UKIP winning a seat in Scotland in the European elections is bad news for a number of reasons. One is the succour it gives to unionists claiming simpatico political views on either side of the border. Murdo Fraser took to twitter to make this very claim.
Does he have a point?
The first thing to note that UKIP’s share of the vote in Scotland was far lower than in England: 10.4% up here, compared to 27% down there. It’s also worth bearing in mind that if we take all the Euro-sceptic right-wing parties together we can see that they achieved approximately 28% of the vote in Scotland, whereas in the UK as a whole they took over 50% of the vote. If the European election is anything to go by (big ‘if’), the Thatcherite agenda that has become consensus in England would be a minority view up here.
So what explains UKIP’s success in Scotland on Thrusday?
Alex Salmond commented to David Dimbleby that SNP analysis shows that UKIP have received 4 times more coverage on the BBC in Scotland than his own party. Salmond would say that, of course, but it’s clear that UKIP have been all over the media in Scotland despite remaining a relatively minor party. Whether there’s any deliberate bias at work here is open to question, but such a phenomenon wouldn’t need anybody to concoct a devious plot; it’s simply a function of UK-wide news and current affairs programming.
On the 3rd of March, Ofcom stated that UKIP, due to their popularity, should be treated as a major political party by broadcasters in the run-up to the European Parliamentary elections. This meant that channels showing Party Election Broadcasts had to give UKIP their fair share of airtime, and that all news and current affairs programming should give them adequate coverage. The Ofcom statement also contains the following.
“UKIP will be treated as a major party across the whole of England, Wales and Scotland (i.e. Great Britain). However, in news and current affairs election programming that focuses on the European Parliamentary elections in just Scotland, UKIP will not be treated as a major party in such programming.”
Cognisant of the fact that UKIP is not the force in Scotland that it is in England and Wales, Ofcom exempted Scottish broadcasters from the duty to treat them as a major party. The problem is, people in Scotland have to watch the same UK-wide coverage that people in England do, and that means UKIP, though not a major party in Scotland, were still all over Scottish television sets every evening. England’s recent craving for jingoism meant Scotland had to suffer it too.
Even with their artificially prominent position in the minds of the Scottish electorate, UKIP were only slightly more popular than the Green Party. How often did you see a representative of the Greens on television? One can only wonder whether the outcome would have been different had the two parties been given similar levels of media coverage.
Though it may have caused some independence-switherers on the left to fear than an independent Scotland would be equally susceptible to right-wing idiocy as the UK, the election of a UKIP MEP in Scotland should remind people why a YES vote in September is so important. The news and current affairs programming that Scotland receives is skewed to the right because it reflects English tastes. UKIP only have an MEP in Scotland because of the media climate created by the union. Break that link and we break the back of UKIP in Scotland.