No Place to Hide review – Glenn Greenwald’s compelling account of NSA/GCHQ surveillance


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “No Place to Hide review – Glenn Greenwald’s compelling account of NSA/GCHQ surveillance” was written by Henry Porter, for The Observer on Monday 19th May 2014 10.00 UTC

Before Glenn Greenwald appeared on Newsnight last October to argue the case for the Snowden revelations on a link from Brazil, the presenter that evening, Kirsty Wark, popped into the green room to have a word with the other guests on the show, one of whom was Pauline Neville-Jones, formerly chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee. The interview, she apparently told them, would show that Greenwald was just “a campaigner and an activist”, a phrase she later used disparagingly on air.

And so the BBC went after the man, not the story. However, on this occasion, the man held his own rather well, roasting Wark and Neville-Jones with remorseless trial lawyer logic, making them look ill-prepared and silly in the process. At the time, I remember thinking that Edward Snowden had chosen exactly the right person for the job of chief advocate – a smart, unyielding, fundamentalist liberal outsider.

Some of these characteristics made me wonder if his account of the Snowden affair would be one long harangue, but No Place to Hide is clearly written and compelling. Though I have been writing about the war on liberty for nearly a decade, I found that reacquainting myself with the details of surveillance and intrusion  by America’s NSA and Britain’s GCHQ was simply shocking. As the stories rolled out last year, there was almost too much to absorb – from Prism, the program used by the NSA to access, among others, Google, Microsoft and Apple servers, to the UK’s Tempora, which taps fibre optic cables and draws up web and telephone traffic; from the secret collaboration of the web and phone giants to the subversion of internet encryption and spying on ordinary people’s political activities, their medical history, their friends and intimate relations and all their activities online. I published a dystopian novel in 2009 that featured a similarly intrusive program, which I named DEEPTRUTH, and let me tell you, I didn’t predict half of it.

Greenwald’s book is a tough read if you find these things disturbing. The insouciance and dishonesty of politicians – some of whom in the UK last week called for increased access to our data – as well as the muted reaction of the established media last year do not augur well for the future of nations that currently regard themselves as free. Democracy and liberty are not synonyms and what Greenwald’s book reminds us is that we may well end up as a series of hollowed-out, faux democracies, where the freedoms that we grew up with vanish almost unnoticed, like the extinction of a species of migrant bird.

He writes: “A citizenry that is aware of always being watched quickly becomes a compliant and fearful one”, as well as one that is far less likely to express legitimate dissent, of course. The irony of Snowden’s actions is that he may have hastened the chill. There are now legitimate things that many of us will never express in private, unencrypted emails or look up on the web because of surveillance.

I read No Place to Hide wondering how we let the spies probe our lives with such inadequate controls, and how on earth we fell for the propaganda that this massive apparatus was there to protect, not control, us. Greenwald quotes Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, saying: “If you have something you don’t want people to know about, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place” – and later amusingly catalogues the lengths to which Silicon Valley bosses “who devalued our privacy” have gone to protect their own.

When speaking in public, he often takes on those who say they do not believe that privacy is the core condition of freedom by asking for their private information – passwords, salaries, etc. I have used the same trick. No one ever raises a hand.

The book is organised in three sections, starting with the story of how Greenwald was contacted by Snowden, Greenwald’s flight to Hong Kong with film-maker Laura Poitras and their meeting with Snowden, whose bravery and clarity of purpose Greenwald rightly praises. There follows a useful section describing the main revelations, using the original NSA/GCHQ documents, and a third that deals with Greenwald’s views on the established media and privacy. It would have been good to have a chart or timeline of the major revelations as well as a proper index. And I did feel the argument lost momentum in the middle, but on the whole this is a vigorously executed and important book.

One of the depressing parts of last summer in Britain was the failure of the quality press and the broadcasting media to react to Snowden and Greenwald is rightly contemptuous of the journalists on both sides of the Atlantic who act as proxies for authority – better an activist journalist than a lackey anytime. But let me just say I think the book does a disservice to my colleagues at the Guardian, which after all is established media. The author tips his hat occasionally but does not really acknowledge the importance of the seasoned reporter Ewen MacAskill‘s work in Hong Kong, or the team that assembled to sift the documents, decode their inner secrets, prioritise information, gain reaction, shape the stories and provide analysis.

It was one of the most impressive journalistic operations I have ever seen and without it Glenn Greenwald would have floundered and, indeed, have been dismissed more easily as an activist journalist. He has done a great job of exposition and advocacy and for that he should be praised, but credit should be shared.

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USA vs Azerbaijan: what we learned

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “USA vs Azerbaijan: what we learned” was written by Graham Parker, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 28th May 2014 13.19 UTC

Diamonds are for now

So the dust is beginning to settle on USA’s first warm up game of this trio of games leading into the World Cup, and we got to see a second successive outing for Jurgen Klinsmann’s midfield diamond — the formation that offsets putting another attacker up with Jozy Altidore by sitting a midfielder to screen the defense and employing wide midfielders such as Graham Zusi and Alejandro Bedoya who are able to play both sides of the ball.

Some of the sparkle of the diamond was sadly lost just before kick off with the withdrawal of Clint between him and the advancing Bradley was forestalled by the US captain’s absence. More on that in a moment.

It also meant that in the first half at least, DaMarcus Beasley and Fabian Johnson tended to stay at home as the wide defenders, though when it became apparent just how deep Azerbaijan were sitting, their replacements Timmy Chandler and DeAndre Yedlin got forward more on the overlap in the second half.

Bedoya and Zusi did well enough to suggest that in terms of their overall contribution to the team, they’ll still be the incumbents in those positions for the Ghana game, but with Diskerud replacing the former, and getting a goal, and Davis replacing the latter and taking the set pieces that led to both goals, as well as making several dangerous moves to make himself available all around the Azerbaijan box, Klinsmann was given a pleasant headache.

