One UKIP MEP does not a victory make
Okay, so David Coburn, main candidate in Scotland of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) has been elected as a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for Scotland, replacing the Lib-Dems only Scottish MEP, George Lyon. But before we start panicking, let us get things into perspective.
For a start, UKIP’s win was on a knife edge. Overall they gained only 3% of the total Scottish vote. As Scottish National Party (SNP) First Minister Alex Salmond has stated, they have actually come fourth in Scotland, with only around a third of the vote they have in Scotland.
The SNP were the real winners. While they failed to gain a third MEP, the SNP was considerably up. The SNP won 386,193 votes on the night – almost 29% – with Labour coming second, on 346,377 votes (25.9%). In third place was the Conservatives, with 230,569 votes (17.2%), followed by UKIP on 139,687 (10.4%).
The election of a UKIP MEP in Scotland, therefore is down to several factors. First of all there is the traditionally low voter turnout in European elections. In the European elections 33.5% of the Scottish electorate voted. That truly is pitiful, but consider that it is up on the mere 28% who voted in 2009. It could of course be argued that had more people voted, the UKIP vote may have increased, but given the above trends on how Scotland voted, I sincerely doubt that.
The failure of the Liberal-Democrat Party in Scotland (and across the UK) is definitely a factor. Not only have they lost their only MEP in Scotland, they are not even in fifth place. That prize went to the Scottish Green Party, who had a remarkable election in which they gained 107,805 votes (8%), while the Liberal Democrats ended up in SIXTH place, with a total of 95,076 votes (7%). This utter collapse of the Lib-Dem vote in Scotland really must be something for their Scottish leader Willie Rennie, and national leader Nick Clegg, to be worried about. Willie Rennie has said that they are paying the price for being in a coalition government with the Conservative Party. And that is true. Given how unpopular the Conservative Party and the government are in Scotland, if you lay down with dogs, then you should not be surprised when you wake up with fleas. There does therefore appear to have been a protest vote, either for UKIP or other parties, which has caused the destruction of the Scottish Liberal-Democrats. If anything however, we can all take heart from this increase in the vote for the Scottish Green Party, whose enviromentally-friendly politics are beginning to strike a chord with Scots voters. Compare that to UKIP who are officially climate change deniers.
Euroscepticism is of course a huge factor in this. Too many people in Scotland, and across the UK, are either disinterested in European politics, misinformed, have been deliberately disinformed, or are just plain paranoid. The media must take some responsibility for this. For years bullshit stories have been poured out about the European Union being this huge, bureaucratic monster, full of unelected ministers, imposing ridiculous laws upon us and intent on trampling on our sovereignty. Yet strangely enough, despite claims from the media (and some dispicable politicians) there never were any daft European laws about perfectly straight cucumbers and bananas, and the rules on foods which did exist – and derived from old laws from member states – were all scrapped in 2008. Nor did the EU ever try to force the UK to accept universal metric measurements. In fact, despite the case going all the way to the High Court, the fact is that the UK AGREED to do this in 1972, and Brussels was merely trying to get us to live up to our obligations. And for all you right-wing Eurosceptics out there, notice that Britain agreed to that under a Conservative government.
Yet Euroscepticism continues. I had to walk away from an idiot in a pub recently who was claiming that UKIP would protect the Scottish fishing industry by scrapping laws (more which don’t exist) and protecting our waters. Certainly, the Common Fisheries Policy, just like the Common Agricultural Policy, needs reforming. The goal of UKIP however is to pull out of the EU completely. What happens then when Scottish fishing boats are not able to fish European waters, such as the Bay of Biscay? The fishing industry, which is a huge employer in Scotland, relies heavily upon European agreement to fish these waters and to withdraw from the EU would be economic disaster for that industry, and for Scotland as a whole.
Then come the stories of people being convicted in the UK having their convictions quashed by the European Court of Human Rights. In fact, this very rarely happens. It is far more common for those found guilty of an offence having their sentences overturned or reduced by the High Court of Justiciary in Scotland, or the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. Using the same logic, would UKIP and their supporters then scrap those bodies? Far less publicised are the successes of the European Court of Human Rights, such as that of retired and disabled Scots ballerina, Elaine McDonald, who had her night time care removed by Kensington and Chelsea Council. She took them and the UK Government to the European Court of Human Rights, who on 9 May decided the UK government was guilty and ordered to pay €1,000 (£813) in compensation for breaches of article 8 of the European convention of human rights, which guarantees respect for family and private life. She was also awarded €9,500 for expenses and legal costs. You’ll notice you didn’t see that story splashed across the headlines of the gutter press – or UKIP mentioning it.
The European Court of Human Rights was founded from the European Convention on Human Rights, which has a constitution upholding the rights of every EU citizen. These include the rights to life, to freedom of speech, freedom of religion, respect for private life, employment rights (including minimum wage) and so many other things. The constitution is well worth a read as it upholds the human rights of each and every one of us. Yet in one of their election leaflets UKIP stated “We can tell the European Court of Human Rights where to go.” This no doubt strikes a chord with those who are misinformed and see the court as some sort of namby-pamby, leftie organisation. Which is interesting when one considers that the European Convention on Human Rights was founded by that well-known radical socialist bleeding heart, ermm, Sir Winston Churchill – undoubtably the most successful and effective (and most right wing) Conservative Prime Minister of all time.
