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Monday, 13 October 2014

SNP v UKIP - which is likely to emerge on top?

Both the SNP and UKIP are poised to target the same seats in Scotland's central belt for the 2015 General Election.

UKIP's David Coburn has confirmed his party intends to challenge for "rust belt" seats in Scotland - traditional Labour heartlands where once-industrial towns are no longer home to industry, and where many of the most disaffected and disenfranchised members of society live.

Coburn is considering standing himself against Tom Clarke in Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill where he hopes to overturn a Labour majority of over 20,000.  He believes he can be successful, and has stated that areas such as North Lanarkshire have been taken for granted by Labour for generations, with "Labour politicians seeing themselves as feudal lords."

Clearly UKIP believe they can tap into the working-class vote and indeed are intentionally developing a strategy to do so, as I suggested yesterday. Those who are disenfranchised, cynical towards politics generally and from lower socio-economic backgrounds are deemed to be likely to be attracted to UKIP's populist and uncompromising messages.

One problem for UKIP, however, is that their strategy also accords with that of the SNP. What was made clear in the recent independence referendum was not only that voters in areas such as North Lanarkshire, Glasgow, Inverclyde, North Ayrshire and Renfrewshire are unhappy with the Scottish Labour Party, but that they were far more likely to support independence than voters elsewhere across Scotland. This has informed the SNP's thinking going into the General Election.

It has been well documented that, in the aftermath of the independence referendum, the SNP's membership has increased from 25,500 to 80,000. Less well-known is the fact that, in Motherwell and Coatbridge - areas very definitely inside UKIP's "rust belt" - membership has increased six-fold. The SNP sense that they can make a significant breakthrough in areas of traditional Labour support in 2015, with Derek Mackay telling The Herald that "the Labour Party's position in Scotland is growing increasingly precarious. The referendum unleashed a new spirit of democratic engagement and participation among the people of Scotland, and these people simply won't accept the same old politics as usual from Westminster." Clearly UKIP agrees, at least in respect to the initial observation.

No doubt both UKIP interest and the SNP's apparent strategy of focusing on Labour weakness in West and Central Scotland will be of concern to Scottish Labour. The big question is which of the two would-be inheritors of Labour's historic fiefdoms is most likely to emerge victorious.

UKIP may be correct in their assertions that Labour is struggling in its one-time Scottish strongholds. However, they may well have over-estimated their chances by discounting the popularity and credibility of the SNP and its ministers. Who do voters in Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill trust most - the SNP or UKIP? Alex Salmond or Nigel Farage? David Coburn or Nicola Sturgeon? Ultimately how people vote is based on who people trust, and who they find most credible.

I wouldn't be surprised if UKIP does make some impact on some of these key Scottish seats next year, and I also wouldn't be surprised at a few Labour losses. However, the SNP are far more adept and experienced than UKIP at tapping into public dissatisfaction and providing hope to disenfranchised voters. They know how to connect. They understand how to translate dissatisfaction into votes, as they did so successfully in 2011. They do what UKIP would like to do, exploiting discontent and resentment for electoral purposes...only more effectively. The SNP has the experience, the knowledge of these areas, dedicated party activists and established local campaigning networks that UKIP lacks.

SNP v UKIP? I'd predict a home win.

1 comment:

Richard T said...

It's interesting to speculate whether or not, with a more clearly social democratic leadership under Nicola Sturgeon, there may be levelling off of SNP support in the North East from Perthshire to Buchan and Moray.