Ukip leader Nigel Farage has said he is planning for an early EU referendum in March and believes he can persuade Scots to support his campaign to leave Europe.
Farage believes the anti-EU campaign can emulate the energy of last year’s Yes campaign and thinks Scots will vote No to staying in Europe when they are exposed to the arguments for EU exit.
Ukip is also talking up the prospect of winning five Holyrood seats at next year’s Holyrood election.
But the extent of the challenge Farage faces will be laid out this week when a report from the think-tank British Future shows data suggesting Scots feel strongly that Ukip is a dangerous and divisive party which risks bringing prejudice into the debate.
Speaking to Scotland on Sunday, Farage said he thought the EU referendum would be “sooner than people think”. The Ukip leader said an early poll would suit David Cameron, because it would allow the Prime Minister to go for a speedy renegotiation and present it as a positive package before it unravels.
“The longer you go on with renegotiation that does not look like anything fundamental, the worse it looks for you,” Farage said. “So go quickly. You are a majority government, you have won a shock victory. You have got a certain honeymoon element with this.
“So he has nothing to gain by running this in 2017, in my view. The likelihood is that by 2017 the euro crisis will come back again and it is difficult to see how the migration crisis will get better very quickly.”
Farage said the campaign for a No vote against staying in Europe would borrow techniques used by Alex Salmond in last year’s Scottish independence referendum.
“What Salmond did was to engender a sense of energy and get people voting who otherwise would not have. I believe that’s what we can do,” he said.
Revealing that Ukip would hold an event in Scotland in February, he also took issue with those who claimed that Scottish views on immigration were far more liberal than those south of the border.
“I accept there is a difference between Scotland and England [in terms of attitude towards immigration], but I don’t accept that there is a gulf. Towns in Scotland have not suffered like Wisbech or Boston and the places in eastern England which have been fundamentally changed since 2004. Yet despite that, Scottish people polled about their concerns about open borders and immigration are not actually very far behind England in saying here’s an issue that needs to be controlled.”
Farage said there were large numbers of undecided Scottish voters who could be persuaded to back Britain leaving the EU once they were exposed to the arguments.
“Let’s not forget that apart from Ukip, which is relatively small in Scotland, people in Scotland haven’t heard an EU argument for 40 years… Presumably, what a referendum does is it allows both sides of an argument to get exposure with the public.”
On next year’s Scottish elections, Scotland’s Ukip MEP David Coburn predicted that Scots who traditionally supported Labour were up for grabs now that Jeremy Corbyn was in charge.
“Ten per cent gets you five seats. We can do a lot of damage with five seats,” said Coburn. “A lot of people will leave the Labour Party in Scotland and a lot of them will be happy to give us their support.
“They’re not going to be happy with a Labour Party that seems to have lost complete control. Those people who leave the Labour Party are not going to vote for the Tories. They will, however, vote for us.”
The task ahead of Ukip in Scotland will be outlined by the British Future report, which will draw on a Survation poll conducted on 1,056 respondents from Scotland.
The poll found that 63 per cent of Scots saw Farage’s party as “dangerous and divisive” while 68 per cent said Ukip risked bringing prejudice into debates on immigration.
An SNP spokesman said: “Ukip are an irrelevance that have been rejected by the people of Scotland at the ballot box time and time again. As Nigel Farage knows all too well, the only way for his party to get attention is to trade in intolerance and insults.”