Politician of the year – Alex Salmond
The loss of the independence referendum was meant to be the end of the SNP. The Scottish public gave their verdict and the SNP’s raison d’etre was rejected. Cue internal ructions and a nationalist collapse.
That’s how it was meant to be.
But it wasn’t, largely because of Alex Salmond.
He made mistakes in the independence campaign – notably over nationalist plans for the currency – but Salmond’s easy charm and force of personality helped make the race much closer than many expected.
And following defeat, standing down as leader, his legacy to the SNP is to have taken them to the brink of holding the balance of power in next year’s Westminster election.
If the SNP register a general election result even vaguely in line with their current poll rating, then under Alex Salmond’s leadership, the Scottish nationalists will have fundamentally transformed British politics.
The SNP will have usurped the Liberal Democrats as the third party and Scottish independence will be a real prospect just a few months after it was meant to have been decisively rejected.
No other party leader or MP will have had such a profound impact and for these reasons, Alex Salmond is Uncut’s politician of the year for 2014.
Media misjudgement of the year – Nigel Farage’s leadership of Ukip
The common media narrative about Nigel Farage’s leadership of Ukip would not be out of place in a Mills and Boon novel. Charisma, personality and star quality are meant to be the Farage hallmarks.
He certainly generates good copy and has helped filled countless columns and reports with newsworthy content.
But away from the day to day photo-opps in pubs and quotable one-liners, Nigel Farage has made a catastrophic error. Through his words and actions he has helped confirm Ukip’s biggest negative, toxifying Ukip as the party for racists.
At the start of October, at the height of the largely positive publicity around the Clacton by-election, YouGov polling found that 55% of the public believed Ukip to be more likely to have candidates with racist or offensive views, while 41% believed the party to be racist (41% believed it not to be racist).
In a general election, Ukip’s vote will be squeezed as the choice is polarised between Labour and Conservative and being seen as extremists will amplify this effect.
In the biggest domestic election held this year, when millions voted in the local elections, Ukip’s national equivalent vote share actually fell compared to last year – from 23% to 17%.
Nigel Farage’s main task this year was to detoxify Ukip and make them a viable choice for all voters. By failing to redefine Ukip as an optimistic, unprejudiced party (along the lines that Douglas Carswell clearly wants to), Nigel Farage has ultimately doomed them.
Gaffe of the year – George Osborne for the Autumn Statement
George Osborne’s Autumn Statement is the political equivalent of the loud celebrations of AC Milan when 3-0 up at half-time in the 2005 Champions League final, the fatal conceit that opens the door to wounded opponents transforming into glorious victors. 2010’s “emergency budget” was Paolo Maldini’s goal in the first few minutes of the final, establishing an early advantage grounded in Conservative credibility and Labour profligacy. Everything Osborne has done since then, akin to the brace of Hernán Crespo goals that drove home Milan’s first half advantage, has sought to reinforce these perceptions.