Klinsmann was also perhaps given just a little bit of ammo when he’s asked for the umpteenth time why Landon Donovan wasn’t selected. The coach could at least argue that the shuttling work required by the wide men in the diamond was not quite a fit for Donovan. It still seems a stretch but it’s at least more conceivable than him being the odd man out in a 4-2-3-1 selection.

There was another positive too in that Jermaine Jones, for all that he looked to fade a little at the end of the game (these players have been playing for their positions and going hard in training for the best part of two weeks, at the end of a long season), largely held his discipline as the screening midfielder. He’ll be tested again if the USA line up like this against Ghana’s speedy wide players — he may end up lunging for one too many balls as he steps across to support his exposed full backs. But the USA do at least have a specialist replacement on the squad in Kyle Beckerman should Jones acquire a yellow too many. The diamond stays for now.

Without Dempsey, Altidore has to find own inspiration

Eventually the USA found a way through against an obdurate but tiring Azerbaijan defense. It took set pieces, but they found a way. What was a real shame was not seeing how a fit and in form Dempsey could have animated the US attack from the start.

As it was, Chris Wondolowski showed willingness when he was thrown into the game without a warm up. He missed a decent chance early and had another header tipped over the bar midway through the first half, but his poacher’s movement put a little more subtle pressure on Altidore to work in tighter spaces, than the more surging quick interplay of Dempsey might have done.

Wondolowski got into decent positions though, but like Altidore, he didn’t get the ball in the net. Instead Aron Johansson flicked a powerful near post header late on to double the USA lead and do his personal credentials no harm when he was subbed in. The AZ man has just come off a prolific season in the Dutch league (sound familiar?). Johansson has repeatedly said he’s better playing with another striker, while had Wondolowski’s chances come when he might have expected them i.e. as a late second half sub himself, still working off Altidore but against tiring defenders losing him through his movement in the box, you’d expect him to do better. But in different ways both men showed what they can do playing off another striker.

But still, neither man really showed how they might potentially animate that other striker, and while resting Dempsey at any sign of a twinge made a lot of sense at this stage of the build-up, it was an undoubted anticlimax not to see him attempt to draw Altidore into the game more. As it was, the Sunderland man had one turn and shot on the edge of the box, a few ponderous half chances that never became shots, and some decent hold up play on occasion. The USA need more from him, but without Dempsey, he’ll have to find a lot more himself.

The number 10 came good

In an article on Sports Illustrated’s blog, Grant Wahl ran through who was likely to take the number 10 shirt for the USA, with the team being obliged to number the squad 1-23 for the World Cup. It meant that one of the more symbolic shirt numbers in the game generally, and certainly a symbolically laden number for the USA — given that it was most recently worn by Landon Donovan — would have to be worn by somebody. Wahl made a compelling case that there were few American players who would particularly relish the expectation that came with it, before pointing to Mix Diskerud as the most likely candidate — less because he’d relish it and more because he was the type of capricious character least likely to be weighed down by it.

Diskerud did indeed suit up in the number 10 shirt, and did indeed seem totally unfazed. After being introduced as a late sub, he scored the opening goal five minutes later, and generally looked like a man who was always willing to take the first-time shot without unduly second-guessing himself. He’s done this repeatedly in his US career — entering a game for a dynamic-shifting cameo — though he hasn’t always convinced when thrown in from the start of games. But he was certainly able to slot into one of those wide diamond midfield roles and look dangerous with his movement in the time he was on the field, and he remains one of the more intriguing wild cards Klinsmann has at his disposal.

Diskerud’s not a classic number ten by any stretch, but at his best he plays with the type of zest and fearlessness that means that, for example, you might not miss seeing a different number 10 quite as much as you thought you might.

It’s hard to simulate the margin for error

There will always be testing moments in international games, though ideally there are few that you bring on yourself, especially when your opponents are of the calibre of Ghana, Portugal and Germany.

So what to make of Matt Besler’s sloppy pass that led to Tim Howard having to tip a shot over with a reaction stop? Or the first half foul on the edge of the box that saw a free kick go just to the side of Howard’s upright? Or a tired Jones allowing Aliyev to force him off the ball and bear down on goal late on? Or the occasional cheap loss of possession throughout the team, that would have seen a more ambitious and quicker team break in numbers?

In isolation these moments were past quickly and did not interrupt the prevailing impression of US dominance, but in games where the US can expect to be on the back foot a lot more, the pressure surrounding any errors will be a lot greater, and the opposition’s ability to exploit them will be exponentially greater too.

So this was one area of the Azerbaijan game where it was hard to draw meaningful conclusions about how effective this formation and USA personnel were. And not the only area — Azerbaijan were no match stylistically for anything the USA will face in Brazil. What they were were a reasonably affective sparring partner as the USA worked out some kinks in a game situation. And like good sparring partners they folded pretty much around the time we might have expected a well-drilled but limited team to do so — late in the second half.

Turkey won’t fold this weekend, and they should ask a lot more direct questions. We’ll get a more recognizable model of at least one of the tactical tasks facing the USA, as well as a slightly better simulation of the eventual margin for error they will be working with in Brazil, as the departure tour moves on to Red Bull Arena.

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Champions League exposes England’s and Britain’s lack of star quality

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Champions League exposes England’s and Britain’s lack of star quality” was written by Paul Wilson, for The Guardian on Wednesday 28th May 2014 12.26 UTC

The Champions League reached an exciting conclusion at the weekend, after which the Bleacher Report sports website produced a list of the 250 best players to grace football’s top cup competition (that’s what Americans are calling it) in the 2013-14 season.

Like any list, and there are a few around at the moment, the actual placings and fine decisions involved in this one will provoke argument, but let that pass for a moment. The players selected are probably right, even if the actual order can be disputed. The top three, in case you are impatient to know, has Cristiano Ronaldo at No1, followed by Luka Modric and Lionel Messi, so no real surprises there apart from Spurs fans continuing to wonder why their club ship out good players (Gareth Bale made No22 in the list) and bring in mediocrities.

