Euro exit could take Scotland out of UK

Jon Owen Jones assesses the impact of UKIP’s rise on the other parties and the future of British politics

The Guardian’s latest ICM poll this week (see panel) is further evidence that UKIP is a growing force. But is this growth sustainable and could it change the existing pattern of UK party politics? Well let’s remember that the SDP posed a similar question in the 1980s but then faded away.

Nigel Farage argues that the SDP changed politics by creating the conditions for New Labour, implying that UKIP might achieve something similar in relation to the Conservative Party. I think he is right about the SDP’s impact on Labour at least. But history never repeats itself exactly. I remember the battles we fought inside the Labour Party with the hard left, when our victory wasn’t guaranteed. If we had lost what would have happened to Labour and would the SDP have grown to replace it? Is UKIP the existential threat to the Conservative party that the SDP was to Labour?

State of the Parties


Labour ………………………………………………. 34% (-4%)

Conservative ………………………………………. 28% (-4%)

UKIP ………………………………………………… 18% (+9%)

Lib Dem …………………………………………….. 11% (-4%)

Others ………………………………………………..  9% (-)


Voting intentions for in/out referendum


Definitely stay in the EU ………………………… 22% (-)

Probably stay in the EU………………………….. 18% (-)

Definitely leave the EU …………………………… 32% (-4%)

Probably leave the EU ……………………………. 11% (-4%)


Tomorrow: When it can help for the UK to lose at Brussels 

Martin Jones argues that it is in the Welsh interest to have more not less European integration.

Source: Guardian/ICM, published 14 May 2013.

Maybe UKIP isn’t only a right wing phenomenon or even a UK one. In many western countries there are political movements, which have, similar messages and they are probably reflections of the same causes. Italy’s Grillo Party, the Danish Peoples Party, the Golden Dawn in Greece, the True Finns and even the Tea Party in the US, are reactions to the same pressures. Globalisation brings benefits but it also has adverse effects on many people. Exporting employment to lower wage countries or importing workers prepared to work for lower wages is not a universally good thing. Few mainstream politicians acknowledge this as they fear where that argument leads. This leaves a political vacuum which Mr Farage and others will fill.

Short of some dreadful scandal affecting their leader I can’t see anything stopping UKIP before 2015. That is, UKIP will do very well in next year’s Euro elections and they may well top the poll. They are also likely to be the main challenger in any by-elections and could gather several MPs in the next year or two (even if Nadine Dorries doesn’t join). In a general election our first past the post system makes it very difficult for a third party or a fourth party to break through. They will be very vulnerable to the ‘wasted vote’ argument. It is unlikely that they will win seats but they may influence who does.

Is UKIP good news or bad news for Labour? My enemy’s enemy is my friend; but not if he’s my enemy as well. Labour’s results in the English local elections a few weeks’ ago were OK but no more than that. A 29 per cent level of support in mid term isn’t usually regarded as a sound base to win an election from. These results suggest that Labour will find winning seats in southern England outside of the capital very difficult. They can still win but only if the other parties are split against them.

The Liberal Democrats’ loss of about a third of their council seats (124) was a similar proportion the Conservatives. They also did appallingly in the South Shields Parliamentary by-election and have lost the ability to garner protest votes. They are at best the fourth party. They may gain some comfort in that they stemmed the tide to some extent in the areas where they hold Parliamentary seats. They will want to believe that they can retain most of their MPs in the 2015 UK general election. If so, the balance of power may again rest with them. 

It isn’t as bad as it seems for the Tories. Don’t panic, would be my advice. If they don’t split; if they don’t increase UKIP’s credibility by emulating their policies and forming alliances; if they govern well; and if the economy begins to pick up… they can still win in 2015. Nearly a quarter of the electorate supported UKIP in the local elections but that isn’t all bad. What will these people do in a general election? If they keep voting UKIP then the Tories will lose the election but it isn’t inevitable that will happen. Even less likely is the prospect of UKIP voters falling into Miliband’s arms.  Cameron could rally his supporters and return in triumph.

In Wales UKIP’s results in the local election in Anglesey were underwhelming. They polled 7 per cent, ahead of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats (both on 5 per cent) but well behind Plaid Cymru (32 per cent), the Independents (31 per cent) and Labour (17 per cent). UKIP’s message isn’t well suited for a local election in such circumstances. However, in a Euro election many Independent voters may well look to UKIP.

