Not the messiah, just a naughty... Photo:Getty
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If you think the SNP are a left-wing force, think again

Many on the Left see the SNP as a progressive partner - the reality is very different. 

Len McCluskey this week praised Nicola Sturgeon and said that Labour should be prepared to work with the SNP. He isn’t the only English lefty to fall for the charms of Scotland’s First Minister. ‘Can I vote SNP?’ was one of the most popular Google searches among non-Scottish voters who watched the main leaders’ debate at the start of the campaign. The effect has been similar to Cleggmania in 2010 with a rival party leader appearing to say the sorts of things many Labour supporters have longed to hear from one of their own. Why shouldn’t they be attracted to the idea of Labour forming a progressive alliance with the SNP, Plaid Cymru, SDLP and possibly a Green or two? For very good reasons, as it happens.

The case against a deal with the SNP is usually made by Labour tribalists and couched in terms so self-serving as to be immediately discounted by its intended audience. The party might do better if it showed more self-awareness by acknowledging that there are valid reasons for people in Scotland to feel angry with it.

The argument for steering clear of the SNP isn’t that Labour has a monopoly of progressive virtue. It clearly doesn’t. The real reason for being a Nat-sceptic is that, aside from nationalism, the SNP has no ideological core of its own and simply instrumentalises progressive ideas to advance the regressive goal of separatism. For the non-Scottish left there can be no question of a principled and trusting relationship with the SNP because you can’t build a common project for social change with someone whose first and only purpose is to smash up the political community to which you both belong. The left in England and Wales may want the UK to work differently, but they definitely want it to work. Nicola Sturgeon and her party want it to fail.

The SNP could have proved otherwise by refocusing its priorities on areas of shared interest with the rest of Britain when it lost the referendum, but it spurned the opportunity. Like true vanguardists, the self-styled ‘45’ decided to set democracy and majority opinion aside and behave as if they were real voice of Scotland. Their pledge that the referendum would be a “once in a generation” event was immediately ditched in a frenzy of debate about how soon a rerun could be engineered and what ruses would be needed to secure a different outcome. Everything the SNP does is now framed with that solitary objective in mind.

The effect has been to foster a dominant attitude that is highly sectarian and trending towards totalitarian. There is only one truth and one way to be authentically Scottish – the nationalist way. Anyone who disagrees with this is, as one SNP parliamentary candidate put it, the moral equivalent of a Nazi collaborator. There is no space for pluralism and honest compromise with a movement in this state of mind. The normal rules of democratic conduct don’t apply because it answers to destiny alone. When Nicola Sturgeon says that she wants to help the Labour Party, she does so in the same spirit that Lenin once advised his British followers support the Labour Party of Arthur Henderson: “as the rope supports a hanged man”.

The SNP’s progressive credentials don’t, in any case, stand up to serious scrutiny. When Sturgeon was asked at her manifesto launch to name a redistributive policy enacted by the SNP in Holyrood, she was unable to cite a single example. There has been plenty of middle class welfarism, but no effective measures to reduce inequality or poverty. Indeed, the SNP in power has resembled nothing as much as New Labour in its pomp, combining the worst reflexes of authoritarian statism and market liberalism with a superior, “we know best” attitude that brooks no opposition.

With the creation of a single national police force, the routine use of armed response units, a stop and search rate four times higher than the rest of the UK and plans to create an integrated ID database, the SNP has strayed into areas that even Tony Blair’s Home Secretaries backed away from. A new ‘named person’ law will create an army of state employed snoopers with a right to pry into the affairs of every family. The party has also taken a lurch towards democratic centralism with a new gagging rule that obliges its MPs to "accept that no member shall within or outwith the parliament publicly criticise a group decision, policy or another member of the group".

