Farage factor could swing Scottish vote

Iain Mcwhirter says the SNP hopes that Ukip’s English nationalism will galvanise Scots to vote yes to independence

The European elections are usually marked by public apathy and low turnout. Not this time. The Scottish Government is looking to Europe to change the fortunes of the independence campaign in 2014.

After a year in which the Yes campaign made little progress, despite the launch of the SNP’s ‘all-questions-answered’ White Paper on independence, they certainly need a game-changer. There are signs Scottish voters are becoming irritated by the endless debate about constitutional issues with little relevance to their daily lives. But could Europe ignite renewed interest in self-government?

The Scottish Nationalists expect the Euro elections in May to showcase a new xenophobic brand of English nationalism, in the grinning guise of Ukip’s Nigel Farage. The preceding months are likely to be dominated by continuing press coverage of Romanian ‘benefit tourists’. As the campaign intensifies in the spring, David Cameron will be under pressure from the increasingly vociferous and europhobic back bench to call for a No in the in/out referendum on British membership of the EU scheduled for 2017.

The Coalition Government’s line has been that it will first renegotiate the terms of British membership, though the scope for that seems pretty limited since Britain already has substantial opt-outs from the European Monetary System, the Shengen zone and the banking union. Tories like Boris Johnson, the London mayor, are demanding nothing short of ‘liberation’ from Brussels bureaucracy.

The SNP hope all this Europe-bashing will help convince Scots that Westminster politics is taking a nasty turn and that the old UK status quo is no longer an option. Forget the warnings about an independent Scotland being required to renegotiate membership of the EU. Scotland is arguably more likely to be forced out of Europe by remaining in the UK than leaving it. Either way, the days when Britain was – in John Major’s words – “at the heart of Europe”, are over.

But will the Scots be that concerned? The SNP are confident that they are more internationalist than English voters – a proposition that has yet to be tested properly. There is no significant party of the right in Scotland, which means anti-European voices tend to get drowned out – much as Ukip has been over the past couple of years. Literally, in the case of Nigel Farage’s disastrous visit to Edinburgh when he was forced to seek refuge in a pub from protesters.

It will not be possible to drown out the 2014 European election campaign, which will be projected loud and clear by the London-based media – the BBC and the UK press – ensuring that Ukip and the Tories get maximum exposure in Scotland as well as in England. It will be a significant test of both Europe’s support in Scotland – and of the SNP’s support in Scotland.

The SNP hope to improve on their performance in the 2009 European elections, when they won two seats and increased their vote. However, Alex Salmond faces a dilemma here. If the Nationalists try to turn the European elections into a proxy campaign for the independence referendum, the Scottish voters might turn on them. The signs are clear that Scots have a limited appetite for independence propaganda. Paradoxically, to do well in Europe, the SNP might be advised to tone down the independence rhetoric until after May.

Labour’s Johann Lamont may try to turn the European election campaign into a referendum on the Tory-led Coalition in the UK, and their ‘little helpers’ in Scotland, the SNP. Labour believe Scots are much more concerned with domestic issues like class sizes, NHS waiting lists and the cost of living crisis than they are about independence – which is probably true. They see last week’s poll indicating that most Scots might accept an increase in council tax if it led to improved services as marking a sea change in Scottish politics. A couple of recent polls havde also suggested Labour are finally closing the gap with the soaraway SNP in voting intentions for Holyrood.

Mind you, Alex Salmond doesn’t seem particularly concerned. The SNP say they would relish a London-centred European campaign led by Ed Miliband, who the SNP believe has little voter recognition in Scotland. And by the Scottish leader, Johann Lamont, who has even less: a Herald poll in December suggested 41 per cent of Scots don’t know who she is.

So, while there will be much talk of a Labour revival in Scotland, as support for independence languishes Labour has a way to go before it can be a confident contender in 2016, even if the referendum delivers the expected No vote. Its best chance to regain the initiative might be to come up with a clear and convincing policy for devolution max – or at least ‘devolution more’ – before the referendum. Labour need to prove to Scottish voters that they have both ideas and independence from London Labour.

Of course, no-one is forecasting certain defeat for the Yes Scotland campaign in 2014, even though the opinion polls seem unanimously in the negative. Professor John Curtice, the polling oracle, believes time is running out and that if the polls haven’t moved significantly in the next couple of months, there is little chance of victory. Mind you, he said something similar before the 2011 Scottish parliamentary elections – as did we all – and we saw what happened.

