UKIP is not their problem, it’s also ours

It’s easy to gloat when you’re the defeated 45% and electoral woes begin to beset the other side.  All that we were voting to escape from down South appears to be coming to pass.

The two by-election results on Thursday in England demonstrate that UKIP is definitely on the march, highlighting all that we said during the referendum campaign.  Electorally, we are now two distinct entities, goes the narrative, pulling in opposite directions.  They’re going rightward, we’re maintaining our leftward stance of decades.  We couldn’t be more different, remains the refrain.

Actually, we – as in the 45% – couldn’t be more wrong.  Because we need to start talking about what was really going on and being said on doorsteps in the referendum campaign. Having waited in vain for someone else to remove the rose-tinted glasses, it might as well be me.

I was shocked by the racism I encountered on doorsteps.  Not just occasionally but often.  Not just in some neighbourhoods but most neighbourhoods.  But it was most prevalent in the poorest and in the most working class. Areas that have in the past voted mainly Labour, but also SNP.

It might suit all the parties and most of the rest of us political activists vaguely/firmly of the left to pretend that Scotland is a nicer country, that is more welcoming, that is ONE.  Yet, it is a myth and a mirage.

Because people buy the Daily Mail. They watch the Channel 4 documentaries. They buy into the shite they are being fed about foreigners. Foreigners are here, everywhere, taking our jobs, keeping our young folk out of jobs in particular, taking our houses, filling our houses with more of their kind, living the life of riley on our benefits. And they don’t like them. They’d like less of them please.

Oh and don’t think this is about colour, it’s not. Foreigners are loathed, whatever their colour and their presence in communities has become legion, even when it’s patently not.

In the constituency I live in, of over 58,000 voters, there are less than 500 Polish people on the electoral roll.  There are even fewer Latvians and Lithuanians. There is a tiny smattering of people from Slovakia or the Czech Republic; there are more than there used to be from Spain (mostly young) but still tiny numbers. The ones we really need to be scared of, the Romanians and the Bulgarians? Negligible in number, a handful of families at most.

It’s the same with people of African and Asian nationality. Most of the Muslims I met on the doorsteps spoke with Scottish accents – born and bred here to first or second generation immigrant parents.

Yet, the fear, the racism, the otherness was everywhere. Blaming the foreigners has become the easy hit when life feels rubbish, as it all too frequently does for many right now. And essentially, it demonstrates that the establishment is winning. We might just have had confirmation of that with the referendum result, but that’s a large-scale manifestation of the much smaller-scale success of insidiously infiltrating an everyday mindset. The establishment, tiny in numbers but with the largest share of the pie, has everyone else scrapping over their share of the rest. Instead of fighting them for a bigger and fairer share of the pie, we – they – are now fighting each other for crumbs.

And it’s only when you spend time talking to folk outwith your own political bubble, that you realise it.

The question is what are we, as a nation, a country, ONE SCOTLAND don’t forget – going to do about it?

Well, if the two by-election results have failed to focus our complacent minds, perhaps we could recall that UKIP managed to win a European Parliament seat here in Scotland less than six months ago?

I don’t think I’ve ever been so angry at the behaviour of our two main political parties during and after that European election. By behaving as ferrets in a sack, they effectively let UKIP in.  As the results rolled in, activists on both sides – some of them even elected representatives who should know better – reported on social media gleefully when UKIP beat their sworn enemy.  Such was the narrow focus of partisan gaze that people who share much in common on the left of centre of Scottish politics celebrated when a party of the far right beat up their erstwhile opponents.  And few stopped to think what that said about them and the state of our political discourse.

Indeed, it did not appear to occur to anyone broadly on the left of Scottish politics that what might have been healthy and helpful was a united stance by those parties against UKIP.  There would have been very little electoral harm – for any of them – in the SNP, Labour, Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Greens issuing a joint statement deploring UKIP, all that it stands for and urging the people of Scotland to reject them. But they were all so focused on winning the battle de jour – as ever – to see the bigger picture.

