Nigel Farage’s Scottish hounding was an antidote to fawning media treatment

By Mike Small, Co-editor of the Bella Caledonia Website.

This article first appeared on the Guardian website.

Thursday’s confrontation between Nigel Farage and Scottish protesters has led people to question just why Ukip is so unpopular in Scotland. However, it is the wrong question to ask. Instead we should be asking just what has happened to English culture that a party with a loathsome agenda of homophobia, barely masked racism and a litany of other far-right notions has made such headway in the 21st century. One answer is the media’s obsessive treatment of personalities and not politics. The other is the extraordinary gulf that’s developing between Scotland and England about the twin referendum campaigns and the political cultures they reflect.

Farage told Good Morning Scotland’s David Miller on BBC Radio Scotland that Ukip had set its sights on Scottish success, but with this PR disaster it seems unlikely the party will improve on their 0.28% showing at the last election in Scotland. So why has such a party – that has no base at all in Scotland – been plastered all across our media for months? Partly this is the enduring Anglosphere – English culture and values writ large across the whole of Britain like a suffocating blanket – partly it is the depoliticised nature of contemporary media.

It’s striking how much of this whole situation has been hyped by media intrigue. “I agree with Nick” has been replaced with “I agree with Nigel”. This is from a media culture that is often unable to engage in political discussion of any depth and resorts repeatedly to individual portraits: Brown – surly, Kinnock – windbag, Nick – affable and so on. What’s been largely absent has been a real examination of Ukip’s policy platform or the actual consequences of withdrawal from the EU.

The outburst of venom unleashed by Ukip supporters after what was, after all, just a peaceful if vocal demonstration in a free society was telling. One prominent Ukip voice, Ron Northcott, the candidate for Plymouth appears to have tweeted: “Amazed that 50 Jocks could get out of bed that early. It’s not signing-on day, is it or is the chemist open?”

Visceral hatred like this is more and more commonplace but with such clear feelings it does kind of make the question why is Ukip so unpopular in Scotland? a little redundant.

Last night Ukip was met directly on the streets of Edinburgh by a well-organised group run by the Radical Independence Conference (RIC) – leaving the allegations being flung about by Farage on the Today programme that this was “fascist scum filled with total and utter hatred of the English” as little more than pitiful irony. The group’s slogan – “Another Scotland is possible” – reflects the movement’s roots in radical and left-green politics. They are as far away from being fascists as Farage is from being elected north of Gretna. They, like many, are interested in “independence without nationalism”.

But the episode certainly put paid to the lazy and stupid attempts by some to equate the Ukip phenomenon with Scottish nationalism, or even the anti-EU referendum with the Scottish independence one.

Nothing’s certain in either plebiscite and comparing them is futile and manipulative. The SNP won a landslide on a promise to hold a referendum. Ukip hasn’t a single MP. As Seamus Milne has it: “A good part of Ukip’s bubble is as much a xenophobic expression of powerlessness and falling living standards as it is of opposition to the EU, which is well down most voters’ priority lists.”

Are people really obsessed by the EU? I very much doubt it. This is not an agenda supported by anyone working in trade or business and the whole anti-EU culture is likely to drive a heap of sane and savvy businesspeople towards the Yes campaign.

This Westminster Euro-frenzy may split the Tories, but it’s also likely to make the schism between Scotland and England on international trade and immigration into a chasm.

In February, Ipsos Mori polling showed us that 53% of Scots would vote for the UK to remain part of the EU, with 34% opposed, while 61% think an independent Scotland should be an EU member. A 19% margin in favour of the EU in Scotland, and an 8% margin against in England is particularly important in terms of the UK government’s latest announcement.

Further data from Ipsos Mori gives strong evidence of a significant divergence of opinion between the two nations. In a similar poll in November, 50% of people in England said they would vote to leave the EU compared with 42% wanting to remain.

If Ukip hadn’t had such an easy time in the media, Farage might have not believed his own hype and made such a disastrous PR blunder. Last night’s protest is also a watershed for those Scottish unionist pundits – who try to cling to the idea that there is a uniform political culture north and south of the border. But media treatment remains an ongoing issue. As Scott Hames, editor of Unstated: Writers on Scottish Independence has pointed out, last night is already being reframed thus:

The political class last week: “Farage is a dangerous, odious berk. Legitimising Ukip’s rhetoric is deeply worrying. The new acceptability of such views evokes [insert sinister 1930s reference].”
Farage visits Scotland, and is hounded.
The political class: “Farage isn’t my cup of tea, but the man deserved a fair hearing. Intolerance of Ukip’s rhetoric is deeply worrying. The unacceptability of such views evokes [insert sinister 1930s reference].”

What happened on Thursday on the streets of Edinburgh was a refreshing antidote to the fawning media treatment of Farage. But what now remains disturbing is the media’s stubborn inability to see the Scottish independence movement having a jurisdiction beyond the SNP. That’s going to change now. Now it’s clearer than ever: another Scotland is possible.

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