The SNP remain remarkably bullish. They say the voters haven’t begun to think seriously about the issues involved. The revelation in Cabinet papers released under the 30-year rule that Margaret Thatcher’s government had tried to push through £500 million in “secret” cuts to the Scottish budget in 1984 is, they say, a warning of what will happen in 2014 if Scots vote No. The Barnett Formula will be cut by £4 billion.

The SNP believe history is on their side and that small nations are the future in Europe. The 30 small countries in Europe, average population of five million, comprise half the landmass of the EU and are becoming increasingly influential in European politics. Countries like Denmark, Hungary, Finland and Slovakia will have a decisive role in shaping the new Europe that emerges after May 2014.

It is the big countries, like Spain, France and Italy, that are still suffering from the sovereign debt crisis. Little Latvia, with a population of 2.7 million, is now the fastest-growing economy in the Eurozone and has just joined the Euro currency union in a wave of business confidence. If Latvia can have a seat at the top table of Europe, say the SNP, why not Scotland?

And attention will also be focused on the aspiring countries of Europe in 2014. The Spanish government is refusing to recognise the right of the Catalan region to hold its own referendum on independence. But Barcelona is going ahead regardless and has scheduled a ballot for November. SNP supporters hope this too will concentrate Scottish minds in referendum year and give inspiration to Scots.

However, the Better Together campaign has been highly successful in boxing the Nationalists into a narrow range of negative issues, like the pound, pensions and immigration controls. It has prevented the Yes campaign from painting an attractive vision of Scotland’s possible future as an independent country in Europe. The Unionists see no reason for abandoning a policy that works. Project Fear is alive and well in 2014.

Iain Mcwhirter is a columnist with the Glasgow Herald where this article first appeared.

27 thoughts on “Farage factor could swing Scottish vote

  1. ” a new xenophobic brand of English nationalism”??++++++++++++++++++++Why is it that English people wanting to get away from the EU is ‘xenophobic’ whilst Scots wanting to get away from England is considered patriotic?
    How is it that when we English want more control of our lives it is ‘xenophobic’ whilst Wales/Scotland and N Ireland are ‘crying for justice’ when they doo the same.
    Is this racism or just a little’ Anti-English sentiment’ as the Scots deem it?

  2. Bear in mind Population density of Scotland 40 people per Sq Mile.
    Population density of Wales 170 people per Sq Mile
    Population density of England 1060 people per Sq Mile
    I think immigration is a factor when you are the sole target. I am one Englishman that would greatly admire the humanity and generosity of the Scots and Welsh if they would act as part of a united land and bring the population densities of their countries into equilibrium by taking some of English immigrant population. Wales and Scotland can decide on planning laws that restrict housing whilst heavily influencing a vote to do the same in England.
    I think on this occasion ‘Wales on Line’, makes a perfect case for England leaving both the EU and her ‘partners’ in the UK.
    If anyone needs ‘Home Rule’ it is we ‘xenophobes’ that need distance between us and all the friends that surround us.

  3. Between 2008 and 2009 Latvia lost a quarter of its economic output. Its population has also fallen by a tenth since 2007. In 2008 it needed a 7.5 billion euro bail out from the IMF and European union. Many young Latvians would probably prefer to be picking vegetables in East Anglia than struggling in Riga. Latvia might be the favourite country of the Austerians but it also proves that stats about growth don’t always say a great deal about living standards. As for the so called ‘Project Fear’ all the UK government has pointed out is that independence for Scotland has consequences which Salmond is trying to hide from the Scottish voter.

  4. What Salmond is showing is that Scotland and its people do not need to have right wing neo-liberal policies stuffed down their throats. They do not need to live in a state that is one of the most unequal in the whole of the OECD. True few things in life are guaranteed but at least in Salmond the Scots have a leader who unlike the Unionists puts them first . Contrast that with the Unionists whose mantra is “Better together”.

    It is a real shame we don’t have politicians with his vision and abilities in Wales rather that the moribund “Old Labour” non government we currently have. Scotland and its people have a far brighter future forging the kind of egalitarian society they have always desired rather than remain part of a post Imperial state lurching ever further to the right. Go for it Scotland, the only failure in life is not to try!

  5. This conversation has become a little one-sided. Firstly, the central appeal of Nigel Farage is to go back to a simpler time when England was the Home Counties and it reigned supreme. England was never that uncomplicated but if you were making a good living in that area then you didn’t have to worry about much else and could live quite cosily in a self-contained world.

    What is clear however is that the vision does not extend much beyond England. Largely because Scotland and Wales in that period occupied a marginal position in relation to the thrust of Westminster politics. It is hardly surprising therefore that both of those countries are more reluctant to return to those ‘idyllic’ times.

