ON SUCCESSIVE occasions over the past two years earnest commentators and pundits have scoffed at the idea of a “UK Independence Party breakthrough”, even more so that it could take votes from Labour in any significant quantities and that it would gain a foothold in Scotland.
Events have proved these predictions well wide of the mark. Ukip has secured its first MP, slashed a solid Labour majority in a Greater Manchester stronghold to just 600 votes and secured a Scottish seat in the European Parliament, having won 10 per cent of the vote across Scotland.
In the light of these results, caution should be applied in writing off Ukip prospects in Scotland in the general election next May. Nevertheless, it is highly unlikely to achieve the lofty ambitions set out by the party’s Scottish Euro MEP David Coburn. The party, in some respects the alter ego of the SNP for anti-elite “home rule” voters in England, is targeting up to a dozen safe Labour Westminster seats in Scotland as part of a “rust belt” strategy in working class areas hit by decades of industrial decline. Labour seats held by shadow cabinet ministers such as Margaret Curran and Jim Murphy in the Glasgow area, as well as Falkirk – represented by disgraced MP Eric Joyce – are on its hit list. Flushed with success in Clacton and after securing 39 per cent of the vote in Heywood and Middleton last week, Mr Coburn says the party will now “roll into Scotland” and pose a major threat to some of Labour’s big hitters.
However, there are several reasons why Ukip is unlikely to find the same resonance in Scotland as in the rest of the UK.
There is already a potent “anti-Westminster elite” party in Scotland in the form of the SNP. And judging by its post referendum surge in membership, it is likely to do remarkably well in the UK general election, possibly gaining more than 20 seats. It is more likely to be the SNP, focused on “more powers”, not Ukip, that will be a critical player should there be a hung parliament at Westminster next May.
Second, Ukip is widely perceived as a right of centre party while Scotland has long leant to the left. Popular grievance over the EU is not as prominent an issue here as in the rest of the UK, though social attitude surveys show a similar level of Euro-scepticism in Scotland as in the rest of the UK. Concern over levels of immigration is not as marked, with a broad recognition that Scotland’s economy needs more immigrants.
And the party has few candidates with a voter recognition factor or political experience.
For these reasons it is unlikely that Ukip will succeed in achieving an advance in Scotland as strong as that being predicted south of the Border. That said, it could still pull a higher percentage than Holyrood’s bien pensants had been complacently assuming a few months ago.
On one’s mettle to detect
GROANING at the thought of that big garden tidy-up before winter sets in? Then sally forth with dreams of riches. Amateur metal detectorist Derek McLennan struck lucky in Dumfries by finding a Viking silver arm-ring – then a treasure trove of more than 100 items including gold and silver jewellery, ingots and a unique enamelled cross.
It is one of the most significant Viking hoards ever discovered in Scotland. Subsequent exploration of the find on Church of Scotland land unearthed a silver cup containing more items wrapped in cloth. These included a golden bird pin, thought to be Anglo-Saxon, silver stamp-decorated bracelets from Ireland, some with runic inscriptions, and glass beads usually found in Scandinavia.
Church trustees have reached an agreement with Mr McLennan for an “equitable” sharing of the reward when the value is assessed. What a boost for the church, for Mr McLennan and many weekend detectorists, including ex-Rolling Stone Bill Wyman, who has designed his own range of metal detectors.
Thrilling finds like these will swell the ranks of metal sweepers inspired to scour the earth for buried treasures of antiquity. Who will not now head outside with the requisite equipment, shovels, camera and pen and paper to record their discoveries? We overlook the hours – years indeed – of searching before finding anything of remote significance.
For autumn gardeners, what a spring has now been put in their step. But how long will it be before the crop of battered coke cans, empty crisp packets and promising gold ingot turns out to be a rusty wheel nut? After an hour of fruitless digging, it’s not the disappointment that gets to them. It’s the hope they can’t stand.