Perhaps that will change under Mauricio Pochettino, but that’s a question for the new season and at the moment we are pondering the last one.

How many English-qualified players made the list, do you imagine, given that this country supplied four clubs to the competition and all of them reached the knockout stages? Obviously you will not be expecting a high number here, the dearth of homegrown talent at the highest level of English football has been a well-documented source of concern for some time now, but this is the way the rest of Europe (and the world beyond) sees us – and the situation might be worse than you think.

The answer is 13. Even with the three Welsh players in the top 250 (Ryan Giggs at 181, Aaron Ramsey at 29 and Bale) that means the British mainland would struggle to form a team with a Premier League-sized bench. And of those 13 Englishmen, one is Ashley Cole, who has just retired from international football, and either side of him are Michael Carrick and John Terry, whose England days appear to be over.

The only English player in the top 50 is Gary Cahill, at 38, perhaps on the basis that Chelsea went further in the competition than anyone else from the Premier League, while Manchester United’s struggles under their new manager might explain why Wayne Rooney only reaches No57. Given that Didier Drogba made it to No58, that has to be a little worrying, as does the fact that among the top 10 most prominent English performers in Europe this season were Phil Jones, Danny Welbeck and Frank Lampard.

James Milner finds himself in at 166, which sounds reasonable enough, yet his team-mate Martín Demichelis, who finished the domestic season strongly but hardly covered himself in glory in the Champions League, is 20 places higher at 135.

Everyone knows that the secret of the Premier League’s success is to showcase exciting foreign players in exciting games, with barely a thought for the cost or the damage done to the quaint old habit this country used to have of producing its own footballers, but the formula is clearly having little impact on the Champions League.

Sergio Agüero (16) and Eden Hazard (18) are the only English-based players to make the top 20, though it is of course fair to point out that Ronaldo and Modric played significant parts of their careers in this country before joining their present clubs, and Diego Costa (5) might be linking up with Chelsea some time in the future.

Just ahead of a World Cup, the international aspect of the top 250 Champions League players makes interesting reading. The top 30, for instance, could be considered around the best in the world at the moment, once allowance is made for individuals such as Luis Suárez or Steven Gerrard, who were not in Champions League competition last season.

One definition of the much abused term “world class” is to imagine a team that the Earth might put together to take on another planet, in the unlikely event of football being found elsewhere in the universe; another is to imagine a play-off between two teams drawn from the best players currently known. But for a few positional aberrations and the occasional absence through injury or non-qualification, the top 30 players in the Champions League would normally be a good place to start looking.

This is not to say the Bleacher Report’s top 30 is the definitive selection, just that it is a handy basis for discussion. A total of 15 nationalities are represented, and England doesn’t get a look in.

As might be expected in a season which produced an all-Madrid final, Spanish players are the best represented, with no fewer than seven players in the top 30, with Brazil (4) and Argentina (3) also showing up well.

More damningly for England, four players from Germany made the top 30, along with single-player representatives from Portugal, Croatia, Sweden, Holland, France, Uruguay, Belgium, Poland, Chile and Serbia. That’s quite a long list, when England considers itself such an important and influential part of the football world, but the most galling bit has been saved until last.

Wales are not only represented, they have two players in the top 30 in Bale and Ramsey. Fully deserved too. So well done Wales. World Cup aspirations or not, England must try harder.

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World Cup 2014: at the Brazil finals a goggle-eyed man will be king

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “World Cup 2014: at the Brazil finals a goggle-eyed man will be king” was written by Marina Hyde, for The Guardian on Wednesday 28th May 2014 15.00 UTC

Perhaps the creepiest thing about the Sochi Winter Olympics – apart from the bit where it turned out they’d just been a curtain raiser for a land grab – was the use of a security system called VibraImage, which is a programme that analyses live images of people to assess whether they pose a security risk. According to the New York Times, it measures “tiny muscle vibrations in the head and neck known as vestibular-emotional reflexes”, and was used on all spectators “to detect someone who appears unremarkable but whose agitated mental state signals an imminent threat”.

Mmm. Back when he was still a science-fiction-writing insurance salesman, the Scientology founder, L Ron Hubbard, is said to have remarked: “If you want to get rich, start a religion.” Hubbard would go on to prove that thesis most resoundingly – and one of these days, I may set about trying to prove a theory of my own, which is that one of the best ways to fill your boots in the early 21st century is to set yourself up as an expert in sports security. The more biometric-sounding, the better.

I should point out that VibraImage has been deemed by some to be as amazingly effective as those £13 novelty golf ball finders marketed as bomb detectors in Iraq. Or indeed, as the early facial recognition software that was secretly brought in at vast expense to screen every attendee at the 2001 Super Bowl – thereafter nicknamed the Snooper Bowl – and which resulted in zero arrests, despite initial misleading claims by the firm who provided it.

“We passionately believe that face recognition improves personal privacy,” insisted its CEO – and 13 years of technological advances on, that trade-off seems to be a done deal for the Brazil World Cup. Considering the country’s security measures for Engineering and Technology magazine, a US facial recognition expert inquired rhetorically: “Do you want extra security or to protect people’s right to privacy?”

Depends who’s in charge, is the usual official answer. Apparently without irony, the US State department warned Americans planning to travel to Sochi to “understand that they have no expectation of privacy”. The US loyally held off casting similar aspersions before the London Olympics, despite our capital being the most surveilled city on earth and its Games preparation involving the “UK’s biggest mobilisation of military and security forces since the Second World War”.

