Edinburgh’s genteel New Town is normally a quiet, almost reserved, part of town. It’s the kind of place you would expect to see a family helping their kids into the back of a respectable hatchback or an elderly couple out for a stroll in the occasional glimpse of sunlight. On Thursday however, the serene atmosphere was temporarily shattered as Britain’s most bombastic political party, UKIP, rolled into town to launch its manifesto for May’s Scottish Parliament elections.
While political memories can be short, many will remember the fiasco that occurred the last time the eurosceptic party launched a manifesto in Scotland. Ahead of the 2015 General Election, UKIP Scotland’s party faithful gathered in Falkirk to deliver the party’s pledges. The problem was – no copies of the manifesto showed up owing to a mix-up involving a delivery driver and a bank holiday. This, combined with a non-working website, led to some embarrassment for Nigel Farage’s party and earned it a reputation for a lack of professionalism.
Inside the venue, there was considerable chatter about how things were going to go wrong for UKIP Scotland this time; would there be spelling mistakes, an embarrassing omission, would a speaker humiliate themselves?
Tough lessons, however, seem to be the easiest to learn as professionalism was the order of the day.
The atmosphere of the launch was warm and chummy, with our welcome being given a touch of Caledonian kitsch by the presence of a kilted accordion player belting out some Scottish tunes. The party staff were attentive and gave the appearance of having been well-briefed in advance and security, while certainly present, was not obtrusive. Even the delivery of the printed copies of the manifesto – on a pre-agreed cue in the leader’s speech, a key indicator of party professionalism – was well-executed.
The speeches, introduced by UKIP Scotland’s top candidate in South Scotland, Kevin Newton, were delivered by the two star attractions of the event: UKIP Scotland leader, David Coburn, and Nigel Farage – two men who have both courted controversy in the past.
Mr Coburn focused mainly on his party’s pledges going into the election. He stressed the importance of low taxes, entrepreneurialism, and promised action on high public sector pay, gaining an early laugh and a round of applause by condemning “fatcat council salaries”. Mr Coburn also used his speech to enlighten an eager press corps on UKIP Scotland policy on industry, energy and the NHS. Meanwhile, Mr Farage gave a more general address. He restated his support for Mr Coburn and his team of candidates while also passing comment on the UK and Scottish Governments. Both speeches were, unsurprisingly, laden with references to the European Union and the upcoming referendum. Every word appeared to have been thought out and both men were distinctly on-message.
This may be representative of where UKIP Scotland is as a party within Scottish politics. For some time it was derided and made fun of (sometimes for genuine reasons, like not printing copies of its manifesto) and there was a general feeling that the party’s impact north of the border was not significant.
This has changed.
UKIP Scotland has an elected Scottish MEP and is, according to some polls, on course to establish a presence in the Scottish Parliament in May. One poll has even put the party on course to receive as many as seven seats at Holyrood. The slightly unorthodox trappings of the party are undoubtedly still there but, if its gathering in Edinburgh is anything to go by, things have moved in a more professional direction since its last manifesto launch.
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