    This particular brand of English nationalism has also turned defensive in a way that has some very unpleasant undertones. Nigel Farage’s declaration that there are parts of Britan that are now unrecognisable and that he had to pass through several stations on a train journey from London to Kent before spoken English was audible, an experience he found uncomfortable, is an indication of this.

    For Nigel Farage, these parts of the the country are unrecognisable because he does not recognise himself in the faces and accents and, yes, languages of those around him. There is a simple explanation for this; they are different. But for Nigel Farage, this difference is a threat and that is why the term ‘xenophobic’ is appropriate.

    With regards the point concerning Project Fear, it is perfectly appropriate that those opposed to independence should call into the view the implications of such a decision. However the Westminster establishment has gone one step further. They have committed themselves to a position regardless of the vote of the people of Scotland on the matter. To say that the issue of currency needs to be resolved in the event of a vote for independence is to point out the consequences, to state categorically that you will refuse to discuss the matter whatever the people of Scotland might vote for is something far stronger. In the current context, it is clearly an attempt to frighten those marginal voters by introducing monetary uncertainty into the debate.

    In practical terms, there will be nothing to stop the Scottish people and Scottish businesses from continuing to use the pound indefinitely, currency union or otherwise. The Irish Free State is an interesting comparator. It was established in 1922 but it was not until 1928 that Irish banknotes and coins began to enter circulation. But whatever the appearance, the Saorstát pound and its change-in-name-only successors remained pegged to the pound sterling on a one-for-one parity basis until Ireland joined the European Exchange Rate Mechanism in 1979.

    Those opposed to independence will argue that Ireland had no effective control over its interest rates for all that time; and that would be true. But I believe that Ireland still considered itself an independent country and was able to develop that sense of independence despite the self-imposed financial straitjacket of its own monetary policy.

  6. Fred, I don’t know if you are interested in facts but it is of relevance to your case that fully 27 per cent of the population of Wales were not born in the country. The proportion in England is 16.5 per cent. One can imagine the fuss in England if the proportion of immigrants ever reached Welsh levels. 21 per cent of the Welsh population come from England.

  7. Nigel Farage may well appeal to English Nationalists, whoever they may be, but for a lot of people the question is more that of being sold down the river over the so-called Common Market, whether it being with regard to fishing rights – of interest to Scotland – the agricultural policy and a whole host of other matters which we were promised wouldn’t happen. So the main-stream politicians are no longer believed when they speak about Europe. The May elections could well turn out to be the referendum on Europe that so many parties don’t want.

  8. “One can imagine the fuss in England if the proportion of immigrants ever reached Welsh levels”
    @Gerald Holtham
    Yes I can imagine the fuss! the rabid nationalists of England would make noise whilst the more liberal vast majority couldn’t care less…. much like here in Wales where the nationalists such as yourself seem to be the only ones who care.

  9. Well, I wasn’t aware that I was either het up or a nationalist but there we are. I was just trying to throw some light on the suggestion that Wales was not pulling its weight in accepting immigration.

  10. Accepting immigration?? Gerald, when most people talk of immigration in Wales they are not referring to people from other parts of the UK who share the same passport and have contributed equally (those without a chip on their shoulder might even say generously) through taxation to the funding of our public services in Wales. Perhaps someone of your calibre should be a bit more careful. I also note your use of the phrase ‘little englanders’ on another story… to me this is dissapointing. If you’re not happy being called a Welsh nationalist (and to be clear there is nothing I admire more than a nationalist with the courage of their convictions) then perhaps it’s time to act a little less like one.

  11. Following on: and maybe at risk of reiterating a few things. With regards to the nature of migration and immigration, there are some valid questions that need to be asked..If people are going to get annoyed by the some of the comments that have been made and are starting to go on the offensive, then this only highlights the need to discuss this subject a bit more – maybe this is a discussion that is very much overdue.

    BBC Wales has been running a news story today about Wales’ migrant population going up by 82% – strangely this doesn’t get coverage on the UK site and no other forms of migration are noted. This follows similar lines to Fred’s comments in this discussion suggesting that England has had the largest shift in demographics in Britain, followed by Wales – the news focuses on polish immigration in particular. The numbers for so called “foreign immigration” are at a level that can be quite happily accommodated and should be very healthy for an economy with progressive intentions. The elephant in the room is, as has already been mentioned, the much larger migration from England to Wales, since this constitutes an incredible change in Welsh demographics, in a relatively short period of time.

