Independence from UKIP?


Scottish viewers of Question Time, This Week and the local election results in England as they come in could be forgiven for thinking that they have walked into a strange parallel universe. From Starkey to Farage to the ‘rise of UKIP’ none of it makes any sense whatsoever in a Scottish context. There are so many questions that you could ask, but there are perhaps three in particular that can help take the discussion forward. What’s going on and how did it happen, why is Scotland different, and what should our response be?

Firstly, lets deal with where UKIP draw their support and in doing so avoid the far easier – and wrong – conclusion that says they are simply a bunch of cranks who have had too much media coverage

The reactionary poison that flows from UKIP has found a resonance with the increasingly embittered, divided English population. They reflect, as all such movements have done historically, a contradictory set of social forces. On the one hand they are a party that appeal to a middle class, driven into a frenzy as a result of the economic crisis. Their anger is focussed on the work-shy, the immigrant and on the European unions super state: all of whom are holding back the hardworking, pure of blood Brit who needs the help of no one to make its way in the world

Anti-EU has been the raison d’etre of Farage and UKIP, and has been the foundations of their rise. It’s classic Tory little Englandism that says we used to be an empire and now our sovereignty has been taken away by Brussels. The collapse of the Eurozone has opened up a space for this perspective to win votes.

Supporters are drawn to the disciplining social policy of the far right. UKIP pose to many as the ‘real Tories’, just look for example at gay marriage. with them feeding on the sense of what many Tories argue is an entrenchment of ‘anti-family’ values.

On the other hand, they appear to stand up for a common cause amongst working people in general. Farage on the lead up to the elections carried out public meetings all over England under the banner of ‘the common sense tour’. They wrap and intertwine the question of immigration with the corruption of not just the EU, but of the political elite in Westminister.

Things have gone so wrong, they say, that what is needed is a back to basics approach. Let’s clean up the streets, cap immigration, stand up to ‘socialist’ Europe and get Britain working. If that means saying unpopular things about labour rights, or maternity leave, then so be it. Remember, what’s important is that unlike the mainstream, they claim not to be concerned about sound bites alone. They are on your side, they are a reflection of a host of mixed up views about the world, fired by a popular support that is angry, sometimes confused and often driven by genuine reactionary tendencies.

So there is a social basis for the UKIP vote. There are three primary causes: the economic crisis, the corruption of formal politics and a general shift to the right in mainstream political discourse which is connected to the third way politics ushered in by New Labour. The crisis created the conditions for division over race and the frenzy of the middle class who themselves suffering the consequences of economic collapse.

The corruption in mainstream politics has added a double edge to this. People don’t trust Westminster, or politicians in general. This creates an opening for other forces to enter into the mainstream, especially if they find a way to articulate the sense of betrayal and suspicion many cast over the parliament and so on. And, this is all underwritten by the neoliberal consensus that was driven through by New Labour. It is not just a direct political assertion that Labour ‘sold out.’ More than that, neoliberalism has impacted society, has atomised it and has created a situation where the struggle for work becomes an intensified struggle against one another for limited and often precarious employment. The mass workplace doesn’t exist in the same way. Our communities have been disrupted, scattered or destroyed. Social bonds and solidarity are not as directly attainable now as they have been in the past. Our society is in decay, our economy is fatally flawed and the political core has shifted to the right. In such an environment, contenders can make gains.

Scottish anomaly?

In Scotland we face similar socio-economic issues. So why can we not imagine that UKIP would ever have anything near their result in the local elections up here? There are some extremely important reasons. To start, let’s just first of all say that there is nothing naturally more left wing about Scots than the English. To suggest that is to reject a material analysis of the differences in the conditions in each country.

Perhaps most obviously, there was an antidote (of sorts) to New Labour in Scotland: the SNP. This is crucial. In Westminster your only alternative to New Labour was something more right wing. And if you put your faith in the Lib Dems you were immediately sold out. In Scotland the political domain was prevented from moving to the the right in the same way, because the SNP spied that tacking to the left of Labour would achieve a better result electorally. They provided a clear alternative to the Iraq war, to trident and importantly, they deliberately set out an economic policy that included free prescriptions, free education and a commitment to, for example, the NHS

Further more, the corruption of power so easily capitalised on by UKIP is different in Scotland. Lots of people – pro independence or not – view Westminster politics as corrupt. From Iraq to expenses and so on. But the same cannot be said of the Scottish parliament. Poll after poll shows a high level of support for the SNP, but more than that, if you were to ask the simple question, who is more corrupt Westminster of the Scottish parliament, we can make an educated speculation that Westminster would top that particular poll.

