I voted in the European Elections at my local polling station, the Gairbraid Church Hall in Maryhill. Having never been in it before I fully expected the interior to be transformed into a sparse state of temporary surrogacy, the mildly depressing phenotype decided upon for polling stations. And it was, what I didn’t expect was meeting the barricade of a huge heavy show-like curtain just inside the entrance. There was something both strange and satisfying at having to outstretch your arm in an exerted sweep to open it. It was an inelegant entrance to be equated with the wanting theatrical panache of pantomime, and there’s no doubt I looked completely ridiculous.
I’ll concede this is a silly aside, things really got interesting once I looked at my ballot paper. I was struck and slightly worried by the sheer number of candidates/parties I could vote for. I’ve seen bountiful options on a ballot before, but this seemed excessive. As best I can recall there were up to a dozen choices.
Appearing at the very top of the ballot was a party called “Britain First”. Somebody said once that I ‘knew fuck all’ but conceded a few years later that I ‘had now started to pick up a bit of knowledge, thankfully’. I started to doubt the sincerity and accuracy of the latter statement as I stared at the name “Britain First” and pondered for a few moments who and what they were, what they represented and most importantly the reasons I hadn’t heard of them before, and what this might mean. If you’re sensible, and occasionally I am, honest, you don’t vote for someone or something you know nothing or very little of.
I gleaned from the name alone – Britain First – that this was, at the very least, a party, whose central message, or one of them, is isolationism from the European Union. Later I was to find out that this was as benign a characterisation as they could be given.
A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing and even more dangerous still is having none at all. Which brings us to the similarly isolationist UKIP – in this case a sentiment of theirs which is atypically genuine. All of us, even those who didn’t vote, either through apathy or a sense of disillusionment with the state of politics, or who are disinterested in politics full stop, will have heard of UKIP. It’s a given, what isn’t a given is how much you know about them.
Just as I knew ‘fuck all’ about Britain First, a dangerous rancid racist bunch of far right protestant ideologues, so I suspect most who voted for UKIP knew little about their policies.
Which brings us back to the result of the last general election and the how and why it was achieved. This set the template for UKIP’s success two weeks ago. When I say success, I do so pejoratively. They still have no MP’s in either Westminster or Holyrood, and while they did manage to win one of the six MEP spots for Scotland, they did so by barely getting ten percent of the vote nationwide.
Apathy and boredom with the incumbent government and at best an aversion to the hubris of Tony Blair’s brand of conviction politics, the kind that that resulted in the messes in Iraq and Afghanistan, loomed over the build-up to the last general election. But fittingly that’s the style of rhetoric the main parties adopted when campaigning. David Cameron talked of a ‘Big Society’, Nick Clegg of a ‘real alternative’ and Ed Milliband, well, just talked. It was a campaign of cheap Nu-Labour-esque slogans, with what appeared to be a distinct lack of policy divergence between the main parties. This allowed the wearied to be swayed by the superficial notion of change for the sake of it, and even then that wasn’t enough for any party to gain a majority.
Appropriately the malaise resulted in something far worse than what preceded it: another leader ridden with conceit, David Cameron, who married the worst facets of Thatcher and Blair. It was noticeable that all of the main parties talked about the need for austerity, NHS reform, creating jobs and yes, immigration. It was important to note that immigration was a debating point well before UKIP arrived as a mainstream entity, and no, Nigel Farage’s unfortunate escape from a plane crash doesn’t count, nor does the various faux-pas committed by the anachronistically clown like Godfrey Bloom.
If no discernable mainstream alternative is offered to the electorate it creates a spectrum of disenfranchisement ranging from apathy to dissention. People need to feel that their votes mean something, that they have a choice that will pay real dividends. When they don’t, as they do with the current Westminster hegemony, that’s when those with extreme ideologies on the fringes can gain traction, providing they themselves make a concerted effort to adopt the customary etiquette and style of mainstream politics. We can say we want change, but seemingly we don’t want to change this standard. So we cannot complain when a far right party like UKIP takes advantage.
