Almost one in five Scots will be more likely to vote Yes in September’s referendum if the UK Independence Party (Ukip) sweeps to a widely expected victory across the UK in this week’s European elections, new research has found.
However, Nigel Farage’s party is facing another election failure in Scotland, with an ICM poll for The Scotsman today indicating it will lose out to the SNP in the race for the final Scottish seat.
Ukip is poised for victory in this Thursday’s European election vote across the UK, despite further controversy at the weekend for the party leader as he was caught up in a race row.
And the impact of Ukip success south of the Border is likely to sway the way many Scots will vote in the referendum, according to the ICM poll.
Pollsters found 18 per cent of those surveyed would be more likely to vote Yes, compared with 8 per cent who said they would be more likely to vote No.
Today’s findings come after weekend polling indicated support for independence has slipped after rising momentum in the first months of this year.
First Minister Alex Salmond stepped up the offensive against Ukip yesterday, branding the party “backward-looking and the voice of Old England”.
Mr Salmond said: “One of the interesting tussles is whether the SNP will manage to get three out of the six Scottish seats and therefore deprive Ukip of anything at all in Scotland.
“Rather interestingly, our third candidate, the person who might get that seat, Tasmina Ahmed Sheikh, a young Scottish Asian businesswoman – born in London incidentally – is very much the face and the voice of the new Scotland, inspiring politics.”
Ukip contrasted with the “progressive” politics of the SNP, according to Mr Salmond.
The First Minister said: “Ukip’s politics are backward-looking. It’s the voice of Old England, it engenders uncertainty and fear in terms of the political debate – it has dragged Westminster on to some very unpleasant aspects of the agenda.”
The SNP had initially dismissed Ukip’s hopes in this Thursday’s Euro elections, but Mr Farage’s party has 9 per cent support among Scots, above the Liberal Democrats and Greens on 7 per cent.
This leaves Ukip short of the threshold required for a seat under the PR voting system, but if it gets up to 11 or 12 per cent, the party would come into the running.
The SNP tops the poll on 36 per cent, with Labour on 27 per cent, ahead of the Conservatives on 13 per cent. This would mean the SNP takes three seats – up one from 2009 – while Labour would remain on two and the Conservatives one. The Lib Dems look poised to lose their seat.
A weekend poll for Comres put Ukip on 35 per cent, ahead of Labour on 24 per cent, with the Tories on 20 per cent in the UK-wide vote.
Mr Farage was forced on to the defensive at the weekend after controversial remarks that he would be concerned if a group of Romanians were to move in next door to him.
During a bruising radio interview that was eventually interrupted by his spin doctor, the Ukip leader was repeatedly challenged over recent comments that he felt “uncomfortable” hearing so many foreign languages spoken on trains in London.
In a statement, the Ukip leader said: “Police figures are quite clear that there is a high level of criminality within the Romanian community in Britain. This is not to say for a moment that all or even most Romanian people living in the UK are criminals.
“But it is to say that any normal and fair-minded person would have a perfect right to be concerned if a group of Romanian people moved in next door.”
Labour leader Ed Miliband has said he did not believe Mr Farage is racist but described remarks he made as “deeply offensive”.
Mr Miliband said: “I think his remarks he made were deeply offensive … I think they were a racial slur but I don’t think of Nigel Farage as a racist himself.”
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said Mr Farage’s “beer-swilling bonhomie mask” is slipping to reveal an extremely nasty view of modern Britain.
Mr Clegg said: “I think anyone who singles out one community, one nationality, and says, ‘I don’t want to live next door to them’, I really think that’s the politics of division and I think it really should have no place in modern Britain.”
Other weekend polling indicated that the Yes campaign is losing ground after gaining momentum in the first few months of this year.
Only 34 per cent of people surveyed by ICM for Scotland on Sunday support independence, down five points since the last ICM poll in April. Support for the UK is up four points from last month to 46 per cent.
Better Together has also gained in a poll conducted by Panelbase, rising two points to 47 per cent from the last survey by the pollsters, which was conducted for Yes Scotland in April, while Yes held steady at 40 per cent.
John Curtice: Not quite time for cracking open the champagne yet
It LOOKS as though there could be some celebration at SNP headquarters when the European election ballot boxes are opened next Sunday night.
The party could be heading for its best Euro election performance yet, having enough votes to pick up an extra MEP, and thus half of Scotland’s six seats.
At the same time, while south of the Border Ukip is apparently involved in a tight race for first place, in Scotland Nigel Farage’s party could well go away empty-handed.
Such an outcome would add fuel to the SNP’s claims that Scots reject the illiberal views towards Europe and immigration that are widely held south of the Border and that is why they should claim the right to decide these issues for themselves.
At the same time, the party would doubtless argue that voters evidently trust the SNP’s claims when it comes to the vexed question of an independent Scotland’s membership of the European club.
However, such a result would also illustrate another crucial point – that it is much easier for the SNP to win an election than it is for the Yes side to deliver victory in September’s referendum. An election can often be won with much less than half the vote. A referendum can only be won by winning more than half the vote.
The 36 per cent for which the SNP is apparently heading in the Euro election is much the same as the 34 per cent inclined to vote Yes in the referendum.
Yet the former figure looks good, the latter bad.
At the same time, while Scots views are more favourable to Europe than the rest of the UK, their enthusiasm should not be exaggerated.
That 41 per cent thinks that Scotland has benefited from its EU membership and only 29 per cent that it has not simply puts the country in the middle of the league table of European Union countries’ views on whether membership has been a benefit.
Best perhaps to keep those SNP celebrations quite modest.
• John Curtice is professor of politics at Strathclyde University.