UKIP is unlikely to top the Euro election ballot in Wales, but they did well in 2009 and they will probably do better next year. Last time they won the fourth seat from Labour and pushed the Lib Dems into fifth place. Next year I think third or second will be a realistic target and perhaps they will improve even on that. UKIP is not only an English phenomenon. But even if there were no UKIP supporters on this side of Offa’s Dyke it’s growth would still affect us.

For decades there has been a political consensus in favour of continued membership of the EU. Yes, that consensus didn’t include the Tory right but they were largely a marginal force of mavericks. Today that consensus is shattered with potentially profound consequences for the Tory Party, for the UK and its devolved governments, and our relationship with the EU.

We all have a stake in this, as there are a variety of possible outcomes. The Welsh Government desires continuity, both within the UK and the EU. However, stability is now threatened in both – by next year’s Scottish referendum and the EU referendum promised by Cameron. A Tory Party which reached an accommodation with UKIP and succeeded in winning the UK general election would take us out of the EU. In the process they would also create the conditions most likely to take Scotland out of the UK.

Jon Owen Jones is a former Welsh Office Minister and Labour MP for Cardiff Central.

17 thoughts on “Euro exit could take Scotland out of UK

  1. UKIP IS a force in Wales. Ynys Mon local elections were not a true indication of support because there was a revolt against the political parties after the electorate was clearly TOLD to vote for an established party. The battle became one of the establishment against the independents…..Plaid supporters dutifully toed the line; the rest perversely ignored best advice from Cardiff and opted for their local independent.

    In Wales there is a quite large minority that just does not agree with the concept of devolution and its inevitable end conclusion: independence for Wales. All political parties in Wales support devolution and more of it. If UKIP can just harden its position on opposition to devolution and on freedom of choice then they can collect between 30% and 40% of votes in the European and Assembly elections.

    Why might they succeed in that? In Wales there is a large majority who look to England for news and opinion. Whilst the Welsh Media won’t pay much attention to UKIP the English Media is now, and will be in the future, full of the rise and rise of the 4th party. This will have an effect on the older, more unionist voters in Wales. Unionist views are popular here and elderly voters go to the ballot box.

    I think that UKIP will knock the rough edges off their policies and become more coherent in the coming year. They will start to think about a unified message that will win votes in Wales and their target audience is clear….with the Tories backing more devolution UKIP can win by becoming uncompromisingly unionist. The failures of devolved government in Wales are a soft target.

  2. Come on, ClickOnWales. This headline is very misleading and barely reflects the discussion at all!

  3. “For decades there has been a political consensus in favour of continued membership of the EU.”

    But only because we have been consistently and willfully lied to about the so-called benefits of EEC/EC/EU membership using the full force of the state propaganda machine. Now the truth can be seen by almost anybody with their eyes open the demos has changed. The EU is heading for its own destruction and its mindless one-size-fits-all Euro currency is the main actor. The UK has an opportunity NOW to negotiate our way out in an orderly fashion using Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty – by which means we can protect ourselves from the worst effects of EU implosion.

    Sadly UKIP still does not have an EU exit strategy other than repeal of the 1972 Act and a chaotic unilateral withdrawal. UKIP’s withdrawal position from the EU is as unviable and as inept as Salmond’s position in Scotland based, as it is, on some sort of ‘we can work it out as we go along’ mentality devoid of any obvious understanding of international treaty law or the time-scales involved in re-negotiating treaties. So we can have chaos or chaos! Bring on the clowns!

    The question is – when are we going to see some grown-up politics from any source in the UK within grasp of the levers of power which recognises 1. that the EU is finished and 2. that we must negotiate an orderly withdrawal before it collapses? Re-negotiation of the acquis has NEVER been a viable option – the EU exists to acquire competences (powers) not to hand them back to the member states and this cannot change or the EU ceases to fulfill its core function of being a slow-motion coup d’état.

    There are very few countries left in the EU now which have a viable economic position. There are probably only about 5 states which look as if they can stand on their own feet ‘post EU’. As things stand the UK is one of them but it is being slowly consumed from the inside by Regional in-fighting and the bloated administration that goes with it. The ultimate catastrophe would be the UK successfully withdrawing from the EU only to destroy itself from within. But that looks to be the future and UKIP has apparently embraced that future by adopting a ‘federal UK’ policy position which will see those internal tensions maximised rather than minimised. As things stand UKIP is offering more ‘devolution’ of power to the UK’s nation-states than the mainstream parties – but they don’t seem to have any policies to pay for it!

