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This Scottish electoral earthquake has killed Indyref2 and shaken the SNP

Nicola Sturgeon has four years to save her neck.

Scotland seemed ready to teach the SNP a lesson about accountability. We knew that. No one realised quite how ready Scotland was. The general election result was seismic in many ways in many parts of the UK, but north of the border it hit a magnitude of 10: naw to a second independence referendum, no more gravity-defying Nat heroes, a brutal response from a nation that has tired of constitutional engineering and wants someone to attend to the basics.

Alex Salmond and his close friend Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh went. Westminster leader Angus Robertson went. John Nicolson, that cocky enemy of a free press, went. The dominos tumbled and kept tumbling. The messages from Tory and Labour friends grew more excitable and more disbelieving as the night wore on. "Keep watching," texted Ruth Davidson at 2.30am, "you might have a Tory MP in Stirling [my hometown, SNP 2015 majority 10,480]. Gordon’s getting tasty."

Stirling, once the stamping ground of Michael Forsyth, went Conservative for the first time in 20 years. Gordon meant Alex Salmond, which seemed unthinkable even as the unthinkable continued to happen. The SNP’s greatest leader was not spared. The night of the long claymores brought down the tallest of poppies.

In the end, an astonishing 21 out of 56 SNP MPs were fired by the voters, only two years after most of them had been handed the gig in the first place. "Not up to it," as Attlee would have put it.

Why? Well, Nicola Sturgeon won’t say it publicly, but her demand for a second independence referendum only three years after the first angered a great many voters who had asked the Nats to stand up for Scotland at Westminster rather than seek to rip it out. It was a catastrophic misjudgment by an otherwise canny leader. She and her colleagues were told, again and again, that the school-gate chat suggested a frustrated electorate felt taken for granted and had grown tired of the SNP’s one-track politics. As reports emerged showing numeracy and literacy rates falling despite ten years of Nationalist government, Scots wondered what they were getting from the deal. They have made up their minds: not enough.

As Sturgeon’s deputy John Swinney said, the proposal for a second referendum played a "significant" role in the result. "We will take time and care to reflect on the outcome of this result. But we have to acknowledge that the question of a second independence referendum was a significant motivator of votes against the SNP in this election, and we have to be attentive to that point." Bit late, but yes.

By any normal account, the SNP had a reasonable evening, winning a substantial 36.9 per cent of the vote and 35 out of a possible 59 seats. But they will be judged by their own previous high standards: this meant a loss of 21 seats and a drop of 13 percentage points since 2015. The Tories, meanwhile, doubled their share of the vote to 28.6 per cent, and even poor old Scottish Labour found itself up by 2.8 points at 27.1 per cent, going from one seat to seven. The Lib Dems leapt from one seat to four.

This was Davidson’s night, as her broad smile on the small hours TV screen made clear. Her (latest) achievement cannot be overstated: in a land where the word ‘Tory’ is still often used as a curse, she has detoxified the brand, produced a thumping success even as Theresa May fouled up across the rest of the UK, and has set up the possibility of a true electoral earthquake in the devolved elections of 2021. It is not yet clear where Davidson’s ceiling lies, if it even exists, but she has fans in interesting places. If she announced tomorrow that she had decided to lead a UK version of En Marche!, she would have the money and backing to do it.

Nicola Sturgeon has four years to save her neck – in the cold light of 9 June that doesn’t feel like an overstatement. "Indyref2 is dead. That’s what’s happened tonight," said Davidson. She’s right. And a Unionist majority at Holyrood in 2021, which now seems inevitable, will seal the deal. Scots desire strong, effective and accountable government no less than anyone else. They have spoken, loudly and clearly.

Can the Nats deliver? Can they genuinely set aside their raison d’etre and make some enemies in the name of public service reform? Is Sturgeon a First Minister for the whole nation, with the same concerns and passions as its people, or, as someone who joined the SNP while still in school, can politics only ever be a route to the One True Goal? We are about to find out. That is the challenge that now confronts her. Game on.

Chris Deerin is the New Statesman's contributing editor (Scotland). 

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It might be a pseudo science, but students take the threat of eugenics seriously

Today’s white nationalists and neo-Nazis make extensive use of racist pseudo-science to bolster their political arguments.

In January, the London Student published my investigation, which showed that the controversial columnist Toby Young attended the London Conference on Intelligence, secretly held at University College London. Shortly afterwards, I mentioned to someone in a pub smoking area that I go to UCL. “Did you hear about the eugenics conference?” he asked me.

