Political Cleavage

Political Cleavage

With the glut of EU-related stories proliferating in recent weeks it seems Scotland and the UK’s place in that collective is again taking centre stage.  At Westminster the PM has not been able to get away from the pall cast over his leadership by the issue due to relentless backbench harping, with Miliband and the opposition also being forced to follow suit and outline a revised, more Eurosceptic position, out of political expediency, assuaging the electorate south of the border.

The English local elections, from which the lead story was unsurprisingly the rise of Ukip from the political refuse heap, and the ensuing Queen’s Speech with its right-wing rhetoric courtesy of HM Government, catapulted the matter into the day-to-day business of politics.

The EU, and the Tories’ diminishing appetite for it, has perhaps more than any other issue the potential to reaffirm the clear boundary lines between the public conscience in Scotland and the rest of the UK.

Shambolic and comical Ukip leader Nigel Farage got a fair taste of that on his visit to Edinburgh last week, on what was ostensibly a by-election campaign launch, though the constituency of Aberdeen Donside lies over 100 miles further up the road.  Whether the behaviour of a few of those who disrupted his press call, held in a pub, went beyond what can be distinguished as acceptable, misses the wider point – the lasting impression created not only in Scotland but right across the UK media, was that something very different is going on between the two nations north and south of the border.

The right-wing press were frothing at the mouth in the ensuing days – a bit surprising given Ukip’s well-documented history of prejudice, sexism, and xenophobia.

It was a visit which polarised opinion sharply.  For as much right-wing vitriol and scorn poured on these ‘jocks’, as at least one Ukip-per described protestors, credit was also given by commentators on the left who lauded the tenacity of activists not willing to have their political bellies tickled by Mr Farage’s veneer of respectability.  A reaction which has gone amiss in England recently.

The press continued over the following weekend to wax lyrical about the sheer alacrity of those willing to scupper Ukip’s photo-op, and what repercussions this might have for the independence debate come the days preceding the 2014 referendum, a number alluding that this was the ‘ugly face’ of Scottish nationalism.  We can only assume that if this is their level of knowledge on the Scottish political landscape today, then they haven’t been paying attention.

Make no mistake, this will certainly have a bearing on the referendum debate, not in terms of electoral impact for Ukip, I suspect, but in the flagging up of a vast cleavage between the political culture of Westminster and Holyrood.  

This comes as no surprise to Scots, accustomed as we are to having a Government in Edinburgh willing to make decisions based on the needs and wants of the Scottish electorate, and not a UK-wide audience.  But Ukip may be the jesters who have managed at last to notify the entire UK electorate of this fact.

If English voters mistake the anti-Ukip demo for anti-English sentiment, then they are woefully wrong, as any forward-thinking Scots voter will tell you.  It may well be the case, however, judging from some of the prejudiced and ill-informed reactions of some commentators, that this view could percolate further.

One thing that will spell disaster for the No campaign in the run up to September 2014 will be a pouring out of anti-Scottish views from south of the border.  Nobody likes getting either insulted or taken for fools, and many of the undecideds amongst voters in Scotland will find themselves politically outraged should an ‘anti-jock’ wave be let loose.

David Cameron, watching the Edinburgh Ukip debacle, must have had his head in his hands.  

He has his party in open rebellion on the question of Europe and the UK’s place in it, so he hauls them, via the occasion of the Queen’s Speech, further to the right to cater for this and Ukip’s English electoral rise.

Mr Farage, only a few short months ago regarded as a political buffoon, as he proved himself to be on his Edinburgh jaunt, awakens Scottish and English voters alike to the chasm that has opened between them.

Mr Cameron can do no right.

But this lies at the heart of everything backers of Scottish independence have known long since.

Prior to our devolved Parliament becoming a reality, the clamour of voices railing against a succession of Conservative governments in the 80s and early 90s governing a Scotland which had not voted for them grew almost daily. The social and economic impact of UK Government policies which did not meet the needs of distinct Scottish requirements resonate to this day. 

The success of the Scottish Parliament in opening up the democratic process to the people of Scotland has hurtled the debate forward at a rate which savvy unionists feared and warned against, and far-sighted supporters of independence knew it would.

That a referendum on independence comes now is unsurprising to any who know and understand the accessibility of the ‘people’s Parliament’ at the foot of the Canongate, compared to the remoteness of Westminster in Scottish voters’ minds.

The political agitation that Thatcher’s successive Tory Governments spawned is now seeing a rebirth with a UK administration which must meet the needs of its electorate, but with the vastly different social and political ethos between Scotland and England, has been left panting.

Europe, and the death of the political right in Scotland, can now clearly be seen as issues that differentiate Scottish and English public opinion, and can only do so further as time progresses.  As yet there has been be no electoral outpouring of scorn from these shores towards our neighbours on the continent, despite economic maladies which have affected us all.

The UK and its constituent parts have a long and complicated history.  It would be refreshing if a UK Government were to acknowledge that our future relationship be that of a partnership of equals and not in this suspended state of grievance, counter-grievance, amid plainly different political outlooks.

It is becoming more and more likely, however, that the voters of Scotland will deliver that very message to their door next autumn.