The Hound

Ignorance is strength: support surging for Big Sister Sturgeon

Invoking George Orwell has become a bit of a cliché in our era of data privacy and mass surveillance. But the Scottish National Party’s latest party-political broadcast is something straight from the pages of his most famous work.  

The two-and-a-half-minute video, shown on Tuesday evening, starred a young woman striding around an eerily dark set telling voters why on 6 May they should put “Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands”. Set to a sombre backing track, the video featured a dozen television screens with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon constantly watching you. The Big Brother parallels were obvious. The SNP leadership isn’t even pretending otherwise now.

This from the party that produced the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill, which MSPs passed last month, curbing the right to free speech even at home, introducing the new, catch-all offence of “stirring up hatred”.

The party’s record in Holyrood has of course been chucked down the memory hole. The actor asks: “When you see your mother, your father, your brother, your sister, your grandpa and nan, how can we get governments that care about them?”

A flurry of text is projected on screen, including the word “Austerity”. “Where is the care in that?”, we are asked. There are many barbs that could legitimately be aimed at the Westminster government. But with borrowing reaching a third of a trillion pounds this financial year, and Scotland benefiting from 30 per cent higher spending per head thanks to the UK, allegations of excessive frugality aren’t remotely fair.

If the SNP is worried about austerity cuts and the country’s finances, perhaps it should consider its position on independence. The London School of Economics estimates the impact of independence would be two to three times greater than leaving the European Union, and that rejoining would not make up the difference.

None of this makes any difference, it seems. The SNP leadership knows exactly what it is doing. Non-nationalists may find it sinister, but this is what around half of Scots now want to hear. The message – the UK does nothing for Scotland (not even vaccines?) – is focus-grouped from the punters and transmitted right back.

It works. The latest opinion polling published by STV, conducted by Ipsos-Mori, shows the SNP on track for a comfortable overall majority. The seat projection has the SNP on 70 seats and 53 per cent in the constituency section of the Holyrood election. 

Hartlepool hell: Starmer braced for a Hague-style steamrollering defeat

The first anniversary of Sir Keir Starmer’s spell as Labour leader came at a difficult time. His net-approval ratings have tumbled into negative territory thanks to what his critics describe as a flip-flopping failure to hold the prime minister to account during the pandemic. After giving an interview to the Daily Telegraph last week branding vaccine passports “un-British”, Starmer is now set to “support” the use of domestic Covid certifications in certain circumstances.

Next up, Starmer’s campaign to win back the party’s supposed heartlands – following the cataclysm of the 2019 general election – is in a state of disarray. The looming Hartlepool by-election (6 May) is a test of Starmer’s popularity in the Red Wall. But a poll by the Communication Workers Union (CWU) for Survation, helpfully passed to The Times, predicts a Conservative landslide, in what would be only the third time in half a century that a governing party has made a gain in a by-election.

It makes for depressing reading for those in Southside, party HQ. Labour’s candidate is a Remainer who once tweeted about “Tory milfs” (whatever that is). According to Survation, Labour’s Paul Williams has made a small four-point gain (42 per cent) on the Labour share in 2019, thanks to the collapse of Reform, previously the Brexit Party. However, the Tories are up an astonishing 20-points (49 per cent) with farmer Jill Mortimer as their election hopeful. The Northern Independence Party (NIPs) are on 2 per cent, although their most recent application to become a party with the Electoral Commission seems to have been rejected.

A health warning. Any by-election poll like this should be treated with suspicion. Constituency polls are hard to do. The margin of error is fairly high, according to Keiran Pedly of rival Ipsos MORI, and with exactly a month of campaigning left to go anything is possible.

The Labour high command is braced for an embarrassing defeat though, briefing that this was always going to be a tough seat for Labour – in Hartlepool! Even Peter Mandelson won there repeatedly. 

The tribunes of the Corbynite far left are already saying defeat would be proof that Starmer has failed by deviating from the true Socialist path. By that curious logic, Hartlepool is about to go Tory because Labour is insufficiently Marxist. This seems a stretch.

A mildly sympathetic senior Tory, a veteran of the William Hague era when a new Tory leader was flattened by the New Labour express no matter what he tried, sympathises in a humane spirit. He says that there is little Starmer can do: “It isn’t fair. Life isn’t fair. He’s leader of the opposition up against a phenomenon in his pomp. Then it was Blair. Now it’s Boris.” 

Lost without a map: MP’s claim of a colonial cover-up backfires

This may come as a shock, but European nations once colonised the world. Who’d a thunk it? That did not stop Corbynista Claudia Webbe from spreading conspiratorial accusations among her 45,000 Twitter followers on Easter Monday.

The Leicester East MP – who is currently suspended from Labour – shared an illustration of Africa, showing how Western imperial powers colonised the continent following the Congress of Berlin in 1884, known colloquially as the “Scramble for Africa”. Accordingto Webbe, this “map has been hidden from you all your life”.

It may come as a disappointment to Webbe that this is old news. Many online – including teachers – were quick to jump on Webbe’s suggestion that this aspect of British history has been whitewashed. Among the respondents was David Banks, one of the country’s leading media law consultants, who said he was taught Western oppression back in the 1970s.

British imperialism continues to be studied in schools and remains part of the national curriculum. The Department for Education’s “History programmes of study for key stage 3” says that all programmes should “know and understand… the expansion and dissolution of empires [and] achievements and follies of mankind”.

An AQA history workbook from 2015 has a module on the British Empire and advised that, before tackling the content, pupils should already know something about the Scramble for Africa and the process of decolonisation.

Anyone who paid attention – or who has the faintest memory of modern history –will know Britain, like France, Spain and others, had an Empire full of splendours and miseries.

Meanwhile, Webbe is embroiled in an ongoing harassment trial at Westminster Crown Court. 

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