He was an international student from Africa. “I applied to UCL partly because I thought it was safer than other universities, but now I’m not so sure. I worry about how many other professors hold the same opinions.”

A protest outside the UCL Provost’s office after the article was published attracted scores of students. “I have a right to come to university and not fear for my safety,” one told the crowd, exasperated. “Nothing has been done, and that’s what really scares me.”

While hecklers derided the protest as an overreaction, students have good reason for taking eugenics seriously. UCL has a long history of support for scientific racism, beginning with Francis Galton, the Victorian polymath who, among other achievements, founded the science of eugenics. UCL’s Galton Chair in National Eugenics, which survived under that name until 1996, was first held by Karl Pearson, another ardent racial eugenicist. Pearson talked about creating a nation from “the better stocks” while conducting war with the “inferior races”, and in 1925 co-authored an article published in the Annals of Eugenics warning of the dangers of allowing Russian and Polish Jewish children into Britain. The London Conference on Intelligence was held in a building named in Pearson’s honour.

Eugenics is most closely associated in the popular imagination with fascism, and the twisted ideology of the Nazi party. Yet racial eugenics was closely linked to wider European imperialism, as illustrated by one object in the Galton collection, contributed by Pearson. Dr. Eugene Fischer’s hair colour scale is a selection of 30 different synthetic hair varieties in a tin box, a continuous scale from European to African. Fischer’s work was used in the early 20th century by Germany to ascertain the whiteness of Namibia’s mixed-race population, even before it was used by the Nazis to design the Nuremburg Laws. In apartheid South Africa, Afrikaans researchers used his tools as late as the 1960s.

Its importance to the imperial project meant that eugenics enjoyed widespread support in British scientific and political establishments. Galton’s Eugenics Society, set up to spread eugenicist ideas and push for eugenic policies, had branches in Birmingham, Liverpool, Cambridge, Manchester, Southampton and Glasgow, drawing hundreds of academics to their meetings. It was a movement of the educated middle class, including leading progressives such as John Maynard Keynes, Marie Stopes and the Fabians. Society presidents hailed from the universities of Edinburgh, Oxford, Cambridge, LSE, and UCL.

With this history in mind, it is easier to understand why students take the UCL eugenics scandal so seriously. Science journalist Angela Saini, who has been researching the history of race science for her upcoming book, argues that the problem lies in the co-opting of pseudoscience for political purposes. “These people are on the fringes, they’re not respected in mainstream academia,” she says. “The problem is when people like Toby Young come in from outside and use these studies to promote their own political agenda.” (Young said he attended the conference purely for research).

The rise of the far-right in Europe and America also means that the tolerance afforded to racist pseudoscience is not a purely academic question. Today’s white nationalists and neo-Nazis make extensive use of racist pseudoscience to bolster their political arguments.

Our investigation into the London Conference on Intelligence uncovered the involvement of at least 40 academics from at least 29 different universities in 15 different countries. Among these was the Oxford academic Noah Carl, a postdoctoral researcher in the social sciences at Nuffield College, who has spoken twice at the London Conference on Intelligence. Carl has also written several papers for Emil Kirkegaard’s OpenPsych, which include two looking at whether larger Muslim populations make Islamist terrorism more likely, and one suggesting that British stereotypes towards immigrants are “largely accurate”.

One external reviewer responded to the last paper by stating that: “It is never OK to publish research this bad, even in an inconsequential online journal.” Nevertheless, the paper was featured by conservative US website The Daily Caller, under a picture of Nigel Farage’s “Breaking Point” poster. The far right European Free West Media cited the paper to claim that “criminal elements are represented by certain ethnic groups”, and on the blog of a far-right French presidential candidate under the headline “Study validates prejudices”. It even ended up on InfoWars, one of the most popular news websites in the USA, and can be found circulating on far-right corners of Reddit. The fact that Carl is linked to Oxford University was mentioned frequently in the coverage, providing legitimacy to the political opinions presented.