Our mainstream parties seem to be harbouring a wrong-headed belief that UKIP didn’t and won’t take votes from them.  But look at where UKIP did take votes in that European election. It took between 11.7 and 13.6% of the vote in Shetland and Orkney (Liberal Democrat territory), in Highland (Liberal Democrat and SNP) and Moray (SNP). It took between 10.4 and 11.7% in South Ayrshire and Scottish Borders (Conservative), and in Falkirk and West Lothian (Labour/SNP). And it took between 8.8 and 10.4% in Aberdeenshire and Angus (SNP/Conservative), Western Isles and North Ayrshire (SNP/Labour), Argyll and Bute (Liberal Democrat/SNP) and in West Dunbartonshire, North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire and Midlothian (largely – still – Labour strongholds).

UKIP polled strongest in local authority areas right across the Yes/No divide and in areas where there are traditional heartlands for all the mainstream parties. There is less of a discernible pattern in Scotland than in England in terms of the type of vote and voter. UKIP is taking protest votes from left-leaning constituencies just as much as it is from right-leaning, from rural and urban areas.  If there is a trend at all, it is that they appealed to the marginalised and those who feel marginalised. The common denominator was otherness: either because those who voted UKIP don’t like Europe or because they think immigration policy is too lax or because they are feeling the pain of austerity or because none of the parties speaks their language any more.

And while we might congratulate ourselves here in Scotland that we have contained the UKIP presence to a much smaller vote share, such complacency and appeasement is dangerous.  UKIP has an appeal in Scotland and the worst of it is, apart from the occasional foray North by Farage, it hasn’t even really tried hard here.

So let’s stop pretending it’s their problem, not ours. And let’s start having a grown up conversation with ourselves. And let’s start challenging our parties to talk about the racism in our midst, in homes and communities everywhere. And not just to talk about it, but about the conditions which foment to allow it to exist. And let’s start tackling those. Together.

Because if we don’t, then by-election results like  Clacton and Heywood could be coming to SNP and Labour constituencies near us.






13 thoughts on “UKIP is not their problem, it’s also ours

  1. Is that why you’ve ditched the purple on the site?!

    UKIP are the acceptable face of the unacceptable. You are right to say that there’s been some seriously delusional self-righteous pish talked about “couldn’t happen here… we’re not like that….etc)

  2. I agree with Leginge . In 18 months of canvassing a common theme particularly in the poorer areas was the threat of immigration . Many people are influenced by the Mail and Express and by television but some have genuine concerns about jobs . We should not ignore this as Gordon Brown did (the “bigoted woman ” comment in the last general election ) We should do the voters the courtesy of listening properly to their concerns .Dismiss them and we are not only being patronising but we leave an opening for parties like UKIP

  3. Pingback: UKIP is not their problem, it's also ours | Pol...

  4. “UKIP is taking protest votes from left-leaning constituencies just as much as it is from right-leaning,”

    You do yourself a dis-service here and maybe show a leaning to the very ‘head in the sand’ attitude you are writing about. Until we accept very clearly that these are not protest votes, just as votes for the snp are not protest votes as some would still like to believe, then we won’t understand what’s going on.

  5. An honest piece, although still falling for the myth that Scotland is hugely different from England. Regarding UKIP, its support south of the Border reflects the fact that England has levels of immigration that are unknown in Scotland. So as long as that remains the same, we can pat ourselves smugly on the back for being tolerant and enlightened and therefore superior to those bigots in England. That’s how the argument usually goes isn’t it? So hats off to someone who does at least admit that there’s something wrong with our attitudes in Scotland too! In reality, UKIP’s own projections only give them 8 seats in the Commons, which is not too different from getting one of the Scottish MEP positions.

