POLITICIANS are very fond of their metaphors when it comes to campaigning. The party workers are “the troops”, the “air war” is fought on television and the national media, and the “ground war” involves volunteers banging on doors. Safe seats are “strongholds” where opponents try to “dig in” while the sudden rise of a party is “an insurgency”.
What we are seeing now are several insurgencies, with two in particular threatening to change the UK for ever. Ukip is holding fast on an astonishing 15 per cent while the SNP looks set to win more than 40 seats in Scotland, and both are dominating the air war in the broadcast studios. But the difference between success and failure actually boils down to the so-called ground war, and this is why the SNP is in a far stronger position than Ukip.
One thing the referendum showed is that you cannot guarantee victory by bombarding voters with messages and ideas but not have the one-to-one contact of volunteers and campaigners at the doorstep.
The surge in the SNP’s membership since the referendum has provided it with a massive army of volunteers to fight this election. Somehow, too – at least so far – the Nationalists have managed to maintain the iron, centralised discipline which has defined the party since Alex Salmond’s return as leader in 2006.
Contrast this with Ukip, which appears to be poised to grab lots of seats in the south of England, but behind Mr Farage’s beaming face is a series of catastrophic meltdowns in target constituencies. While Portsmouth may seem a long way from Scotland, events there will have repercussions for the whole of the UK. The Ukip leadership deselected its candidate for the top target seat of Portsmouth South which in turn led to its constituency chairman resigning along with various councillors.
To make matters worse, Mr Farage apparently imposed a man called Paul Lovegrove, who has served a prison sentence for actual bodily harm, to run the constituency. The move has been met with fury and seen leading figures in Ukip resigning all over Hampshire – it has left the party organisation in tatters.
Similar tales have emerged elsewhere for Ukip, not least in another target seat, South Basildon and East Thurrock, where Ukip has gone through at least four candidates due to internal party bickering and leaks.
These sorts of stories were true of the SNP in its dark days before John Swinney professionalised the party. But now they are a distant memory.
The contrast may prove decisive in whether it is Ms Sturgeon or Mr Farage who is the guest of honour in Downing Street’s rose garden in May.