The scores are in, the stations have closed, and Europe has chosen.
Whilst mainstream parties overall have undergone a fairly significant decrease in their share of the vote, establishment-shocking parties, benefitting from the system of proportional representation, have made quite a gain.
In the UK, UKIP have lured discontented voters from not only their closest neighbours the Conservatives but also from the left (Labour) – the main opposition party who ought to have made the most gains, going on the premise that people tend to go mostly for the opposition in an attempt to flag up their concerns during mid-term elections. The Front National in France, who tried and failed to bind themselves to UKIP, have also come out of this with a pretty strong basis of support. In Greece, on the other hand, instead of an electoral contingent defecting to further right parties, ire at the EU’s fairly hefty austerity measures* have produced a win for SYRIZA (or Coalition of the Radical Left).
The BBC, and other UK news outlets, covered their front pages with this UKIP ‘earthquake’. This says more about the seismic waves than about the actual effects of having more UKIP seats in Strasbourg than of other parties; the widespread coverage largely is centered on shock more than anything else.
This shock is because, despite professional and social media campaigns to the contrary, UKIP has overcome all 3 main Westminster parties and have won a seat in SNP/Labour territory, Scotland.
So far, all I’ve said is obvious. It’s obvious that these results have shocked the Westminster establishment; they’ve shocked people who didn’t vote for them and thought nobody else would.
But actually, these results go deeper than Strasbourg. Deeper even than the soul-searching promised by the Liberal Democrats. These elections, the first for 100 years in which neither the Conservatives or Labour have won nationally, do not only show that a large proportion of voters are disenchanted with the 3-party grip on Westminster. They do not only show that the minor partner in a coalition stands to suffer damage. They show the danger of society dismissing a party or an ideal as a non-starter and failing to combat the political threat in sufficient time.
We vote in general elections via the first-past-the-post system, so I’m not talking about UKIP winning the general election – I may be wrong, but UKIP will probably come second in a lot of constituencies which under this system will gain them few seats. Yes, an increase, but not a huge one.
In September, Scotland decides. It decides whether it will cast off its 1709 bailout banker England, thus (according to George Osbourne, Mark Carney and most of the Westminster establishment) seeing an ostensible decrease to GDP and economy and severing a fraternity of nations which has stood since the Stuarts reigned, or whether it will preserve the union.
The problem is that most people south of the border (myself included) thought that the referendum on Scottish independence would end up with an easy win by No and an embarrassing defeat for the SNP (who have otherwise enacted some fairly good policies). But, just as many people discounted UKIP, there is a risk the same thing has happened with Yes.
Every time Westminster points out a fault with independence, polls (some commissioned by the SNP, some not) seem to suggest the Yes support increases. Whilst this seems to counter reason, if true, this suggests that the decline in support for the establishment is far more substantial than thought. Not only that, but the more ardent SNP supporters feel affronted by what they perceive as English interference in Scottish life in a mindset indelibly created predominantly through the devastation of the Highland Clearances – something which Yes feeds off, and No finds near-impossible to combat.
Not only has this disenchantment or want of a protest vote led to a UKIP victory and a seismic shock for Westminster, but it could also lead to a fissure in our country which is almost irreparable. The latest poll indicates Yes at 34%, No at 46% and undecided at 20% – a victory for No – but even the conductors admit the uncertainty of those results.
I’m British, neither English nor Scottish nor Welsh nor Irish**, and the logic of splitting up all my loyalties, history and heritage is non-existent. Coupled with the economic disadvantages and loss of connection as regards trade, entertainment and culture, I am concerned that the inclination to turn away from traditional parties is going to cost our island nation in a way scarcely anticipated.
With the referendum in September, these European elections signal the final countdown. Let’s hope the results thereof stir Westminster into even greater action to campaign more fiercely for No. It is no longer safe just to assume the failure of a radical change on the basis of its dramatic nature or obvious faults.
*(which were only designed to lift them from their national economic crisis so is it really fair to complain when the end goal is so important?)
**(even though Northern Ireland technically don’t count as Britain but there isn’t really an adjectival form of ‘United Kingdom’)