The SNP’s ‘business friendly’ approach of sucking up to powerful tycoons like Donald Trump, Brian Souter and Rupert Murdoch is scarcely any better then Blair’s cloying embrace of the super-rich, and arguably worse. The party’s flagship post-independence economic policy of attracting multinational companies by slashing corporation tax and undercutting the welfare budgets of other countries is the sort of tax piracy beloved of the neo-liberal right. The SNP’s claims to be anti-austerity have been revealed as baseless. Only opposition to Trident sets it apart; hardly an act of principle given that an independent Scotland wouldn’t be able to afford nuclear weapons.

At a time when Britain is crying out for a politics of the common good, the SNP stands for a militant politics of sectional advantage. It is rapidly acquiring the characteristics of a political religion, a faith-based movement that vilifies unbelievers and subordinates all other considerations to the attainment of national ‘rapture’ through independence. This sets it apart from other parties, even Plaid Cymru which takes a more pragmatic approach to independence and has already worked as part of a coalition in Cardiff. There are good reasons for people on the left to want a new kind of pluralist politics, but it’s no use pretending that you can pursue that vision with people who aren’t pluralists. Short of a second referendum defeat, the SNP is likely to remain a belligerent and destructive force in British politics. Progressives beware.

David Clark is the editor of Shifting Grounds.

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This Ada Lovelace Day, let’s celebrate women in tech while confronting its sexist culture

In an industry where men hold most of the jobs and write most of the code, celebrating women's contributions on one day a year isn't enough. 

Ada Lovelace wrote the world’s first computer program. In the 1840s Charles Babbage, now known as the “father of the computer”, designed (though never built) the “Analytical Engine”, a machine which could accurately and reproducibly calculate the answers to maths problems. While translating an article by an Italian mathematician about the machine, Lovelace included a written algorithm for which would allow the engine to calculate a sequence of Bernoulli numbers.

Around 170 years later, Whitney Wolfe, one of the founders of dating app Tinder, was allegedly forced to resign from the company. According to a lawsuit she later filed against the app and its parent company, she had her co-founder title removed because, the male founders argued, it would look “slutty”, and because “Facebook and Snapchat don’t have girl founders. It just makes it look like Tinder was some accident". (They settled out of court.)

Today, 13 October, is Ada Lovelace day – an international celebration of inspirational women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). It’s lucky we have this day of remembrance, because, as Wolfe’s story demonstrates, we also spend a lot of time forgetting and sidelining women in tech. In the wash of pale male founders of the tech giants that rule the industry,we don't often think about the women that shaped its foundations: Judith Estrin, one of the designers of TCP/IP, for example, or Radia Perlman, inventor of the spanning-tree protocol. Both inventions sound complicated, and they are – they’re some of the vital building blocks that allow the internet to function. 

And yet David Streitfield, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, someow felt it accurate to write in 2012: “Men invented the internet. And not just any men. Men with pocket protectors. Men who idolised Mr Spock and cried when Steve Jobs died.”

Perhaps we forget about tech's founding women because the needle has swung so far into the other direction. A huge proportion – perhaps even 90 per cent - of the world’s code is written by men. At Google, women fill 17 per cent of technical roles. At Facebook, 15 per cent. Over 90 per cent of the code respositories on Github, an online service used throughout the industry, are owned by men. Yet it's also hard to believe that this erasure of women's role in tech is completely accidental. As Elissa Shevinsky writes in the introduction to a collection of essays on gender in tech, Lean Out: “This myth of the nerdy male founder has been perpetuated by men who found this story favourable."

Does it matter? It’s hard to believe that it doesn’t. Our society is increasingly defined and delineated by code and the things it builds. Small slip-ups, like the lack of a period tracker on the original Apple Watch, or fitness trackers too big for some women’s wrists, gesture to the fact that these technologies are built by male-dominated teams, for a male audience.

In Lean Out, one essay written by a Twitter-based “start-up dinosaur” (don’t ask) explains how dangerous it is to allow one small segment of society to built the future for the rest of us:

If you let someone else build tomorrow, tomorrow will belong to someone else. They will build a better tomorrow for everyone like them… For tomorrow to be for everyone, everyone needs to be the one [sic] that build it.

