UKIP advances in Scotland

UKIP's clarity on Europe contrasts with the SNP's confusions and contradictions. At the European elections, UKIP may well cause a major surprise north of the border not just south of it

Nigel Farage pictured in Aberdeen
Tom Gallagher
On 11 May 2014 10:00

Ahead of Nigel Farage’s Scottish visit on Friday, Alex Salmond offered  rather tepid discouragement to the protesters in Edinburgh intent on preventing Farage addressing UKIP’s local  supporters:

‘Nigel Farage and his party will not be defeated by demonstrations, which only give him the chance to play the victim, but by being humiliated at the ballot box, as they have been many times before in Scotland’.

But UKIP’s core views on the European Union were the official policy of the Scottish National Party (SNP) in the twenty years until 1988. (See Valeria Tarditi, ‘The Scottish National Party’s changing attitude towards the European Union.)

Back then, Scotland’s independence and her  involvement in a process of supranational integration were seen as two totally irreconcilable things. The transfer of competences and powers to Brussels just didn’t make any sense if rule from  Brussels  was far less accountable than control over Scottish affairs from London.

In a 1974 booklet the SNP described the Common Market as a ‘dangerous experiment in gross over-centralisation’ and it emphasised  that ‘Scotland has suffered too much already from centralisation in Britain’. The  powers of the EU have of course rocketed ahead  since then. 

Even Jim Sillars, the architect of the SNP’s EU-friendly strategy called ‘Independence in Europe’ has recoiled from an EU which in many ways dreams of being an empire. Along with Gordon Wilson a former party leader,  he declared in 2012 that Scottish EU membership would effectively be a ‘transfer of sovereignty’ to Brussels.

Moreover, in their view,  the SNP leadership’s obvious unwillingness to allow voters in an independent Scotland to have their say in a referendum on EU membership, was damaging the prospect of a Yes vote in the one coming up on Scotland.

There was hearty  applause at UKIP’s Scottish rally when Farage declared that many past immigrants to Britain were more attracted to being part of a British community of  nations, stretching far beyond these shores, than to a continental club run by insiders reluctant to allow citizens a serious say in Europe’s affairs.

He pointed out that UKIP had recently presented its ethnic minority candidates at an event in London. They had been required to run the gauntlet of 150 ‘anti-fascist’ protesters who by their appearance were  white and overwhelmingly middle-class.

The banners among the larger group of Edinburgh protesters suggested that Trotskyites were at the heart of this anti-UKIP protest. Nothing new there. But ironically, until very recently the official line of many of these sects was that Scottish independence was archaic and counter-revolutionary.

The line has now changed because the marathon referendum campaign has opened up new prospects for ‘revolutionary’ advance.  The Scottish successors of the Marxist  prophets believe that independence can enable them to come in from the wilderness and finally be ‘somebodys’ in a land hopefully gripped by radical ferment.

Alex Salmond, who would probably be described by Marx and Engels as a Bonapartist still in his semi-radical phase, may consort with capitalist bosses like Rupert Murdoch (whom he met again in America last month). But he has been given a free pass by many on the ultra-left. They regard him as an objective ally because of the opportunities he has opened up for agitation by his willingness to drive out the British elite and establish his own local supremacy.

The time might not be so far off when the SNP is ready to concede that it would have been better dealing fairly with UKIP rather than making ‘below the radar’ alliances with far-left forces hostile to free speech. If the latest clutch of polls are accurate, UKIP in Scotland has a very real chance winning 1 of Scotland’s 6 European Parliament seats.

That breakthrough is unlikely to be due to xenophobia and racism. Farage got more enthusiastic applause when he said that those UKIP  members who had said stupid things on Facebook were not representative of the party at all.

Instead, Scotland appears to be in line with the rest of the UK. UKIP’s advance is due to a disconnect between much of British society and a political class that shows little inclination to represent voters basic interest.

The SNP has already benefited electorally from dissatisfaction with Lib-Lab-Con but most Scots are unlikely to back it if  proves to be another elitist party concerned to safeguard the interests of a restricted number of people. David Coburn, UKIP’s main candidate in Scotland  claimed at the UKIP event that ‘Mr Salmond is not offering  independence but political rule from Brussels and financial rule from Frankfurt – just how in the name of God is that independence’?

Recent polling from a range of major companies shows that the percentage of Scots dissatisfied with the adverse impact the EU is having on their lives is less than in England and Wales but not by a significant margin. They prefer to be part of a trading area and  not be swallowed up in a post-nation-state oligopoly whose decision-makers are beyond their reach.

This was the SNP’s own position until 1988 and it was one articulated by numerous Labour party figures in the decades before that: Hugh Gaitskell, Douglas Jay, Tony Benn, Peter Shore, Michael Foot and Bryan Gould.

Ironically, the party which the SNP most closely resembles in its infatuation with Euroland is the British Conservatives. In the early 1960s Harold Macmillan knew well that in agreeing to join an ‘ever closer union’ he was agreeing to the gradual disestablishment of the British nation-state.

Margaret Thatcher’s awareness of what a greater EU entailed only emerged slowly and some of the decisive stages in integration were signed off by her.

Alex Salmond  possesses Macmillan’s insight and he is not troubled at Scotland being a province effectively governed from what Farage describes as ‘ the Brussels beltway’. His definition of independence is a stunted one confined to the eradication of British influence on Scottish life.

It is distinctly possible that in July the British Conservatives will be nominating the super-Europhile Nick Clegg as Britain’s next European commissioner. He will essentially be a shop steward for the small number of privileged groups who have done well out of the upheavals which the advance of the EU has produced.

It is likely that the only quarrel Mr Salmond will have with this appointment is that it is not a Scottish Nick Clegg who is being nominated by an SNP-managed state to oversee the interests of the globally-minded elite that he hopes to have in charge of Scotland.  

The SNP’s desire to have a single Scottish line on the EU and to freeze out alternative ones is unlikely to prevail: too many voters in Scotland share the disappointment of their fellow citizens elsewhere in the island about what rule by the EU entails for them.

Manchester University Press is publishing Tom Gallagher’s book Europe’s Path to Crisis: Disintegration Through Monetary Union this summer

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