Is Nicola Sturgeon trying to channel Nigel Farage? Scotland’s First Minister regaled the 3,000-strong crowd at the SNP’s spring conference today with some nuggets of policy, more demands for Ed Miliband and even a swipe at Margaret Thatcher. But she also positioned herself as part of a UK-wide movement seeking to 'shake up' Westminster in the name of 'ordinary people'. You might add: the Ukip of the north.
SNP folk loathe being compared to Ukip. In fact, when I was writing this piece in a bar at the conference centre, I was berated by a group of Nats who spotted the headline and took me to task. But let’s face it: both are populist-nationalists who love to rail against the Westminster elite. Indeed, Sturgeon said she was sending a ‘message of friendship and solidarity’ to the ordinary people ‘across these islands who feel just as let down by that out of touch Westminster system':
‘As long as Scotland remains part of the Westminster system, we will be your allies in seeking to shake up and reform that outdated and discredited system once and for all. Westminster needs to change. To be more responsive to the needs and demands of ordinary people, wherever they are in the UK.
‘So to people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, I make this promise.The SNP stands ready to work with you in making that positive change for all of us.’
Quite a departure for the SNP, who had hitherto been interested in Scotland. Sturgeon, it seems, now wants to save England from itself.
The atmosphere in this SNP conference is similar to a Ukip conference: it feels more like the meeting of a religious movement than a party conference. As Alex Massie argued earlier, the SNP supporters have the zeal of the converted. Sturgeon and Farage receive similarly rapturous responses from their party faithful when taking the stage for the respective spring conference speeches:
But the SNP is far better at signing people up: it boasts of 3,000 attendees at this weekend’s conference — made up mostly of first-time attendees and new members — while Ukip only managed a third of this in Margate. The SNP announced today it has pass over 100,000 members, against Ukip’s 44,000. Ukip hopes to pick up half a dozen seats or so at the general election while the SNP is on course for about 40-55. But both parties have a clear nationalist message and both have decided the real enemy is the Westminster establishment. The SNP just does it better.