The results of this month’s English local elections were a shock to many and a surprise to even more. Normally barely registering on political seismographs, the discussion usually revolves around how many seats the party of UK government lost vs how many the main opposition gained. Pundits poke around the entrails, trying to divine what the relative shift means for the next UK general election. Actual issues like good vs bad councils with good or bad policies never even raise a comment.
This year was different because, 14 years after Scotland voted for a 4-party political system, England caught up. Sweeping up a quarter of the votes cast to tally a respectable 147 councillors (from 8) UKIP came of age and put some seriously feral cats among other parties/ policy pigeons, especially the Lib-Dems.
Labour, while making progress and chalking up some serious victories based on diligent local work in taking Nottingham- and Derby-shire, made disappointing progress for a 9-point poll lead. The Tories have been a-flutter with the renewed Euroskepticsm that they contract on a regular basis. But the Lib-Dems, losing most ground and all control are behaving a bit like the Poles in August 1939 just before receiving the world’s first visitation of the Blitzkrieg.
Now, gentle reader, before you put quill to parchment to accuse me of equating UKIP with NSDAP or Nigel with Adolf, allow me to explain why they are a similar force to be reckoned with and, demonstrating a mass backing of ordinary people as they do, why English parties ignore them at their peril—as they have done to date. Note that I omit Scottish parties and we shall return to examine why.
UKIP’s rise in England should come as no surprise. It has less to do with xenophobia and more with the progress of major parties towards what they regard as self-serving enlightenment. Just as no party is against motherhood or apple pie, so none that hope for national success allow policies that offend; all seek to be for education for all and human rights and compassionate welfare and universal health care and emancipation and inclusion and all other such laudable buzz words as have entered the language.
As a result of being ‘for’ everything, the average politician restricts criticism to his/her opponent or whoever backs their opponent’s party. Anyone who doesn’t risks a media roasting—Norman Tebbit is still being quoted as saying ‘on yer bike’ when what he actually said was his dad got on his bike and looked for work when he found none in the vicinity. Being interviewed, the typical politician answers any question but the one asked, takes no blame and does a passing impression of an eel caught by hand. Those of the old school still left (Prescott, Lawson et al) are out to pasture and regarded as dinosaurs.
But this left a serious vacuum at the heart of a society that sees soap operas as reflecting real life; arguments flare up; punches are thrown; vendettas fester. Nobody in the many bars of Westminster (ex-Army majors whose rent-a-quote career has ended excepted) talks or acts like they do in the Queen Vic or the Rovers. Enter bloke-ish Nigel Farage, fag in one hand and pint of bitter in the other, looking exactly like the local car dealer making his way in the world that you would pass the time with amiably setting the world to rights down the Stoat & Ferret.
The man’s a natural. Every self-made local builder or insurance broker or anyone else staying late at work putting together VAT returns for the insatiable gub’mint takes to his easy manner and forthright answers. Asked on the Andrew Marr Show if he was going to stand for Westminster, he actually answered the question and left Jeremy Vine stumbling to follow up. For the teens more moderate equivalent of the sixties’ Alf Garnet, he speaks with an authenticity that chimes with widespread frustration at endless H&S rules, political correctness, smug bureaucrats and Johnny Foreigner’s boundless cheek at telling John Bull what shape his bananas must be then coming here to have his op on the NHS.
So, this UKIP phenomenon is no flash-in-the-pan. Unlike the BNP or NF, their dislike of foreigners is measured and so English in its reasonableness and so appeals to the more admirable good nature of the average bloke. In fact, the arguments they deploy down the Stoat & Ferret are not so different from what has inspired Scots to move as far as they have towards disconnecting from an adjacent stronger neighbour whose power they see as overweening and whose sympathy for our culture and priorities misplaced or absent.
