It was somewhat interesting to see the English and Scottish versions of The Sun newspaper set out their different party endorsements this morning – the London-based publication prefers the Conservatives, citing one of the reasons as ‘keeping the SNP out’, while their Glasgow counterpart encouraged readers to vote for the SNP to ‘fight for Scotland’s interests’.
Another organisation that might, albeit very secretly, hope for such an outcome is UKIP, the party that once promised to turn British politics on its head but may now end up with even fewer seats than when Parliament was dissolved.
If, as polls predict, Douglas Carswell is alone in flying the purple flag in Parliament, all is not lost. The Conservatives have promised an EU referendum in 2017 if returned to government, and it is this fight – not the headline-grabbing but ultimately off-putting focus on immigration - that the party was created for. For this reason, UKIP-minded voters in seats like Thanet South and Thurrock should be extremely wary of aiding the Labour Party in coming through the middle and taking victory.
While the Conservatives may supply UKIP with renewed raison d’etre in the next Parliament, it is the Scottish National Party that should provide them with a roadmap for future success.
The party has become the single-most talked about aspect of the General Election campaign by using the divisive, and sometimes bitter, independence campaign to increase their membership to unprecedented numbers.
They fought a losing battle, but they captured the hearts of almost 45% of the electorate and are on course to win even more of the popular vote in this election – possibly over half of all Scottish votes. Like UKIP, they also inspire participation from those who hadn’t voted for a long time or never voted.
It is likely that UKIP would be the only significant party whose leadership would support full withdrawal from the European Union. When still a Conservative MP, Carswell famously proclaimed he would never take a government job unless it was as “the last Minister for Europe”. The left-wing parties and the Liberal Democrats are dominated by Europhiles, while the Conservatives hope (if in government) to renegotiate favourable terms ahead of 2017 that would enable David Cameron to recommend staying in. In the event he doesn’t, it is still difficult to picture the Conservative leadership taking an overtly anti-EU stance, particularly as current polls show they would almost certainly lose. Aside from a few notable Conservatives – e.g. the brilliant Daniel Hannan – the (party political side of the) job would most likely fall to UKIP.
While extremely unlikely to win the referendum, the ‘out’ side could realistically hope to achieve 40-45% of the vote, a large portion of which would be voters who see the EU as an out-of-touch, bureaucratic elite hoping to burden the UK’s cash cow economy with their fiscal woes (and yes, their poorest immigrants). The parallels with Scotland are obvious – a 2017 referendum could present a huge opportunity for the party to increase membership in England - where anti-EU sentiment is largely concentrated - and provide an issue to fight for in the face of a unified campaign from the other parties. It might just stop it going the way of electoral flash-in-the-pan movements like the Referendum Party (and, somewhat less flatteringly, the British National Party).
If the United Kingdom Independence Party wants to survive past what would now seem an extremely disappointing return of three MPs or less, it should be hoping for a Cameron government and watching the success of the SNP very closely.