Why Scotland has its first UKIP MEP – could it have something to do with the EU?

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The European Central Bank, Frankfurt, Germany.

It’s the day of the European Election results, and my Twitter feed is full of expressions of dismay that Scotland has its first UKIP MEP. Most see it as a move to the right, and are blaming the BBC and the 66 percent of Scots who did not vote.

I too am annoyed at the news that Scotland has its first UKIP MEP – however I don’t see this as necessarily a “move to the right”. I see these results as an expression of a growing dissatisfaction with and mistrust of the EU, a position that simply has no political voice in the moderate left and centre political parties. This, I believe, is why so few people “bother” to vote in European elections – and why some people I know who usually take voting very seriously admitted that they had “forgotten” to vote in this election. Maybe they are not actively against the EU, but they have a growing unease about it. Yet their “political tribe” supports it. So what do they do? Many of them clearly prefer not to think about it.

The mainstream media has turned the focus on UKIP into a single issue: immigration. UKIP’s central demand, that of independence from the EU, has been simply ignored.

I am not and have never been a UKIP supporter. But over the years I have come to distrust the EU, and I would now prefer not to be part of the EU in its current form. This has nothing to with immigration concerns or xenophobia. It is because the EU seems to be supporting and encouraging an increasingly pro-corporate, centralised government agenda.

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Logo of the Council of the European Union.

I want to be part of a European Union, but not this current European Union that negotiates secretive, undemocratic treaties like TTIP; that succumbs to corporate lobbying; that welcomed the Western-leaning Yatsenuk regime in Ukraine with open arms, while turning a blind eye to its fascist elements.

I have observed the debt crisis in Ireland and the southern European countries with alarm, noting how some of the wealthier EU leaders berated those countries for their financial mismanagement, using stereotypes like Angela Merkel’s “Swabian housewife” – while at the same time happily accepting their euromillions in payment for arms. While the people in those countries suffered financial disaster and social unrest, bankers chortled into their champagne as they referred to them collectively as the “PIIGS” (just an acronym for Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain, snort…). The PR machine has gone quiet on those countries now, in what seems to be a pretence that “the medicine has worked”, while in reality the economic hardship for many of their people continues.

The debt crisis was the excuse for the imposition on Italy of an unelected “government of technocrats” led by Mario Monti in 2011. A general election was held two years later in which Monti’s party came fourth, but a precedent had been set.

Another precedent was the “bail-in” of the Cyprus Popular Bank, whereby money was taken from people’s bank accounts. This measure was imposed as a condition of a €10 billion bail-out by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, as a result of the debt crisis.

Iceland on the other hand, which had a dramatic economic collapse in 2008, has made an equally dramatic recovery. Iceland is not tied to the Euro. Iceland’s citizens also suffered economic pain, but not as a result of dictats from the ECB and IMF.

Political spin merchants like to think that they can divert our attention away from these issues by thrusting the spotlight on immigration, but it’s not that simple. Many people have a growing unease about the EU as a result of these events, even if it’s only at a subconscious level, and I think this contributes to low voter turnout. Others will vote for UKIP – some because they want to see less immigration, but some of them as an anti-EU protest. The mainstream media has not only massively promoted UKIP – it has also lumped together anti-EU feeling with anti-immigration feeling.

In voting for the European Elections, I looked for a party that did not want to be part of the EU. The only anti-EU parties on the list were far right parties and one far left party, no2eu. I looked at the information for no2eu and found that it had support from the Communist Party. The Communist Party represents highly centralised government, which in my opinion is what the EU is offering. I want more decentralised government. I would have voted for the Pirate Party if it had been on the ballot list.

In effect, the political choice for anyone who does not support the EU in its current form, is limited to extremist and right-wing parties.

In the end I voted Green, because it is the only party that has actually spoken out strongly against some of the issues I have highlighted above. However, I don’t think the Green Party speaks out strongly enough on these issues, so in a way my vote was a compromise.

The Green Party made significant gains in the European Elections, but if they had spoken out more robustly against the undemocratic practices and pro-corporate policies of the EU, maybe Scotland would now have its first Green MEP. How many people looked at that ballot paper and thought, “I’m fed up with the way the EU is going, so I’m going to vote Green.”? Not many, I suspect.

This to me is why UKIP did so well in the European Elections and gained its first seat in Scotland. It also explains why the Scottish Conservatives did better than usual in this election. It’s not just about immigration. People are questioning what membership of the EU actually means, but this is being played down by the mainstream media and political parties. Ed Miliband has ruled out an EU referendum. The SNP often say that the Scots want to be part of Europe, as if we’re an amorphous mass.

The SNP did well in these elections, but there is no room for complacency in politics. The rising tide of votes for UKIP represents a rising tide of Euroscepticism that currently has no other viable political outlet.

 

 

UKIP makes any criticism of the EU appear as crazed xenophobia

Translated into Glaswegian, this reads: "Support the EU or Nigel will come and get you!"

Translated into Glaswegian, this reads: “Support the EU or Nigel will come and get you!”

I popped into my mum’s flat today. She was out, but the postie had deposited two UKIP flyers bearing Nigel Farage’s smirking mug on the mat. (If you’re not from the UK, UKIP stands for “The UK Independence Party”, and Nigel Farage is its leader.)

UKIP has been achieving its aim of “ruffling a few feathers among the chattering classes” with the launch of a hard-hitting poster campaign which has been branded as “racist”, for the forthcoming European Elections on 22 May.

I expect the reaction of my mum, who lives in the west end of Glasgow, will be like that of most people who live in the west end of Glasgow – something along the lines of: “I’m not one of those crazed xenophobic immigrant-bashers! I’m voting for a party that supports the EU!”

