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.

DebateTech
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Politicians: it's no longer OK to know nothing about technology

It’s bad enough to joke about not being "techy"; it's worse to back a piece of legislation from a position of ignorance. 

Earlier this week, facing down a 600-strong battalion of London’s tech sector at a mayoral hustings in Stratford, Zac Goldsmith opened his five minute pitch with his characteristic charm. “I’m not very techy!” he exclaimed. “I understand coding about as well as Swahili!”

Pointless jibe at a foreign language aside, this was an ill-chosen way to begin his address - especially considering that the rest of his speech showed he was reasonably well-briefed on the problems facing the sector, and the solutions (including improving broadband speeds and devolving skills budgets) which could help.

But the offhand reference to his own ignorance, and the implication that it would be seen as attractive by this particular audience, implies that Goldsmith, and other politicians like him, haven’t moved on since the 90s. The comment seemed designed to say: “Oh, I don't know about that - I'll leave it to the geeks like you!"

This is bad enough from a mayoral hopeful.  But on the same day, the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament filed its report on the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill, the legislation drafted by the Home Office which will define how and how far the government and secret services can pry into our digital communications. Throughout, there's the sense that the ISC doesn't think the department behind the bill had a firm grasp on the issues at hand. Words like "inconsistent" and "lacking in clarity" pop up again and again. In one section, the authors note:

"While the issues under consideration are undoubtedly complex, we are nevertheless concerned that thus far the Government has missed the opportunity to provide the clarity and assurance which is badly needed."

The report joins criticism from other directions, including those raised by Internet Service Providers last year, that the bill's writers didn't appear to know much about digital communications at all, much less the issues surrounding encryption of personal messages.

One good example: the bill calls for the collection of "internet connection records", the digital equivalent of phone call records, which show the domains visited by internet users but not their content. But it turns out these records don't exist in this form: the bill actually invented both the phrase and the concept. As one provider commented at the time, anyone in favour of their collection "do not understand how the Internet works". 

Politicians have a long and colourful history of taking on topics - even ministerial posts - in fields they know little to nothing about. This, in itself, is a problem. But politicians themselves are often the people extolling importance of technology, especially to the British economy - which makes their own lack of knowledge particularly grating. No politician would feel comfortable admitting a lack of knowledge, on, say, economics. I can’t imagine Goldsmith guffawing "Oh, the deficit?  That's all Greek to me!"  over dinner with Cameron. 

The mayoral candidates on stage at the DebateTech hustings this week were eager to agree that tech is London’s fastest growing industry, but could do little more than bleat the words “tech hub” with fear in their eyes that someone might ask them what exactly that meant. (A notable exception was Green candidate Sian Berry, who has actually worked for a tech start-up.) It was telling that all were particularly keen on improving internet speeds -  probably because this is something they do have day-to-day engagement with. Just don't ask them how to go about doing it.

The existence of organisations like Tech London Advocates, the industry group which co-organised the hustings, is important, and can go some way towards educating the future mayor on the issues the industry faces. But the technology and information sectors have been responsible for 30 per cent of job growth in the capital since 2009 - we can't afford to have a mayor who blanches at the mention of code. 

If we’re to believe the politicians themselves, with all their talk of coding camps and skills incubators and teaching the elderly to email, we need a political sphere where boasting that you're not "techy" isn’t cool or funny - it’s just kind of embarrassing. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.