THE UK Independence Party will target up to a dozen safe Labour seats at Westminster as part of a “rust belt” general election strategy in working-class parts of Scotland that have lost heavy industry and seen major job losses.
The party’s Scottish MEP, David Coburn, told The Scotsman that Ukip will target the constituencies in the same way it canvassed voters in the Heywood and Middleton by-election last week, when it came within just 600 votes of winning what had been a Labour stronghold in Manchester.
Labour seats held by Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet ministers Margaret Curran and Jim Murphy in the Glasgow area, and Falkirk, which is represented by the disgraced MP Eric Joyce, formerly of the party, are on Ukip’s Scottish hit list for next May’s general election.
The MEP said another possible target was the constituency of Moray, which is held by the SNP’s Westminster leader, Angus Robertson, one of six Nationalist MPs.
However, Mr Coburn said Nigel Farage’s general election plan for Scotland would focus most on constituencies in the Labour heartlands, which he claimed the party had treated as “little Soviets” and run like “feudal lords” for decades.
Mr Coburn said: “We’re looking at the Scottish rust belt. Seats where there were serious industries that were allowed to run down, with no replacement. These are seats that Labour has treated like a feudal system. It’s the Central Belt of Scotland, where people have just been abandoned or given sops to keep them happy.”
He set out Ukip’s key targets in Scotland just days after the anti-European Union party won its first seat in the House of Commons, which saw former Conservative MP Douglas Carswell defeat his old party in the Clacton by-election.
Mr Coburn, whose party won 10 per cent of the vote when Ukip gained its first Scottish MEP in May’s European elections, has been touted as a possible candidate in 2015 to take on David Mundell – the only Conservative MP in Scotland.
However, the Ukip MEP said that he was likely to challenge Labour in a Central Belt seat and was considering standing in the former steel industry constituency of Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, which Tom Clarke holds for Labour with a majority of 20,714.
Arthur Misty Thackeray –Ukip’s chairman in Scotland – is expected to challenge shadow Scottish secretary Margaret Curran in Glasgow East next year, which will be one of Ukip’s key targets, alongside East Renfrewshire, held by shadow international development secretary Jim Murphy.
Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander warned at last month’s Labour Party conference in Manchester that Ukip represented a “clear and present danger” to Labour and could eat into its support in Scotland in the way the SNP already had.
Yesterday Mr Coburn claimed that the surge in Ukip support that saw the party triumph in Clacton and win 39 per cent of the vote in Heywood and Middleton would now “roll into Scotland”, and posed a major threat to some Labour big-hitters in the Central Belt.
The MEP, who spent the bulk of last week campaigning for Ukip in Manchester, said another senior Labour figure on the hit list was Glasgow South West MP Ian Davidson, chairman of Westminster’s Scottish affairs select committee.
Mr Coburn said Labour-minded voters were just as discontented in Falkirk – where Mr Joyce was forced to resign from the party after being convicted of alcohol-fuelled violence in a House of Commons bar – as those who had backed Ukip in Heywood and Middleton.
The Ukip politician went on to accuse Labour of taking voters for granted.
He said: “We’re looking at places not looked after by Labour, where Labour politicians see themselves as feudal lords. Places where Labour calls the tune with a wee Labour mafia in little Soviets and where seats are handed from father to son.
“The support we saw in that sort of Labour stronghold in Manchester will roll into Scotland. People in Falkirk are just the same as in Manchester.
“I’ve been asked to stand in quite a few seats and I’m considering this. My mother was from Coatbridge and the area has not been treated as well as it could be.”
Mr Coburn said Ukip was also targeting areas such as Aberdeen North and Aberdeen South, two of the 41 Scottish constituencies held by Labour.
However, Labour MP Katy Clark, who represents North Ayrshire and Arran, claimed Mr Farage’s party was “too right- wing” for Scotland and that people would “turn their backs on Ukip”, which has backed an increase in immigration controls, alongside its Eurosceptic stance.
She said: “Ukip is arriving on a very crowded political scene in Scotland and its politics don’t have a place in Scotland in my opinion. The more people find out about Ukip, the more they will turn their backs on it, with its anti-worker message. It’s just too right-wing for Scotland.”
However, Ms Clark warned the Labour leadership that it had to change direction to win back support in the wake of the party’s performances in Heywood and Middleton, when its majority was cut by more than 5,000.
She said: “It’s absolutely clear that Labour has not moved far enough from the love affair with money of the Blair era.
“Labour has to have a clearer message and real policies that make a difference to working-class people and are more ambitious on the minimum wage, jobs and council housing.”
John Park, assistant general secretary of the Community union, which represents steelworkers, claimed that Ukip was attempting to con working-class voters. Mr Park – a former Labour MSP – said Ukip represented the wealthy.
He said: “Ukip is about eroding workplace rights, some of which have come from Europe, like the right to paid holidays and limits of working time.
“Ukip is against all these things. Ukip is not for working people. It’s a party that’s to the right of the Tories.”
He added: “A vote for Ukip is a vote for less secure employment and less holidays. Ukip is trying to con working-class people and is on the side of the rich.”
SNP Treasury spokesman Stewart Hosie said: “The reaction to the referendum in Scotland is a huge thumbs-down for the Westminster establishment parties. However, in Scotland the reactionary politics of Ukip are a major turn-off.
“People are seeing the Westminster elections as an opportunity to hold Labour and Tory feet to the fire on the commitments they have made to Scotland.
“That is why the SNP are moving forward so dramatically both in terms of membership and of support.”