But then, nothing says major sporting event these days like the words “largest military operation in peacetime”. In fact, the only surprise is that Fifa and the International Olympic Committee have yet to trademark the phrase. (Incidentally, it wouldn’t be a World Cup if we didn’t highlight a few of the auto-satirical trademarks upon which Fifa has insisted, so you should know that this time round they have annexed “pagode” – an entire genre of Brazilian music – as well as Natal 2014. Natal is one of the tournament’s host cities – but it is also the word for Christmas, so please salute world football’s governing body for insisting its ownership of “Christmas 2014” lasts until 31 December.)

As far as military hardware goes, Brazil will naturally deploy fighter jets, and has splashed out some of the 0m security budget on 50 of the US military bomb-disposal robots used in Afghanistan, as well as two m Israeli drones to patrol the skies. The drone manufacturer describes its product as “perfectly suited for the homeland security challenges at these [sporting] events”.

Football, eh? Bloody hell.

Whether VibraImage will be used in Brazil is unclear – it is certainly rumoured to be, among sections of the security industry, with experts citing the traditional cooperation and copycatting between successive hosts of sporting mega-events.

What we do know for sure is that police patrolling the tournament will use facial-recognition goggles to scan people, with the glasses able to clock 400 faces a second and check them against a database of 13m. Thirteen million what, you may wonder – but alas, that has yet to be made clear in any of the breathlessly impressed, Robocop-referencing reports on the matter. According to its own PR, the system can scan targets up to 12 miles away. (Whether it can find your golf ball remains classified at present.)

Other known knowns for Brazil inform us that the traditional two-kilometre exclusion zones Fifa establishes around stadiums to shut out street vendors are apparently being upcycled into barriers designed to keep away any protesters, which would seem an escalation of sorts on behalf of the organisers and their Zurich overlords. Then again, at the last World Cup Fifa was finally able to trademark justice itself, via South Africa’s “Fifa World Cup Courts”, where people could commit a crime on a Wednesday and be sentenced to 15 years on the Friday.

In any sane world, it would be judged that the World Cup has become so financially and morally expensive that it would be far better for the tournament to be given a permanent residency somewhere, in the manner of a megastar fed up with touring being set up in Las Vegas. Qatar would seem the obvious choice, being deliciously unburdened by rights legislation and apparently so empty that in some cases entire cities are being constructed to stop some of the 2022 stadiums looking quite as preposterously lonesome or mirage-like as they might otherwise have done.

But the world, obviously, is far from sane. So we can only remark on sport’s increasing indispensability to the security-industrial complex, and look excited – but not suspiciously excited – about the mere subplot of a tournament to come.

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Independent Scotland ‘£5bn better off by 2030′ – live campaign coverage

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Independent Scotland ‘£5bn better off by 2030′ – live campaign coverage” was written by Claire Phipps, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 28th May 2014 14.33 UTC

3.33pm BST

End-of-day summary

I’m about to wrap up this live blog for today. Here are the key developments:

The SNP says Danny Alexander has had a "disastrous day" after two experts distanced themselves from Treasury projections of the costs of setting up an independent Scotland.

• It came as a poll commissioned by Lord Oakeshott – who resigned from the Lib Dems today – showed Alexander was on course to lose his seat in the 2015 general election, coming third behind the SNP and Labour. A spokesperson for Alexander said the poll did not bear scrutiny, adding:

This deeply flawed poll is in stark contrast to the projection published last week in the Inverness Courier. That projection, which took into account the recent election results, showed Danny holding the seat ahead of Labour with the SNP in third place.

• But SNP leader and first minister Alex Salmond also came under fire, accused of glossing over a potential £5bn black hole in Scottish finances with its optimistic predictions of oil revenues.

Salmond insisted that a post-independence Scotland could be £5bn a year better off by 2029/30. It could achieve this by increasing its productivity growth rate, employment rate and population, he said, all of which was possible if the Scottish people voted yes in September.

• But Danny Alexander said the SNP believed the institutions of a new state could be set up "for free" and challenged Salmond and finance minister John Swinney to put their own price on the costs. He said a leaked memo written by Swinney had put the cost of a new tax system alone at around £600m.

Alexander spoke of what he called the "UK dividend" – the £1,400 share he said every person in Scotland enjoyed. A post-independence government would have to make up for this shortfall, Alexander said:

Another way an independent Scotland could offset … without cutting public spending is to increase the basic rate of income tax from 20 to 28%, increase VAT from 20 to 26% and increase duties on alcohol, tobacco and fuel by about 40%.

But Salmond said that, post-independence, every family in Scotland could be £2,000 better off in 15 years.

Alexander also disputed a claim by Swinney that Scotland would be the winner from any reordering of the UK’s £1.3tn in assets, saying any division of assets and debts "would not be to the net benefit or the net disadvantage of either an independent Scotland or the rest of the UK".

• But the Scottish government hit back at claims by Alexander that "no political party in the UK" wanted to alter the Barnett formula for allocating public funds to Scotland, pointing out that just such a proposal appeared in both the 2010 Lib Dem manifesto and the coalition agreement of the same year.

The Scottish government said everyone in Scotland would be £1,000 better off a year but UK ministers say they would benefit by £1,400 from staying in the Union.
The Scottish government said everyone in Scotland would be £1,000 better off a year but UK ministers say they would benefit by £1,400 from staying in the Union. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Thanks for reading and for your comments.

3.07pm BST

The Treasury has just tweeted out a Buzzfeed list of 12 things the £1,400 "UK dividend" could buy. (Yes, this is how things are done now.)

You could buy 636 cappuccinos, it says, or 280 hot dogs at the Edinburgh festival, or watch Aberdeen play all season with two mates (including pie and Bovril). The final I find quite offputting, frankly, but maybe it will sway more sensitive minds:

12. And finally, you’ll still have enough left over for endless hugs with everyone to celebrate being in a United Kingdom.

Why not share what you would do with £1,400 on Twitter using #UKDividend, it ends?

Why not, indeed?

That’s why.

2.42pm BST

Spectator blogger Alex Massie has some advice for those unsure which of today’s conflicting reports of Scotland’s future to plump for: "The probability is they are both wrong."