    This may be a taboo subject for many, but we can’t ignore it and we should at least try to understand it. Shouldn’t this be debated openly, I’d be surprised if many people don’t talk about these things in private, it’s a valid subject and not in anyway Anti to anyone. Is there a reason for this? – the Welsh economy is hardly booming, our health and education system are being pilloried in the English media and English workers aren’t rushing across the border due to a renaissance of the last industrial revolution. Is it a lower cost of living, lower housing costs, perhaps a retirement boom, like the rush to Florida in the US or is it more working age people, maybe in part due to changes in the public sector composition. Do we know what has and perhaps still is driving this and have we planned for these things?

  12. Gerry here are three classic immigrants who have come to live in Wales. George North born in King’s Lynn, Alec Cuthbert born in Gloucester and Jonathan Davies born in Solihull. Most of us who live in South Wales are as that great Scouser Saunders Lewis argued ‘mongrels’ and proud of it.

  13. Gerald Holtham

    I don’t know about anybody else born in the UK but I am getting seriously sick of being called an immigrant because I happen to have been daft enough to move into the middle of the Meibion Glyndŵr arson campaign in the 1980s.

    According to this published today –


    “The population of Wales in 2011 was 3,063,456, with about 167,871 of those born outside the UK.”

    I make that about 5.5% and by some miracle so do BBC Wales…

    “The proportion of foreign-born people in Wales was 5.5%, making it smaller than England (13.8%), Scotland (7%) and Northern Ireland (6.6%).”

  14. Comeoffit: Why do some people resist immigration despite its many benefits? Presumably because it changes the culture of their home town too fast. Well, if a village or town is Welsh speaking and it takes 20 per cent of people from elsewhere who speak only English, it will change the character of the place just as surely whether they come from Liverpool or Lithuania. That’s why this is more of an issue in north than in south Wales. Moreover, compared with England, more of the immigration into Wales does not contribute to the economy, consisting partly of retired people who paid their taxes in England but will require social services in Wales.

    In some areas of Wales the proportion of over 60s not born in Wales has reached 60 per cent of the total age group. Wales also accepts a significant number of people on benefit who can be accommodated more cheaply in Wales than in the cities from which they come. So it is harder than you imply to make a clear distinction between the effects of British and non-British migration. Hard-working youngsters generally make a good contribution wherever they are from.

  15. PS I speak like a nationalist, you say, but who is arguing that immigration into an area is benign or disruptive depending on the colour of the incomer’s passport? Evidently it depends on other characteristics, including an ability to contribute needed skills and a readiness to adapt to the ‘native’ culture. Given those, who cares about nationality – not me.

  16. “Moreover, compared with England, more of the immigration into Wales does not contribute to the economy, consisting partly of retired people who paid their taxes in England but will require social services in Wales.”

    ehh? Is this actually THE Gerald Holtham?? because you are coming across as pretty twp here. You are forgetting that those taxes paid over a lifetime in England went to pay for the Welsh NHS just as much as they did the English NHS. I would also argue that the amount of taxation available to the Welsh NHS would be vastly reduced were it not for those taxes paid in England over a lifetime… but thats obviously up for debate (although not for anyone with a basic grasp of economics).

    I don’t know what else to say, other than that I’m thoroughly depressed that this is the way you think… I expected better! It’s like arguing with a Welsh version of the Daily Mail, albeit perhaps slightly more eloquent.

  17. Comeoffit. Clearly I didn’t explain myself properly. Yes English taxes make a great contribution to social services in Wales. The Welsh budget deficit is about 30 per cent of GVA. That money comes from England, as I have often annoyed “nationalists” by pointing out. But the money from England is fixed by the Barnett formula. It does not go up if young people here emigrate and retired people come in. The demand for social services will rise but there is no additional money to meet the demand.

    Barnett does not recognize demographics and no public money follows an elderly person over the border. I am not against old-timers moving if they want to. I am one myself. But such immigration puts an additional load on social services in Wales. That’s just a fact. The same migration tendencies exist in Cornwall, for example, but there needs-based formulae ensure health board and local authorities get more money if demographics shift. My original point was simply that Wales is doing its bit in taking people from elsewhere.

  18. Jeff,
    I am a mongrel too, born in Wales, Welsh mother, English father. I feel I’m chasing my tail a bit in this exchange since people are attributing opinions to me that I don’t have rather than just reading what I wrote. You seem to think I am anti-immigration on grounds of racial purity! I am not anti immigration at all. I pointed out that Wales has taken in very many people from elsewhere – not to deplore the fact, which I don’t, but to refute the claim that Wales was not taking its share of immigrants.

    People then got excited because I included other Brits among the migrants and accused me of nationalism. But the effects of incomers on economy and society depend on their characteristics not their nationality. A vigorous young Pole pays taxes and doesn’t draw benefits; an elderly Brit with a chronic complaint does the opposite. My sole point, by which I stand, is that Wales does its bit in this area.