Another contributor to the London Conference on Intelligence was Adam Perkins of King’s College London, whose book The Welfare Trait proposed that “aggressive, rule-breaking and anti-social personality characteristics” can be “bred out” of society by reducing child support for those on the lowest incomes. Perkins actively engaged with far-right media outlets in promoting his book, appearing in hour-long interviews with Stefan Molyneux and Tara McCarthy. Molyneux doesn’t “view humanity as a single species because we are not all the same”, and argues that “ordinary Africans were better off under colonialism”. McCarthy was banned from YouTube for alleging a conspiracy to commit “white genocide”, and supports deporting naturalised citizens and “killing them if they resist”. Perkins himself attracted criticism last year for tweeting, alongside data from Kirkegaard, that Trump’s Muslim ban “makes sense in human capital terms”.

Perkins is not the first KCL academic to use his platform to promote contested science in the far-right press. In the 1980s, the Pioneer Fund supported the work of Hans Eysenck, whose work has been credited by his biographer with helping to “revive the confidence” of “right-wing racialist groups” such as the National Front by providing an “unexpected vindication from a respectable scientific quarter”. The original mandate of the Pioneer Fund was the pursuit of “race betterment”; it is considered a hate group by the US civil rights group the Southern Poverty Law Center. KCL did not respond to a request for comment.

An association with a high profile university can help bigots to legitimise their beliefs, but the infiltration of mainstream academia by eugenicists is even more complex than this.

After we exposed his involvement with eugenicists, Toby Young pointed out that the conference at which he actually spoke, that of the International Society for Intelligence Research (ISIR), was “super-respectable” and attended by “numerous world-renowned academics”.

He is entirely correct. The ISIR is home to many great scientists, and its journal Intelligence is one of the most respected in its field. Yet Richard Lynn, who has called for the “phasing out” of the “populations of incompetent cultures”, serves on the editorial board of Intelligence, along with fellow director of the Pioneer Fund Gerhard Meisenberg, who edits Lynn’s journal Mankind Quarterly. Two other board members are Heiner Rindermann and Jan te Nijenhuis, frequent contributors to Mankind Quarterly and the London Conference on Intelligence. Rindermann, James Thompson, Michael Woodley of Menie and Aurelio Figueredo, all heavily implicated in the London Conference on Intelligencehelped to organise recent ISIR conferences. Linda Gottfredson, a Pioneer Fund grantee and former president of the ISIR, famously authored a letter in the Wall Street Journal defending Charles Murray’s assertion that black people are genetically disposed to an average IQ of “around 85”, compared to 100 for whites.

The tolerance afforded to eugenicists threatens the reputation of respectable scientists. Stephen Pinker, the world-renowned cognitive psychologist, spoke at last year’s ISIR conference. Another speaker at the conference, however, was the aforementioned Emil Kirkegaard, a “self-taught” eugenicist who has written a “thought experiment” which discusses whether raping a drugged child could be defended, and whose research into OKCupid made international headlines for its “grossly unprofessional, unethical and reprehensible” use of personal data.

Saini spoke to Richard Haier, editor-in-chief of Intelligence, about the involvement of Lynn and Meisenberg. “He defended their involvement on the basis of academic freedom,” she recalled. “He said he’d prefer to let the papers and data speak for themselves.”

Publishing well-researched papers that happen to be written by eugenicists is one thing, but putting them in positions of editorial control is quite another. “Having researched Lynn and Meisenberg, I fail to understand how Intelligence can justify having these two on the editorial board,” Saini said. “I find that very difficult to understand. Academic freedom does not require that these people are given any more space than their research demands – which for a discredited idea like racial eugenics is frankly minuscule.” I contacted the ISIR but at time of publishing had received no response.

UCL has published several statements about the London Conference on Intelligence since my investigation. In the latest, released on 18 January 2018, the university said it hoped to finish an investigation within weeks. It said it did not and had not endorsed the conference, and had formally complained to YouTube about the use of a doctored UCL logo on videos posted online. UCL’s President described eugenics as “complete nonsense” and added: “I am appalled by the concept of white supremacy and will not tolerate anything on campus that incites racial hatred or violence.” UCL management has also agreed to engage with students concerned about buildings being named after eugenicists.

UCL’s statement also stressed its obligation “to protect free speech on campus, within the law, even if the views expressed are inconsistent with the values and views of UCL”.

Yet there is a direct link between the tolerance of eugenicists in academia and the political rise of the far-right. Journals and universities that allow their reputations to be used to launder or legitimate racist pseudo-science bear responsibility when that pseudo-science is used for political ends. As one UCL student put it: “This is not about freedom of speech – all violence begins with ideas. We feel threatened, and we want answers.”

Ben van der Merwe is a student journalist.