We’ve never ever, ever had this kind of response. Is this a kind of anti-English thing? It could be.”
Nigel Farage, Edinburgh 16/05/13
The Royal Mile has a proud tradition, far older than the union, of mobbing unpopular politicians.
For centuries taking to the thoroughfare to make your grievances known has been a part of Scottish politics. The Marquess of Queensberry had to be escorted by an armed guard up the Canongate in the last days of the Scottish parliament in 1706.
A century earlier James VI, on his way to become the first of England, could not comprehend that the jubilant crowds lining his route were out to cheer him. In Scotland a crowd around the royal carriage was a demanding mob.
Some are bound to look on such behaviour as unruly and extremist, yet it is arguably amongst the most valuable activities that a group of citizens can perform. It defines more than anything else the broad spectrum within which politics can operate in a given society. If politicians don’t know the possibility of an angry crowd when they take to the streets, they are free to operate without license.
Farage’s exit from Scottish politics in the back of a police van is a heartening echo of our deep-rooted disdain for those who strut and stare.
My only point here is to highlight that which Mr Farage spectacularly missed – Scotland always has and always will have a different political culture to that of England. You can tap into one and alienate yourself from the other simultaneously.
That’s not to disregard for a moment English radical traditions, it’s just a statement of fact. Yet facts about Scotland tend not to transfer to the narrow metropolitan elite of which the UKIP leader is a member.
His dance in and out of an Edinburgh pub crystallised a fact that rarely makes it past the Carter Bar. This ignorance, much like that of his hero Thatcher, shows that you simply cannot play the role of an everyman in two different nations at the same time.
Farage has roamed England’s shires and repeated his homely pint gimmick (a surprisingly low budget tipple for a man who is a city stockbroker like his father) and no landlord has ever turfed him out, until he visited Edinburgh.
Why? It would be absurd to claim that Scotland has inherently less tolerance for intolerance than England. Farage himself has gone to great pains to purge those found guilty of racism in UKIP’s ranks.
I suspect that many in the Radical Independence Conference, who organised the protest, would be as keen to slay the Euro dragon (albeit for very different reasons) as Farage is. This was not a pro-EU protest.
It was simply about popular distaste. As UKIP begins to nestle into the warm bosom of the British political establishment, Scots feel a need to point out that this just won’t fly in our own polity.
Activists need a structure to get them mobilised and Independence has given Scots something to congregate around. That journey towards self-expression naturally involves disdain; not for alien individuals, but alien ideas and values.
South of the border, One Nation Labour cannot lead an anti UKIP movement, for all that many in its ranks long for a new Nick Griffin shaped straw man. The reason this isn’t politically possible is that in England Labour have to fight elections with UKIP on right of centre issues. They have to talk tough on immigration and accept a litany of other myhts, not least the notorious “strives vs scroungers” fallacy.
Scotland is unique in that, while the populist left is long dead at a UK level, there has not been the swing to a right wing populism as represented by UKIP in England. As cultural critic Slavoj Žižek has pointed out a similar pattern can be seen throughout Europe.
In Scotland however; the popular enemy is not the “other”; not foreigners or neighbours; but the Westminster political and financial elite. The fact that Farage belongs to the latter not the former is irrelevant (from the perspective of this rowdy northern province the two are identical).
Fundamentally the movement towards self-government in Scotland provides a focal point for radical thought and action that calls out right wing populism for what it is.
Although some have already sought to sanitise the event by failing to report the fact that the it was organised by the RIC – they can’t ignore Farage’s words – he’s never had to hide from protestors until he came north of the border.
That’s because in Scotland UKIP consistently loses its deposits and only speaks on issues that are resonate in a very different place.
On Europe Farage may be the political outsider in London – but in Scotland his neo-Thatcherite brand of right-wing populism is simply foreign.
As the wealthy city financier, deported on grounds of political incompatibility, sped up the Royal Mile guarded from the mob like Queensberry, he may just have learned a lesson the London papers could never tell him.
Scotland isn’t anti-English – it’s just a different country.
Photography by @C_KAndrews