Tuesday, 29 April 2014

SNP and UKIP - how similar?

Surely the United Kingdom Independence Party and the Scottish National Party have nothing in common? UKIP fervently defends the United Kingdom; the SNP wants to destroy it. UKIP wants to get out of Europe; the SNP begs to stay in. UKIP is against gay marriage; the SNP has legislated in favour. The SNP leans to the left, UKIP to the right. And so on and so on. Policy wonks from Lerwick to Land's End can point out the many other differences that exist between the two parties, so why do I think that the SNP and UKIP have much more in common than either party would admit?

Smiles and Steel

Alex Farage and Nigel Salmond
Start at the top. The two parties are led by men who combine a public persona of affability with ruthless ambition. Nigel Farage and Alex Salmond both come across as relaxed, cheerful and friendly, the kind of man with whom we would happily down a dram or a pint at the local pub. There would be laughter and good conversation and all would seem right with the world.

For both men, their bonhomie is a rare and important political asset that engenders sympathy for their cause. Peel away the masks, however, and it is clear that both men have a determined and single-minded drive to overcome all obstacles and bypass all individuals in their way.

Most politicians combine empathy with ego - it's what attracts them to politics in the first place - but few have these qualities to same extent as Farage and Salmond. Even fewer have consummate political skill, in particular, the ability to create a clear message which appeals to a wide public irrespective of its basic flaws. In comparison, Cameron, Miliband and Clegg fall short on all three counts - empathy, ego and political skill - which partly explains their failure to counter the rise of the SNP/UKIP duopoly. One cannot imagine Dave, Ed or Nick repeating Alex's and Nigel's trick of leading their party, giving way to others when tactics demanded it, and returning to the top when those who replaced them proved less able

Of course there are differences between the two. Farage is prone to irritation while the SNP leader never seems to lose his cool. The Englishman is also unusual in that he often gives direct answers to questions, although his statistics cannot always be relied on; Salmond, like most politicians, is a dab hand at ignoring inconvenient questions and offering platitudes instead of hard facts. And Farage it seems, prefers local pubs while the Dear Leader lounges in luxury hotels.

One Party, One Policy

SNP / UKIP policy
Personalities aside, what links the parties is their common policy – Get Us Out!! It doesn't matter whether the target is the UK or the EU; the basic message is the same - Our Nation Is Weakened By The Union. If Brussels / London did not hamper us, we could be free, we could fulfil our potential and paradise would come.

Get Us Out!! is a powerful, appealing message. It reduces a complex situation to a simple answer. It suggests that the Gordian knot can be cut and all will be well. Get Us Out!! takes people's frustrations and unhappiness and allows them to place the blame for their problems on someone else. There's nothing wrong with (Scotland/the UK - fill in the blank); it's the all fault of those people (over the border/across the Channel - fill in the blank); as soon as we break the shackles we will prosper.


The single issue of Get Us Out!! is not enough to win over an electorate. Which leads us to the third similarity between UKIP and the SNP: populism - responding not to principle, but to the people's whims. The goal of the party is to leave the (British/European - fill in the blank) Union; the means to achieve that goal is populism. And so policies are adopted or abandoned only if they will win votes to reach the Get Us Out!! goal. If middle England is against gay marriage, then so is UKIP. If middle Scotland wants to keep the pound, then the SNP will happily jettison its policy of the euro. If middle England doesn’t accept climate change, then neither will UKIP. If middle Scotland wants to stay in NATO, then the SNP will abandon its long-standing opposition. And so on. Whatever policy the electorate wants, SNP/UKIP will promote it as long as it gets them closer to Get Us Out!!

Come Together?

So there you have it – a strong, charismatic leader, Get Us Out!!  and populism. They may be poles apart on specific policies may differ, but the differences between UKIP and the SNP are more superficial than deep. Let’s hope the two don’t come together in an electoral pact, because if they do, we Scots and other Brits really will be in trouble....

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