Next is our relationship with nationalism. British nationalism of the type evoked by UKIP is simply not as fertile in Scotland. It is far more difficult to parade around in tweed trousers proclaiming the British way in Scotland than it is in certain areas of England. There is not widespread ‘passion’ for Britishness. Where there is a passion for Scottishness it is of a different order. Patriotism of all colouration can lead to regressive tendencies, but I would argue Scottish nationalism is different to British nationalism, and that in contemporary politics, it has progressive connotations whereas British nationalism has perhaps its most toxic for many decades. Look at it this way: saltires drape over Faslane protesters, its not true that a union jack would be so fitting. Scottish nationalism, is in a sense a form of displaced class consciousness. British nationalism is anything but, it is a rigidly oppressive and imperialist culture.

Lastly, the effects of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism has created a divided economy between north and south in Britain. Finance capital has provided increased employment and improving living standards for some people in the south-east of England, but for the north and Scotland it has failed. Unlike in the industrial age, where jobs were spread across Britain, finance capital is very geographically concentrated and requires less labour, which is why unemployment has been permanently over 1million right through the 90’s and 00’s. This economic division is reflected politically with the north of the country predominantly social-democratic and the south predominantly Tory. The difference between Scotland and the north of England is that Scotland is a nation with its own parliament, whereas the north of England is tied politically through Westminster to the south of England. Labour have to go chasing votes in the south to beat the Tories, so ignore their base in the north, to an extent Cameron has to position himself to do the same visa-versa. In the process of both triangulating each other, UKIP have cleaned up the discontented in England, but in Scotland we have a political dynamic which is partially not trapped by the North-South division in England.

If we have at least some understanding of where UKIP comes from and why Scotland is different, what should our attitude be to the UKIP, dare I say it, ‘phenomenon’.

In part we will help those trapped in the spell of nationalism and reaction by breaking up the decaying British state. It is time for that period to end. And with it so to can many of the prejudices that have necessarily grown up around it. The British state needs its ‘prestige’ damaged, if its peoples are to flourish in harmony with themselves and the international community.

But more than breaking the old order we must propose independence as an opportunity to build another. This is certainly not a time for ‘gloating’ that UKIP would never happen in Scotland. It is not a time to abandon the progressive movements in England. It is far more a moment to consider that we must do everything possible to get out there and win independence. Along the way and beyond that we should extend our hands to our peers in England and show in practice that another way of running society, inclusively, democratically and collectively, is possible. The double blow of independence and of showing in practice what is possible, can confine UKIP and their like to museums and re-enactment societies where they belong.

Comments (23)

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  1. june says:


  2. Simon Barrow says:

    Good analysis. UKIP did get disproportionate coverage, since it pushed the right buttons for an increasingly lazy, corn-fed London media culture [I’m English and have lived and previously worked in London for most of my life]. That has certainly had a reinforcing impact. Farage has played the BBC like a violin. But as you rightly say, that is not the main point. It is also worth emphasising that UKIP has gained from the double benefit of having a growing base in the Tory shires related to the divisions within the Conservative Party, and also picking up on considerable social, political and economic anomie. If a self-governing Scotland really could show that “another way is possible”, this would be a huge benefit to progressive forces in England. Your final point is entirely pertinent: “The double blow of independence and of showing in practice what is possible, can confine UKIP and their like to museums and re-enactment societies where they belong.” Well, that’s a little unfair to museums and re-enactment societies (especially the former), but UKIP is undeniably a big “No”, whereas what we need for the alternative to thrive is the solidarity of “Yes”.

  3. Dave Coull says:

    My reaction to news of the UKIP surge in the English council elections was not much different from hearing about strange events in any foreign country.

  4. Umm, what a strange and narrow Scottish viewpoint. The early phrase, “reactionary poison that flows from UKIP has found a resonance with the increasingly embittered, divided English population” could be easily respun, as much else, as applying to the SNP from a English viewpoint.

    Indeed, one of the worrying aspects of this article is a mild contempt for the English people, which bodes ill for the common island. I don’t mind, too much, the SNP and their yes-sayers, but I hate, really hate, anything that attempts to disparage the English and England.

    We do not need to do this in order to achieve independence. And, yes, I will vote: yes. But I love England and the English. Its just they are not good for us in the current marriage. And we are no longer good for them. The did Thatcher to us, and we did Blair and Brown to them.

