UKIP leader Nigel Farage has predicted his party will win seats at Holyrood as it gears up for a fresh Scottish drive in the build-up to next year’s European elections.
According to recent polls, Ukip has displaced the Liberal Democrats as the third force in UK politics, and Mr Farage believes a breakthrough is now imminent north of the Border.
Ukip’s appeal is based on its core policy of withdrawing from the EU and it secured 13 MEPs in the 2009 European elections. But critics have branded it a “Little Englander” party, and it has failed to make any electoral headway in Scotland.
Mr Farage now insists the current debate surrounding both an independent Scotland’s place in the EU and Prime Minister David Cameron’s proposed Europe referendum gives Ukip a fresh opportunity.
“The SNP argument of Scottish independence trumps any argument about Europe and frankly, the Scots haven’t had a European debate because they are having their own argument about their relationship with the UK,” Mr Farage said in an interview with Holyrood magazine.
“That has meant in electoral terms up until now Scotland has been a graveyard for us, but that is all changing now, thanks to Mr Barroso.
“Yes, we would now expect to get Ukip MSPs and also as European representatives.”
European Commission president José Manuel Barroso has indicated that an independent Scotland would have to re-apply to join the European Union – which could mean adopting the troubled euro currency and the Schengen open borders policy, from which the UK is currently exempt.
Mr Farage said: “We have established as a party that we are not against devolved powers but discussing the relationship between Holyrood and Westminster is, frankly, irrelevant when half our law is made across the sea anyway.
“I admire [Alex] Salmond in many ways but my problem with him has always been this independence thing within the EU, which is rubbish.”
Mr Farage, who is against Scottish independence, went on to describe the SNP stance that an independent Scotland would continue in the EU as “a logical inconsistency”.
Meanwhile, he argued that Scotland was seen as “a soft touch” by other EU member states.
“People say that the Scots are all in favour of the EU as if it’s some proven truth but it’s rubbish,” he added.
Ukip is in the process of selecting Scottish candidates for next year’s European elections and the Holyrood elections in 2016 – although Scots may have voted for independence by then in next year’s referendum.
At the Scottish Parliamentary elections in 2011, Ukip’s policies included replacing MSPs with Scottish Westminster MPs, repealing climate change laws and halting proposed wind farm projects, and scrapping the smoking ban.
A SNP spokesman said a majority of Scots wants to remain in Europe and insisted Ukip “barely registers” in Scottish elections.
“We have heard this all before from Ukip and only today a poll showed that 61 per cent of people wants Scotland to be in the EU,” he added.
“While Ukip is dictating the terms of the European debate south of the Border – with the Tories threatening to isolate Scotland from the EU and the single market of half a billion people – Mr Farage and his colleagues have never moved beyond the far fringes of Scottish politics.”
The last European election in 2009 saw Ukip take second place UK-wide with its share of the vote. In Scotland, the party came in last behind the Tories, Lib Dems and Greens. The party also lost its deposit in every seat it contested in the 2011 Scottish Parliament election.