He writes:

It will not surprise you that the UK government’s projections run towards the pessimistic side of the ledger while their opponents in Edinburgh take a sunnier view of Scotland’s future economic circumstances and performance. Fancy that!

It is, I think, probable – and unnecessarily stupid – that some of the UK government’s assumptions about the one-off start-up costs of establishing a new state are exaggerated. True too that even on London’s pessimistic forecasts an independent Scotland remains a perfectly viable proposition.

The Scottish government’s paper, by contrast, focuses on what an independent [Scotland] might be able to do differently. That’s all well and good and entirely in keeping with the Yes campaigns’ preference for dwelling in an imagined future. But it does rather mean that even by the standards of these matters the Scottish government’s projections are heavily dependent upon everything improving for the better.

2.29pm BST

The SNP is also – again, unsurprisingly – cheered by news that it is on course to relieve Danny Alexander of his seat in the 2015 general election, according to a poll commissioned by Lord Oakeshott (who resigned from the Lib Dems today).

This rather gleeful response came from Angus Robertson, the SNP’s Westminster leader:

Danny Alexander has had a disastrous day. First he was caught red-handed promoting figures about Scotland which have been rubbished as ‘bizarrely inaccurate’ by the academics whose work was being distorted – and now this devastating poll from Lord Oakeshott reveals that Danny Alexander will not only lose his seat in Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey to the SNP, but is trailing in third place just ahead of the Tories.

The European election results gave us an idea of how badly the Liberal Democrats are doing as they were swept off the electoral map of Scotland – but for their senior cheer leader in the Tory-led No campaign to be relegated to third place is another humiliation.

The Lib Dems are tearing themselves apart and this poll will make Danny Alexander wince as support in his own constituency evaporates, with only a slightly higher vote than the Tories in fourth place.

Danny Alexander, pictured in April. The SNP says he has had a “disastrous day”. Photograph: Graeme Robertson

2.13pm BST

The SNP is, unsurprisingly, enjoying the remarks of the two experts who have distanced themselves from Treasury figures apparently based on their research. It has put out a release with more details:

Professor Patrick Dunleavy of the LSE … has confirmed that the Treasury’s position is flawed in three ways – by overestimating the number of government departments and public bodies Scotland will need, ignoring the fact that many already exist and basing their estimate of the cost of setting up a department on the “chaotic” way departments have been set up by previous UK governments, rather than in the orderly manner the Scottish government has planned.

As their claims quickly unravelled, the Treasury then sought to change their claim from £2.7bn to £1.5bn – which it said was based on an estimate by Professor Robert Young of Western Ontario University. However, today’s Financial Times makes clear that Professor Young has also disowned the treasury analysis, saying that “Prof Young said that the £1.5bn estimate was not his”.

Dunleavy tweeted about the Treasury report:

SNP MSP Jamie Hepburn said:

Danny Alexander is all over the place on this issue. Earlier this morning he seemed to distance himself from Professor Dunleavy of LSE and claimed he was siding with Professor Young – clearly Mr Alexander hadn’t been told that Professor Young had already distanced himself from the Treasury!

(It’s true that Alexander, when quizzed by reporters over claims the Treasury figures were misleading, said: "Professor Dunleavy’s calculations don’t form any part of the £1.5bn estimate in this paper." He said the source for that number was Young.)

Hepburn added:

Despite the Treasury’s discredited claims, the reality is that Scotland is one of the wealthiest countries in the world – more prosperous per head than the UK, France and Japan.

After this latest blunder and attempt to mislead people the fact is that the No campaign’s economic credibility has completely crumbled – people in Scotland can’t believe a word Project Fear say.

Updated at 2.19pm BST

1.39pm BST

The Scottish Conservatives have bitten back at the "£5bn better off" line from the SNP, claiming that in the first year of independence, Scotland could face "a black hole of up to £5bn".

(It concedes this is a "worst case scenario").

Updated oil revenue projections have shown that, in the worst case scenario, tax receipts would bring in £2.9bn in 2016/17.

In the Scottish government’s white paper, it states up to £7.9bn would be required just to balance the books.

Ruth Davidson MSP, leader of the Scottish Conservative & Unionist party, at the Scottish Parliament, Holyrood.
Ruth Davidson MSP, leader of the Scottish Conservative & Unionist party, at the Scottish Parliament, Holyrood. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod

Ruth Davison, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said:

While economic experts have been saying for some time that the figures for an independent Scotland don’t add up, this is the first time that even Alex Salmond has admitted there’s a multi-billion pound black hole.

All the experts advise caution when projecting oil revenues, even more-so when basing an entire economy upon it.

Instead, even the SNP’s most optimistic forecast falls short, leaving huge question marks over how to pay for public services like schools and hospitals in the event of separation.

1.13pm BST

My colleague Libby Brooks has filed on Salmond’s claim that an independent Scotland could be £5bn a year better off. You can read it here. Libby reports:

Launching a report at St Andrews House in Edinburgh, the first minister,Alex Salmond, said an independent Scotland could generate more than £5bn a year of extra revenues within 15 years, equating to £1,000 per person, without having to raises taxes.

The report details how a yes vote in September’s referendum could help boost the Scottish economy by increasing productivity, boosting the working age population and increasing employment.

Meanwhile, the chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, projected that over the next 20 years Scots would benefit from a "UK dividend" of £1,400 per person per year from 2016-17 onwards.

Publishing a paper outlining what the UK government sees as challenges of independence, Alexander described the Scottish government’s estimates as "a bogus bonus", adding said that a separate Scotland could face higher interest payments on government debts at the same time as it had to deal with declining oil revenues and an ageing population.

