NIGEL Farage proclaimed boldly that his United Kingdom Independence Party had overtaken the LibDems to become the third force in British politics after finishing runners-up in two north of England by-elections late last year.

The claim was surely premature. But the Ukip leader can say with some justification the pressure his party has placed on the Conservatives forced Prime Minister David Cameron into announcing an in-or-out referendum on Britain's EU membership in 2017.

It's fair to say Ukip – which wants Britain out of the EU – now carries more clout than even the perennially bullish Mr Farage could have dreamed of a few years ago.

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He has high hopes for the European elections next year, fought under a proportional system that gives smaller parties a better chance of returning MEPs, and believes it will be a "watershed" moment for Ukip in Scotland.

Up to now the party has singularly failed to make any headway north of the Border.

At the last Holyrood election in 2011, Mr Farage and co were little more than a colourful sideshow as Alex Salmond's SNP swept to victory. They campaigned on a platform of abolishing MSPs and filling the Scottish Parliament with job-sharing MPs. They promised to repeal the Human Rights Act, scrap the smoking ban, end subsidies for wind farms and send young offenders to "boot camps". None of the party's 29 candidates came close to winning a seat.

Might that be about to change? A poll last week provided some clues as to whether they might fare better in future elections.

It showed, depressingly, no doubt, for Mr Farage, that Scots are much more likely than voters down south to support EU membership. More encouragingly for him, however, it also revealed a majority of Scots want a referendum on the issue, something that would be denied under Mr Salmond's independence plans. A campaign straw to clutch at, perhaps.

Independence, of course, riles the Ukip leader almost as much as Europe, though his latest blunderbuss attack on the SNP added nothing to the mature and measured debate we need to have about the country's constitutional future.

For all his upbeat talk, Ukip still appears a long way from making a genuine breakthrough in Scotland.