When David Cameron in 2006 described Ukip as a bunch of "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists" how the chattering classes laughed.
It's a safe bet they aren't laughing now. Ukip is on course to do well in the European elections and retain at least 60% of that support for next year's General Election, according to the British Election study.
This week, Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, drew parallels between the anti-Westminster rhetoric of Ukip and the SNP. She has a point. Both parties glibly ignore every progressive, life-enhancing measure put on to the statute books by parliamentarians in the Commons. Westminster is not the enemy of the people, whether you live in Scotland, England, Northern Ireland or Wales. Its critics undermine its validity at their peril. Cynicism doesn't recognise borders. What is said about Westminster today could be said of Holyrood tomorrow.
Labour leader Ed Miliband will do well, when back in Scotland this week, to remind voters that the last Labour government introduced the national minimum wage, delivered peace in Northern Ireland, devolution in Scotland and Wales, greatly increased spending for schools and hospitals and raised pensions and child benefits among other measures designed to improve quality of life.
Every party, as with the society they represent, will have a share of fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists and, from what we see and hear, Ukip has more than most but many of the people who will vote for its candidates in forthcoming polls fit none of these descriptions. Rather, they are worried, and feel insecure, left behind, ignored and frustrated. While most of us welcome and applaud progressive social change, some traditionalists see such advances as further erosion of a more imagined than real indigenous culture.
They use Ukip to protest and as a vehicle to register their concerns. In Scotland, voters have been able to vote SNP for years to show their disdain for the other parties. Their intentions were not to wreck the UK, one of the most successful social unions. Rather, like many Ukip supporters, they wanted to protest, to be heard, to have their views understood and not simply to be told what's best. Drive in and out of London or any other major city any day of the week and you pass queues of men (very few women) hanging around waiting for the chance of any work. Our near neighbour, whose wife is Dutch and daughter-in-law Polish, cites these queues as the reason he'll be voting Ukip in the European elections.
He is not anti-European or anti-immigrant but firmly believes that surplus labour drives down wages for the entire workforce, immigrant or not.
He wants controlled immigration, legally enforced wage levels, and a decent standard of living for everyone living in Britain. He is hoping that, if enough people vote for Ukip on May 22, the other parties will have something more relevant to say to him in time for next year's General Election. Our neighbour's views will resonate widely. Euroscepticism is growing throughout the UK.
Unfortunately, much of the debate about Europe is reduced almost to the pros and cons of an in-out referendum and the eccentricities of Nigel Farage, Ukip's self-appointed anti-establishment candidate.Little is said about the issues pertinent to most people. Whether an EU referendum is held in the UK depends very much on who wins the next General Election.
Ms Davidson wants to remain in the European Union, albeit reformed. Mr Cameron has promised an in-out referendum by 2017 if the Conservatives have a majority at Westminster. Mr Miliband is unlikely to call for a referendum unless the UK is asked to transfer more powers to Brussels.
If Scotland votes to break up the UK in September and does not qualify for automatic membership of the EU, as experts claim is likely, any talk of an EU referendum will be academic and any benefits accruing from EU membership will pass it by. The Eurosceptics in the Nationalist camp may be content to withdraw from the EU. Scotland would pay a high price. Going it alone may be admirable but it won't pay the bills.
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