So in my twisted, Machiavellian way of thinking, I’m starting to see the whole UKIP theatre as a political ploy to make voting in support of the EU appear to be the obvious “rational” option. If you are deeply distrustful of the EU – as I have come to be, partly due to the secretive and undemocratic TTIP treaty (and why is there an EU Minister for Enlargement?) – people will see you as a xenophobic, immigrant-phobic UKIP supporter. You will be seen as a pompous fuddy-duddy.

(Just in case there is any confusion, I will NOT be voting for UKIP, on 22 May or at any other time.)

Could the Green Party have the answer? Their stated policy on Europe is this:

The Green Party wants a reformed Europe with governing institutions designed to resist capture by corporations and instead work democratically and cooperatively in the public interest. We will promote self-determination of nations and regions acting independently on local issues, whilst protecting the ability to cooperate on global issues that affect us all, like fisheries protection, climate change or human rights.

Sounds a bit wishy-washy to me. I like the bit about resisting capture by corporations, but what is the Green Party going to do to achieve this? Pray?

The statement on the EU from the Pirate Party is more robust. I would vote for them if they had a candidate in my constituency, which, sadly, they don’t. I suppose there’s only one answer to that. I’ll think about it.

 

Why are big political parties so similar?

In a recent Sunday Times article, Jamie Oliver said that said that although he did not support UKIP he loved the fact that the party was “stirring it up”.

I expect a lot of people feel the same way. One reason for the huge success of UKIP (the UK Independence Party) at the May local elections in England and Wales is that it offers change, at a time when the mainstream political parties all seem to be doing the same thing.

What a terrible situation, for people to be feeling so disenfranchised that they welcome the success of a party they don’t even support, just because it offers them a small feeling of influence in the political system, a system that seems to have been hijacked by wealthy business interests.

If the political parties are all saying and doing more or less the same thing, it effectively disenfranchises the voter. Although there are many smaller parties whose policies are very different from the three mainstream parties, they don’t have the slightest chance of achieving power – so what’s the point of voting for them? It would just be a waste of your vote. No wonder many people have given up on voting altogether – except in those rare times when a smaller party like UKIP seems to be in with a fighting chance. At those times, even people who might disagree with a lot of what that small party stands for might support it, simply because it offers the possibility of change.

But the chances are that even if a small party does achieve power, like the Liberal Democrats at the last general election, it will be forced to make such compromises that the policies that made it stand out in the first place will just evaporate. How depressing.

However, hope is at hand. Things could be different. Take the example of Scotland under devolution.

Why Scotland is different

Proportional representation is used for voting in Scottish elections – the partially proportional “additional member system” (AMS) or the “single transferable vote” system (STV) for local government elections.

This makes a big difference. The Scottish voting system gives smaller parties a much greater chance of achieving real power and growing into big influential parties, without having to water down the policies that made them stand out.

It also explains why UKIP made only very small gains in the three Scottish by-elections that have been held this year.

Under the “first past the post” system used in England and Wales, anyone who votes for a small party knows their vote is likely to be wasted – unless, like UKIP, one of these smaller parties is experiencing a huge surge in support.

But under the Scottish voting systems, small political parties and independent candidates have a much greater chance of winning seats. This means people can vote for a small party knowing that that party has a fair chance of achieving power, even if there isn’t an unusually large surge of support for it. If people in Scotland are feeling the same way as Jamie Oliver, they don’t have to rely on UKIP to “stir things up”.

It also means the Scottish political parties don’t have to keep their policies in the amorphous “centre ground” in order to achieve political power and influence. They don’t have to appeal to the “lowest common denominator” and achieve a huge groundswell of support in order to achieve even the slightest chance of power, as parties do under the “first past the post” system in England and Wales and in the United States, where the “first past the post” system is also used.

Despite the huge gains UKIP made in the local elections, they have little chance of achieving any real power in a general election. They are more likely to split the right-wing vote, increasing Labour’s chances. This is what happened in David Cameron’s constituency of Witney at the council elections. Winning candidate Laura Price (Labour) got 756 votes. The UKIP candidate won 746 votes and the Conservative candidate was pushed into third place with 697 votes.

If the AMS voting system had been used, right-leaning voters who wanted to protest or vote for a party that offered a clearer choice would have been able to vote for UKIP without contributing to a split in the right-wing vote. They could have made UKIP their first constituency choice and Conservative their second, regional choice. Or they could have done it the other way round. UKIP would then have a greater chance of achieving power.

This works for left-wing as well as right-wing parties. If the AMS system had been used for UK general elections in the 1980s, when the SDP-Liberal Alliance were briefly in the ascendancy, it might have prevented the left-wing vote being split.

Voting systems that are based on proportional representation put more political power in the hands of the electorate, the voters. Political parties are beholden to voters, not to business lobbyists, as they are under first past the post.

What difference does all this political theory make to my life?

A considerable difference. Free prescriptions and tuition fees are two things. The Small Business Bonus Scheme is another. These things have come about not because the SNP is more left-leaning than Labour, but because politicians in the Scottish Government are more beholden to the voters than to big business lobbyists. And that’s because the Scottish voting system offers voters greater representation.

Unfortunately in UK general elections, Scots are still stuck with first past the post.

  • About this site

    Our democracy in the UK is deeply flawed. Under the "first past the post" system, which is used to elect the Westminster House of Commons, the majority of UK voters are not represented in Parliament by the party they voted for.
    This website is not calling for anarchy or revolution, but for a fairer and more democratic parliamentary system.

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