Harry Cole

Add to Miliband’s worries: Can Ukip go after Labour in Scotland?

Add to Miliband's worries: Can Ukip go after Labour in Scotland?
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Scottish Ukip MEP David Coburn has been shouting off, as his way, about his party’s prospects north of the border in 2015. Mr Coburn is a curious character - and there is a certainly an element of bluster here:

‘We’re looking at the Scottish rust belt. Seats where there were serious industries that were ­allowed to run down, with no replacement. These are seats that Labour has treated like a feudal system. It’s the Central Belt of Scotland, where people have just been abandoned or given sops to keep them happy.’

Whilst it should not be forgotten that Ukip gained 10 per cent of the Scottish vote in European elections last May, a breakthrough on the scale pitched by Coburn remains ambitious. There is already a voice for the disenfranchised, angry Scottish voters who feel that the old parties have not got their backs anymore: They may be the government of Scotland, but the SNP will blunt the impact of Ukip north of the border.

That’s still far from good news for Labour. Ukip might not break through in Scotland, but they are compounding the headaches of Ed Miliband and his strategists. In Scotland, strangely, we see two punchy nationalist parties - one (Ukip) that wants to destroy the very name of the other (the SNP) - both fighting a common enemy: Labour.

For this, Labour only have themselves to blame. A toxic cocktail of arrogance and incompetence is revealing its effects for party up and down this country. Whilst Labour are officially the opposition, vast swathes of the public do not trust them to sufficiently stand up to the Conservative government. If the Scottish independence referendum was not enough of a wake-up call that Labour has taken voters for granted in its birthplace, then their whisker-thin by-election win last week just outside Manchester really ripped off the duvet.

The problem for Ed Miliband is he has been forced into fighting a war on three very distinctive fronts. While the Tories will drill on and on about their long-term economic plan - an identical message to all parts of the country - Labour needs three different messages for three very different demographics.

The conundrum for Miliband is not only trying to win in the south of England - those seats that Tony Blair swept through on his way to a majority. Now, thanks to Nigel Farage, he also needs to to shore up his traditional Labour comfort zones in the north. Labour will need to wake up to how their voters feel about immigration in northern England, though such a tack rightward could drive Scottish voters into the arms of the SNP. Meanwhile, none of this will help detoxify the legacy of the last government in the shires.

The messages that Miliband will need to project against the SNP in Scotland are diametrically opposed to the already conflicting ones he must send in the north and south of England. Riding two horses is tricky enough, but three? From which area will Labour be forced to tactically retreat? I have a pretty good hunch it will be the south.