There is a theory going around that, despite a few superficial differences, the SNP and UKIP actually have a lot in common; that Scottish nationalists and English eurosceptics share the same small-minded, separatist view of the world.
Times columnist David Aaronovitch is a proponent (“[Alex Salmond and Nigel Farage] are hard little peas from the same inedible pod”). As is The Spectator’s Sebastian Payne (“two parties … now deploying the same [xenophobic] tactics”). Even Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson seems to buy into it (“In terms of anti-Westminster rhetoric and using that for political ends, I think there is a similarity there”).
But the theory suffers from one pretty substantial flaw: namely, an absence of ‘facts’ and ‘supporting evidence’.
Let’s look, first of all, at where the SNP and UKIP stand in relation to a number of key policy areas.
The SNP wants more immigration; UKIP wants less. The SNP opposes the Coalition Government’s welfare reforms; UKIP wants to extend them by abolishing Jobseekers Allowance and Incapacity Benefit. The SNP is against the construction of new nuclear power stations; UKIP wants nuclear power to produce half the UK’s energy. The SNP wants to cut defence spending and scrap Trident; UKIP wants to increase defence expenditure by 40 per cent and build four new nuclear-armed submarines. The SNP supports a minimum 45p top rate of tax; UKIP wants to merge income tax and national insurance into a single 31 per cent flat rate. The SNP supports an independent Scottish constitution which guarantees a clear set of civil and social rights for all Scottish citizens; UKIP wants to scrap the Human Rights Act. The SNP says Scotland should leave the UK but remain part of the EU; UKIP says Scotland should remain part of the UK but leave the EU.
I could go on. I could add, for instance, that while Nicola Sturgeon was guiding same-sex marriage legislation through the Scottish Parliament, Nigel Farage was slithering about on gay rights. Or that, in contrast to John Swinney’s call for a capital stimulus after the financial crisis, Farage has loudly championed all sorts of austerity cuts.
But I think I’ve made my point. In policy terms, the SNP and UKIP are two very different parties with two very different programmes and two very different visions.
This is, however, only part of the argument. The other part (the main part, in fact) is that the SNP’s independence campaign and UKIP’s anti-EU campaign operate according to the same basic logic – a logic which runs something like this: ‘If only the Scots / the Brits could rid themselves of Westminster / Brussels, then Scotland / Britain would be so much better off’. (If you want the more sinister version, replace ‘Westminster’ with ‘the English’ and ‘Brussels’ with ‘Europeans and immigrants’.)
David Aaronovitch calls this ‘Outopia’: the dream that separation from a larger neighbour will make everything “good and bonny and blithe and gay”.
But this, too, lands well wide of the mark.
Brussels does not exercise the same influence over Britain that Westminster exercises over Scotland.
Although, of course, the European Single Market and EU competition law have a significant bearing on the way the UK economy operates, Britain still runs its own fiscal and monetary regimes and determines much of its own internal regulatory system. (Contrary to UKIP propaganda, House of Commons analysis shows that 86 per cent of all UK regulations initiated between 1997 and 2009 were initiated at Westminster.) By contrast, the Scottish Parliament’s financial powers are extremely limited and, even if the most radical of the unionist parties’ devolution proposals were implemented, Westminster would still control most of Scotland’s main economic assets, not least North Sea oil.
Moreover, it is impossible to imagine a situation in which Britain’s defence, foreign affairs and welfare policies were decided at the European level. Yet Scottish attempts to establish autonomy in these areas are dismissed by Aaronovitch and others as parochial and isolationist.
So the EU and the UK are not the same kinds of union. The former is looser and imposes fewer restrictions on the sovereignty of its constituent members (those outside the Eurozone, at any rate), while the latter remains far too heavily centralised.
And here the SNP – UKIP parallels collapse.
Where UKIP intends to reduce Britain’s relationship with the EU to an almost purely economic level and seal Britain off from those keen to build a life here, the SNP hopes to maintain the social and cultural – as well as some of the political and economic – institutions that currently bind Scotland to the UK.
As David Torrance argues, there is a strong unionist streak in the SNP’s nationalism. If the SNP was truly ‘Outopian’ – if it really believed that the English, as opposed to elements of the Westminster political structure, were holding Scotland back – wouldn’t it campaign for a conclusive and irrevocable break with England, rather than the essentially confederal arrangement outlined in the White Paper?
Then again, perhaps Aaronovitch has a point. If you remove core principles, policies and rhetoric from the equation, it does become increasingly difficult to tell UKIP and the SNP apart.