DEMOCRACY in Britain is far from in good health, but if it ever really starts to erode, the threat will come from a kind of Rotary Club fascism. The danger will wear a blazer, not jack boots.

Rights won’t be taken away by force but with legislative amendments. If an illiberal government re-wrote equality laws this country could become a very different place for ethnic and sexual minorities, for women, for the gobby, the “unpatriotic”.

You don’t have to hunt far into your imagination to see that we could soon find ourselves with Nigel Farage reaching his hands toward the levers of power. It can happen here – so prepare for it.

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Events are coalescing. Farage’s Brexit Party will contest every seat at the next election. The party threatens both Tories and Labour – winning the biggest share of the vote in May’s European elections, gaining 29 MEPs, and polling over 30 per cent.

Farage is ramping up the Trump playbook, appearing in front of crowds of supporters to the sound of air raid sirens, leading boos against hate figures of the right like Diane Abbott. He talks of Labour MPs pursuing a “globalist agenda” – a term seen to have anti-semitic overtones, which Jewish groups previously criticised Farage for using when he appeared on an American far-right conspiracy theory talkshow. Farage spoke of “the New World Order” – another antisemitism trope – and plots to establish global government.

Despite the growing strength of the Brexit Party many see Farage as a joke who’ll never achieve power. How wrong they are. With his Leave campaign victory, Farage proved he can shift popular opinion.

He’s played political hokey-cokey for years – either trying and failing to become an MP, or stepping back by resigning as Ukip leader after the EU referendum. His behaviour doesn’t represent indecision, it represents a man biding his time. It would appear the time is now ripe.

Chaos is something Farage can work with, and Brexit, an issue of his making, could be the vehicle to take him toward power. Whoever becomes leader of the Tory party won’t be able to deliver Brexit. The Commons won’t let No Deal pass. Europe won’t shift. Theresa May’s deal was the best ever going on the table.

Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt will find themselves in the same position as their predecessor – defeated by parliamentary arithmetic. They’ll have to call a general election sooner rather than later, probably this autumn. Farage will then start to eat the Tories alive. Polling shows members care more about Brexit than the future of their party or the union. They’ll desert the Tories in droves for the Brexit Party if we’ve not left Europe by Halloween.

Labour should make hay in these circumstances, but it’s currently a student debating society taken over by the Socialist Workers Party rather than a government-in-waiting. The Lib Dems remain toxic from bolstering austerity. The left and Remain votes will fracture.

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In these circumstances, Farage won’t win the general election, for sure – we’re not that far gone, yet – but his party could find itself propping up a crippled Conservative administration in coalition. Deputy Prime Minister Farage anyone?

A constitutional crisis could happen even before the next Tory-picked PM sets foot inside Number 10 Downing Street. Johnson could easily be kept from power. His legitimacy would be challenged if just a few Tory MPs refused to support his administration, according to professors Robert Hazell and Meg Russell of University College London’s Constitution Unit.

Just three Conservative or DUP MPs have to withhold support for the new PM to fail to form a government. Dominic Grieve and Ken Clarke won’t support any government which would leave the EU with no deal, as Johnson says he’ll do. Former leadership contender Rory Stewart said he’d bring Johnson down if he tried to prorogue parliament.

If Johnson couldn’t make it into Number 10, we’d inevitably find ourselves in an election – with Farage waiting in the wings. Don’t be distracted by his party’s back-turning stunt at the European Parliament, that’s just an unpleasant act of attention-grabbing, nothing more. There’s a darker side.

A friend who attended the same private school claimed Farage liked that his initials matched those of the neo-nazi National Front. He said Farage sang a song with the lyrics “gas ‘em all” about Jews. The friend recalled a teenage Farage supporting fascist Oswald Mosley and said that if a Muslim pupil behaved like Farage they’d be referred to a mentoring programme.

A letter from a former teacher claimed Farage “publicly professed racist and fascist views” and marched through a village singing Hitler Youth songs. Farage insists the accusations are untrue.

Farage admires Vladimir Putin as an “operator”. Putin speaks of western liberalism being obsolete. The European Parliament’s Guy Verhofstadt branded Farage a “cheerleader of Putin”. Bracketing Farage with Marine Le Pen, he called them a “fifth column”, saying “they take Kremlin intelligence”.

Verhofstadt spoke of people like Arron Banks, who’s funded Farage, and said that together with political figures like Matteo Salvini in Italy and Viktor Orban in Hungary “these people have only one goal and that is to … kill our liberal democracy”. Farage, who calls such attacks lies, is close to Steve Bannon, the man behind Breitbart, who masterminded Trump’s campaign, and is a global figure of the far right.

It’s hard not to see Farage as a threat to liberal democracy. In his shadow trails the figure of the authoritarian, populist strongman, the demagogue and a real chance at power now beckons.

What does this all mean for Scotland? The ascendancy of Farage would, of course, trigger a tidal wave of support for Scottish independence. But it’s hard to stop a shiver running down your spine at the thought of a Scottish government pitted against an increasingly populist hard right Westminster administration, of which Farage was a part. The chances of a referendum being granted would be slim to non-existent, the atmosphere ugly, the rhetoric violent and divisive, and the response to a Yes vote extreme. Hopes of amicable separation would be low.

Britain is currently drifting in a phoney summer of relative calm. Soon though, decisions will have to be taken – chief among those is how we deal with the threat that men like Nigel Farage pose.

Neil Mackay is Scottish Columnist of the Year