1.09pm BST

Danny Alexander made frequent mention in his Q&A with reporters this morning to a "secret memo" of John Swinney’s in which the finance minister concedes that setting up a new tax system post-independence could cost in the region of £600m. Here’s the relevant section:

1.03pm BST

New poll says Danny Alexander would lose his seat in 2015

The latest round of polls commissioned by (now ex-Lib Dem) Lord Oakeshott say Danny Alexander would come third in his constituency in next year’s general election, behind the SNP and Labour:

Updated at 1.06pm BST

12.49pm BST

Lunchtime summary

Claim and counter-claim from the yes and no camps about Scotland’s fiscal fortunes post-independence this morning, most of which flat-out contradict each other. It is hard to see how minds can be made up on these figures: the yes side says Scotland could be £5bn-a-year better off by 2030; the no side says the start-up costs of an independent state alone could set the country back by £1.5bn.

Here is a round-up of what we’ve heard from both sides today:

Alex Salmond unveiled claims that a post-independence Scotland could be £5bn a year better off by 2029/30. It could achieve this by increasing its productivity growth rate, employment rate and population, he said, all of which was possible if the Scottish people voted yes in September.

• Salmond said that criticisms of the Treasury’s £1.5bn start-up figure from the two academics whose research was usedshowed that the no camp had lost credibility on these issues:

This is a blow to the Treasury’s credibility from which they will find it difficult to recover.

• But Danny Alexander said the SNP believed the institutions of a new state could be set up "for free" and challenged Salmond and finance minister John Swinney to put their own price on the costs. He said a leaked memo written by Swinney had put the cost of a new tax system alone at around £600m.

Alexander spoke of what he called "1,400 reasons why we’re better off together" –£1,400 being the share he said every person in Scotland enjoyed of the "UK dividend". But Salmond said that, post-independence, every family in Scotland could be £2,000 better off in 15 years.

Alexander said a post-independence government would have to make up for this £1,400 per person shortfall by cutting public spending or raising taxes:

Another way an independent Scotland could offset … without cutting public spending is to increase the basic rate of income tax from 20 to 28%, increase VAT from 20 to 26% and increase duties on alcohol, tobacco and fuel by about 40%.

Alexander also disputed a claim by Swinney that Scotland would be the winner from any reordering of the UK’s £1.3tn in assets, saying any division of assets and debts "would not be to the net benefit or the net disadvantage of either an independent Scotland or the rest of the UK".

• But the Scottish government hit back at claims by Alexander that "no political party in the UK" wanted to alter the Barnett formula for allocating public funds to Scotland, pointing out that just such a proposal appeared in both the 2010 Lib Dem manifesto and the coalition agreement of the same year.

Updated at 12.50pm BST

11.47am BST

Here’s what some of those in the room for Alexander’s speech have been saying.

From the political editor of the Scottish Daily Mail:

From our own Libby Brooks:

From soon-to-be Sky News political editor Faisal Islam:

And the Scottish government’s senior special adviser has this to say on Alexander’s statement that there is "no prospect" of change to the Barnett formula:

The blog will take a short breather now while I put together a summary of a busy – and in terms of claim and counter-claim, wildly contradictory – morning.

11.38am BST

You can read a full report of Salmond’s claim that an independent Scotland could, by 2030, be £5bn-a-year better off here.

The first minister has also been tweeting after his press conference this morning:

11.29am BST

I’m now going to scout around Twitter and elsewhere for reaction to this morning’s reports. In the meantime, in a continuation of the Danny Alexander-Tunnocks tea cake theme, there’s this:

Updated at 11.34am BST

11.27am BST

Alexander also said there was "no prospect" of a change to the Barnett formula – under which the Treasury allocates a portion of public spending to Scotland – adding that "no political party in the UK wants to get rid of it" apart from the SNP.

11.24am BST

Responding to the claim by John Swinney that an independent Scotland would benefit from a divvying-up of the UK’s £1.3tn in assets, Alexander said this would not be the case.

It would not be to the net benefit or the net disadvantage of either an independent Scotland or the rest of the UK … [It would be] a neutral, objective outcome.

The £1.3tn figure, he said, also relies on an assumption that "oil emerges from the North Sea for free".

11.20am BST

In questions, Danny Alexander was asked repeatedly about the comments made by two expertsProfessor Robert Young and Professor Patrick Dunleavy – that the Treasury had used misleading figures. Alexander said:

Professor Dunleavy’s calculations don’t form any part of the £1.5bn estimate in this paper.

The source of that figure was Young, he added. But Young told the FT that "the £1.5bn estimate was not his, but rather was extrapolated from the top of a range of estimates provided by academics looking how much it would cost Quebec to separate from Canada". The lower end of the range would put the cost at £600m.

11.13am BST

Danny Alexander refused to answer a question on whether Lib Dem peer Lord Oakeshott should lose the whip over allegations he commissioned polls hostile to Nick Clegg, saying he was here to talk about the Scottish referendum.

Updated at 11.14am BST

11.10am BST

Danny Alexander on a post-independence economy

Apologies for the gap in coverage. Here’s a summary of Alexander’s speech to launch the Treasury report on the fiscal consequences of independence.

The chief secretary to the Treasury has little truck with claims made this morning by Salmond and Swinney that an independent Scotland could be £5bn a year better off by 2030. Instead, he said, a yes vote could cost the country that much:

Independent forecasters show that in 2016 Scotland would be borrowing over 5% of national income. That is double the deficit in the UK.

And the difference equates to around five and a half billion pounds from day one.

He maintained that the Treasury had got its sums right on its claim that the costs of setting up a new state could reach £1.5bn:

As a separate country, Scotland would need to set up new institutions: a new passport office, a new benefits agency, or a new tax collection agency.

That last one alone … would cost £750m.

We have taken the best independent estimates, which put the cost of transition at up to 1% of GDP. For Scotland that figure would be £1.5bn.

