ON Thursday, as the fires of hell scorched the east coast of England, I bravely fought the rail transport system and travelled south to the city of Hull, defying health advice, melting tarmac and buckled rails.

I travelled to the annual Convocation of the University of Hull where I was ­presented with the honorary Degree of Doctor of letters, honors causa, as one of the university’s former graduates.

Much has changed since I was a freckly teenager who ventured south from Perth to study at the University’s Gulbenkian ­Drama Studio. It pains me to admit it ­decades ­later, but this was the place whre tried on my first pair of nylon tights, a ­pre-requisite of ­studying drama not a ­dalliance with the ­divisive transgender debate.

Two things have always struck me as unique about Hull. Firstly it is a flat city with barely a gradient never mind a hill, so many thousands of people have cycled around the town, long before the bike ­became a fashion item. At times, Hull feels like an outlying port of the ­Netherlands than a British town.

Throughout its civic history Hull has had a rich but increasingly strained ­relationship with Europe.

The other difference was its cussed ­independence. Tucked away on the coast far from the rest of the north, even its rail station is a terminus.

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Hull has always protected that sense of difference. It has its own telephone ­system courtesy of the local council and the pioneering telephony company, ­Kingston Communications. Whilst the rest of Britain had standard red coloured telephone boxes, Hull’s phone boxes were cream.

I was fortunate to arrive in Hull as part of a golden generation of students and staff. Philip Larkin was the campus librarian and, I shared a study space with Anthony “Tony” Minghella who went on to become an Oscar winner for his film The English Patient.

Although he had grown up on the Isle of Wight as part of an ice-cream dynasty his father had been born in Coatbridge, and a passion for Scotland ran through this remarkable family. One of our joint projects was a drama about Italians being interned as prisoners of war in Scotland in the 1940s.

Historically, the constituency of ­Kingston-Upon-Hull East, like Coatbridge was solid Labour, virtually impregnable as one of the gate-posts of the so-called “Red Wall” of Labour’s domination in the industrial north.

When I first set foot in the town, key industries like fisheries, food ­processing and telecommunications were ­thriving and miles of new council housing stretched to the sea through Bransholme and Orchard Park.

The local MP Harry Pursey, a naval ­officer whose career had begun as a ­deckhand commanded a staggering 65% of the local vote with nearly 35,000 ­people voting for him in the 1966 election. It was anecdotally one of those constituencies where Labour could have put an Alsatian dog up and he would have barked his way to victory.

The fisheries industry and its local trade unions had a tight grip on local political power, and by 1970 Hull East’s most ­famous MP John Prescott had ­successfully increased Labour’s vote share to an astonishing 71.44%.

Prescott was a full time official for the National Union of Seamen and had ­graduated at Hull University, after a spell at the union-led Ruskin College. ­Ironically he easily took the seat in a straight fight with Norman Lamont (below), the Lerwick-born Conservative who later became ­Chancellor of the Exchequer and a leading member of the Eurosceptic ­pressure group Leave Means Leave.

Eventually, Euroscepticism and the complexities of fishing quotas began to eat away at Labour’s hegemony in East Hull. But that was nothing compared to the demographic changes that were ­shifting the opinions of the traditional ­working class as they became ­home-owners, set up their own small businesses or watched as Thatcherism ate away at their ­neighbourhoods.

By 2001, Prescott was a household name and made front page news when he was hit by an egg thrown by a protester in Rhyl, on the day of the launch of the Labour Party Manifesto. Prescott fought back, punching his assailant and winning renewed approval across many working class communities. The incident did not dent Prescott’s popularity locally where he easily saw off yet another candidate with a Scottish connections.

His nearest rival this time was a Liberal Democrat newbie, the Milngavie-inspired Jo Swinson, whose dream of becoming prime minister was ended by the SNP.

Prescott’s electoral dominance faded and like so many Labour grandees he donned the ermine and snuggled into the House of Lords. Hull was now a marginal seat. The current MP Karl Turner holds an ominously slender lead for Labour.

Brexit tells its own revealing story too, a city that had once thrived in part through its relationship with Europe eventually voted by 67.5% to leave. Ironically, at the 2019 general election, it was the Brexit Party that split the vote, unintentionally preventing the Tories from taking the once solid Labour seat.

Hull is unusually close to Europe. When I first arrived at the local railway station there were two exits, one to the city ­centre and the other to the Hook of Holland. At the time, it took longer to travel from Perth to Hull by rail than it took to travel from Hull to Zeebrugge by ferry.

But the geography that once gave Hull an economic advantage in European trade has diminished with Brexit. By comparison, Ireland’s trading history with Europe starkly shows the benefits of direct routes to Europe. Ireland now has 44 trade routes to EU nations which ­bypass the UK and have transformed their freight and sea links, some of those have eaten away at Hull’s local economy and Brexit has only worsened the ­situation.

All of these issues – lost industries, the retreat from Europe, the reconfiguration of the working class vote –brings us full-circle to the current Labour Party and their aspirations to regain power. Winning Hull next time round will be mission critical to their hopes of forming a government.

The collapse of Boris Johnson’s era and the sour taste it has left in the mouths of many voters may be enough by itself to save Hull from a once unthinkable outcome, voting in a local Tory MP, but it still may not be enough to bring Keir Starmer into Downing Street.

I cannot be alone in wondering how Labour can execute their current ­strategy without alienating more of their core ­support. The strategy seems intent on triangulating Tory behaviours, ­appealing to a press that will undoubtedly turn on them, and slamming the door on EU membership, in the belief that it will somehow enamour them to disenchanted older voters.

The National: Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer

In a speech last week, Starmer (above) said: “With Labour, Britain will not go back into the EU. We will not be joining the single market. We will not be joining a customs union. We will not return to freedom of movement to create short term fixes. Instead we will invest in our people and our places, and deliver on the promise our country has.”

It is a risky proposition, one that may invite some pro-Brexit Labour supporters back into the fold but it risks being out of step with Hull’s position as the English city that looks longingly to Europe and risks assuming that the Red Wall constituencies that Labour need to win back are easily understood, but they are not.

James Graham, another Hull Drama graduate and the writer of the BBC’s excellent Sherwood series, has ­recently argued against facile assumptions about “Red Walls” and Brexiteers. ­Talking of his childhood in a Nottingham ­mining community, he told the Sheffield ­Documentary Festival: “These overly ­simplistic snapshots often wrongly ­suggest that there is a homogenous uniformity to the people, their experiences and their views. My home county is as complicated, paradoxical and inconsistent as anywhere else.”

It is a sentiment that we in Scotland need to keep front of mind in the critical days ahead. Voters are not homogenous and they can be inconsistent sods.