Tonight, the ‘cross-party’ Better Together referendum campaign will have their London launch. At an event in the heart of Westminster the begging bowl will go round, and a rallying call to protect the union will go up. But who will be missing? Their heart might be set on a very different referendum, but emails seen by Coffee House show that Ukip are being officially excluded from campaigning to preserve the United Kingdom in 2014. Correspondence between the Better Together campaign and Ukip Scotland reveals that, despite protestations from the latter, the ‘board of directors’ at Better Together are only officially interested in working with the ‘Scottish Labour Party, Scottish Liberal Democrat Party and the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party.’
It’s not the first time that Ukip have been excluded from such an alliance. Back in 2011 Ukip were met with, at best, a quizzical eyebrow in liberal circles. At worst you could ruin a progressive dinner party just by dropping the Nigel ‘F bomb’. A decision by the ‘Yes to Fairer Votes’ in the AV referendum campaign to exclude Ukip from their rainbow coalition of yellow, greens and reds went largely unreported. Ukip took it on the chin and supported the change to the Alternative Vote system for electing our MPs regardless. The less said about the rest of the spectacularly incompetent campaign the better, but the final results were not pretty. Yes2AV, as they became known, allowed themselves to be painted as wishy-washy metropolitan liberal elites, happy to waste vast sums of money on a small issue that mattered little to anyone, anywhere. Ukip would have been able to balance that accusation out, yet minds had already been made up.
Fast forward two years, about 15 percentage points in the latest polls, and Ukip are impossible to ignore. Some are clearly still trying though. No one can really deny that the Better Together campaign – the official referendum group fighting for the United Kingdom – is heavily dominated by Scottish Labour, and Ukip sources point to this as the main sticking point. For obvious reasons, David Cameron has thus far kept a pretty low profile north of the border, and the political rehabilitation of Alistair Darling, who is spearheading the campaign, is gathering pace. While Scottish Labour figures may be the public face of Better Together, and key players in the organisation have strong connections to the party, much of the money – and many of the footsoldiers – will be coming from the Tories and the Liberals. Begging bowls are being passed around London and recruitment drives are in full swing. The more the merrier, seems to be the official logic, except when it comes to Ukip.
A source from Better Together says ‘support from individuals is one thing, but the aim of the game is to make it majority non-party campaign.’ A nice goal, but one that seems somewhat idealistic given the low levels of public interest in the matter and the might of the SNP machine, backed by executive power. ‘The only way we can knock on all the doors is to get all these normal people who clearly support us to do stuff.’ Again a nice idea, yet one that did not work for the equally lofty Yes2AV. Campaigners for the union may well feel vindicated by Nigel Farage’s less-than-successful visit to Edinburgh last month, but if they really do want all hands on deck, it does seem extraordinary to reject explicit overtures for support. And it does give new irony to the campaign group’s name.