Smiles and Steel
|Alex Farage and Nigel Salmond|
For both men, their bonhomie is a rare and important political asset that engenders sympathy for their cause. Peel away the masks, however, and it is clear that both men have a determined and single-minded drive to overcome all obstacles and bypass all individuals in their way.
Most politicians combine empathy with ego - it's what attracts them to politics in the first place - but few have these qualities to same extent as Farage and Salmond. Even fewer have consummate political skill, in particular, the ability to create a clear message which appeals to a wide public irrespective of its basic flaws. In comparison, Cameron, Miliband and Clegg fall short on all three counts - empathy, ego and political skill - which partly explains their failure to counter the rise of the SNP/UKIP duopoly. One cannot imagine Dave, Ed or Nick repeating Alex's and Nigel's trick of leading their party, giving way to others when tactics demanded it, and returning to the top when those who replaced them proved less able
Of course there are differences between the two. Farage is prone to irritation while the SNP leader never seems to lose his cool. The Englishman is also unusual in that he often gives direct answers to questions, although his statistics cannot always be relied on; Salmond, like most politicians, is a dab hand at ignoring inconvenient questions and offering platitudes instead of hard facts. And Farage it seems, prefers local pubs while the Dear Leader lounges in luxury hotels.
One Party, One Policy
|SNP / UKIP policy|
Get Us Out!! is a powerful, appealing message. It reduces a complex situation to a simple answer. It suggests that the Gordian knot can be cut and all will be well. Get Us Out!! takes people's frustrations and unhappiness and allows them to place the blame for their problems on someone else. There's nothing wrong with (Scotland/the UK - fill in the blank); it's the all fault of those people (over the border/across the Channel - fill in the blank); as soon as we break the shackles we will prosper.
The single issue of Get Us Out!! is not enough to win over an electorate. Which leads us to the third similarity between UKIP and the SNP: populism - responding not to principle, but to the people's whims. The goal of the party is to leave the (British/European - fill in the blank) Union; the means to achieve that goal is populism. And so policies are adopted or abandoned only if they will win votes to reach the Get Us Out!! goal. If middle England is against gay marriage, then so is UKIP. If middle Scotland wants to keep the pound, then the SNP will happily jettison its policy of the euro. If middle England doesn’t accept climate change, then neither will UKIP. If middle Scotland wants to stay in NATO, then the SNP will abandon its long-standing opposition. And so on. Whatever policy the electorate wants, SNP/UKIP will promote it as long as it gets them closer to Get Us Out!!
So there you have it – a strong, charismatic leader, Get Us Out!! and populism. They may be poles apart on specific policies may differ, but the differences between UKIP and the SNP are more superficial than deep. Let’s hope the two don’t come together in an electoral pact, because if they do, we Scots and other Brits really will be in trouble....