UKIP are suddenly everywhere in the aftermath of their second place and 28% in the Eastleigh by-election. Nigel Farage, their irascible leader, is even more omnipotent with even more appearances on BBC ‘Question Time’ to look forward too.
North of the border UKIP have always had a perception, identity and popularity problem. They are widely seen as an English nationalist party, one whose idea of Britain is narrowly centred on a time when the two terms could be used interchangeably. It is a mindset stuck in a timewarp situated between the 1950s and 1970s, between the beginning and end of the Empire, and which yearns for an England which began to completely disappear in the decade of ‘The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin’ and ‘The Good Life’.
Nevertheless Scottish politics is not immune to people harking back to better yesterdays, and certainly there is a similar popular sentiment and aura of anti-politics which dismisses all mainstream politics and politicians.
Post-Eastleigh, the Scottish media turned their attention to UKIP and their possible appeal in Scotland. The ‘Sunday Herald’ spoke to four party members, middle class and middle aged who all said the sort of things you would expect UKIP members to say. For example, Kim Terry, 56, from Girvan, stated that, ‘there’s people coming over here who are claiming everything when they have not put in a penny’ (1).
Nicola Sturgeon, SNP Deputy Leader, commented that, ‘Eastleigh shows how far the politics of Westminster has diverged from Scotland – and it will boost the siren voices in the Tory Party who want to cut us out of Europe …’ (2) Alf Young in a piece in the previous day’s ‘Scotsman’ wanted to challenge the ‘Well, not here in Scotland’ view of UKIP support, writing, ‘Everywhere I go, I encounter growing disillusion about the capacity of conventional party politics to meet the challenges Scotland still faces’ (3).
None of these pieces or any of UKIP’s members quoted in the ‘Sunday Herald’ spoke of one of UKIP’s central policies with regard to Scotland - namely what they would do with the Scottish Parliament.
The 2011 UKIP manifesto for the Scottish Parliament, ‘We, the People’, is explicit and unashamed on this point. In a section entitled, ‘Democracy first. We, the people, shall rule’, its first point is a declaration that they would ‘Retain the Scottish Parliament’ and then on the next line, ‘Replace MSPs with Scottish Westminster MPs’ (4). Strangely, Nigel Farage in his appeal to Scottish voters - ‘Power to local people’ - fails to mention this policy once (5).
This is abolition of the Scottish
Parliament in everything but name; the replacement of a directly elected
Scottish Parliament with what is in effect a Scottish Grand Committee. It would
be using the trappings and surroundings of devolution to return to the reality
of pre-devolution. The substance of this would be a mix of Labour majoritarian
dominance (thanks to Westminster FPTP distortions) and what would in effect be Westminster direct rule.
It is a policy UKIP do not want to talk about in Scotland for understandable reasons; the Scottish Parliament as an institution is enormously popular in Scotland – a significant achievement in an age of anti-politics.
Why though have the entire Scottish media proven so accommodating in hiding this key UKIP policy? In a recent interview Farage did with Mandy Rhodes for ‘Holyrood’ magazine, he was not questioned at all about this policy (6); Rhodes later reflecting on twitter that he had declared in the interview, ‘I have always thought that some kind of federal system is the way forward for the UK’ (7).
UKIP policy has shifted on this, moving towards support for an English Parliament, but it is a strange, unreal federalism which proposes the abolition of the directly elected Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly. Paul Nuttall, UKIP Deputy Leader, in a party video on an English Parliament and the kind of union of the UK he believes in, leaves Scots and Welsh policy unstated (8).
UKIP is many things: one is a product of the crisis of British mainstream politics, while others include the inability of Westminster, a fear of change and the modern world, and the sense some people have that they are losing the old, certain Britain of yesteryear (and usually their imaginations), all wrapped up in fears over Europe and immigration.
The UKIP answer to this is some return to a golden age of Westminster supremacy and sovereignty: a stance which might work well with Eurosceptics, but which doesn’t go down very well in Scotland or Wales (where UKIP’s policy is a mirror image of that on Scotland - abolition of the Welsh Assembly, but let’s not call it that! (9)).
The emergence and rise of UKIP is a symptom of the deep malaise at the heart of British politics and society, and the failure of mainstream parties and elites to address the long-term underlying causes or the powerful interests who have produced this state of affairs. People are naturally confused, disappointed and searching for answers, with some looking for them in a mythical Britain which never existed, and cannot be realistically created today.
This is an unhelpful reminder to the Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem parties of their shortcomings and the narrow bandwidth of Westminster politics. It isn’t surprising that Scottish, along with Welsh, politics should provide such unfertile terrain for UKIP, marching as they are to such a different beat from that of Westminster. It’s strange not only that UKIP don’t want to talk about such a distinctive policy, but that the media seem happy to let them so easily off the hook.
1. Jody Harrison, ‘Meet the Scots who vote UKIP’, Sunday Herald, March 3rd 2013, http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/meet-the-scots-who-vote-ukip.20387989
2. Tom Gordon, ‘SNP: Eastleigh proves gulf exists between Scotland and England’, Sunday Herald, March 3rd 2013, http://www.heraldscotland.com/mobile/politics/referendum-news/snp-eastleigh-proves-gulf-exists-between-scotland-and-england.20398486
3. Alf Young, ‘Is Scotland safe from UKIP surge?’, The Scotsman, March 2nd 2013,
4. UKIP, ‘We, the People: UKIP’s straight-talking manifesto for the Scottish Parliament elections 2011’, UKIP, 2011, p. 4,
5. Ibid., p. 2.
6. Mandy Rhodes, ‘Carry-on Farage’, Holyrood, February 11th 2013, http://www.holyrood.com/2013/02/carry-on-farage/
7. twitter, March 4th 2013, https://twitter.com/holyroodmandy
8. Paul Nuttall, ‘UKIP and an English Parliament’, UKIP, February 10th 2012, http://www.ukip.org/content/latest-news/2608-ukip-and-an-english-parliament