In the aftermath of UKIP’s ‘success’ in the European elections, and the local elections in England and Wales, there has been a succession of hand-wringing and folk foaming at the mouth at mainstream politics, politicians, the media, or gullible voters for helping UKIP manoeuvre themselves and their message of immigration into the mainstream consciousness, and permeating how the debate on that issue has been framed since.
But both they and it have never been away. Just as Enoch Powell gave his rivers of blood speech in the late sixties, Nigel Farage is demonising Romanians and Bulgarians now. This stuff works you see, especially at times when the mediocrity of our culture and society is unassailable and dissatisfaction and self loathing are rampant. UKIP are the perfect embodiment of that decline.
On the surface it appears that UKIP aren’t true and overt fascists, especially not when compared with the likes Britain First or the laughable BNP. Being compared to the lunatic fringe who picket mosques allows them to avoid the tag of extremism, while covertly serving their true purpose – as the latest incarnate for the embittered to cling to. They are the party of absolution. They represent the idea that your inadequacies are in fact strengths or at worst can be sublimated comparatively by the inadequacies of others. Who doesn’t want to hear and believe that you’re better than someone else, that your culture is better than someone else’s, and that it belongs to you?
It feeds the arrogance of the middle class aspirational attitude of self-entitlement that Thatcher sought to inculcate and succeeded in doing so. This has been built on a cultural identity predicated on borders, nationality, antiquated allegiances to a monarchy, and a tradition of successes in World Wars and of creating ‘the’ empire. If you’ve been groomed within this delusional sub-culture you’re liable to lament the comparative reality of the day, where we were once successful in generating wealth through the annexation of other inferior cultures, and civilising them too, now they’re coming here from all over the globe and doing it to us.
So I find it most interesting that the media’s incessant intrigue in UKIP has been held up as one of the main causations of its success. I find this to be as disingenuous a position as the one held by UKIP and its voters. Both elide the responsibility of critical thinking.
Of course I’m not absolving the print and television media. They are culpable as tabloid journalism – whether it’s on screen, on paper or online – is by its very construct a lazy paradigm, and a story that sells itself is always news worthy. For them it’s easy to sell a narrative, especially those that are peculiar, perverse and or ugly, and this covers all three. Such events, people and in this case political sleeze often evoke a state of navel gazing or moralising, often on an intellectual level that suits its reader/viewer. Just as the Daily Express won’t stop harping on about Diana’s death, or all the tabloids about what happened to Madeleine McCann, so they’ll prop up UKIP, a party all too willing to self promote its message, or to be more specific, a series of claims as to what it represents.
It’s been claimed that news stories of this ilk are perpetuated by public interest, or is it the media’s reporting of them that drives it? In this age of instantaneous often misreported news that answer is less important, as UKIP exemplify perfectly. The laziness of tabloid reporting is reciprocated by that of its audience in questioning its validity and failing to thoroughly investigate the true nature of the subject themselves.
To those who refused or cared not to vote: a threat still remains a threat even if you choose to ignore it. The basis and totality of the rise of UKIP’s popularity is based on the notion of what we assume them to be, or what we want them to be and to represent, not by finding out what they actually are. This applies to those who are opposed or disposed to their crude, divisive stance on immigration. The policy of immigration and their focus on it is designed not to encourage further investigation.
This is where personal responsibility factors in. With a multitude of methods and mediums, McDonald’s tries daily to sell me their rancid produce, yet I elect not to buy it. Just as I choose to ignore UKIP’s divisive language on immigration, instead I can focus on their policies of complete NHS privatisation, their catastrophic 31% flat tax rate, their idiotic position on EU membership and some of the crackpot views of their party members. All of this information is readily available.
The question then becomes how do you motivate people to ask questions? Those of us who do certainly aren’t going to encourage them by demeaning and lambasting confessed UKIP voters as uneducated and ignorant. Social media gives us the ability to share knowledge, only for us to spend more time hounding individuals, than attacking the endemic cultural standards which creates these flaws. There’s selfishness in this behaviour, we’re only interested in better educating ourselves, yet when the inequality this creates fails others, who then fail themselves and others too, we blame and demonise them, further ghettoising them as outsiders. It just makes the messages of parties like UKIP seem more appealing.
