the person' – next-of-kin, emergency contact, accountant and lawyer are given as examples.
'Social, economic and physical situation' – noting the type of accommodation in which the person lives, including penal establishments, and classifying 'squatters' and 'rough sleepers' separately; employment status; composition of household etc.


     We should be clear: it cannot be repeated often enough: the Scottish government not only expects us, as patients or clients, to provide this information, but also proposes to make it available for sharing electronically among a variety of approved 'practitioners'.

 

'Organisations are sometimes tempted to avoid monitoring on the grounds of sexual orientation for the reasons that it is too sensitive or seen to be a private matter.'


     We have left until last the most bizarre question of all: sexual orientation. The answer may fall into one of eight categories:

Heterosexual
Gay man
Lesbian
Bisexual
Not certain
Not disclosed
Other
Not known


     The inclusion of this question is defended on the grounds that it 'might ensure that minority groups are not disadvantaged or marginalised in their access to core services'. It could be argued that the citizens' database is so deeply intrusive that the reverse may turn out to be true.
     Significantly, the architects of the database betray an uncharacteristic nervousness when they address this issue. The manual emphasises the need to assure the client of 'strictest confidentiality': an assurance without integrity since the information given in 'strictest confidentiality' may then be electronically shared without the client knowing the first thing about it.
     It continues: 'Organisations are sometimes tempted to avoid monitoring on the grounds of sexual orientation for the reasons that it is too sensitive or seen to be a private matter.'
     A short deconstruction of that remarkable statement is called for. First, which organisations does the Scottish government have in mind here? Who asks the question, or is tempted not to ask it, and in what circumstances is it asked, or not asked? Second, the use of the word 'monitoring' should be noted as an acknowledgement of what is really going on. Third, the phrase 'seen to be a private matter' suggests that sexual orientation is not necessarily a private matter. If it is not necessarily a private matter, but only 'seen to be' one, is there anything we are entitled to call private?
     Or is what we are embarking on in Scotland in effect the death of privacy?

Tomorrow: part II of Open Secrets

 

Kenneth Roy is editor of the Scottish Review

 

 

 

Before and after the fall

 

Bob Smith

 

www.bobsmithart.com