UKIP currently clueless about fighting separatism
The UK could be tested to destruction if the SNP is turned into a major Westminster force by dumb UKIP electoral tactics in Scotland. And dumb tactics are exactly what UKIP looks to be going for
At least 30 percent of Scots are unhappy about Scotland’s EU membership on current terms. Last spring, the SNP badly wanted to capture half of Scotland’s seats in the European parliament. That would have enabled it to contend that Scotland was strongly in favour of EU integration unlike the rest of the UK, and one more reason for going it alone.
In the event it got the same number as Labour; UKIP picking up a seat on 10 percent of the Scottish vote.
The SNP’s definition of independence is a stunted one confined to the eradication of British influence on Scottish life. Pretend nationalism is also a formula for managing Scotland in an arbitrary style more suited to its dismal medieval era than to modern times, with demagogy sweeping all before it.
The SNP’s generalissimo Alex Salmond personifies the party’s militant outlook. After promising a one-off referendum on independence and stepping down as party leader three months ago when the result went against him, he is already back.
He plans to stand in the British general election for the parliamentary seat of Gordon in Aberdeenshire. The seat has been held by the Liberal Democrats for many decades but now, deeply unpopular, they are up against a party with over 40 percent support in Scotland.
But Gordon voted heavily No in the referendum. The wider region, the North-East, the main hub of Scottish industry, has been badly hit by the crash in oil prices. It is stalked by unemployment and those middle-class residents, obliged to sell their houses, now face a swinging property tax being introduced by the SNP.
If Scotland had voted Yes, and independence was approaching, this region would be in dire straits. Salmond hopes that with his strong recognition factor, he will be in Westminster next summer heading a phalanx of SNP MPs who may well hold the balance of power.
He eagerly plans to vote on laws solely affecting England and he knows that the scope for causing ill-feeling by doing so is immense. Extracting pro-Scottish concessions from a minority government while the rest of the UK faces further austerity, is likely only to further envenom the atmosphere.
Salmond makes no secret of his desire to be the figure who blows apart the United Kingdom. But his dreams of glory could founder if the pro-union majority in Gordon is mobilised to thwart his victory. This would involves the pro-Union parties encouraging a tactical vote to keep Salmond out; in the 2010 general election, the SNP got just 22.2 percent of the vote.
Outside places like Glasgow, the referendum campaign gave rise to a cooperative spirit among normally rival political forces. In Christine Jardine, the sitting Liberal Democrats have a locally-known and effective candidate. ‘Tactical voting works best when there is a candidate from the political centre’.
A local campaign is already taking shape meant to persuade the parties opposed to territorial disunion to focus their fire in one direction only. Stopping Salmond will be a real boost for the Union in a period when it is likely to be further tested.
But, remarkably, UKIP in Scotland has other plans. David Coburn, its MEP there, revealed this weekend that the party hopes to capture Gordon at Salmond’s expense. He did not spell out how a party with a small Scottish membership and a recent history of internal strife, would accomplish this epic feat.
Moreover, he seemed blissfully unaware of the damage that a large Westminster SNP force, well-generalled by Salmond, would do to his party. UKIP has little chance of gaining even half the seats the latest polls suggest could easily fall to the SNP in May. It would be converted into a party of ‘also rans’, very much yesterday’s news.
Coburn presumably cleared his bold new departure with Nigel Farage. Perhaps the UKIP leader sees a silver lining for UKIP with the SNP running amok. Ascendant Scottish nationalism, appeased by the Westminster establishment, might he hopes, trigger an almighty backlash in England and Wales.
But not even an operator as astute as Farage knows what is around the corner. Instead, the UK could be tested to destruction if the SNP is turned into a major Westminster force by dumb UKIP tactics in Scotland.
UKIP has forgotten the simple political maxim, ‘always do what your opponent least wants’.
It will be ironic if it is chiefly remembered in 2015 for neglecting to stop the pro-EU centralisers in the SNP from tightening their grip on north Britain and running riot at Westminster. It won’t be a performance likely to impress those donors who have thought long and hard before deciding to fund UKIP or indeed many of its British-minded activists.
Farage would do well not to stand a candidate in Gordon just as UKIP gave Douglas Carswell a clear run in Clacton in the 2010 general election. But will sense prevail as he and his advisers take decisions on subjects where their knowledge is not always profound?
Tom Gallagher is an Edinburgh-based political scientist. His book, Europe’s Path to Crisis: Disintegration Through Monetary Union, was published in hardback and paperback in October, 2014, by Manchester University Press
We are wholly dependent on the kindness of our readers for our continued work. We thank you in advance for any support you can offer.