The entwined challenges that the SNP and UKIP may pose PM Miliband

by Jonathan Todd

Scotland is diminished inside the UK, argues Alex Salmond. The UK is diminished inside the EU, says Nigel Farage. Scotland did not vote for David Cameron, insists Salmond. The UK didn’t vote for Jean-Claude Juncker, maintains Farage. It would be “nae bother” for Scotland to break up the UK, asserts Salmond. It would be “no problem” for the UK to leave the UK, claims Farage.

Salmond briefly seemed a broken man after the defeat of Yes last September. Having promised to resign the leadership of UKIP if he doesn’t win South Thanet, defeat for Farage on 7 May would also leave him broken. But Salmond has been reborn, as support for Yes has wholly transferred to the SNP. Farage might be reborn too.

Salmond’s rebirth has been enabled by glacial shifts in Scottish opinion that now appear to have unstoppable momentum but which built up over a long period, going undetected by those focused on Westminster. No Scottish seats in the UK parliament changed hands in 2010. The SNP gained two seats at the 2005 general election and lost one at the 2001 general election. The churn over the same period in elections to the Scottish Parliament, however, was much more dramatic. The SNP gained 20 additional seats in 2007, 23 in 2011.

If we look only at the lack of 2010 seat change in Scotland, the SNP’s rise appears inexplicable. If we look instead at recent elections to the Scottish parliament, it seems less so. Perhaps for reasons wrapped up with the referendum, decisive numbers of Scots are now prepared to entrust the SNP with their support in the UK Parliament, as well as in the Scottish Parliament. The decision factor for voters may have migrated from “who is best to lead the UK?” to “who will get the best deal for Scotland?”

It is plausible that UKIP will only have one MP after 7 May, Douglas Carswell, a politician increasingly estranged from his party. If this transpires, however, it may be as mistaken to read into this UKIP’s demise as it would have been foolish to anticipate that lack of seat gains in 2010 portended the SNP’s decline. The chat coming out of the Conservative campaign is that UKIP will poll 10 per cent. This level of support would help establish UKIP as the main opposition to Labour in much of the north of England, creating a platform for Farage’s rebirth or at least that of his party.

UKIP support at 10 per cent is the optimal level for Labour. Any more than that and the UKIP squeeze is likely to disproportionately benefit the Conservatives, while the SNP’s unwillingness to support a Conservative government creates an additional barrier to David Cameron continuing as prime minister. In these senses, the SNP and UKIP are both of short-term assistance to Labour. Over the longer-term, however, this is less true.

The SNP would extract enough from a Labour government to make sure that the answer to “who will get the best deal for Scotland?” remains clear, while making this government dysfunctional enough that UK breakup appears more attractive to Scots. Disenfranchised by government influenced by a party, the SNP, that they not only did not vote for but could not vote for even if they wanted to, UK breakup would become more attractive to the English too.

UKIP prospers through grievance. Not so much with Brussels. But with immigration and what they present as an out-of-touch metropolitan elite incapable of seeing life as they do. The perception of SNP influence over a Labour government hewn from this elite would give UKIP renewed sources of grievance. It would be less that the UK didn’t vote for Juncker and more that England didn’t vote for Salmond.

Robert Philpot has compared the rise of UKIP to that of the SDP. There is a crucial difference: the SDP was an elite project, aimed at recasting British politics, while UKIP is an anti-elite project, fuelled by rejection of British politics. The SDP had the immediate and dramatic polling impact that can be produced when respected figures stand decisively against the nonsense of established interests.

UKIP, like other anti-elite projects, has been a slower burner. They have, of course, lacked the instant credibility that attached to the Gang of Four. One UKIP MP would be a very slow burn indeed. 10 per cent, though, leaves enough gas for it to be reignited, as the steady accumulation of MSPs gave the SNP a more substantial base than was recognised in Westminster.

In spite of forming the Scottish government, the SNP also remain an anti-elite project: anti the non-Scottish elite. As much as the SNP indicate a preference of sorts for Labour over the Tories, UK break-up, ultimately, depends on enough people saying, “they are all the same”. Which chimes with the core UKIP message. After 7 May, they may come to echo and reinforce one another.

The only way for these supposedly anti-elite projects to be defeated will be for the elite projects of their caricature to do better, both in demonstrating a commitment to values held by non-elites and elites alike and acting upon these values more effectively than the anti-elite insurgents. As prime minister, this task would fall above all to Ed Miliband.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut     

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4 Responses to “The entwined challenges that the SNP and UKIP may pose PM Miliband”

  1. Madasafish says:

    As I understand it – from my Scottish relatives,- many Labour councillors and Labour run councils were incompetent: full of placemen who were voted in because the wore a red flower and not for any competence.

    As a result much of Scotland was very badly governed. I need only quote the life expectancy in many Glasgow wards – lower than Iraq – to prove my point. And when SNP councillors were elected and won councils, the comparison with the outgoing incompetence was clear for voters to see. Things were done, rather than talked about.

    A similar position with Labour MPs. Many had no party organisation, voter lists etc because they had no need of them.. a donkey with a red ribbon would be elected. Several were.

    The SNP have been in power and achieved things which Labour could or would not do. Free university education..

    That is why the SNP are going to decimate Labour: on the whole Labour in Scotland are not third rate: sixth rate is more like it.

    A horrible warning for Northern England Laabour strongholds..

  2. swatantra says:

    There comes a time, in the affairs of any Nation when it is ready to strike out on its own, and that time has come for Scotland. Scotland is ready for Independence, and it would be foolish of the rest of the UK to prevent it from claiming what is rightly its own. With Scotland going to be followed by Wales in due course and a united Ireland, then UKIP will lose its raison d’etre, because an English Parliament will have been established de facto. The one possible way to avoid this scenario is to work on a Federal Constitution, but its probably too late for that now. Of course UKIP might still fight on the EU question, but if all Parties accept that Referendum, UKIP will lose it.

  3. steve says:

    ” going undetected by those focused on Westminster.”

    Labour’s elite were too busy getting on with their careers.

    New Labour lost nearly 5 million votes between ’97 and 2010 without the slightest care.

    With profound arrogance New Labour took the electorate for granted. They assumed there was an immutable law stating only Blairites could win elections and that the Labour Party was theirs to do with as they please.

    Only now are you beginning to discern the contempt which many ex-Labour voters regard you.

    You didn’t like us. And now – guess what – you’re finally getting the message that we don’t like you.

    The game is up.

  4. Tafia says:

    decisive numbers of Scots are now prepared to entrust the SNP with their support in the UK Parliament

    It isn’t just Scots that vote SNP. To say that is not only wrong but also racist.

    Madasafish – many Labour councillors and Labour run councils were incompetent: full of placemen who were voted in because the wore a red flower and not for any competence. It’s far far worse than that. Scottish Labour’s membership has fallen to less than 6,000 and is still declining. At the same time, Labour holds around 450 elected positions on Councils, or as MSPs, MPs, and MEPs. In other words, there is one member in an elected position, for less than every 12 members not in an elected position. Labour has lost its roots in Scotland, particularly after the poison that was the “Better Together” campaign, and can no longer financially support itself. Furthermore, the unions affiliated to Labour are losing members in large numbers because they denied their Scotland members the right to vote on who the union should support. The SNP behind the scenes are now considering sponsoring and creating a couple of unions unless the STUC splits in entirety and totality from the main TUC – surely there can’t be that many more nails to hammer in to Labour in Scotland’s coffin.

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