Are the SNP the Scottish UKIP?
A crowd of activists pointing out that the UKIP leader is a bawbag does not a national sentiment make.
In fact, with the good folks at Hope not Hate refocussing their ire from the scattered BNP onto its besuited twin, I imagine that Nige is soon going to have to contend with more crowds expressing strong feelings about the presence in their towns of this travelling salesman for the politics of divide and rule.
History may well remember the incident at the Cannon’s Gait not so much as an instructive moment in the movement for Scottish independence, but more as the time when Britain’s activist left started to more actively confront UKIP. That’s certainly what my English, no voting friends who were on that particular protest will be hoping.
But if the moment at the Cannon’s Gait casts little light on a difference between Scotland and England, that’s because it’s a difference which was already crystal clear.
UKIP is not an English only phenomenon. They have an MEP from Wales, and a member of the Northern Irish Assembly (though, admittedly one who defected from the UUP). It’s more accurate to say that they are specifically a not-Scottish phenomenon. And so it’s interesting to ask why.
And if we’re going to do that, then we might as well start with the obvious answer, and work backwards. You can’t move in punditry over the last few days for people commenting that the SNP are the Scottish equivalent – both want independence from something, so they *must* be the same. On the one hand, this is a level of political analysis about as moronic as thinking you’ll solve the economic crisis by sawing your own foot off.
The SNP is an explicitly centre left and liberal party. Their minister with responsibility for immigration – Humza Yusaf – went on telly yesterday to call for more immigration. They are pro-EU and against privatisation.
Their MEPs sit in the same group in the European Parliament as the Greens, and their MPs have basically the same voting record as the most rebellious socialists in the Labour party. They are, of course, still filthy capitalists, and there are many good reasons I’m not a member. But they aren’t anything like as absurdly right wing as New Labour, never mind the Tories. A comparison with UKIP is a joke.
But, on the other hand, I think there is a very different truth to the analogy. The traditional left analysis of far right parties is that they attract the support of the working class when the working class doesn’t have an organised left alternative. And what we seem to have seen across the UK in recent years is this analysis playing out before us.
There is a widespread anger at a generation of failed politicians. In Scotland, the SNP have been successful in expressing that anger – with the credibility which comes from the position of someone outside the Westminster cesspit. They do so from a clear left of centre perspective.
In England, no one on the left has managed to step into that gap. And so UKIP, the angriest party with regular access to the telly, manages to take its place. When the SNP take that anger, they channel it into an identity forged around welcoming people, internationalism and a belief in public services and community. UKIP take the anger, and channel it into a sewer of hatred.
But what this tells those of us who live in England is something important. We desperately need a party of the left, which is far enough from the establishment to be righteously indignant with it, but big enough to be heard: a party which can attempt to mimic the success of the SNP in Scotland.
And what I think this tells us more generally is important too. The basic argument – that the best way to resist the rise of a hard right is not by pandering to it, but with an organised left – seems to hold true.