We saw this in full force in the aftermath of the EU result for Scotland, with UKIP gaining enough votes to send a representative to Brussels, the appropriately disgusting David Coburn. The sense of overwhelming embarrassment – though he probably won’t even attend much – lead to goats escaping all over the place. I even entered the fray on Twitter with a disparaging jibe that voting for UKIP shows how much you love Christmas. All this achieved was a momentary feeling of smugness and superiority, levity similar to that experienced by your average UKIPPER after telling a Bulgarian to fuck off home. It soon dissipated when nobody read the tweet, and even had they done so, what good would it do?
Speaking of not doing much good, and avoiding the issue, that would be bashing the BBC. The beeb has become one of the main punching bags in light of UKIP’s rising popularity. It’s become a running joke of sorts as to the number of appearances that Nigel Farage and other ghastly UKIP party members have made, particularly on the deeply flawed (in premise and execution) Question Time, when they have no elected MP’s in parliament. Question Time was always rubbish, but it has rapidly decayed into a free for all of lies, petty squabbling, grandstanding, doublespeak and blame games. It mirrors the political climate accurately, and as such it lets UKIP off the hook, to an extent.
The BBC is supposed to be impartial, that Farage has appeared on Question Time often, too often, puts that into question, and it makes it easier to argue that this has helped UKIP significantly. It’s fair to pose the question as to whether the disproportional preponderance of UKIP members on their weekly panels is due to an editorial preference based on a political ideology, or is it a consequence of a cynical and self defeating need for ratings? Either way Question Time reflects very poorly on the state of the BBC’s politically related programming.
I suffered through one of the episodes of Question Time on which Farage appeared, and despite the mediocrity of the panel, including the self regarding and hypocritical Dimbelby as chair, Farage struggled, like a used car salesman who knew he was trying to sell a dodgy old banger. His answers, even on the topic of immigration, were unconvincing blabber at best, and borderline lunacy at worst, but some in the audience applauded for him, and many voted for him and his party last month. There are, usually, at least two ways to look at such a dichotomy. Either giving Farage a platform helped him con the gullible, or that the more exposure he’s granted, the shorter the length of rope he requires to hang himself becomes. In this case both happened; Farage hanged himself, only for hundreds and thousands of others to agree to join his suicide pact.
And this is the crux of the matter, in the end people tend to believe what suits them and the prevailing agenda(s) they have. Usually these agendas work to distract us, and having something to rail against makes us feel that we’re relevant. Whether it be voting for UKIP because it suited your notion of what’s right and fair, wanting the BBC to lose its right to public funding, due to Farage and UKIP’s appearances on one particular show out of the thousands of others the BBC makes, or because of a perceived editorial slanting against Scottish independence by its news division. All of it is indicative of culture that thinks small and doesn’t think about the wider ramifications.
So, I think it’s only fitting that when I vote again on the 18th of September I will do so to suit my own agenda. I’ll be voting Yes to ensure the opportunity of creating an economic and social climate where the ten percent living in Scotland that voted for UKIP won’t be left behind and alienated into feeling that they have to do so again.
I’m not arrogant enough to espouse any certainty that a Yes vote will achieve this, or that it will change things for the better. The only certainty is the future is uncertain, but at this time there’s a psychological difference between a Yes or No vote; one offers the freedom to think without the imposition of tradition, the other asks us to believe and confine ourselves in that tradition, that remaining the same, and that doing the same thing over and over again, will eventually work.
As per tradition I fully expect UKIP will fail, relative to their success last month, at the next general election. Their recent victories will serve as a temporary wake up call that occurs when conformity, which enables us to be contented and to abdicate the need to truly think big and empathetically, is threatened. Voting against UKIP for either the Tories or Labour will be seen as doing enough, so the narrative will shift to UKIP’s decline, meanwhile too many in the United Kingdom will still be none the wiser, hopefully by then in an independent Scotland we will be.