  4. “The failures of devolved government in Wales are a soft target.” … erm, that would be Labour government.

    Otherwise, I think a lot of what you say is probably true, but 3 years is a long time in politics.

  5. It’s not just Scotland that might leave the UK.

    UKIP will probably suffer as they are subjected to more exposure and scrutiny. Their policies on devolution run against the views of the Welsh people expressed in referenda. Their education policies would condemn 80% of kids to the scrap heap at age 11. They are a party of English nostalgics, whose view of Wales is probably that we are just a small part of England.

    If, God forbid, UKIP (aided and abetted by cowardly politicians from other parties unwilling to take the fight to them) persuaded English voters to back withdrawal, that should be followed by referenda in the other constituent countries of the UK as to whether we wish to follow England into isolation. I am confident that the Scots would not. I hope that we in Wales would not.

    I am, by instinct, a unionist. But what UKIP don’t understand is that to be a unionist is not to be a centralist, to think that England can run Wales better than the Welsh, and it is certainly not to wish to join the English in a suicide pact.

  6. @jon jones

    If my understanding is correct, UKIP is in the process of changing its policy to supporting an English Parliament, as it reckons that’s where its core vote lies. It follows that it has therefore to significantly change its views on devolution in Wales, Scotland and NI.

    Whilst I agree that there is a significant minority opposed to devolution to Wales, perhaps twenty per cent, the vast majority supports it, and are unlikely to change their minds on that – UKIP certainly isn’t the vehicle capable of achieving it in any case. We can assume therefore that UKIP will remain primarily a party which appeals to right wing voters in England. Farage’s reception in Scotland illustrates his party’s unpopularity outside its home base in the south east of England. Hitherto he has been associated with the policy of demoting Holyrood, which would be deeply unpopular.

  7. Dave; even UKIP don’t know what UKIP policy is. They are at present refreshingly anarchic and this is what gives them potential in all corners of the UK.

    There is almost nothing that I agree with in their most popular “policies” (I use the word loosely). I am pro Europe but anti single currency. I believe that in its present form the EU will blunder from inefficiency to inefficiency and finally have to face up to the limitations possible when dealing with a wide range of vested interests. I am pro the free movement of peoples and therefore I am not anti immigration. I believe in taxation and public ownership but have no illusions about how poorly political parties and governments actually discharge their duties to the public.

    I normally vote Labour. So why am I interested in the rise of UKIP? In the past, when Labour wasn’t an option I have voted Lib Dem or Green. You can guess why I won’t be voting LibDem but there are aspects of the Green party’s policies that I am unhappy with as well. So there’s not much left in conventional politics to interest me and there lies the attraction of UKIP.

    Even parties that are on the fringe of power actually change politics one way or the other. Wales is desperate for some challenge to consensus… any challenge.

    20% against devolution? Very hard to put a figure on it with any certainty; 36% voted against further devolution at the last referendum but this is the intriguing thing; pro devolutionists, particularly Nationalists, get their vote out and therefore we have seen their strength. Those people who might vote against devolution don’t notice Welsh politics… they are an unknown quantity. What if UKIP wakes them up enough to vote?

  8. You are wrong Jon Jones in my experience. t I know people who didn’t bother voting in the last Welsh referendum who, if push came to shove, would vote to defend Welsh interests, ie our devolved government. Don’t take for granted that those who don’t vote are anti-devolution or pro-centralizing power at Westminster.

  9. The fact is that in just about every poll on attitudes to devolution the figures reflect the fact that the majority of Welsh people – 60%+ – support further devolution with about 20% against, with the gap widening with the demographics in favour of further devolution. Now if you anti-devolutionists want to indulge yourselves in your own little fantasy world where the majority want to return to direct rule by Westminster Tories please do. Back in the real world I believe that UKIP have changed their policy on devolution so that they no longer oppose the process. In agreeing to back a English Parliament they realise that they would also have to back the other devolved institutions.

    Of course given their policies are generally written on the the back of Mr Farage’s fagpacket I have no doubt that they will change on a weekly basis. Farage accused the SNP of being fascists. Pot and Kettle are words that spring to mind!

  10. How terribly insulting you Nationalists are! No wonder Nigel Farage picked up on the obvious anti-English racism.

    Nowhere have I said that anti-devolutionists are a majority. I think I have hazarded a guess at 36% but possibly more if there was, for instance, compulsory voting. And this for the reasons that I outlined. People who think in terms of England and Britain were more likely not to vote. They never have paid much attention to Welsh affairs. I don’t think that we can put much faith in the voting potential of Dave’s friends. I’m guessing that they wouldn’t actually BE Dave’s friends if they were rabid Unionists.

