Brian Wilson: Scots’ misplaced moral superiority

THE PR system is unlikely to give Ukip any Scots seats, but that doesn’t mean we reject all their views, writes Brian Wilson

Scots may vote differently from our southern neighbours, but we share many attitudes. Picture: Getty Images
Scots may vote differently from our southern neighbours, but we share many attitudes. Picture: Getty Images

The European elections have, I fear, been reduced to four-yearly freak shows at which whatever party of protest happens to be on a roll performs ridiculously well, only to disappear without trace at the following general election.

If there is to be renegotiation in the terms of EU membership, I suggest one of the conditions should be that we are allowed to run elections as we choose, rather than be dragooned into the proportional representation system, which has deprived voting for MEPs of credibility and meaning.

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At one time, they represented well-defined areas and included identifiable politicians with something to say, not least in Scotland. That was destroyed by the introduction of PR, which lumped us all into one Scotland-wide constituency, nominally represented by half a dozen MEPs whom nobody hears of from one European election to the next. It is a farce.

The main champions of PR were the Liberal Democrats. But those who live by the sword also die by it and, as other parties of protest have emerged, the biggest losers have been the Lib Dems, who are now back on the fringe where they started, in spite or because of PR, which has created the ideal platform for otherwise unelectable chancers.

On the basis of the local election results, it can be anticipated that Ukip will flourish when the English declarations are made tomorrow, thanks to the wonders of PR. It can then be predicted with equal assurance that they will not win a single seat at a general election, by which time a few dozen of them will be living off the fatted calves of Strasbourg.

In the meantime, a great deal will be made of this as proof positive that the politics of Scotland and England are chasms apart. The great campaign to “keep Ukip out of Scotland” will have prevailed, so that must prove how different we are politically, socially, culturally and all the rest of it . Except that it doesn’t. By far the most interesting Scottish poll to emerge from the past week was conducted for Dundee University and asked questions about attitudes as well as voting intentions. Three of Ukip’s main policy platforms were put to more than 1,000 Scottish voters and, lo and behold, all three of them received comfortable majority support.

“Most Scots”, to adopt an overworked phrase, want to curb immigration, cut overseas aid and crack down on benefits claimants. How can this be so if only a single-digit percentage vote for Ukip? Well, the fairly obvious answer is that people don’t have to vote for Ukip in order to have more than a sneaking sympathy for the views it represents. If Ukip performs poorly here, it is not because nobody agrees with its policies but because its market is already catered for.

So who do they vote for? Well, mainly the Tories and SNP but also to a lesser extent for Labour and the Lib Dems.

In short, nobody who clings to left-liberal positions, irrespective of party, should feel very comfortable on this evidence.

All the self-congratulation about what an enlightened, welcoming, social-democratic people we are and aspire to be requires the heavy dose of salts that the Dundee poll has administered. Equally, the idea that all Scotia is champing at the bit to pay Nordic tax rates in order to maintain corresponding levels of social expenditure comes into the same category of fairy story.

The only people surprised by these findings reside within a bubble of self-delusion, constantly assuring each other how progressively enlightened and morally superior our little nation is, by comparison to the effete and reactionary south. Yet nearly seven out of ten of us want to curb immigration and to introduce workfare for the unemployed.

Not surprisingly, even within the seven out of ten, there is an appreciative audience for the “wha’s like us” narrative. Holding reactionary opinions while basking in the reassurance that we are a’ Jock Tamson’s bairns, unlike the Lord Snootys and racists down the road, is the comfort zone which Scottish Nationalism has become adept at exploiting.

At present, Holyrood does not have responsibility for immigration, overseas aid or welfare benefits. So supporting a party which espouses far more liberal positions than at present on these subjects carries no actual risk or cost. It does not interfere with the comfort zone because there is not the slightest chance of them doing anything about it. The bite-back would come if there ever was.

And that is why the “vote for independence to get a left-wing Scotland” mantra is such a snare and delusion. On the one hand, we would be creating a permanently more right-wing “what’s left of the United Kingdom”, which would have control (according to the highest hopes of the Nationalists themselves) of our main economic levers. Unless there were to be border controls, London would also determine Scotland’s immigration policy.

At the same time, we would have a separate Scottish state populated by people whose collective opinion on matters which are supposed to distinguish us from the rest of the United Kingdom are actually very much the same. And it would be that majority within Scotland, as in the rest of the UK, who would determine the parameters of tolerance within which government would be run. Rest assured, ye rich and powerful, that is no recipe for radicalism.

There was another poll in the past week which should not pass without protest. It purported to show that Scottish people living in Scotland would vote in favour of independence but that the balance is currently being tipped against it by English people living in Scotland. I do not believe that to be true, but what horrifies me is that the question should have been asked in that way.

How does that accord with the “civic nationalism” of which we hear so much? Step back and ask ourselves what a passing student of European history might think of asking how a country would vote if an identifiable ethnic group resident within it was excluded?

All Scottish voters are Scots for the purpose of this referendum no matter where they were born. Anyone who thinks differently and commissions opinion polls accordingly should be called on to explain why they are doing it, other than to lay the ground for future division and scapegoating. Better still, they should desist.