September 18th 2014 | Scotland

Ukip and the referendum

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 29 August 2014
Barn

There is a tourist attraction in the US, known as ‘the most photographed barn in the world.’

Even if you don’t normally like barns, you will probably like this one. It really is a very nice barn.

Admittedly there is nothing particularly unique about it, except that it is widely photographed. That’s the interesting bit: it is photographed because it is famous and it is famous because it is photographed.

Douglas Carswell seemed like a normal Conservative backbencher. But that was all an illusion.

Yesterday, to the surprise of even his own party, he declared that he will be standing down as a Conservative MP, triggering a by-election to then run as a candidate for Ukip.

Explaining his decision Carswell said: “Many of those at the top of the Conservative Party are simply not on our side. They aren't serious about the change that Britain so desperately needs.

“Of course they talk the talk before elections. They say what they feel they must say to get our support but on so many issues - on modernising our politics, on the recall of MPs, on controlling our borders on less government, on bank reform, on cutting public debt, on an EU referendum - they never actually make it happen.”

For the next few days he will be the most photographed MP in the UK through his association with Ukip.

The party is a peculiar phenomenon – supremely well adapted to courting media attention, while simultaneously unable to stop reeling from gaffe to gaffe. The party’s eccentricity draws attention.

And Carswell’s defection gives the group greater credibility.

So it is no surprise that Yes supporters have leapt on the news, arguing that Carswell’s move demonstrates rising euroscepticism in England and that pro-European Scots must vote Yes to guarantee a future in the EU.

In fact Carswell as already addressed Scottish independence. Last year he wrote: “Whether Venice in the Middle Ages, or England or Scotland in 2013, there are three things small nations need to grow great.

“First, independence. You won't be as well governed if you are ruled over by men and women who do not live amongst you. Second, dispersed power. Those who do make the rules amongst you, need to be accountable to you. Third, you need to be part of a global network.

“England and Scotland today are each part of the Anglo sphere - that network of the most prosperous and innovative people on the planet.  And of course even the tiniest states today are on broadband. Small can be beautiful, rich, innovative and strong.”

It is debatable how much effect Ukip will have though. The party is extremely unlikely to make major in-roads at the next election and despite Yes spin, Ukip are not going to be a real force in British politics for some time. Their main effect will be in how they affect the policies of other parties, forcing them towards positions they would rather avoid.

And in many ways the party’s successes have come from being an under dog – it has escaped the sort of scrutiny that has driven mainstream parties to create more sophisticated media strategies.

Of course the media – delighted to find politicians who will give something other than a soundbite – is guilty for giving Ukip too much oxygen.

Maybe mainstream politicians should share some of the blame for insisting on speaking in sterilised sound bites in the first place.

But as the party gets more popular it will come under closer scrutiny.

Look closer at the barn and visitors realise it is just that, a barn. Look closer at Ukip, and once the fun of Farage’s wacky comments grows old, and the party may be left with nothing much else. Fame for fame’s sake can only get the party so far.

Liam Kirkaldy