SOUTH of the Border at least, Ukip has enjoyed remarkable electoral success, coming first in last May’s European elections and winning two parliamentary by-elections a few months later. However, winning a proportional representation contest about which few people care, or a by-election in which the local MP is the standard bearer, is one thing. Doing well in a general election fought under first past the post and when who governs Britain is at stake is quite another.
Despite being the most popular party on immigration, Ukip will have a full-time job on its hands to avoid its vote being squeezed.
There are few votes in Scotland for it [Ukip] to lose.
There are already signs this is happening. Ukip is now averaging 11 per cent in the UK-wide polls, five points down on the position at the height of its popularity last autumn.
Nigel Farage’s party has not been at less than 10 per cent throughout the last two years. It will now be crucial for it to avoid slipping below that level.
Even if it does avoid that fate, it is unlikely to pick up many seats. Its hopes rest heavily on constituencies along the east coast of England, most notably Douglas Carswell in Clacton and Nigel Farage in Thanet South.
But recent polls in three other east coast seats suggest that in each case the party is still behind.
The party does not have very good prospects north of the Border, where it has persistently proven to be much weaker. Its current Scottish poll average is just 3 per cent. That helps explain why Ukip has, uniquely, felt able to call for the abolition of the Barnett Formula that determines how much money the Scottish Government can spend – and which it believes is too generous. There are few votes in Scotland for it to lose.
In contrast, many of its supporters south of the Border regard themselves as “English” rather than “British” and would welcome such a move. And keeping them on board is Mr Farage’s immediate priority at the moment.
• John Curtice is Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University
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