Tom Peterkin: Ukip could upset the EU banana cart

Alex Salmond was out on the stump in windswept Portobello yesterday morning – a sure sign that an election is in the offing.

According to the polls the omens are good for the SNP in the EU elections. Picture: Getty
According to the polls the omens are good for the SNP in the EU elections. Picture: Getty

Almost the first thing he did was step inside a fruit and veg emporium called “Banana Republic”.

Banana Republic may well be an excellent name for a shop, but it was perhaps not the most judicious choice of destination for a man seeking to persuade voters of the economic benefits of independence.

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None of this appeared to concern Salmond, whose mood was breezier than the weather in the seaside resort.

The European elections may be regarded as something of a Cinderella political event in this momentous electoral year, but for the SNP it has the potential to be an important staging post on the road to the referendum.

Salmond acknowledged this in Portobello.

Although he paid lip service to the idea that voting for the SNP was about Europe recapturing the social agenda, promoting the living wage and policy reform, he acknowledged that “any elections are important and elections are particularly important in this referendum year”.

The 22 May European elections are a chance for the SNP to create a sense of momentum before the big one on 18 September.

According to the polls, the omens are good for the SNP in this regard.

A recent ICM poll suggested that the SNP is in line to increase its European representation from two MEPs to three – a result that would see Salmond’s party installed in half of Scotland’s six seats.

Such a result would be a fillip for the SNP and the independence cause. Should the SNP fail in its bid to capture a third seat, not much face will have been lost.

The rise of Nigel Farage’s Ukip in England, however, brings an intriguing dimension to this month’s poll in Scotland, which goes deeper than curiosity over what kind of reception he will get when he ventures north of the Border.

Party strategists on both sides of the independence debate are pondering the implications of Farage profiting from disenchanted Tory voters and the collapse of the Lib Dems to take a Scottish seat.

A strong Ukip showing, however unwelcome for all of the main parties, would provide a modest silver lining for those arguing for the Union.

If Ukip does well, the pro-Union parties will not lose any time in arguing that Farage’s success harms the SNP’s narrative that Scotland has developed a distinct centre left politics which has diverged from the more right-wing views held south of the Border.