Analysis: Farage and Ukip throw a spanner in works

Nigel Farage savours a pint of beer, and Ukip's success, as he prepares to face the media in London yesterday. Picture: Getty
Nigel Farage savours a pint of beer, and Ukip's success, as he prepares to face the media in London yesterday. Picture: Getty
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It was meant to provide a launch pad for the official phase of the Yes campaign. Ukip would come first across the UK as a whole, but fail to secure any representation north of the Border.

There would be no clearer demonstration that Scotland’s values are a mile away from the xenophobic and eurosceptic views expressed by many a Ukip voter in England, and thus vividly demonstrate why Scotland should seek to govern itself.

Ukip did indeed come first across Britain as a whole. It also performed relatively poorly north of the Border – its 10 per cent share was much lower than anywhere else in Britain.

However, the SNP itself could do no more than retain the 29 per cent of the vote that it won at the last European elections in 2009, rather than make the advance the polls suggested they would. That disappointment ensured Ukip’s tally was sufficient to claim the last of Scotland’s six seats.

If the SNP’s share of the vote had been just a couple of percentage points higher, Mr Salmond would not have been forced to tear up his script.

Unfortunately for the First Minister, despite the fact that his party had urged voters to back the SNP as the best way of keeping Ukip out, it was the relative weakness of his party’s own performance that let Ukip claim its prize.

But beyond Ukip’s success there is also a wider reason why the Yes side have good reason to be concerned about the outcome of the referendum.

The result was an overwhelming victory for parties that back a No vote. Between them, the three main Westminster parties plus Ukip won 60 per cent of the vote. The two main Yes forces, the SNP and the Greens won just 37 per cent.

Voters will not simply have used the European election as a dry run for how they will vote in September – for a start, just one in three voted, maybe fewer than half as many as will in September.

But the outcome is certainly a reminder that the Yes side are likely to have to persuade many Labour voters to vote for independence if they are going to secure victory. Not that Scottish Labour itself can afford to be complacent about the outcome. The five-point increase in the party’s support was lower than anywhere else in Britain – and in out-polling the Conservatives by just one point Britain-wide, its performance elsewhere was hardly spectacular.

It failed to out-poll the SNP, even though the Nationalists have been in power for seven years and voters usually regard European elections as an opportunity to punish incumbent governments.

If Labour’s rather anaemic performance across Britain as a whole suggested a lack of enthusiasm for the prospect of a Labour government, its performance in Scotland certainly failed to signal that the party is on course for a return to power at Holyrood in 2016.

Still, in the end the big losers – like everywhere else in Britain – were the Liberal Democrats.

As widely anticipated, the party’s incumbent MEP, George Lyon, lost his seat, as did all but one of his party colleagues.

Voters have never warmed to the party’s pro-European stance and, against the backdrop of continuing deep domestic unpopularity, it proved toxic.

In contrast, Scottish Conservatives found themselves holding their own when their colleagues south of the Border were losing ground. This perhaps was not surprising – ever since the wipe-out of 1997 the Scottish party’s support has remained at or near 17 per cent irrespective of the fortunes of their English colleagues.

Not too much, then, for party leader Ruth Davidson to cheer about, either.

• John Curtice is professor of politics at Strathclyde University


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