    Scotland should vote ‘yes’ because our wee country needs a kick up its Soviet @ss. We are lazy, moaners, trapped in the English headlights. We need to grow up. And once we are independent and finally having to grow up, let’s see no more of these kind of anti-English contemptible articles.

    1. domhnall dods says:

      I fail to see how we did Blair and brown to anyone. Labour would have won those elections even if every Scottish MP had been snp. The Scottish vote only affects the outcome of the UK elections once in a blue moon. Last time was in the 1970s.

    2. wind yer neck in pal.
      Im a yes voter but you wont get a more anglophile person than me, and if a normal joe can see past the anti English bullshit then everyone can
      it is completely reasonable to see english voting habits as alien to our view on life, why should it not be,
      I watched Sarah Palin exhorting the NRA in America to stand up for their rights to maintain the right to bear arms, and though, as much as we have in common with the USA they are as alien to us as martians and that is true for the average English voter, this does not mean we should dislike the English any more that we should dislike the average American, there is no contempt and you should take pride from the ability of Scots to see the difference between Scots and English and still see the common ground, this is the real strength of the British Isles, please don’t think the difference should be ignored , this is what has caused the impending breakup of the UK BECAUSE people ignored the differences, maybe you should examine your own views

      “Scotland should vote ‘yes’ because our wee country needs a kick up its Soviet @ss. We are lazy, moaners, trapped in the English headlights. We need to grow up”


    3. jdmank says:

      “The did Thatcher to us, and we did Blair and Brown to them.”
      is this what passes for political comment on here,
      and what part of the British public was responsible for voting in Blair and Brown into power? Scotland?

      what a risible comment Dr
      Sutherland, rarely has any comment got me so angry as your stupid comments and tragically you are a yes voter OMG

    4. jdmank says:

      can I suggest the good doctor get over himself? the braveheart explanation is all right for the uninformed English onlooker but is inexcusable for a Scottish person shame on you sir , I am ashamed of you

  5. I tend to agree John ,although i would nt say i love England / Englishness. It is difficult to remained focused on Independence and avoid anti English sentiment we must persevere.The array of the brit establishments power is overwhelming at times ,frustration and a lack of balanced media ,i think ,promotes a strange disparaging negativity on Scotland , often promoted by Scots and no it is not excusable ,an open hand to English autonomous movements could lend itself more productive ?………….
    then again Scotland has many assetts that the likes of UKIP would prefer to keep control of i would think !

  6. Jonathon Shafi says:

    John – this is emphatically *not* an attempt to disparage the english population. It is in fact the direct opposite. It is calling for an internationalist perspective, and reiterating that despite UKIP, now is a time to reflect on how independence can benefit *all of us.* Instead of an analysis that can have an anti-english tone – that scots are naturally more progressive, and the english naturally more right wing etc – this is an attempt to understand why there are political differences which takes into consideration economics, politics and nationalism. As i say: ‘This is certainly not a time for ‘gloating’ that UKIP would never happen in Scotland. It is not a time to abandon the progressive movements in England.’ Additionally, i state that all nationalisms can have regressive tendencies – this is certainly no ‘brave heart’ call to arms against the UKIP dominated England. The movement in Scotland needs to build closer links with the progressive movement in England – that is the point in the article and the logic flows from an analysis of 1) where did ukip come from 2) why can we not imagine it happening in scotland and 3) that our attitude should be one that embraces independence as a process which can not only benefit scots, but everyone.

  7. bellacaledonia says:

    This is interesting situating UKIP in the European right-wing populist movements (though it mistakenly suggests UKIP a pan-British phenomenon):

  8. Don't mention the War says:

    UKIPs most recent outing in Scotland was a council by-election in Coatbridge.
    Their candidate was flute player in the local Orange band.
    He got 34 votes.

  9. Martin Pratt says:

    To the extent that it will form an issue in the referendum campaign (I don’t know, I’m an outsider, but a lot of Nationalist seem to make a case regarding the absence of border controls to reassure waverers and the issue is obviously one common to both sides of the border) I does seem that the success of UKIP does mean that Scottish Nationalists are going to have to come up with a coherent answer to obvious concerns in England that they are a “soft touch” on immigration which will lead to pressure to enact passport controls on the border.

