A question, although only those of you in the UK should bother trying to answer. Those of you dipping into this ’ere blog who live abroad are certainly entitled to try, but once you know the question, you might well be baffled as to who I’m talking about. So here’s the question: what do the SNP’s Alex Salmond and UKIP’s Nigel Farage have in common? Well, at first blush not a lot, but in an odd sort of way they do.
Let me start on what I perceive as their plus points. In my view both are capable men, politically astute and, crucially, they stand head and shoulders among their party peers. I might well be wrong, of course, but without Salmond the SNP would – and will be – half the force it is now and, similarly, without Farage, the UKIP would – and will be – the same. A few years ago, Salmond stood down as party president and more or less retired and the SNP ground to a rather embarrassing halt. The SNP might well deny that’s what happened, but that’s what it looked like from where I sat at the time. Whatever the truth of the matter, the call went out to Salmond, and the great man returned to salvage his party and, as we now know, lead it into government for the first time in its history.
Something similar happened to UKIP: Farage stood down, the party began increasingly making a fool of itself, Farage was implored to return and now it is riding high(ish) in the polls. For me that matter is pretty clear: without either man the party each leads would wither and die and become nothing more than a footnote in history.
What they also have in common – and again I’m certain both parties would deny the claim – is that they are essentially one-issue parties. In fact, ‘one-party pressure groups’ might be closer to the mark. For the SNP that issue is independence for Scotland. For UKIP its making sure Britain – or the UK or whatever the technical term is these days – leaves the EU. Both claim to be bona-fide political parties whose policies go far beyond the one which is the raison d’etre, but as the saying goes ‘tell that to the Marines’.
If the SNP achieved its goal and won independence for Scotland, it would be only a matter of time before the Scots Nats splintered into left and right-wing factions, which would largely mirror the current left-right split in Scotland of Labour v Lib Dems. (The Tories don’t have a look in up there, and even though the party has elected an out lesbian as its president, I believe that is mere coincidence and not a cynical ploy to try to persuade the electorate that it is now ‘modern’ and ‘good lord, we don’t even mind having a lesbian as our president’.) Once
That cannot, of course, be said about UKIP. David Cameron once described the party as ‘fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists’ and although I don’t accept that they are all like that, it must have been for many uncomfortably close to the mark. I’ve often thought that some of them would throw in their lot with the BNP if the BNP did not so obviously consist of – to use a popular phrase – plebs and oiks you wouldn’t ever want to see in your golf club. As it is, UKIP will have to do.
Were UKIP ever to achieve its aim and see Britain (or the UK – see above) leave the EU, it would, I think, be curtains for UKIP. Yes, they claim to have policies on education, health, the economy, the environment, the Teletubbies and fizzy lemonade, but as far as I’m concerned that is just PR bullshit for the masses, or at least for those of the masses who like to imagine UKIP really is a bons-fide political party and not just a one-issue pressure group in clean underwear and cricket club ties.
As it happens I am no great fan of the EU. I think that what started out as admirable idea has become thoroughly corrupt in far too many ways and, if it is not reformed, could well be the cause of a great deal of bloody conflict in Europe. And that would be ironic given the EU’s proud and all too incessant boast that it has ‘brought peace to Europe’. But unlike UKIP I think it would be outright folly to leave the EU. While Britain is in, it has a sporting chance of shaping and institution which has a great influence on its future. Once out, that influence has gone.
But back to Salmond and Farage: perhaps they should get together for a drink and compare notes. Oh, and both have can be rather funny. Not that it really matters.