Many others think that the EU has no benefit to them in Scotland. Of course it doesn’t. Unless you count the reopening of closed railway lines, such as Stirling-Alloa and Bathgate-Airdrie, largely funded by the EU social fund, just as they have funded a great number of reopened and even new stations (Musselburgh is a prime example of the latter). Or for that matter the £13.3 million project which will support 3,500-4,000 additional vocational training places providing quality training for the young unemployed in the Lowlands and Uplands. These are just a few of the great many benefits we derive from the European Social Fund, which Westminster failed to fund and which we would be hard pressed to fund ourselves without EU input.
Without a doubt a rise in the right is a factor. I am by know means burying my head in the sand over this and neither should anyone else. I have often heard the claim that Scotland is not a racist country – and that is utter bullshit. We have our share of pig-ignorant, knuckle-dragging bigots – just the same as many other countries. And that is an important point. One of the more disturbing facts of the European Elections was the rise of the extreme right across the EU. Like all the parties in all the other countries, UKIP feed upon the uneducated fears and bigotry of people. UKIP tell people that the UK is being flooded by immigrants from the EU taking all our jobs (then elsewhere they say that eastern Europeans by taking cheap jobs are driving down wages – interesting), and there are people uninformed enough to buy that crap. Likewise UKIP and their supporters make no disctinction between bona fide immigrants, illegal immigrants and asylum seekers (the latter of whom are fleeing regimes most cannot begin to imagine) and would have you believe that all of them are taking all our jobs AND claiming thousands in benefits, while all the time ignoring the facts that the present government has made it extremely hard to enter the UK, and has slashed benefits not only for immigrants and asylum seekers but for ALL claimants.
But this is why I am not overtly worried about UKIP. Scratch the surface of most Eurosceptics and you will find a racist at heart. They really are a one trick pony party, whose whole raison detre is the same tired old tub-thumping jingoism of an insular Britain (by which UKIP mean England), wrapping themselves in the union flag, hauling up the drawbridge, cutting ourselves off from Europe and the world and somehow imagining we can be wholly self-sufficient in that manner. In a world which is becoming increasingly smaller, where globalisation is rampant and where all nations rely on trade with others, that is a recipe for economic and social suicide.
Really, UKIP, parties like them, and their supporters are stuck in a past which really never existed. Coming across like those who have watched too many episodes of Dad’s Army, at the first mention of anything remotely European, they behave like Corporal Jones in one of ‘headless chicken mode’ moments – “The Europeans are coming! Don’t panic! Don’t panic!” And their rhetoric belies this type of hysterical xenophobia. When David Coburn arrived at the Edinburgh count, he referred to Alex Salmond as “the Robert Mugabe of Scottish politics” and this self-declared ‘proud Scot’ – whose address was declared as being in Kensington, London – said his party would “stand up to Salmond and his nasty little dictatorship”. Hmm. When was the last time a dictatorship was not just elected by the majority but then re-elected, in a landslide victory in a democratic election, four years later? Coburn also pledged to put UKIP MSPs in the Scottish Parliament, which only leaves one wondering if he has actually read his own party’s manifesto, which pledges to scrap devolution?
Cut through all the thuggish, boot-boy hyperbole and posturing and David Coburn and UKIP are all wind and noise. The election of this one member to the European Parliament is meaningless. His voice in Brussels and Strasbourg will be as effective as that as George Lyon of the Lib-Dems before him; in other words not at all.
As I said in a previous article however, neither should we become complacent. Should Scotland lose the independence referendum and UKIP enter a future coalition government with the Tories – or even form their own government, now not outwith the bounds of possibility, the repercussions for Scotland would be disatrous. Already cowtowing to the fascists of UKIP and others, Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has already pledged Scotland to an EU membership referendum, which going by past polls and the European Elections, the Eurosceptics could very well win. Therefore, Scotland staying within the Union, and under UKIP who have pledged to scrap devolution and reduce Scots representation could only mean the following for every man, woman and child in Scotland;
- No voice at Scottish devolved level.
- No effective voice in Westminster.
- No voice whatsoever in Europe.
These are the real dangers that we need to get across to the few who did indeed vote UKIP, and those who failed to get off their bums to vote at all, in the run-up to the Independence Referendum on 18 September. Some are saying that the UKIP vote was strongest in Edinburgh, East Fife and Aberdeen. If so, those are the areas Yes Scotland needs to concentrate upon, to get the message across about the possible nightmare scenario of Scotland under UKIP.
And we must do that calmly, without falling into the trap of pointing fingers and throwing insults, like UKIP and the other unionist parties do. We need to rely upon the facts of the benefits of EU membership and independence to fight the lies and misinformation peddled by Eurosceptics and Unionists. Because it is only with those positive facts we can destroy their negativity, and to quote Corporal Jones, “They don’t like it up ’em.”