By Matthew Stinchcombe
Last week UKIP’s Nigel Farage was harassed by angry Scottish protesters on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile; the incident has had damaging consequences for the UKIP leader’s public image and has further damaged the almost non-existent arm of his party in Scotland. However these actions could be seen as a mark in the sand as far as Anglo-Scottish relations go and could dent the Unionists chances in the referendum on Scottish independence next year. However if viewed from a different perspective it could be inferred that this incident occurred because Scotland is pro-Europe and thus anti-UKIP. This point of view would be encouraging for unionists and potentially damaging for Scottish nationalists.
One aspect of the incident involving Farage that should not be overlooked in my opinion is to not take the actions of a largely student activist group as the opinions of a nation. I personally find small student led protests very tedious and not particularly meaningful in any political sense. However in this case the more poignant factor is Farage’s reaction and post-incident hostile phone call to BBC radio Scotland that have damaged his and his party’s image. To put it frankly, UKIP don’t have political support in Scotland and after this it is highly unlikely that they will improve upon their paltry 0.28% showing at the most recent elections. Rather more importantly Farage’s visit does highlight the lack of a uniform political culture between England and Scotland. South of the border Farage has been receiving largely positive media attention yet during his brief visit to Scotland he has undermined many of his recent successes.
UKIP support in Scotland is weak for a number of reasons; firstly UKIPs image and prominent members seem to represent a very stereotypical image of middle England. In other words, they are fairly wealthy, privately educated men who seem to believe that their image of England is being tainted by EU intervention and weak government in Westminster. UKIP’s roots were created around the single issue of UK independence from the EU; this policy remains at the forefront of their ideology and is a further reason in understanding UKIPs lack of popularity north of the border.
Any inference that Scotland wants out of the UK to be out of Europe would be misguided speculation. Most nationalist supporter’s primary concern is that a Scotland separate from the UK should negotiate being part of the EU on its own terms. Scotland as a whole is appears to be more concerned with being involved in Europe than the UK, as a whole and they are less sceptical of the EU and its institutions. YouGov polls suggest that 13% of Scottish people would favour a more integrated Europe, as opposed to 8% in the UK wide sample. This favourable attitude towards being part of the EU is unlikely to have an impact on any forthcoming EU referendum, simply because it is very unlikely to happen before the Scottish independence vote in 2014. If it were to be held prior to the independence referendum then Scotland would have a big say in a UK future, which they themselves may not be involved in. More of an impact may be seen in the run up to the independence debate with Alex Salmond recently promising to remain in the EU before seeking legal advice given the scenario of an independent Scotland. These ‘Yes’ campaign blunders coupled with the distaste of UKIP in Scotland appears to have handed the impetus to the unionist side of the independence debate. The Scottish population, quite simply, is not going to be overwhelmingly in favour of Scottish independence from both the UK and Europe.
It may just be an unfortunate coincidence for Mr Farage and UKIP that a particularly rowdy protest caused public embarrassment and such embarrassment was then translated into negative media coverage, but it does serve as a warning for Anglo-centric politics as a whole. Scotland remains an independent nation in spirit, if not politically. Consequently both the Unionists and Nationalists have careful considerations to make in the run up to the referendum on Scottish independence next year and neither should take Scottish public opinion lightly.