  19. Whilst you are in the mood for communication Gerry, you are famously the person that calculated that Wales was short changed by £300 Mill. each year by the Barnett formula. Have you updated that figure lately? What does the figure stand at now?

  20. The problem with Welsh Nationalists is that they have blinkers on when it comes to migration from England (or population movement within the UK as I like to call it).

    The 2011 census shows that there were 149,133 people born in England and aged 65 or over living in Wales…….using up Welsh resources of social care etc. (Let’s not confuse things by pointing out that they spend their hard earned pensions here).

    On the other hand there were 143,518 people born in Wales and aged over 65 living in England…….using up English resources of social care etc……also spending I don’t doubt.

    So Wales is being disadvantaged by the inbalance of a massive 5,615 pensioners.

  21. J.Jones: No I haven’t updated the estimate, though it would be possible to do so now using 2011 Census data and the latest social security data. The probability is that the shortfall has gone down because public spending has been slowed down or reduced. The Barnett squeeze, which reduces Wales’ relative share of public spending as the total grows, goes into reverse if public spending shrinks. I guess the gap is still there but smaller than it was and perhaps only 1-2 per of the total budget.

    Personally I would not fuss about a small gap, which is contestable if you make different assumptions about need – and the English needs formula have changed too since 2009. A more solid case for reform rests on removing the Barnett squeeze. If Wales gets roughly what it would get as an English region there is no reason for a squeeze when public spending starts to grow again. Wales should get the same percentage increase in spending as England. To me that is more important than the £300 million, which is now increasingly a dated estimate. Hope that’s clear.

  22. well this is quite an interesting discussion with lots of people hot under the collar!

    I did enjoy Rhobat Bryn Jones’ comment about the UKIP yen for “a simpler time when England was the Home Counties and it reigned supreme”.

    I’m wondering what will happen to those millions of “Brits” (for want of a better word) who live in France and Spain without 1. paying taxes 2. learning the language WHEN the “UK” (for want of a better word) decides to listen to the UKIP and the silent majority in the Tory party and leave the EU. If ever there was a group of welfare tourists it is these “Brits” who use the infrastructure including healthcare without paying taxes and expect the locals to learn THEIR language! I mean immigrants to the UK actually work and contribute to public services as well as reducing the dependency ratio.

    The UK’s wealth was built on the empire and that is the reason why many people speak English and want to emigrate to the UK. The UK’s recent growth is based on attracting oligarchs with tax-breaks and what continentals call social dumping: you attract well qualified continentals to do the jobs that UK people won’t do on zero contracts which would make a continental CONSERVATIVE baulk!

  23. Yes thanks for that update Gerry. I seemed to remember you saying sometime back that austerity would narrow the underprovision. It would be a good time in 2015 to recalculate Barnett..or Barnett next generation.

  24. Readers should read the Centre for Entrepreneurs report published this week. The highlights:

    – migrant entrepreneurs are behind one in seven UK companies
    – migrants are twice as entrepreneurial as the British-born working age population
    – they are on average younger than British entrepreneurs
    – Irish, Indian, German, American and Chinese are the top performing nationalities

    UKIP’s advance and its antipathy towards migrants could present an opportunity for Wales to cast itself as a nation and a corner of Britain which welcomes and encourages migrant entrepreneurs.

  25. Yes IBJ. Some time ago the employment observatory in Wales did a study which showed that the majority of business start ups in Wales were by people from outside the area. In that case they took a wider perspective, not just migrants from outside the UK but all migrants to Wales including people from England.

    What migrants have in common is that they are risk takers and bring a new outlook/culture to Wales.

    The rise of UKIP in England is an uneducated response by primarily the older generation and those who left school at 16. The rise of UKIP in Wales is different. Immigration from outside the UK is low, we benefit from the EU but there is a feeling amongst a large minority that the four main parties in Wales have railroaded us towards ever more devolution leading towards (it is perceived) independence. UKIP is the only party that has publicly refused to endorse devolution of income tax raising powers and they will reap the benefit of that in the Assembly elections. Their stance, and the support that it gets fron Tory voters, hasn’t gone un-noticed by that party and so we can expect them to start to sound a lot more devosceptic soon. At the moment the Conservatives find it convenient to attack the Labour record on the NHS and Education in Wales but everyone is aware that there will be a left of centre government in Wales for all eternity (Labour/Plaid) and therefore abolition of the Assembly will continue to be supported by a large (possibly growing) minority.

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