By Robert Gilchrist
Is the Nigel Farage effect important for Scotland? Despite being regarded by many as a protest party for Mr Angry of the home counties, the answer must be yes. It’s not just because UKIP is now targeting estranged and disaffected Labour voters throughout the country, of which there are many north of the border.
By Robert Gilchrist
Is the Nigel Farage effect important for Scotland? Despite being regarded by many as a protest party for Mr Angry of the home counties, the answer must be yes.
It’s not just because UKIP is now targeting estranged and disaffected Labour voters throughout the country, of which there are many north of the border, or because a recent study carried out by the Scottish Centre on Constitutional Change at Edinburgh University has found 10% of scots are willing to vote for the man in the EU elections later this month. And make no mistake, it will be for the man.
UKIPs other candidates are generally faceless and when they do make appearances tend to behave like banana skins waiting to happen.
No, UKIPs’ rise is more of a touchstone for the general disillusionment of voters with Westminster.
With constantly not being listened to.
With being dictated to by faceless corporate types and bureaucrats from London and Brussels.
With being poorer than they should be while someone walks away with their hard earned entitlements.
With city ministers married into hedge funds and the such like.
With the loss of treasured cultural identities and hallowed institutions.
With being abandoned by sociopathic politicians on the make from main parties.
They live in a landscape which they were born into but somehow, somewhere along the line they see as having been taken away from them and given to outsiders – migrants, benefit scroungers, corporations, bankers and Brussels bureaucrats. It is no longer their own.
Rebels with a message will certainly be listened to, even if the message is somewhat singular and negative. And Farage so wants to be seen as a rebel . “Come and join the peoples’ army” he said during the second of his recent televised debates with Nick Clegg “Let’s topple the establishment who got us into this mess.”
A message with resonance. One which the main Westminster parties, their colours so nailed to foreign corporate flags, can no longer make.
But of course it would be wrong to see UKIP as anti-establishment. Farage after all made his fortune in the same half mile of corridors in the city of London as Nick Clegg and George Osborne. UKIP is backed by old Tory money and evolved out of a schism within conservative ranks, a breakaway by reactionary elements against Camerons’ modernisation programmes.
Farage has now successfully reached far beyond this core group. In the north, UKIPs message of immigrant labour suppressing wages has increasing traction. Many believing they have no real say anymore have shown a willingness to devolve power to him.
Labour, content in their belief that UKIP will take more votes from the Conservatives and Lib Dems than from them, have largely ignored them.
But maybe they should take more note. In recent by-elections in the midlands and the north, UKIP has come out as the main challengers to Labour seats, supplanting Conservatives. Many of their voters expressed concern on the same issues as those who voted Labour – zero hours, jobs, high energy bills, cuts to public services. But they voted UKIP.
If Labour really want to be seen as the main progressive party in England, they will have to get to get to grips as to why they can no longer automatically count on the votes of those once seen as their own.
In a recent foray to The Corn Exchange in Edinburgh, heckled by many outside, Farage stated he was targeting to get at least one MEP seat in Scotland. With the vagrancies in the electoral system, he may well reach this target.
Scottish and Welsh devolution has helped in the shaping of UKIP. The expulsion of the Conservatives and the rise of civic nationalism in both countries helped in a general drift to the right in the shires – the EU and migrants became new bogeymen, and a vague sense of ‘Englishness’ became a sanctuary for those left out cold by the increasing cosmopolitan nature of their own party and New Labour.
The bitterness generated has come to epitomise UKIPs’ approach. There is a constant need for scapegoats. The message is simple, negative and acts as a focus for people’s anger. It is a protest vote, which for one reason or another the main parties cannot plug into.
In Scotland, debates are still feel fresher and more engaging. It is proud of what it has achieved under devolution and on the lookout for so much more. Whatever anyone thinks about independence, you’d be hard pressed to find voices arguing that it is not something Scots people should be mulling over now.
Much happens at community levels. The Scottish Parliament is not as remote, and the way it is constructed leads to greater consensual politicking. And so far, UKIP has had little impact here.
There is much optimism around. But if parliament becomes less engaged, or the debates become more debased, or if disillusionment and atrophy sets in, or if our politicians get to be seen as mere extensions of the corporate nation as they are down south, then Scotland could be in trouble.
Scotland ignores the lessons of UKIPs’ rise at its peril.