Activists demonstrate as Nigel Farage visits during European election campaigning on May 9, 2014 in Edinburgh. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Why can't Ukip crack Scotland?

It's not anti-immigrant populism Scots are immune to, it's English nationalism.

It’s not inconceivable that Ukip will win one of six Scottish seats at the European elections tomorrow, but it is pretty unlikely. Nigel Farage reckons his party needs 12 or 13 per cent of the vote to secure, for the first time, an MEP north of the border. Polls suggest Ukip currently has the backing of around ten per cent of the Scottish electorate.

But even if Farage manages to upset the odds and get his lead Scottish candidate, David Coburn, elected, he will do so with just a fraction of the support Ukip looks set to secure across the rest of the UK. One MEP and a string of lost deposits hardly amount to a Caledonian "breakthrough", much less the political "earthquake" the Ukip leader is predicting.

So why can’t Farage crack Scotland? Contrary to what some believe, Scots are not naturally immune to anti-immigrant populism, nor are they as enthusiastically pro-European as their two dominant parties, Labour and the SNP, make them appear. (Although research confirms euroscepticism is less widespread in Scotland than it is in England.)

One theory is that Ukip and the SNP draw on "similar reserves of anti-politics and anti-Westminster sentiment"; that the SNP’s success limits the space Ukip has to expand north of Carlisle. But this doesn’t explain why other parties with more radical agendas, such as the Greens and Plaid Cymru, have failed to capitalise on the collapse of Westminster authority in recent years. It also exaggerates the SNP’s "anti-political" credentials. On most social and economic issues, the party barely deviates from Westminster orthodoxy, while its "separatism" is mitigated by a commitment to retain various British institutions, including the pound and the monarchy, after independence.

A more convincing explanation, in my view, is that Ukip's rise is linked to the growth of English nationalism over the last decade. In 2013, the IPPR published a report charting the emergence of an increasingly assertive sense of English national identity. The report showed that, in the years since the Scottish Parliament was created, growing numbers of English people have described themselves as English first and British second. Crucially, the more "English" respondents to the IPPR’s survey felt, the more likely they were to say Scotland received a greater share of public spending than it deserved or that the UK’s current constitutional set-up didn’t serve English majority interests.

Attitudes towards Europe split along similar lines. Respondents who described themselves as exclusively English, or as more English than British, were more hostile to the EU than respondents who described themselves as primarily British. The IPPR concluded that the main beneficiary of this surge in English nationalism had been Ukip, whose increased support "reflects English discontent with the political status-quo - and not just with 'Europe.'" 

Now, I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that most Scots won’t vote for an English nationalist party, particularly one whose supporters believe Scottish public services are subsidised by English taxpayers. In this respect, Ukip's problem with Scottish voters mirrors that of the Tories’: it is perceived, rightly or wrongly, as overwhelmingly southern and right-wing. (Ukip politicians even share the Tories’ habit of making outlandish statements about Scotland - earlier this year, Misty Thackeray, Ukip's former Scottish chairman, claimed Glasgow City Council was full of "gays, Catholics and Communists".)

The party faces other difficulties. It is disorganised, its membership is threadbare and its candidates are frequently eccentric. (David Coburn has accused Alex Salmond of planning to "fill the Highlands with Pashtun warriors and ex-Afghan warlords".) But these are relatively minor issues that can be resolved over time. The broader, structural challenge, on the other hand, will be much harder to deal with: unless Ukip can break with its English nationalist roots and develop a more distinctive Scottish identity (and there’s no reason why it should), it will never find lasting support among Scots.

Both sides in the referendum debate have a lot riding on the outcome of the European elections. If Ukip scrapes a Scottish seat, unionists will argue that the Scots and the English have more in common than nationalists like to pretend. If, as looks more likely, it is rejected by Scottish voters again, nationalist will say Scotland and England are on separate political trajectories. Either way, Ukip's current status in Scottish politics far outstrips its actual popularity.

James Maxwell is a Scottish political journalist. He is based between Scotland and London.

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Who will win in Copeland? The Labour heartland hangs in the balance

The knife-edge by-election could end 82 years of Labour rule on the West Cumbrian coast.

Fine, relentless drizzle shrouds Whitehaven, a harbour town exposed on the outer edge of Copeland, West Cumbria. It is the most populous part of the coastal north-western constituency, which takes in everything from this old fishing port to Sellafield nuclear power station to England’s tallest mountain Scafell Pike. Sprawling and remote, it protrudes from the heart of the Lake District out into the Irish Sea.

Billy, a 72-year-old Whitehaven resident, is out for a morning walk along the marina with two friends, his woolly-hatted head held high against the whipping rain. He worked down the pit at the Haig Colliery for 27 years until it closed, and now works at Sellafield on contract, where he’s been since the age of 42.

“Whatever happens, a change has got to happen,” he says, hands stuffed into the pockets of his thick fleece. “If I do vote, the Bootle lass talks well for the Tories. They’re the favourites. If me mam heard me saying this now, she’d have battered us!” he laughs. “We were a big Labour family. But their vote has gone. Jeremy Corbyn – what is he?”

The Conservatives have their sights on traditional Labour voters like Billy, who have been returning Labour MPs for 82 years, to make the first government gain in a by-election since 1982.