    One of the arguments put forward for independence is differing demographic imperatives and attitudes to immigration that will, inevitably lead, to divergence in policy and domestic pressure here in the south for a form of border control I think that is an issue that has been neglected with pat claims of “scaremongering which now, clearly, it is not.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      I have no problem with border controls, particularly to keep UKIP supporters out

      1. Martin Pratt says:

        Unless this whole site is an epic piece of satire the fact that you don’t mind is neither here nor there – your Yes vote’s assured. The issue is with people who might or do mind surely?

  10. bellacaledonia says:

    It’s not scaremongering because England is bolting to the right, very true. The reality is that Scotland was prevented from developing its own immigration appropriate polices ‘Attracting New Talent’ and is beholden to the political culture of the right and now far-right in England. So your concern for the impact of border controls is touching, and noted.

    Given that we’ve tracked the complete non-impact of UKIP and their quasi-fascist policies here I am less concerned than you appear to be about the border controls.

    1. Martin Pratt says:

      Absolutely. UKIP has little political traction in Scotland. I get that.(although this post is interesting on that – )

      But if it gets traction over the border, which it might do, that effects all of us north and south, no? 70% if Scottish trade is with the rest of the UK and border control has impact both on that and the concept of the “Social Union”. So UKIP will obviously have an impact come independence or no.

      The rUK will have land borders with France (albeit one that is only 50 yards wide) Ireland and Scotland. We already have passport controls with France and passport officers in Ireland have been entitled since 1997 to demand them from air and sea arrivals from GB (although not from NI). So it is not unprecedented. The pitch for independence to wavering/floating voters is, so far as I can see, partly (although far from solely I accept) based on little changing in terms of travel etc. – the “social union”. If it is going to change, and these electoral results in England suggest it might, will that approach change do you think? All of the “Top 10 Unionist myths” type lists I have seen have explicitly said border controls are not an issue (presumably to reassure people for whom they might cause a problem when they decide how to vote) so do you think the Yes campaign should alter its message in this regard given UKIP’s apparent success in these Shire County elections?

      The prospect of E&W leaving the EU while Scotland stays has an impact on travel and currency that it would be interesting to know how it pans out too.

      1. bellacaledonia says:

        Is your question: Do you think it be a good tactic to anticipate the Scottish people rushing to embrace UKIPs barely concealed xenophobia? Or is your question Do you think we should anticipate E&W (a presumptuous coalition!) leaving the EU? Neither is likely despite media hysteria and cheerleading for the ridiculous Mr Farage.

        1. Martin Pratt says:

          Neither as you well know. You’re setting up straw men. As I said – “All of the “Top 10 Unionist myths” type lists I have seen have explicitly said border controls are not an issue (presumably to reassure people for whom they might cause a problem when they decide how to vote) so do you think the Yes campaign should alter its message in this regard given UKIP’s apparent success in these Shire County elections?”

          It’s disingenuous to suggest I said UKIP will have electoral success in Scotland – indeed I agreed that it is very unlikely (see the first sentence of my last post). It’s not a question of anyone leaving the EU either, we have border controls with the EU (e.g. France you can’t get on a ferry or a Eurostar train without a passport), nor is it a question of what the rest of the UK calls itself. It is hardly presumptuous to think that the Welsh independence will take longer than Scotland’s given levels of support there and the fact there is a Unionist administration there and no referendum planned – so it will be E&W at least for a while after 2014. You raised all of these straw mennot me.

          So let’s put away the straw men and I’ll rephrase the question in case I was unclear –

          “UKIP’s success will result likely in London governments wishing to be seen as stronger on immigration which will place short term pressure to increase checks on our longest land border. How should this possibility be addressed by the Yes campaign who have hitherto denied that border controls even of a type seen between England and France are a possibility?”

          Is that clear enough?

  11. George Gunn says:

    It will be up to the first post-independence Scottish government to deal with the border issue. There is no desire in Scotland to restrict movement between our countries and we need immigrants. The Tories and UKIP may plan to turn England into a fortress but that is not in the best interests of their own people.

  12. Dave Coull says:

    It is perfectly reasonable to say that there will be no border controls if neither the YES campaign nor the present Scottish government nor any conceivable Scottish government would have any intention of seeking such border controls. If some folk outside of Scotland should nevertheless seek to unilaterally impose border controls, we can say that we would be against this, and would seek to prevent it. That doesn’t invalidate a “no border controls” message from the YES campaign. We are only responsible for our own actions.

  13. Ray Bell says:

    Could it be that the English don’t have a decent alternative like the Scots and Welsh do? Maybe the English Greens, but even they have their issues. (I mean, David Icke used to be their most prominent member!!! 😉 )

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