Which is one reason that UKIP does appallingly in Scotland—we already have our literate and passionate party of protest: it’s called the SNP. And, were UKIP to drop its rather futile insistence on Scotland staying part of the UK, the two parties could benefit much from co-operation, even as their respective philosophies sit badly with one another. For the second reason UKIP does appallingly in Scotland is that the overwhelming majority of Scots actually like foreigners: they add colour and bring gumption—the only people who threatened to invade Scotland in the last millennium were the English.
So UKIP xenophobia and Scottish xenophilia could actually work in harmony. While UKIP obliterates large chunks of the ephemeral Lib-Dems and pushes Tory schizophrenia into overdrive, the Scots can calmly assert both their independence and their strong interest in remaining part of the largest economic union on the planet. Along with Eire, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and other like-minded influential small members they can steer the EU away from this Brussels/Euro fixation that means ever-tighter union and towards what has been its economic glory: an affluent 300+ million trading bloc that can play ball with the US, China, the BRICs or any other economic development we may meet.
Rather than the last four years of economic stagnation, what is wrong with this scenario:
- 2014—Scotland votes to become a normal country. It negotiates to keep EU membership and £ sterling
- 2015—Cameron delivers a referendum on EU membership which is lost. The subsequent UK general election gives another hung parliament as 50 Labour MPs are lost with Scotland’s departure
- 2016—Scotland takes its seat at the UN between Saudi Arabia and Senegal, joins NATO, EU, OPEC, the Nordic Union, adopts £80 bn of UK debt, contracts with England for certain services (embassies, DVLA, MCA, etc), agrees to a five-year run-down of Trident at Faslane and comes to an agreement with the Bank of England as regards permissible fiscal policy. EU abandons Euro for all members; Greece and Cyprus leave the Eurozone.
- 2017—after two years of protracted negotiation with an ill-tempered UKIP snapping at its heels, the UK withdraws from the EU. England see sense, cancels any Trident replacement and begins to shut down Trident operations at Faslane. Scotland’s tidal and wave renewables investments begin to contribute to the 5GW of existing wind capacity. Cross-North-Sea interconnectors agreed with Norway and Holland
- 2018—with oil above $120 a barrel and debt being paid down faster in Scotland than England, £ sterling rises in value above € (which continues to falter with the PIGS) and $ (which is burdened by over $15 trillion in US government debt now Obama is gone). This causes England’s already bad balance of payments deficit to worsen as exports suffer and more is imported. Scots oil, energy food & drink & tourism grow. The Black Watch (formerly 3Scots RRS) deployed, along with Finns and Canadians, in UN peacekeeping force to rebuild Syria after seven years of civil war. Scots prove to be most popular because they wear skirts and interact with people, sharing their Irn Bru and playing football with the kids.
- 2019—China’s economy overtakes US; Brazil and India both overtake Germany. Strength of £ sterling and long-established Scottish trade connections with China & India combine to allow England to make major investments in consumer businesses: M&S, Next, Sainsbury & Stobard in the lead. While rediscovering overseas markets, English europhobia leaves Scotland as the sterling zone foothold in Europe (and vice-versa) trade improves, with Scandinavia leading and providing most of population surge past 5.5m. Edinburgh & Glasgow both experience boom like 1990s Dublin.
- 2020—Scottish trade with England and Northern Europe doubled in ten years; inherited national debt brought down to £60 bn. Renewable energy technology overtakes whisky as export earner. England has only just stopped borrowing and debt has begun to decline from £1 trillion, thanks to resurging economy on Asia/BRIC trade and £10bn saving on defence from axing Trident.
- 2021—Scotland takes over the Presidency of the EU for the first time and convenes a World Trade summit on the back of its international success to lay the foundations of Universal Free Trade; only North Korea and Zimbabwe decline. Faslane becomes a conventional Scottish Defence Force naval base. Edinburgh comes in second as most desirable city to live in the world, losing out to Prague only because of higher property prices. Nigel Farage, deputy PM of England, is voted Scotland’s Man of the Year.