Westminster and Scotland head in different directions as UK parties pander to UKIP

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   By a Newsnet reporter

The different directions being taken by Scotland and Westminster have become even more apparent as UKIP – a party with a negligible presence in Scottish politics – has been setting the agenda at Westminster, the SNP has said.

UKIP’s success in last week’s local elections in England, where they increased their councillors from 8 to 144, has steered the Tories to the right in an attempt to forestall electoral disaster in next year’s European elections and the next UK General Election.

Senior Tory backbenchers and Lords, as well as London Mayor Boris Johnson, have been calling for a quick EU exit.  Last week former Conservative Chancellor Nigel Lawson added his voice to the calls for a UK exit from the EU, saying that Britain’s financial services industry would benefit by being free from EU regulation, allowing the UK to adopt less strict regulation.

Mr Lawson made no reference to the financial crash in 2008 and the economic crisis which has ensued since, which is widely believed to have been caused by failures in banking regulation and a lack of proper oversight of banking practices.

UKIP’s policies in other areas are also likely to influence the course of UK politics, as the Conservatives and Labour struggle to stem the loss of votes in England to UKIP.  Responding to the Queen’s Speech this week, Labour leader Ed Miliband accused Prime Minister David Cameron of pandering to UKIP, saying: “They used to call [Ukip] clowns, now they want to join the circus.”

However the Labour party is also moving rightwards in an attempt to capture UKIP votes.  The party has refused to commit itself to abolishing the bedroom tax, and promises a tougher line on immigration and a crackdown on welfare and benefits.

Writing in Labour List this week, Labour MP John Mann urged the party to “tear up” the European common market which permits the free movement of citizens throughout the EU and introduce work permits for EU citizens who move to the UK.

Despite their growing support in England, UKIP has failed to make a mark on Scottish politics. The party lost its deposit in every seat it contested in in Scotland at the 2010 UK general election and in the 2011 Scottish Parliament election.  Recent opinion polls carried out in Scotland have not shown any significant increase in UKIP support.

UKIP’s policy for Scottish devolution would see the effective abolition of the Scottish Parliament.  The party, which describes itself as “full square behind” the anti-independence campaign, seeks to abolish elections to the Scottish Parliament and replace MSPs with a “super-committee” made up of Scottish Westminster MPs which would meet one week out of every month. 

UKIP also seeks to abolish the Barnett Formula, which ensures “like for like” spending in Scotland compared to the rest of the UK.  The party would also merge devolved government departments with their English counterparts, abolishing distinctively Scottish policy making in education, health and other departments, in order to create a single UK-wide strategic approach.

The party’s devolution policies have negligible support in Scotland, where opinion polls consistently show that most people want the powers of the Scottish Parliament to be enhanced. The 2011 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey – published in December 2011 – found that over 71% of people trust the Scottish Government to act in Scotland’s best interests, up from 61 per cent in 2010. This compared to just 18% who trust the UK Government.

Commenting on the rise of UKIP south of the border and the growing political gulf between Scotland and the rest of the UK, SNP Westminster Leader Angus Robertson MP said:

“UKIP’s success south of the border is dragging the whole Westminster agenda further and further to the right – far away from what the people of Scotland want – and civil war has broken out among the Tories over Europe once again.

“The Queen’s Speech this week contained nothing for economic recovery or how the most disadvantaged in our society will be helped – the very people affected by George Osborne’s austerity agenda, welfare cuts and the Bedroom Tax – but the hand of Nigel Farage is clearly working Westminster policy.

“Scotland’s interests lie in fighting our corner in the European Union, but we are prevented from doing so by a Tory government at Westminster that is obsessed with their plans to drag us out of Europe. The Tories are turning on each other out of fear of UKIP – a party that has never moved from the far fringes of politics in Scotland. The danger of a No vote in Scotland’s independence referendum is there for all to see – isolated outside Europe under Tory Westminster control. What Scotland needs is to be independent in Europe with a Yes vote.”