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Here's why the Conservatives are banging on and on about the SNP

A new poll confirms what the Conservatives been saying privately, and bodes ill for Labour after the election.

A while back, I reported on private Conservative polling that showed that the fear of an SNP-Labour pact was putting the frighteners up swing voters in the marginals. The strategy also figures into the Liberal campaign message, such as it is.

Now ComRes have helpfully polled publicly what the Tories and the Liberal Democrats have been testing privately. A new poll for ITV on possible coalition partners finds that just 19 per cent of voters want the SNP to play a role in the next Westminster government, with 59 per cent opposed.

Happily for Labour, opposition to the SNP in government is significantly lower in London and Wales, where the party is hoping it will outperform the national swing, picking up seats like Ilford North, the Vale of Glamorgan, Battersea and Aberconwy to bolster its hopes of being the largest party, but it is still high, at 48% in Wales and 49% in London. But what will trouble Labour MPs and strategists is the level of opposition to any SNP presence in government in the East of England, the Midlands and the North West, in the areas where the election will be decided.

That said, while this poll confirms that the Tory campaign is based on more than wishful thinking – and Labour candidates in the marginals also report that voters are concerned about a Labour-SNP pact in the Commons – I’m still dubious about its utility as a campaign tactic. One Labour insider points out that many of the concerns about Ed Miliband palling up with Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond “are actually about Ed’s ratings and his ability to take tough decisions”. If Miliband is able to continue the positive air war he has enjoyed so far then the matter simply won’t arise. And if voters’ first preference is to have a Labour government free of SNP influence, their best bet in the Labour-Tory battles in England and Wales is still a vote for Labour, rather than the Conservatives.

But what should really trouble Labour isn’t if the Tory attack does damage in the campaign’s last 16 days, but what will happen to Labour’s vote in the Midlands and the North if the party, as now looks more likely than not, ends up in office thanks to the support of the Scottish Nationalists.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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White supremacists are embracing genetic testing - but they aren't always that keen on the results

Users of far-right site Stormfront are resorting to pseudo science and conspiracy theories when DNA tests show they aren't as "pure" as they hoped.

The field of genomics and genetics have undergone almost exponential growth in recent years. Ventures like the Human Genome Project have enabled t humanity to get a closer look at our building blocks. This has led to an explosion in genetic ancestry testingand as of 6 April 2017 23AndMe, one of the most popular commercial DNA testing websites, has genotyped roughly 2 million customers.

It is perhaps unsurprising that one of the markets for genetic testing can be found among white suprmacists desperate to prove their racial purity. But it turns out that many they may not be getting the results they want. 

Stormfront, the most prominent white nationalist website, has its own definition of those who are allowed to count themselves as white - “non-Jewish people of 100 per cent European ancestry.” But many supremacists who take genetic tests are finding out that rather than bearing "not a drop" of non-white blood, they are - like most of us a conglomerate of various kinds of DNA from all over the world including percentages from places such as sub Saharan Africa and Asia. Few are taking it well.

Dr. Aaron Panofsky and Joan Donovan, of UCLA’s Institute for Society and Genetics and the research institute Data and Society respectively, presented a research study (currently under peer review for publication) at the American Sociological Association a week ago, analysing discussion of GAT on Stormfront forums. Panofsky, Donovan and a team of researchers narrowed down the relevant threads to about 700, with 153 users who had chosen to publish their results online. While Panofsky emphasised that it is not possible to draw many quantitative inferences, the findings of their study offer a glimpse into the white nationalist movement's response to science that doesn't their self perception. 

“The bulk of the discussion was repair talk”, says Panofsky. “Though sometimes folks who posted a problematic result were told to leave Stormfront or “drink cyanide” or whatever else, 'don’t breed', most of the talk was discussion about how to interpret the results to make the bad news go away”.

Overwhelmingly, there were two main categories of reinterpretation. Many responses dismissed GAT as flimsy science – with statements such as a “person with true white nationalist consciousness can 'see race', even if their tests indicate 'impurity'".

Other commentators employed pseudo-scientific arguments. “They often resemble the critiques that professional geneticists, biological anthropologists and social scientists, make of GAT, but through a white nationalist lens", says Panofsky. 

For instance, some commentators would look at percentages of non-European DNA and put it down to the rape of white women by non-white men in the past, or a result of conquests by Vikings of savage lands (what the rest of us might call colonialism). Panofsky likens this to the responses from “many science opponents like climate deniers or anti-vaxxers, who are actually very informed about the science, even if they interpret and critique it in idiosyncratic and motivated ways".

Some white nationalists even looked at the GAT results and suggested that discussion of 100 per cent racial purity and the "one drop" rule might even be outdated – that it might be better to look for specific genetic markets that are “reliably European”, even though geneticists might call them by a different name.

Of course, in another not totally surprising development, many of the Stormfront commentators also insisted that GAT is part of a Jewish conspiracy, “to confuse whites by sprinkling false diversity into test results".

Many of the experts in the field have admitted to queasiness about the test themselves; both how they come to their results and what they imply. There are several technical issues with GAT, such as its use of contemporary populations to make inferences about those who previously lived in different places around the world, and concerns that the diversity of reference samples used to make inferences is not fully representative of the real world. 

There are other specific complications when it comes to the supramacist enthusiasm for GAT. Some already make a tortous argument that white people are the “true people of color" by dint of greater variation in hair and eye color. By breaking up DNA into percentages (e.g. 30 per cent Danish, 20 per cent German), Panofsky says GAT can provide a further opportunity to “appropriate and colonise the discourse of diversity and multiculturalism for their own purposes". There's is also, says Panofsky, the simple issue that “we can’t rely on genetic information to turn white nationalists away from their views."

“While I think it would be nice if the lesson people would take from GAT is that white nationalism is incoherent and wrong. I think white nationalists themselves often take the exact opposite conclusion."