Wednesday, 5 February 2014

The UKIP Effect

Last Friday saw the “Better Together” campaigners out in force in Paisley pushing their latest leaflet, which was disingenuous to say the least about Mark Carney’s speech.  Still, I did point out to them that I thought that it was Johann Lamont’s resignation statement, as it was headlined “Goodbye”.  Ah, the wee things…

Carney, the leafleting et all have happened with, for the first time during this campaign, growing momentum for the “Yes Scotland” camp.  As I said in my previous post, the much trumpeted White Paper has turned out to be not so much the game changer “Yes” needed, but more of a slow burn, hardly surprising given the size of the document.  However there are signs of a change of momentum. 

The sea change started at the start of December, IPSOS-Mori had “Yes” up 3% to 34% while You-Gov saw Yes up 1% to 33% (re-calculated to 39% with Don’t Knows removed).  That trend though has been confirmed in the past week.  ICM’s poll for the SOS saw polling for Yes up 5% to 37% since their last poll in September, while TNS-BMRB’s poll at the weekend has seen Yes climb up 2% to 29%. Maybe it is the White Paper effect.  However there is another factor at play here.  “Yes” Scotland have managed to put the focus back on to “Better Together” to provide answers… and they have so far failed.  Indeed, they appear to have pulled of the trick perpetuated daily and often by Newsnet Scotland of falling into self parody.

Imagine that it was revealed that the codeword for the Tories election campaign next year was Operation Dolescrounger… well the lack of self awareness or irony somehow does not come close to the deficit in those areas displayed by the Better Together staffer that came up with the codeword for their pro-Union campaign…  Project Fear.  Not only has that revelation given “Yes” supporters a handle with which to attack Better Together, but it seems as if Better Together have fallen into the trap of believing that Project Fear is the only way to win.

What has clearly sown the seeds of doubt within people’s heads that maybe we are not Better Together is the political climate at Westminster. With the outcome of the next Westminster Election looking likely to be on a knife edge, the apparent popularity of UKIP is a headache that the Tories (an average of 7 points behind Labour) can do without. 

Apparent?  Well, if you look through the hype of UKIP you will see that they seem to be the masters of garnering headlines & publicity, even if lately they have resembled the barking wing of the Tea Party.  They have come close to taking a Westminster seat in several by-elections, but have not taken a single seat.  The SDP, and latterly the Lib Dems won a string of by-elections by tapping into disaffection with the government and the opposition.  Yet UKIP just simply have not made the same impact.  Meanwhile up here their showing is pitiful to say the least. 

If we were to compare and contrast - in the last three Westminster by-elections, UKIP gathered 24.2% (South Shields), 27.8% (Eastleigh) and 5.7%, 11.8% & 8.4%(Croydon North, Middlesborough & Rotherham – all held on the same day in November 2012).  In sharp contrast, the last three Holyrood by-elections saw UKIP gather 3.04% (Cowdenbeath) 3.75% (Dunfermline) & 4.8% (Aberdeen Donside).

UKIP have not been successful in capturing a seat, either at Holyrood or Westminster.  Yet what they have been successful in doing is putting the frighteners on the Westminster political classes.  Since the Eastleigh by-Election last February, UKIP had been campaigning against economic migrants.  Not to be outdone on the controversial issue of British politics, the Conservatives have been actively looking to sound and look tougher on immigration.  This has prompted the Conservatives to act and sound tougher on other issues as well, Benefits chiefly – though the Conservatives need no prompting here.

Not even Cameron’s shredding of his “hug a husky” image is as shameless as Cameron’s promise to hold a referendum on the UK’s place in the EU, not this parliament mind but in 2017 if he is re-elected.  It was calculated to appeal to UKIP supporters, and in grand Cameron style has blown up in his face as Euro-sceptic Tory MP’s have lined up to promote a bill binding the Government whatever the victor to the referendum.  There have even been calls from those Tory Taliban for the referendum to be held this year.

Labour have not been immune from trying to UKIP-proof themselves.  The Shadow Work & Pension’s secretary Rachel Reeves announced that a future Labour government would scrap benefits for under 25’s, while Ed Balls has fully signed up to Gideon Osborne’s Scorched Earth policy.  Bearing in mind as well how long it took for Labour to announce that they were against the Bedroom Tax & that they would scrap it, there is a sense that Labour are just as worried about UKIP.  The sense is also there that the Westminster village en mass has taken a rightward turn, diverging sharply with conventional wisdom here in Scotland.

Nowhere has the change in political climate more obvious than in the utterances of “Scottish” Labour’s current leader Johann Lamont.  Her second speech to the Labour conference was the infamous “Something for nothing” speech which, lets be honest, would have played well to the Midland’s marginal’s and the other marginal seats Labour needs to win to win in 2015.  Here in Scotland, the perception is that the speech has fatally wounded her chances of unseating Salmond in 2016, at best. 

Her unwittingly diminished stature in Scottish politics has also seen her attack the constitutional debate as “wee things” – again quite probably conventional wisdom down south but bordering on blasphemous here in Scotland.  In the six days since Lamont uttered that phrase, “Wee things” has become a by-word for how out of touch “Scottish” Labour have become.

Westminster’s right turn has essentially opened up a front for “Yes Scotland” to exploit.  The Referendum could turn into a vote of confidence in the Westminster parties.  With uninspiring leadership at the helm of the three main Westminster parties, it looks as if a position of strength has been surrendered in the chase for votes in 2015.  Whether the disillusion with Westminster converts to a “Yes” vote remains to be seen.  It is clear however that thanks to a (maybe misplaced) fear of UKIP, Project Fear has been neutralised as a campaigning tool.

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