Yesterday’s Survation poll reported that UKIP (22%) are, for the moment, just two points behind the Tories (24%) and therefore and given the margin of error in these things possibly tied or even ahead of the senior governing party. Blimey! It is understandable, therefore, that the idea we are on the brink of a Great Realignment in British (or rather English) politics is popular today. See Iain Martin’s Telegraph column for an excellent example of this. He says it feels as though the right has split irrevocably.
He may be right! British politics has been extraordinarily stable since the Labour party supplanted the Liberals. Nothing, really, has changed. At least, nothing of real importance and at least not in England. That can’t continue forever. So one day predictions of a Great Realignment will be vindicated by events. Perhaps this is that time though the odds, perhaps, are against it being so.
That’s something I consider in today’s Think Scotland column. But there’s another dimension to all this, acting as a reminder that politics is always subject to the laws of unintended consequences. And irony. Nigel Farage, you see, could be the man who ditches David Cameron and Alex Salmond. Here’s the argument:
But what of Scotland? Alex Salmond is Nigel Farage’s keenest admirer. Not because the First Minister likes Mr Farage’s politics (he does not) but because the better UKIP does in England the happier Scottish nationalists will be. UKIP is a largely English phenomenon. Though Scots are almost as eurosceptic as English voters the european issue is a lower-order priority north of the border. UKIP’s value, then, lies in illustrating the nationalist theme that Scotland and England have distinct political cultures.
And not just distinct cultures but cultures that are growing further and further apart. The SNP line – which is not wholly mistaken – is that Scotland and England are drifting apart anyway and, since this is the case, independence is merely the logical conclusion to this process of estrangement. A UKIP on the march in England but bereft of followers in Scotland is a useful way of illustrating this point.
There is something to this. But only something. Salmond and the SNP should be careful. If UKIP stick around they will complicate another SNP meme. For months now, the SNP and the wider Yes campaign have been arguing that only independence can save Scotland from the horrors of future Tory governments at Westminster. It’s independence or five more years of David Cameron. Given the relentlessness with which the nationalists have pursued this line, one has to conclude that they think it is effective.
But it only works if it looks as though the Tories might win the next Westminster election. If, on the other hand, Ed Miliband seems likely to prevail then the game changes and some Labour supporters contemplating voting for independence may drift back into the No camp. In other words, Salmond needs Cameron to remain viable even as he also hopes Nigel Farage can change English politics for good. Almost all of this, of course, is beyond the SNP’s control and a reminder that luck will play a larger role in the independence debate than is sometimes assumed.
Despite all this Scotland and England are more alike than they sometimes seem to be or than you would believe if you based your analysis only upon voting patterns. Still, the nationalists’ sweet spot is a small one: a strong Farage but not so strong that Cameron is weakened fatally.
Anyway, the whole thing is here.