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Ukip's Future Fortunes Will Follow Fate of SNP

10/12/2014 17:07 GMT | Updated 09/02/2015 10:59 GMT

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Image credit: (Getty images)

Media speculation surrounding UKIP's likely performance at next year's general election will continue to escalate between now and polling day, as its rise remains one of the key political developments of this parliament. Yet to understand the party's likely fortunes in 2015 and beyond, we need look no further than recent Scottish National Party (SNP) history.

This years Scottish independence referendum was fought around the cornerstone policy of the SNP's very existence. Similarly, an in-out referendum on the UK's membership of the EU in 2017 would require UKIP to do the same. The parallels between the two referendums, and the long term impact of the results on both parties is stark.

Salmond and Farage also share far more in common than either would care to acknowledge. Each has finely tuned his political strategy and rhetoric to chime with their respective nationalist narratives. In an era of increased scepticism toward mainstream parties across the political divide, their personal and political party's stock has rocketed.

Bar John Major's short spell 1996-97 running a minority administration, 2010 saw an end to the 30 years trend of majority government in Westminster. It also marked the end of an ability by any main-stream political party to deliver a unifying political message that transcends the northern and southern disillusionary divide. By stepping into this void, both the SNP and UKIP have thrived, yet both parties share two critical weaknesses.

Firstly by successful forcing UK governments to hold referendums on issues that are central tenants to the parties appeal; they have at the same time inadvertently created a platform for their own party's demise in the long-term, should a 'no' vote triumph. Let's presume for a moment as in 1975 the British public vote to remain a member of the EU in 2017, as with Salmond earlier this year, Farage's position becomes untenable and he will surely have no option but to resign.

This leads onto the second issue faced by both parties; As the Romans found to their peril, the end of a revered emperor's era, can lead to the catastrophic crumbling of the empire itself.

In the same way, political parties with one man-band tendencies as the SNP and UKIP, whose leaders have become more recognisable than the parties themselves, steer into trouble when their leaders step down. While we have yet to see what an SNP led by Nicola Sturgeon is capable of, it has been on the leadership clocks of Farage and Salmond that their parties have gone from fringe protest movements to insurgent political contenders.

The vigour re-injected back into politics as a result of the Scottish referendum has reignited political engagement in a way we've not seen for a generation. This has been reflected by the exponential growth of the SNP party membership, which has increased by 350% since the referendum and now stands in excess of 90,000. They have correspondingly replaced the Lib-Dems as the third largest membership party in the UK. In a highly anticipated lead up and aftermath of an in-out referendum on Europe, UKIP will undoubtedly experience a similar surge in support.

While the result of a 2017 referendum remains far from clear, the vote in 2014 north of the boarder provides us with a blue print for the fate awaiting UKIP's purple people's army.