Europe vote key part of Scottish plebiscite

Adam Ramsay examines the interconnections between next month’s EU election and Scotland’s referendum in September

In September, Scotland will vote on whether to become an independent country. The country is alive with conversation. Politics is interesting once more. And so whilst you might expect that debate to drown out the European election, it seems more likely that this will be the most anticipated European vote in the country, possibly ever.

Let’s start with some basic facts. Despite having around 5 million people, Scotland has only 6 MEPs – the same number as Malta, which is about a tenth of Scotland’s size, and fewer than half the number independent countries about Scotland’s size, like Denmark, get. The current holders of the seats are two Scottish National Party representatives, two Labour MEPs, one Liberal Democrat and one Conservative.

Wales in a world of referendums


Tomorrow: Gerry Hassan provides an account of the devolution contradictions of Scottish Labour.

Friday: Walter Humes asks whether Scots Tories can return from the margins of political life.

Saturday: David Torrance on the curious case of the SNP’s shift from ethnic to civic nationalism.

The Lib Dems are expected to do very badly in the election, and to lose their one seat – held by former Scottish minister George Lyon. Whilst one poll has put the second Labour member in play, it seems most likely that the five non-Lib Dem incumbents will all keep their seats. The question, then, is who will get the final one.

And this is where it gets interesting. The SNP are doing very well in the polls at the moment and hope to gain a third MEP – the controversial Tasmina Ahmed Sheikh. The Greens, also supporting a yes vote, are up in the polls too, and hope to pick up a seat for their co-leader Maggie Chapman. Finally, though UKIP have little support in Scotland, the UK media has an influence north of the border, and they’re hoping to ride in on a wave of bitterness.

And this is where the referendum and the European elections start to interrelate. It is widely expected that Nigel Farage’s far right party will do very well indeed in England, and perhaps Wales too. If they are kept out of Scotland, then many in the yes campaign feel that this will be an important moment. The country is more supportive of immigration and somewhat more pro-European than its southern neighbour, and in a referendum that is already really about the political growing apart of two countries, nothing could exemplify this more than a far-right British or, perhaps, English nationalist party storming ahead in England whilst getting nowhere in Scotland.

As one Scot put it to me “I think I’ll vote no, but when I look at UKIP, I think ‘is this the Britain they want me to vote for?’ ” If there is a UKIP surge in England, we can expect many more to be asking that question.

But of course, the European elections are about much more than UKIP, and there’s a few other interesting things worth noting here. So far, the referendum campaign has been characterised by fear-mongering from the no campaign, which culminated in Labour, Tories and Lib Dems lining up to promise they’d never let an independent Scotland share the pound. This seems to have backfired slightly in the referendum polls, but ask Scots how they intend to vote in the next election, and you see the real impact of a series of statements which have been seen as bullying. People might vote no out of fear, but that doesn’t mean the guy who shouted “boo!”.

The last poll showing European voting intention in Scotland had Labour below their 2009 result – which was one of the worst elections in the party’s history. If the poll is emulated in this election, and particularly if they lose their second seat (though that’s unlikely) it’ll be confirmation of a political earthquake in Scotland – that the Labour party, which so recently dominated Scotland, has entirely lost its grip on the country.

It’ll also be interesting to see who gains. On the one hand, the SNP third candidate is very much a part of their party establishment – backed by the leadership more than the activists. On the other, the Green candidate Maggie Chapman was the opening speaker at the Radical Independence Conference this year, and is a well kent figure across the Scottish radical left – an immigrant feminist from Zimbabwe known for emulating Latin American radicals by introducing participatory budgeting in the Leith area she represents on Edinburgh’s city council.

If it is one of these two who pick up the seat which will almost inevitably be vacated by the Liberal Democrat, then which of the two will tell us a lot about the relative support of these two wings of the pro-independence movement. And if it is a yes vote in September, the political signal that it will send to SNP negotiators about the kind of country they are trying to set up from day one could have a profound impact on the new state.

The European election is the last major political set piece event in the UK before Scotland votes on its constitutional future. How it plays out will be a key part of the story of the referendum.

Adam Ramsay is the Co-Editor of OurKingdom where this article first appeared and also works with Bright Green. Before, he was a full time campaigner with People & Planet.

5 thoughts on “Europe vote key part of Scottish plebiscite

  1. I think it gives UKIP too much credit to describe it as “far right”‘ which implies a coherent political position. They are a populist rag-bag clustering around the twin ideas of somehow restricting immigration further and leaving the EU. If they ever held office and had to produce a coherent consensus, disintegration would be rapid. They’ll have their sole effect via the changes they induce in the policies of other parties.

  2. There is a potential link not mentioned here – on the 22nd of May the nationalist parties throughout the EU are going to make significant gains. Whether it is enough to alter the radical international socialist dynamic working towards the EU super-state remains to be seen but if the balance of power in the EP moves to the nationalists then they are quite likely to make an independent Scotland’s entry to the EU even more difficult in order to protect the (unlikely!) new nation state from itself.

    After all, the nationalists across the EU intend to destroy the evil empire, not add to it…

  3. Mr Ramsay lacks understanding if he puts the appeal of UKIP down to ‘bitterness’ – a word that, incidentally, could more accurately be applied to many socialists and nationalists. Something bigger is at work, a widespread, and by no means unhealthy, suspicion of the whole notion of a ‘political class.’

    This was obvious in the public reaction to the Farage-Clegg debate. It was not that people agreed with Mr Farage or with what he was saying, but that they positively disliked the way Mr Clegg – the privileged, unprincipled poster boy for the political class – responded to Mr Farage raising concerns which are shared by many not with reasoned arguments but with personal attacks. Nothing could have summed up the arrogance of our present rulers better

    …or, rather, nothing until the Maria Miller affair, which was a timely reminder of how the whole political class got off very lightly after the Expenses Scandal.

    So how do those of us who believe in democracy demonstrate that it is incompatible with a closed political class? A strong vote for UKIP in the otherwise meaningless European elections might at least frighten the established parties into trying to reconnect with their bases.

    Mr Tredwyn is therefore right that it is a mistake to say UKIP is simply ‘right wing,’ whatever that might mean in the modern world. UKIP is rather, by default, the most convenient vehicle for democrats of all political persuasions to send a message to the ruling class.

  4. John R. Walker, there are non nationalist parties in Europe? Name them! There can’t be many.

    As for the Evils Empire, yes the UK is nearly finished.

  5. Gwyn

    I can name 2 nationalist parties which are not nationalist parties – the SNP and Plaid Cymru. Both claim to be nationalist but, in fact, have already sold their ‘nation’s’ soul to the evil empire and to the concept of ever closer union.

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