  6. I live in Ayrshire, which is traditionally a Labour voting area. Keir Hardie and all that. SNP has, in recent years, increased its support gradually. Labour / SNP tribalism has dominated local politics. However, in this ‘left-leaning’ county, I encounter many people who have admitted to a ‘sneaking regard’ for UKIP.
    It is commonplace in Ayrshie to hear black people referred to as ‘darkies’ or ‘pakis’. Among my, rapidly diminishing, circle of middle-class acquaintances, there are very few who pay their due income tax. Most people in Ayrshire support Rangers. Masonic and Orange orders thrive.
    In short, Ayrshire is ripe for UKIP to gather support. UKIP says explicitly what people understood were the implicit sentiments of their political representatives. Mostly, they were right, of course. But with UKIP, you can now drop the pretence, and people find that attractive.

  7. My mother in law who died last year at the age of 90 was a delightful, compassionate woman who habitually referred to coloured people in racist terms (e.g. Nignogs). Her views were formed in the days of Empire and she read papers such as the Mail and the Express.

    Older people like her were conditioned by their upbringing and the media. They are also the demographic which voted strongly No. They are also dying off.

    UKIP only won that Euro seat because of the very low turnout so let’s not hyperventilate.

  8. Suspect UKIP will not be allowed to do that well in the GE. The same arguments about risk and uncertainty that were used to scare Scots voters from voting for independence will be used to scare voters away from UKIP. I expected a Tory UKIP coalition to be the most likely outcome of the election, but, unless Labour make some dramatic changes, I now think the Tories will win outright. Scotland needs as many SNP MPs as possible.

  9. I heard this sort of sentiment while out campaigning for yes. From a couple of older working class ladies. My approach was to empathise with the feeling that “our young people can’t get jobs” and then talk about the needs of Scotland for skilled workers and to pay pensions and look after our ageing population. I told then we need both better jobs for locals and foreigners, both of whom who want to study and work hard; that it wasn’t an either/or option that we had. I think this was a pretty successful approach in the end and while I don’t know of it wholly changed their view I felt good about it as I managed to challenge the UKIP (now also Tories/Labour) anti-immigrant stance while still listening to genuine concerns from a working class perspective. But this type of one to one dialogue is time-consuming and the onslaught of media and political sentiment is a major problem.

  10. You are right about the racism for sure. I must have lived in that bubble for too long, thinking that people I know and speak to would have similar beliefs to me and if they didn’t they would at least keep their unpalatable views to themselves. Unfortunately that is not the case and I have been shocked to hear (older generation but no excuse) women being openly racist in the way you describe.

  11. The UKIP numbers in t constituencies quoted here have given me a bigger shock/insight than UKIP winning their EU seat. And as Ms Burd says, that’s without them even trying . . .

    • Racism is one thing but genuine concern that jobs and livelihoods are under threat from immigrants is another. Paul Mason in his book states “in 2003 Labour enthusiastically opened its labour market to workers from eastern europe (in keeping with blair/brown neoliberal policies), by 2010, 81% of all jobs created by labour had been filled by non-UK workers”. A couple of anecdotes: a welder colleague had to move from glasgow to london for a job – he ended up working on wages below union rates and working 12 hour shifts, he was one of 3 uk workers in a team of 180 ! ; fish factories in aberdeen use casual labour, but such jobs were up until a few years ago the mainstay for quite a few unskilled working families in aberdeen – not now, the gangmasters have been allowed to bring in migrants working below the min wage and working long shifts, they stay 12 to a flat and send the money home – fair do’s to them, they’re just trying to make a living in capitalist europe, much as we used to do when our brickies went to germany and such like. But the effect is that skilled and unskilled people alike in scotland are to some extent being put out of work by unscrupulous employers undercutting wages and conditions. It is definitely small-scale in Scotland but the word of it travels far and fast and gains exaggerration. The SNP can easily counter such fears by announcing more workplace inspectors, bring in a Canada-style immigration points system, and if possible given the restriction on powers – bring in meaningful state funding for apprenticeships to train scottish people to fill the skilled jobs. This is a difficult subject with its undertones of discrimination but we shouldn’t be afraid to discuss. BTW only 100,000 people in scotland buy the Daily Mail = 5% of scottish households – those that do are not worth wasting your breath on

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