Copeland has become increasingly marginal, held with just 2,564 votes by former frontbencher Jamie Reed, who resigned from Parliament last December to take a job at the nuclear plant. He triggered a by-election now regarded by all sides as too close to call. “I wouldn’t put a penny on it,” is how one local activist sums up the mood.

There are 10,000 people employed at the Sellafield site, and 21,000 jobs are promised for nearby Moorside – a project to build Europe’s largest nuclear power station now thrown into doubt, with Japanese company Toshiba likely to pull out.

Tories believe Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on nuclear power (he limply conceded it could be part of the “energy mix” recently, but his long prevarication betrayed his scepticism) and opposition to Trident, which is hosted in the neighbouring constituency of Barrow-in-Furness, could put off local employees who usually stick to Labour.

But it’s not that simple. The constituency may rely on nuclear for jobs, but I found a notable lack of affection for the industry. While most see the employment benefits, there is less enthusiasm for Sellafield being part of their home’s identity – particularly in Whitehaven, which houses the majority of employees in the constituency. Also, unions representing Sellafield workers have been in a dispute for months with ministers over pension cut plans.

“I worked at Sellafield for 30 years, and I’m against it,” growls Fred, Billy’s friend, a retiree of the same age who also used to work at the colliery. “Can you see nuclear power as safer than coal?” he asks, wild wiry eyebrows raised. “I’m a pit man; there was just nowhere else to work [when the colliery closed]. The pension scheme used to be second-to-none, now they’re trying to cut it, changing the terms.”

Derek Bone, a 51-year-old who has been a storeman at the plant for 15 years, is equally unconvinced. I meet him walking his dog along the seafront. “This county, Cumbria, Copeland, has always been a nuclear area – whether we like it or don’t,” he says, over the impatient barks of his Yorkshire terrier Milo. “But people say it’s only to do with Copeland. It ain’t. It employs a lot of people in the UK, outside the county – then they’re spending the money back where they’re from, not here.”

Such views might be just enough of a buffer against the damage caused by Corbyn’s nuclear reluctance. But the problem for Labour is that neither Fred nor Derek are particularly bothered about the result. While awareness of the by-election is high, many tell me that they won’t be voting this time. “Jeremy Corbyn says he’s against it [nuclear], now he’s not, and he could change his mind – I don’t believe any of them,” says Malcolm Campbell, a 55-year-old lorry driver who is part of the nuclear supply chain.

Also worrying for Labour is the deprivation in Copeland. Everyone I speak to complains about poor infrastructure, shoddy roads, derelict buildings, and lack of investment. This could punish the party that has been in power locally for so long.

The Tory candidate Trudy Harrison, who grew up in the coastal village of Seascale and now lives in Bootle, at the southern end of the constituency, claims local Labour rule has been ineffective. “We’re isolated, we’re remote, we’ve been forgotten and ignored by Labour for far too long,” she says.

I meet her in the town of Millom, at the southern tip of the constituency – the opposite end to Whitehaven. It centres on a small market square dominated by a smart 19th-century town hall with a mint-green domed clock tower. This is good Tory door-knocking territory; Millom has a Conservative-led town council.

While Harrison’s Labour opponents are relying on their legacy vote to turn out, Harrison is hoping that the same people think it’s time for a change, and can be combined with the existing Tory vote in places like Millom. “After 82 years of Labour rule, this is a huge ask,” she admits.

Another challenge for Harrison is the threat to services at Whitehaven’s West Cumberland Hospital. It has been proposed for a downgrade, which would mean those seeking urgent care – including children, stroke sufferers, and those in need of major trauma treatment and maternity care beyond midwifery – would have to travel the 40-mile journey to Carlisle on the notoriously bad A595 road.

Labour is blaming this on Conservative cuts to health spending, and indeed, Theresa May dodged calls to rescue the hospital in her campaign visit last week. “The Lady’s Not For Talking,” was one local paper front page. It also helps that Labour’s candidate, Gillian Troughton, is a St John Ambulance driver, who has driven the dangerous journey on a blue light.

“Seeing the health service having services taken away in the name of centralisation and saving money is just heart-breaking,” she tells me. “People are genuinely frightened . . . If we have a Tory MP, that essentially gives them the green light to say ‘this is OK’.”

But Harrison believes she would be best-placed to reverse the hospital downgrade. “[I] will have the ear of government,” she insists. “I stand the very best chance of making sure we save those essential services.”

Voters are concerned about the hospital, but divided on the idea that a Tory MP would have more power to save it.

“What the Conservatives are doing with the hospitals is disgusting,” a 44-year-old carer from Copeland’s second most-populated town of Egremont tells me. Her partner, Shaun Grant, who works as a labourer, agrees. “You have to travel to Carlisle – it could take one hour 40 minutes; the road is unpredictable.” They will both vote Labour.

Ken, a Conservative voter, counters: “People will lose their lives over it – we need someone in the circle, who can influence the government, to change it. I think the government would reward us for voting Tory.”

Fog engulfs the jagged coastline and rolling hills of Copeland as the sun begins to set on Sunday evening. But for most voters and campaigners here, the dense grey horizon is far clearer than what the result will be after going to the polls on Thursday.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.