Cameron’s UKIP Indyref Problem

6 11 2012

Erstwhile enemy of the more excitable types on Twitter, Euan McColm, had an interesting piece in the last Scotland on Sunday, discussing the partial disconnect between David Cameron’s premiership and the broader Tory base, and the problems facing the party as they attempt to square the circle of coalition politics, the traditional tack to the centre so beloved of UK party leaders, and the desire of the Thatcher uber-fanboys to pursue an even more right-wing agenda.  I don’t quite know how they could move further to the right without withholding benefit payments from anyone who watches The X-Factor, but there you go.

What caught my eye in McColm’s piece in particular, was the mention of UKIP as a past and future threat to the Conservatives.  After their inability to secure an overall majority in 2010, they will be desperate to avoid a similar fate in 2015.  How UKIP do in squeezing the Tory vote, even a seemingly modest level of 1 or 2%, could be the deciding factor between Cameron striding triumphantly into Number 10 fulfilling his Eton-forged manifest destiny, or being forced to break bread with whatever’s left of the unprincipled muesli-knitters he’s currently forced to rely on for a majority – or even a narrow Labour majority, with Ed Miliband blinking in the early May Friday morning like a guy who wanted a trip to Westworld only to end up sharing a room with Yul Brynner.

Having last time peeled open the history books of recent times a little bit, I’ve polished the crystal ball for this one and gazed into two parallel universes…

Scenario A involves a ‘No’ vote in 2014.  The independence movement, whilst not about to go off and disappear to Rockall or what have you, are disheartened and demoralised (I know I’d be straying little from my slanket and hard liquor for a day or two anyway).  Meanwhile a triumphant PM Cameron basks in the reflected glory of the result, proffering the victory of the pro-Union campaign as evidence of his political competence and statesmanship.  The Tories wrap everything not yet covered in red, white and blue in the Union Jack – and by the end of the referendum campaign, that’s unlikely to be much – proclaim themselves ‘saviours of the United Kingdom’, and align this attitude with the centrepiece manifesto commitment of their 2015 Westminster Election campaign – a referendum on continued membership of the European Union.

The context for this massive shift in government policy comes from UKIP’s overwhelming victory in June 2014’s European Elections.  A public, tired of 4 years of austerity, watching the Eurozone economies racked with paralysis and crisis (or at least portrayed as such by a not-so-secretly smug London media class), with Labour still treading water under Ed M and the LibDems fatally toxic, give Nigel Farage’s gang over a quarter of the vote and seats, effectively emulating the Tory result of 2009, although as ever their vote in Scotland falls well short of the ‘winning’ post necessary to secure a seat under PR.

Piggybacking on the pro-UK message being pumped out by the Unionist parties, UKIP position themselves as the one true completely pro-British party, in favour of one Union on these Isles, but against another across the English Channel.  With a ‘No’ vote in the referendum secure, they use the 7 or so months left before the UK General Election to select 100 marginal seats that will determine the fate of any possible Conservative majority, using their newly-acquired MEPs and connected resources to pressurise Cameron and the softly pro-EU Tory leadership to finally acquiesce to their historic manifesto commitment or face major problems at the polls.

The PMs attempt to head off the challenge at the pass is, on his terms, a success, with the Tories securing an overall majority of 26 and the LibDems reduced to a rump of just over a dozen, but with a potentially party-splitting referendum to come…

Scenario B involves a ‘Yes’ vote in 2014.  Negotiations with the rUK government begin on the final independence settlement, due to come into effect in early July 2016, and I enjoy my hard liquor for a day or two (but leave the slanket in the drawer).  Cameron’s earlier mauling the hands of UKIP seems like a parish council by-election compared to the doing he takes from the Tory backbenches, the press, the BBC, the opposition… you get the idea.  Now it’s not about heading off the anti-EU forces at the pass to ensure a Conservative majority, it’s about his own survival as PM until May 2015, and secondarily avoiding a disaster for the Tories at the election, blamed as he and they are for the End Of Union (it deserves capital letters I think, despite what the style guides may say).

Not waiting for UKIP to make their inevitable attempt to increase the unemployment rate amongst Conservative MPs, Cameron waits a month following the referendum, then announces that in the wake of Scotland’s future independence, a critical reassessment of Britain’s place in the world is needed.  Now that one debate about the Union has been settled, it’s time to settle another.  Blah, blah, blah, you get the drift.  Attempting to pre-empt any outflanking on his right, he declares that the party manifesto for the year after will contain a concrete pledge to hold an ‘In or Out?’ referendum on continued rUK membership of the European Union.  Scotland, heavily engrossed in its own move forward as a country, looks on as a curious and concerned friend, wondering why the neighbours have suddenly turned stark, staring mad.

UKIP and the by now incandescently bonkers Tory right maul Cameron, declaring that The Man Who Broke Up Britain (their caps this time) can’t be trusted to ensure the democratic rights of the rUKanian people, but a mixture of inexperience, lack of activists, and dirty tricks by both Labour and Conservatives puts paid to their ambition to behead a Conservative leadership they perceive as traitors.

The PMs attempts to head off the challenge at the pass are, on his terms, a success, with the Tories securing an overall majority of 26 and the LibDems reduced to a rump of just over a dozen, but with a potentially party-splitting referendum to come…

Ach, OK, I probably wouldn’t have made a very good Gypsy Rose Lee.  But it’s not hard to see a threat emerging for Cameron and the Conservatives from UKIP.  It’s easy to see how a pro-UK campaign, extending UK-wide, and proclaiming the virtues of the UK as a sovereign entity, would play into the hands of Nigel Farage.  After all, it’s what he’s been banging on about ever since he entered politics.  UKIP would be crazy not to jump on the chance to try and force the major Westminster parties into what they’ve been campaigning for since day one, and together with the Tory party at large, there’s a fair chance they’ll get it.

The question for ourselves up here is whether we want to be around when it happens.  I don’t, and I rather suspect a majority of my fellow resident don’t either.  Sadly, my crystal ball doesn’t say whether that’s reflected in the result in Autumn 2014.  We’ll have to wait for that one.

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