The "dividend" to every person in Scotland for staying part of the UK is £1,400, he said, and an independent Scotland would have to make up this shortfall:

Another way an independent Scotland could offset the £1,400 UK dividend without cutting public spending is to increase the basic rate of income tax from 20 to 28%, increase VAT from 20 to 26% and increase duties on alcohol, tobacco and fuel by about 40%.

And he said the figures from the yes campaign were "myths":

They will just continue to peddle myth after myth, saying that taxes wouldn’t be higher, that there’s loads of oil left, that public services won’t suffer, that growth will be stronger, that breaking away won’t be hugely expensive, that new institutions can be set up for free.

All of these myths are refuted by the information we publish today.

I’ll post a summary of the Q&A shortly.

10.54am BST

Alexander has finished speaking. Claire will be back momentarily to post a summary of the Alexander press conference.

10.49am BST

An independent Scotland would have to make up this £1,400 shortfall if it turns its back on the "UK dividend", Alexander says.

Another way an independent Scotland could offset … without cutting public spending is to increase the basic rate of income tax from 20 to 28%, increase VAT from 20 to 26% and increase duties on alcohol, tobacco and fuel by about 40%.

Updated at 10.51am BST

10.45am BST

Alexander says:

Should Scotland become independent it would start off in life in a worse financial position than the UK.

That is the view of the institute for fiscal studies, the centre for public policy for regions, Citigroup and many others.

Even the Scottish government’s own figures show that Scotland would face a shortfall between what the government gets in tax and what it spends on public services.

10.44am BST

Danny Alexander launches Treasury report in Edinburgh

Danny Alexander, launching the Treasury report in Edinburgh, says he is giving the Scottish people "1400 reasons why we are better off together".

He says that’s the share for every person in Scotland of what he calls the "UK dividend".

Lots of debate on Twitter about the vast discrepancy in figures between yes and no camps.

10.38am BST

Apologies for the delay in posting, Claire is having technical difficulties. This is Mark Smith filling in until Claire can exorcise her wifi demons.

Since Claire’s last post, Danny Alexander – "the most senior Scot in the UK government", as he says – has begun a press conference for the no camp in Edinburgh. He claims that Scots would be £1,400 a year each better off by remaining part of the UK. He is now taking questions from the floor.

Updated at 11.10am BST

9.40am BST

Salmond: The case for independence is one of self determination. The instruments Scotland gains will make us better off.

One of the reasons independence can make Scotland better off is because decisions will be made by those who live and work here.

Updated at 9.41am BST

9.38am BST

Some more detail from the Scottish government on that £5bn-better-off claim:

A 0.3 percentage point increase in our long run productivity growth rate, which will narrow some of the gap with our competitors, could see tax revenues increase by £2.4bn a year by 2029-30.

Increasing our employment rate by 3.3 percentage points to move Scotland up to the level of the top five performing countries in the OECD could increase revenues by £1.3bn a year by 2029-30.

And increasing our population, but still by less than the projected growth for the UK as a whole, could increase revenues by £1.5bn a year by 2029-30.

Collectively such improvements amount to a boost to tax receipts of an additional £5bn a year after 13 years.

9.35am BST

‘Independent Scotland £5bn better off by 2030′

John Swinney says he is publishing details on how Scotland’s public finances can develop, with a 15-year projection of how Scotland can grow.

Scotland would be £5bn a year better off by 2029/2030 after a vote for independence.

Updated at 9.37am BST

9.33am BST

Salmond: We have identified the challenges that have to be met to improve Scotland’s performance and set out how independence can address them.

9.30am BST

On the hotly disputed estimate by the Treasury that an independent Scotland could need £1.5bn in start-up costs:

He says Scotland’s share of UK assets is worth £110bn.

9.27am BST

Moving to questions from reporters, Salmond says says economics is central to the yes campaign. It will focus on the benefits and prospects of an independent country, he adds.

9.20am BST

Salmond says that over the next 15 years, independence will mean £2,000 more for every family.

This is a realistic assessment of the benefits of independence.

This articulation of Scotland’s potential will overcome the arguments of Project Fear.

Updated at 9.22am BST

9.18am BST

DWP minister Steve Webb has said this morning that the UK goverment cannot ignore demographic challenges and, should there be an independent Scottish government in the future, neither could it.

Salmond says the boost needed to the working-age population is only 2,000 more than the recent average.

9.13am BST

Salmond says of the wrangling this week over disputed start-up costs for an independent Scotland:

This is a blow to the Treasury’s credibility from which they will find it difficult to recover.

He says an independent Scotland’s debt would be below that of the UK on any measure.

Updated at 9.15am BST

9.10am BST

Alex Salmond press briefing starts

And it starts with a joke:

(Dunleavy is the LSE professor who called the Treasury’s figures "bizarrely inaccurate".)

Updated at 9.12am BST

9.08am BST

The Press Association has sent out this curtain-raiser for this morning’s face-off:

Competing estimates of the costs and savings of Scottish independence will be set out today as the Scottish and UK governments outline their visions for the nation’s constitutional future.

The Scottish Government is expected to set out several billion pounds of savings if assets such as embassies and defence equipment cannot be shared after independence.

Meanwhile, the UK Treasury will call on the Scottish Government to provide estimates for the cost of independence as it prepares to publish its own price tag for a Yes vote.

Speaking ahead of the launch of the Scottish Government’s latest assessment of the strength of Scotland’s economy, finance secretary John Swinney said: "Scotland will start life as an independent nation with access to our own wealth and a key stake in the £1.3tn of assets built up by the UK and funded by Scottish taxpayers.

‘The UK government is very keen to talk about the debt we have built up or to invent costs, but rarely talks about the assets that have been accumulated and for which Scotland has paid.

‘An independent Scotland will start life with a healthy budget and a strong economy that can only be made stronger by putting the tools we need to create wealth in the hands of the people of Scotland.’

The Treasury said its paper will put a figure on the amount which will be saved by people in Scotland if it ‘avoids the public spending cuts and tax rises that an independent Scottish state would have to undertake, in order to offset the fiscal impacts of independence by 2035/6′.