So where did all the women go? How did we get from a rash of female inventors to a situation where the major female presence at an Apple iPhone launch is a model’s face projected onto a screen and photoshopped into a smile by a male demonstrator? 

Photo: Apple.

The toxic culture of many tech workplaces could be a cause or an effect of the lack of women in the industry, but it certainly can’t make make it easy to stay. Behaviours range from the ignorant - Martha Lane-Fox, founder of, often asked “what happens if you get pregnant?” at investors' meetings - to the much more sinister. An essay in Lean Out by Katy Levinson details her experiences of sexual harassment while working in tech: 

I have had interviewers attempt to solicit sexual favors from me mid-interview and discuss in significant detail precisely what they would like to do. All of these things have happened either in Silicon Valley working in tech, in an educational institution to get me there, or in a technical internship.

Others featured in the book joined in with the low-level sexism and racism  of their male colleagues in order to "fit in" and deflect negative attention. Erica Joy writes that while working in IT at the University of Alaska as the only woman (and only black person) on her team, she laughed at colleagues' "terribly racist and sexist jokes" and "co-opted their negative attitudes”. 

The casual culture and allegedly meritocratic hierarchies of tech companies may actually be encouraging this discriminatory atmosphere. HR and the strict reporting procedures of large corporates at least give those suffering from discrimination a place to go. A casual office environment can discourage reporting or calling out prejudiced humour or remarks. Brook Shelley, a woman who transitioned while working in tech, notes: "No one wants to be the office mother". So instead, you join in and hope for the best. 

And, of course, there's no reason why people working in tech would have fewer issues with discrimination than those in other industries. A childhood spent as a "nerd" can also spawn its own brand of misogyny - Katherine Cross writes in Lean Out that “to many of these men [working in these fields] is all too easy to subconciously confound women who say ‘this is sexist’ with the young girls who said… ‘You’re gross and a creep and I’ll never date you'". During GamerGate, Anita Sarkeesian was often called a "prom queen" by trolls. 

When I spoke to Alexa Clay, entrepreneur and co-author of the Misfit Economy, she confirmed that there's a strange, low-lurking sexism in the start-up economy: “They have all very open and free, but underneath it there's still something really patriarchal.” Start-ups, after all, are a culture which celebrates risk-taking, something which women are societally discouraged from doing. As Clay says, 

“Men are allowed to fail in tech. You have these young guys who these old guys adopt and mentor. If his app doesn’t work, the mentor just shrugs it off. I would not be able ot get away with that, and I think women and minorities aren't allowed to take the same amount of risks, particularly in these communities. If you fail, no one's saying that's fine.

The conclusion of Lean Out, and of women in tech I have spoken to, isn’t that more women, over time, will enter these industries and seamlessly integrate – it’s that tech culture needs to change, or its lack of diversity will become even more severe. Shevinsky writes:

The reason why we don't have more women in tech is not because of a lack of STEM education. It's because too many high profile and influential individuals and subcultures within the tech industry have ignored or outright mistreated women applicants and employees. To be succinct—the problem isn't women, it's tech culture.

Software engineer Kate Heddleston has a wonderful and chilling metaphor about the way we treat women in STEM. Women are, she writes, the “canary in the coal mine”. If one dies, surely you should take that as a sign that the mine is uninhabitable – that there’s something toxic in the air. “Instead, the industry is looking at the canary, wondering why it can’t breathe, saying ‘Lean in, canary, lean in!’. When one canary dies they get a new one because getting more canaries is how you fix the lack of canaries, right? Except the problem is that there isn't enough oxygen in the coal mine, not that there are too few canaries.” We need more women in STEM, and, I’d argue, in tech in particular, but we need to make sure the air is breatheable first. 

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