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Ukip success in Scotland does not fit SNP script

The European elections altered the UK's political landscape.

Ukip are a force in the land and voters will support them, as they did the Liberal Democrats and the SNP, if they continue the trend of loosening their ties with the Labour and Conservative parties.

However, there is a need to put Ukip's success in perspective. They may fly the flag in Brussels, if they turn up, but they are not on the march in England's council chambers.

In the council elections, they won fewer seats than the beleaguered LibDems and, indeed, their vote fell from 22% to 17%. They did not gain control of any councils and will only be in positions of influence if they enter into a coalition.

Ukip are unpleasant and divisive, and elements are racist, but many of the people who voted for the party (and I suspect the great majority) are not ideological, right wing or left wing, and not racist. Rather, they are dissatisfied with the alternatives.

The anti-European rhetoric of Nigel Farage, Ukip's beer drinking charismatic leader, struck a chord, and the Ukip operation, though deeply flawed, was sufficiently populist to occupy the space vacated by the main parties.

In Scotland, there was a different story as the SNP leadership inexplicably cast the election as a choice between its party and Ukip for the sixth Scottish member of the European Parliament.

For some, it was a bleak but easy choice: vote SNP to send a hostile message to our nearest neighbours, or vote Ukip to fire a shot across the bows of EU bureaucrats and, at the same time, burst the Nationalist balloon.

The result proved that the Scots are marching in time to the rest of Europe, most of which sent a fairly trenchant message to Brussels.

Like many in England, they resile at the reach of the EU and, though they may not be acquainted fully with the details, they want it to change and to have less influence on their lives.

And until the political leadership in Britain begins seriously to make the case for the EU, anti-European sentiment will continue to grow. The result in Scotland changes the tenor of the Nationalist campaign in the run-up to the referendum. Ukip's success in Scotland does not fit the script.

No longer can it written off as an England-only problem, as if Scotland was safely secure on some political high ground, potentially a left-of-centre paradise if only it was left to flourish on its own.

And this begs the question: Is Scotland is so "different" from the rest of the UK, and in particular England? In fact, it may not be different at all.

It is worth pointing out that Manchester, Liverpool and Preston did not elect one Ukip councillor. In the north-east of England, in Newcastle, Sunderland and Gateshead, 219 seats were contested. Ukip did not win one.

In the Midlands, out of 224 council seats in Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton, Ukip won one seat and, out of 242 seats in Leeds, Sheffield and Hull, Ukip won only four seats, and three of them were in Sheffield.

The Ukip vote in London was a mere 7%. Try telling these millions of people living in England that they are more right-wing than Scots.

Since neither Scotland nor England is a homogenous bloc vote, it might be better if we stopped ever considering them as such. It is shameful to write off the aspirations and political hopes of millions of people in England to play to a Scottish gallery.

The SNP and the LibDems, once receptacles for the anti-politics vote, the protest vote, the anyone-but-the-others vote, have proved that they can become the parties of Government.

And if the ideological differences amongst the parties fail to become clear and fire the imaginations of the electorate, it is likely that the space for smaller parties, including Ukip, will continue to grow.

Ukip is well financed. Its MEPs have access to the airwaves and for the moment be the UK's social barometer on Europe. The electorate may be very happy with that. Nigel Farage tapped into a mood. Perhaps that's the secret of political success.

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

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