    The point is that a minority as large as 36% or even 20%, if they identify with a particular party, can put a representative of that party into the Assembly. There are areas of Wales where so many constituency seats are won by Labour that voting Labour in regional elections is a waste of time. Could UKIP appeal to both the right and left in politics… or, as the Nationalists perpetually put it, the right and further right?

    UKIP has one Welsh representative in the European parliament… why would anyone think that they have no support in Wales? Why would anyone suppose, when the Assembly electoral process is designed to give a voice to minorities, that a minority won’t put a UKIP member into the Assembly?

  11. By the way, there is an interesting insight into the recent Edinburgh Kerfuffle here:

    I must admit that I wasn’t aware that UKIP had black and Asian candidates arouind Britain. In conversation with a UKIP candidate last month I mentioned my concern that UKIP was a front for racists. The person I spoke to was absolutely clear that she would leave the party tomorrow if she thought that any such thing was happening. It appears that UKIP are aware of the risk and are trying to be vigilant; they also seem keen to point out that they aren’t anti immigration but very pro diligent immigration vetting and control.

    It’s not inconceivable that UKIP might find support in Wales.

  12. @Jon Jones

    On his recent visit to Edinburgh, and during an interview in the pub, Farage supported a Scotland ‘with fully devolved powers’ as part of the UK.

    UKIP’s views on devolution are clearly changing and the party will likely not be the vehicle to represent the anti-devolutionists in Wales or Scotland, that such as yourself hopes that it will be.

    It’s real politik. Devolution is here to stay – all the major parties, and UKIP, have come to accept that fact. I’m not a supporter of devolution as it hasn’t been able to begin to tackle Wales’ deep-seated and long-standing problems, or provide the people of Wales with the dignity they deserve. Only independence has the potential to address these issues, and even with that there is no guarantee of success. However, there is no hope whatsoever without it – Wales’ faces an extremely bleak future.

  13. The rise of UKIP is not just about Europe. It is more about the cultural disconnection between the Conservative Party and its leadership, and the even bigger disconnection between the Conservative Party and the people on whom it relies to vote it into power. There was a similar disconnection in the Labour Party under Blair, but with one crucial difference: Blair won. If Cameron wants to win, he needs to stop listening to those who claim UKIP’s success is just a protest vote that will come back to the Conservatives automatically in the General Election. The fact that many who vote UKIP in a European election will not vote UKIP for Westminster does not necessarily mean they will vote Conservative. There is a dangerously Leninist mood among Tory-inclined voters at the moment – a feeling that things might have to get a lot worse before they get better. Cameron needs to give them a reason to care what happens to him.

  14. “…and the even bigger disconnection between the Conservative Party and the people on whom it relies to vote it into power.”

    Ah yes! That’ll be the “Swivel eyed Loons” that turn out for the Tories. The problem is that it’s not just the “Baby Eating” wing that’s in revolt; in fact, as some commentators have hinted, it’s not only the Conservatives that are willing to support UKIP. There is an anti-immigrant, homophobic working class element that hovers between Labour (because of its working class pedigree) the Tories and, recently, the BNP.

    The BNP is thankfully in retreat, although Labour didn’t do enough to oppose it in their own backyard. The mood now is one of general dissatisfaction with mainstream parties; no one can blame people for not really knowing what UKIP stands for, but we should acknowledge this surge of feeling for anything but the status quo.

    Wales won’t be immune.

  15. We Brits lag so far behind the Italians. We don’t dress as well, sing as well, cook as well or play football as well. Nigel Farage is quite funny but nothing like as comical as Beppe Grillo.

  16. Those respondents who think UKIP a minor threat in Wales need to explain how they got sufficient votes to take a Welsh seat in the European Parliament in 2009. It would be helpful to know the demographics of that support; has anyone crunched the numbers to find out?

    UKIP use the old trick of declaiming simple solutions to immensely complex problems; but their one liners gain support in England and are beginning to do so here. As for the nightmare of a coalition deal between the Tories and UKIP in 2015; don’t rule it out. It might tear the Conservative Party apart and make their extreme right the dominant force within what’s left. But if it happens I think the main concern here would be the potential ending of devolution and the suppression of the National Assembly.
    In that critical situation we really will find out who supports devolution and how far they are prepared to go to ensure its survival.

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