Nationalist renewal in England, double-speak in Scotland

A nationally-minded party, British in orientation, which concentrates on restoring national control over key policy issues surrendered to Brussels, will make the SNP very nervous

First Cameron, then Salmond for Farage?
Tom Gallagher
On 3 May 2013 14:07

Currently there seems no hiding place for a political class concerned with satisfying its own career urges and ideological hobby horses at the expense of the needs of ordinary voters. Conservatives under David Cameron got too close to their rivals and too often treated voters and party activists, who kept them in clover, as simply beneath them.

It is now up to UKIP to see how well it can play its dramatically improved hand. If a team gathers around Nigel Farage capable of making concrete proposals for improvements that resonate with voters and discomfit the metropolitan parties, then UKIP is unlikely to fade from view between elections.

The UKIP phenomenon is also likely to produce consternation among Scotland’s ruling Nationalists. Until now, Alex Salmond and the SNP have enjoyed a virtual monopoly of democratic identity politics in Britain. They have packaged themselves as an egalitarian and patriotic force keen to stay in close touch with the people. So energetically has this image been fostered that voters in England, alienated from the world of London oligarchy politics, have looked with envy at the Scots for being able to toss aside the old monolithic parties.

But despite media efforts to portray Farage as the English Salmond – shrewd, irrepressible and self-confident – their parties are worlds apart. The SNP is a dedicated champion of big government. It wishes to join, and indeed dominate, the ascendancy class of political interests rather than dismantle layers of bureaucracy and allow more active participation from citizens and local communities.

The SNP is also full of people who live and breathe politics and who often have surprisingly little experience of life outside the political bubble. Salmond has constructed a media machine even more manipulative than New Labour’s; it relentlessly manages the news and tries to make opportunism and inactivity at the centre appear like statesmanship.

Part of UKIP’s appeal lies in its refusal to become absorbed with the 24 hours news agenda. It recognises that most voters are wary of those who practice the political trade. They are seen as mostly flawed while, at the same time, nearly all voters recognise that there is no alternative to electoral competition between them. There is now a demand for new blood.

Thanks to the new media, many Britons are savvy enough not to be frightened off by establishment efforts to portray the UKIPers as clowns and crazies. It is refreshing, not scary, having a lot of dedicated amateurs willing to learn through experience, rather than full-time policy wonks and apparatchiks driven by career instincts and virtually nothing else.

It is likely that several Westminster malcontents will be tempted to move over to UKIP while MPs with a longer-term outlook, such as John Redwood and Daniel Hannan, stick it out in the Tory trenches under a lethally incompetent commander. A test of UKIP’s mettle will be its ability to recognise Trojan Horses and keep them out of a still flimsy fortress. It can learn much from the SNP’s first taste of influence in the 1970s when it failed to emerge as a viable long-term force due, in part, to lacking the organizational ability to withstand pressure from the other Westminster parties.

A nationally-minded party, British in orientation, but largely based in England, which concentrates on restoring national control over key policy issues surrendered to Brussels, will make the SNP very nervous. Despite the tartan flummery, the SNP is devoted to the EU project in all seasons: the opportunities for international grand-standing, not to mention filling lucrative jobs in the EU para-state, excite its career politicians as much as those in the English Con-Lib-Lab archipelago.

Beyond Hadrian’s Wall, UKIP’s scorn for coterie politics in which inbred elites team up with civil servants and the politicised third sector to impose bad policies on voters, also strikes a chord.

I don’t underestimate the challenge for UKIP in establishing a viable presence in Scotland. But greater exposure to their policies and discourse is bound to mean that growing numbers of Scots ask, what exactly is ‘nationalist’ about an SNP which appears content to trade sovereignty in return for permanent power in Edinburgh?

Between now and the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence, voters will be asked to compare Farage’s formula for self-reliance with Salmond’s oxymoron of ‘Independence in Europe’. Salmond will need all his rhetorical tricks to show that rule from Brussels is any kind of advance on Scotland being a member of the United Kingdom.

Tom Gallagher’s book Europe’s Path to Crisis: EU Disintegration Through Monetary Union will be published at the end of the year

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