Martin Hannan: Rights bill will exorcise spooks

Picture:  REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS
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TRY as I might, I cannot share in the outrage caused by the revelation that the United States Federal government was snooping on its own citizens and just about everybody else by accessing the records of internet companies.

Frankly, I had presumed that they were doing so anyway, and I am also pretty sure that our own spooks have been helping themselves to information acquired by America’s National Security Agency through the PRISM programme.

Did anyone really believe that such control freaks as the governments in Washington and London were ever going to allow freedom and privacy on the internet?

The only thing I’m amazed about is that the existence of PRISM was made public, and the brave leaker, Edward Snowden, will no doubt be eventually hauled in front of a show trial and banged up for decades.

For he has caused serious embarrassment to both the spooks and the two governments which, far from protecting their citizens’ rights, trample all over them every day, usually with the spurious excuse that they are acting in the interests of safety and 
security.

PRISM is just the latest indication of a tendency in our politicians and civil servants – after all, that’s what our spies are – to want to control every aspect of our lives.

In the USA, at least citizens have some protections thanks to the constitution which may not be perfect but is certainly a lot better than the constitution of the United Kingdom, for the simple reason that we don’t have one.

It has always seemed ludicrous to me that the UK does not possess a formal written constitution, relying on the body of laws built up over the centuries to act as precedents and guides.

The lack of a constitution is one reason, in my opinion, why politicians at Westminster think that they can do what they like. It also means that the government in London can make things up as it goes along, and it usually does so with impunity.

For years now, every time I have heard the squeals from the English tabloid press about the European human rights laws, I have had to suppress the urge to bash those so-called journalists about the head.

They really do make fools of themselves by attacking the human rights convention, because they cannot see, or will not see, that these rights – first drafted by British lawyers, don’t forget – are aimed at providing some security for ordinary people who come up against nasty governments.

When Britain did eventually get its Human Rights Act, quite shamefully late in the day, right-wing politicians and their lackeys in the press made a huge fuss that it just wasn’t British, and howled that the chaps – they are still mostly chaps – in Westminster should be allowed to carry on doing what they wanted because they could be trusted.

Trust them after all the scandals such as Expensesgate and the new “cash for questions” furore? No thank you.

A future Scottish Government, which regular readers will know I campaign for, must have a written constitution and bill of rights as its first priority. And this question must be answered now – are British spooks spying on independence campaigners as we are clearly a threat to the future of the UK?

I think we should be told.

Patter tester for Glasgow link

The new president of Iran, Hassan Rowhani, is apparently proud of his connections to Glasgow where he apparently studied for a doctorate. There does appear to be some mystery about his time at the Glasgow Caledonian University, where he enrolled in the 1990s under another name, having earlier studied as a youth in the old Glasgow Polytechnic in the 1970s.

But anyone doubting whether or not the president did actually live and work in Glasgow merely needs to ask him a few easy questions. You could start by inquiring “howzitgaun, Hassan?” and if he replies “pure dead brilliant” the case will be closed. On no account, however, should the Muslim cleric be asked “are ye furra bevvy, Pres?”

Douglas leaves a big hole in journalism

There is a huge sense of loss among journalists in Edinburgh and beyond following the death of Douglas Middleton, for years a huge presence in this newspaper.

He was simply a consummate journalist who led the News team by example. His students in his second career as a lecturer at Napier always knew they were getting the best inside knowledge about journalism from him because he had done it all.

Very many people will be feeling like me today, that we have lost an irreplaceable friend and mentor. To his family, all I can say is he will be missed forever.

My gratitude for the wheel deal

As I mentioned last week, I like to talk up local businesses that are doing well. And since I occasionally highlight bad service when I get it, it seems only fair to mention excellent service. So congratulations and thanks to the people at Arnold Clark’s Seafield Motorstore Service Centre, who did a first-class job for me last week. Much appreciated.