Chief secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, said: ‘The Scottish government is trying to leave the UK but it won’t tell anyone how much the set-up surcharge is for an independent Scotland.

‘As part of the UK, Scotland gains from a strong and stable tax and benefits system and our comprehensive analysis, published this week, sets out how much better-off Scottish taxpayers are; that’s why we’re better off together.’

John Swinney, Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond on stage during a Q&A session with the public in Rutherglen on Tuesday.
John Swinney, Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond on stage during a Q&A session with the public in Rutherglen on Tuesday. Photograph: Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert/Getty Images

9.01am BST

Newspaper round-up

Many of today’s newspapers – the Daily Record is having particular fun with it – carry pictures of Alex Salmond playing football that convince me my picture choice below was very kind. Although if there’s a politician who can play football in a suit and tie without looking remotely foolish, I’d like to know about it.

Elsewhere reverberations from the European elections continue: the Scotsman leads on David Cameron as he arrived for talks with fellow EU leaders claiming Brussels was "too big, too bossy, too interfering".

The Herald‘s front page has Salmond’s attack on what he calls the Treasury’s "bogus" figures in its fiscal analysis of a post-independence Scotland, and the Treasury’s retort that the FM’s anger was "chaff" designed to distract from the "hole in its own figures".

But both the Herald and the Telegraph lead on NHS pressures; the story also makes the front of the Scotsman. The Telegraph says waiting times are "at their longest for years", while the Herald says vacancies for consultants "are at record levels".

8.21am BST

Danny Alexander, who will launch the Treasury report this morning, found himself on the sofa for the debut show of the BBC’s new Scotland 2014 programme last night. He said he stood by the Treasury figures, arguing that: "The nationalist government seems to assume it’s free [to set up an independent state]."

People would be worse off under independence, Alexander claimed:

Our ability to pool resources within the United Kingdom is one of the greatest benefits.

The deep pockets of the United Kingdom mean … we see resources shared across the United Kingdom.

(An aside: is there a memo demanding that all ‘no’ campaigners should refer to "United Kingdom" in full?)

Presenter Sarah Smith pointed out that under the Tory-Lib Dem government, people did not feel better off with the status quo.

Alexander: As a Liberal Democrat in the coalition government, I’m proud of the work we’ve done. We’ve been able to share resources.

That recovery would be set right back on its heels [by a yes vote].

Nationalism of any kind was not the right route for Scotland, said Alexander:

whether in the more moderate SNP guise or the more extreme Ukip guise.

As for Twitter’s verdict:

8.19am BST

In case you missed it last night, Severin Carrell also had this scoop – major cinema chains have banned all adverts on the Scottish independence referendum after being inundated with complaints:

The pro-UK Better Together campaign said the vast majority of complaints had come from supporters of Scottish independence after Better Together and another pro-UK group, Vote No Borders, flooded Scottish cinemas with adverts urging a no vote.

The Odeon and Vue cinema chains confirmed that all the major chains, including the Cineworld group and UCI, had taken a collective decision to ban all referendum advertising from 5 June, a week into the four-month-long official campaign.

It is understood the ban, which the campaigns were notified of last week, will heavily affect the pro-independence Yes Scotland. Along with showing one advert in some cinemas this month, it had been planning a major cinema blitz this summer at the peak of campaigning before the vote on 18 September. Better Together’s cinema campaign ends next week.

8.17am BST

The rival reports have already taken a battering, with Salmond accusing the UK Treasury of "trying to cook the books", following an early release from the report, which claimed the cost of setting up an independent Scottish state could be £1.5bn:

And the row makes the front Wednesday’s Financial Times:

I’ll round up the rest of today’s newspapers shortly.

8.15am BST

Morning summary

Good morning and welcome to the Scotland live blog, in action this week as we head towards the start of the regulated referendum period on Friday. This marks a step up from the campaigning seen so far – as the Electoral Commission puts it:

The two campaigners (Yes Scotland and Better Together) will now have access to specific benefits set out in law during the regulated ‘referendum period’ which begins on 30 May.

These include a spending limit of £1.5m, a free delivery of campaign material to voters, referendum broadcasts and the use of public rooms.

This morning will see the launch of two reports on Scotland’s potential post-independence economy.

The first – Scotland’s Public Finances and opportunities of independence, launched by first minister Alex Salmond and finance secretary John Swinney – is based on claims by Swinney that following a ‘yes’ vote, Scotland would negotiate for a share of £1.3tn of UK assets.

Swinney said:

Scotland will start life as an independent nation with access to our own wealth and a key stake in the £1.3tn of assets built up by the UK and funded by Scottish taxpayers.

Everyone in Scotland has contributed to this stockpile … and Scotland is entitled to a fair share.

In the case of physical assets overseas or defence assets that cannot be transferred or shared with Scotland, then the result will be for Scotland to receive a cash share of their value or to see our share of UK debts reduced.

Meanwhile the UK Treasury has chosen today – 28 May, labelled by the Adam Smith Institute as "tax freedom day", because it’s the date on which the average person in the UK stops paying tax and starts earning for themselves – to argue that in an independent Scotland, taxpayers could have to work for an additional two weeks to reach "tax freedom" status. Chief secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, called it:

the most comprehensive analysis of the fiscal position of Scotland yet produced.

You can follow our reporting team on Twitter: @SeverinCarrell, @Libby_Brooks and me, @Claire_Phipps.

I will have more on both reports, plus reaction, throughout the morning.

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond takes a penalty with representatives of  Street Soccer Scotland, prior to a Scottish cabinet meeting at Fernhill community centre on Tuesday.
Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond takes a penalty with representatives of Street Soccer Scotland, prior to a Scottish cabinet meeting at Fernhill community centre on Tuesday. Photograph: Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert/Getty Images

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