21/05/2013 09:37 BST | Updated 20/07/2013 06:12 BST

The Protest Against Farage Was More Troubling than UKIP

As a political party in Scotland, UKIP are a nonentity. This is a fact that should have made Nigel Farage's recent visit to Edinburgh an event of minimal importance, rather than the fracas it turned into.


As a political party in Scotland, UKIP are a nonentity. This is a fact that should have made Nigel Farage's recent visit to Edinburgh an event of minimal importance, rather than the fracas it turned into. Yet instead of exposing the ostensible "racism" of UKIP, the protest highlighted the hermetically sealed political bubble in which some protesters inhabit.

This is not attempt to defend UKIP as a party, or their hapless leader. They will remain a weak political force, and are unlikely to have a future in British politics, should an E.U referendum come to pass.

The question is whether their attempt to make inroads in Scotland merited the opprobrium witnessed last week. Of course, freedom of speech and assembly means the freedom to protest, assertively if necessary. Politicians should expect and receive public criticism, and protests are an important part of this process.

What makes last week's occurence so objectionable is that a ragtag, radical coalition sought a monopoly on defining Scotland's political culture. They get to decide which parties are welcome and "not welcome" in the country. For some reason, a party leader holding a meeting in an informal setting was treated like the Munich Beer Hall Putsch, and shut down accordingly. Anyone who has watched footage of the incident can see that there is a clear and uncomfortable sense of physical intimidation.

The raison d'etre of the protest was that Farage and UKIP are racist and support racist policies. Because in the mind of the protesters, any opposition to internationalism is an inherently racist position.

Now it seems certain that there are people within the party with racist views. But it is a non sequitur to assume this convicts Farage and the party as a whole of racism. There is certainly evidence to suggest that he has tried to eliminate these elements. Labour are not defined by the communists that still dwell among their ranks. It would be nice if this favour was returned to UKIP.

A real issue is whether holding anti-immigration and anti-Europe opinions automatically equates to being a racist or a xenophobe, or whatever "phobe" is attached to those who oppose the orthodoxies of today. This protest aimed to make this equation. But because they dress themselves as defenders of democratic values, they are oblivious to their own intolerance. Large swathes of the country actually support these beliefs in one way or another, and it is unlikely that they are all rabid Little Englanders.

At least the outcome of the protest has been unintentionally funny. For one, it seems to have achieved Mr Farage's intended purpose: to raise the profile of UKIP in Scotland. The meeting he attended was embarassingly small. They poll a negligible amount in the country. For Farage's suffering, they have been awarded significant media attention. Also, few seemed to have appreciated the irony of challenging a populist party with such vapid, anti-intellectual slogans as "You can shove your Union Jack up your arse."

Not that this has prevented any self congratulatory posturing by the protest leaders. They have insisted it was a victory for the Scottish people, and in doing so pose as gatekeepers of the country's political culture. They depict Scotland as a uniformly liberal, pro-European social democracy. Clearly the term 'Tartan Tory' is not part of their lexicon.

We should stop pretending this is the case. Scotland is not a homogeneous mass of gushing, bleeding heart liberalism. While Farage was naive in the extreme to compare it to fascism, Scottish nationalism undeniably has sinister elements. This was the fundamental contradiction of those protesting UKIP last week. For all their romantic rhetoric after the event, their conduct was shameful and undemocratic. Preventing a party leader from conducting their activities should certainly not be a point of pride.

Their idea of Scotland is one where legitimate political positions are marginalised, howled down and forced into silence. This is a lot more sinister than anything UKIP aim to achieve.