Over 300 activists turned up last Friday (9th May) to protest at a visit to Edinburgh by UKIP leader Nigel Farage.
Farage’s last visit to Scotland – in May of last year – ended in a fiasco for the UKIP leader after protestors trapped him in a pub on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile and police had to be called in to rescue him.
This time Farage managed to avoid the same fate by bringing with him his own security team and creeping into the venue for his press conference and (very poorly attended) ‘rally’ through a rear entrance.
Inside the venue, Farage spoke to a succession of small groups of carefully vetted journalists about the threat which the European Union would pose to an independent Scotland.
At the same time, a UKIP stalwart outside – wearing a baseball cap decorated with the insignia of Croatia, a tee-shirt with pictures of the Virgin Mary front and back, and waving a saltire bearing the slogan “EU Referendum Now!” defended his party:
“If William Wallace was alive today, he would have voted UKIP. Nigel Farage has the gift of the gab,” he explained to journalists in a press conference of his own.
A small squad of members of the Scottish Defence League turned up to ‘protect’ the UKIP leader from the protestors – a fact which speaks volumes about the politics of UKIP itself.
But the small posse of SDLers was easily driven away by the vastly largely number of anti-UKIP protestors. They found themselves having to be protected by the police from the people from whom they were meant to be protecting Farage.
In the 2011 Holyrood elections UKIP picked up just 0.9% of the votes in Scotland.
But for this month’s European Parliament elections UKIP is running at around 9%or 10% in the opinion polls and has a real chance on winning a seat, although Farage himself is claiming – completely unrealistically – that UKIP could win two seats.
Apart from the usual UKIP diet of anti-migrant racism, homophobia, misogyny, xenophobia and hostility to workers’ rights, UKIP in Scotland has also homed in on the Scottish referendum later this year as a way of trying to boost support for UKIP. According to Farage:
“Scottish people think they’ve got a referendum on independence, but they haven’t. Salmond wants Scotland to be part of the European Union, but you cannot be an independent self-governing nation and a member of a club whose laws are supreme over yours.”
“Whatever you think of Brussels and the EU set-up, you can’t be an independent country and a member of the EU, period. That voice (i.e. the voice of UKIP) has not been heard in Scotland”
Ironically, the UKP leader’s argument that Scotland would be a mere satrap of Brussels if it were to vote for independence is no different from the ‘left’ argument against a ‘yes’ vote on the grounds that an independent Scotland would be … a mere satrap of Brussels.
Last Friday’s anti-UKIP protest was initiated by Unite Against Fascism (UAF) and the ‘Radical Independence Campaign’ (RIC).
The former because they see anti-UKIP campaigning as falling within their general anti-fascist remit. The latter because they see UKIP’s politics as alien to Scotland and something of an attraction only to the English.
As Colin Fox, a former MSP for the Scottish Socialist Party, put it: “In two weeks time UKIP is going to top the polls in England and it will only underline the case for Scottish independence.”
(Scotland’s national bard Hugh MacDiarmid, who listed “Anglophobia” as his hobby in his “Who’s Who” entry, expressed the same idea more bluntly when he said in a speech at Glasgow University in 1968:
“There are not two nations under the firmament that are more contrary and different from each other than Englishmen and Scotsmen. … It is impossible that Scotsmen and Englishmen can remain in concord under one government because their nature and conditions are as different as the nature of sheep and wolves.”)
It is certainly true that UKIP will do (a lot) better in England than in Scotland in the European Parliament elections. But this does not appear to be rooted in different ‘popular’ attitudes towards issues such as the European Union and immigration.
According to the findings of last year’s Social Attitudes Survey, 60% of voters in Scotland think that the EU has too much powers or that the UK should quite the EU. 52% of the Scottish electorate also think that benefits for the unemployed are too high.
69% of Scottish voters (compared with 77% across the UK as a whole) think that there is ‘too much’ immigration. Ironically for the RIC and Colin Fox, slightly more supporters than opponents of Scottish independence think that the arrival of more Eastern European migrants could pose a threat to Scottish national identity (48% compared with 47%).
UKIP’s politics of bigotry and hate need to be challenged head-on, not simply dismissed by the RIC’s latter-day Hugh MacDiarmids as something which supposedly have ‘no place’ in Scotland.