Nigel Farage ‘in win-win’ battle with Nicola Sturgeon as independence bid looms
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Reform UK announced its intention to enter into the independence debate in Scotland, pledging to sweep up pro-Union voters and give them a voice against the likes of Ms Sturgeon. Enlisting ex-Tory MSP Michelle Ballantyne as its Scottish leader, Mr Farage was back on the campaign push before May’s important Holyrood elections. Ms Sturgeon, who has spent the years since Scotland voted to stay in the UK clamouring for another vote, is aiming to use this year’s election to get her independence dream back on track.
She argues that should enough people support her pro-EU party, it will show Scotland’s desire to have another referendum on its place within the UK.
Mr Farage and Ms Ballantyne vowed to ensure they make a “positive case for the Union”, with the latter arguing Ms Sturgeon’s independence plan “will deliver chaos”.
Richard Tice, Chairman of Reform UK, predicted his party was in a “win-win” situation, despite legendary pollster Sir John Curtice suggesting they could split the Union vote north of the border.
Mr Tice, a former MEP, told political expert Bruce Newsome on the Risky Scientist YouTube channel, that a debate on the Union itself, including the likes of Wales and Northern Ireland, was essential.
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He said: “If you don’t do it in an open rational way, we’re clearly heading towards a situation where at some point Scotland is going to secure another referendum and may well vote to leave the UK.
“My belief is that we need to have a different discussion and look at it in a slightly different way, and is there a win-win?
“I think there are… and I actually think people are up for a discussion.
“Let’s get through this pandemic, and build the confidence up again, I think these are constitutional issues that we need to talk about.”
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Among the main sticking points he believes need to be resolved are devolution, and ensuring each nation is able to make decisions it wants.
His optimistic view was shared by associate director of political and social research at YouGov, Adam McDonnell, who argued by having Mr Farage as the party’s spearhead, a few surprises could be seen at the polls this year.
As well as Scotland heading to the voting booth, counts are taking place in England, Wales and London, for local elections.
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Mr Tice said in November the party had received thousands of applications from candidates since Reform UK’s rebrand that month.
Mr McDonnell also exposed how Reform UK’s other pledges, like becoming the anti-lockdown party, could also see Mr Farage and his peers collect votes.
Most polling from YouGov in November demonstrated the public did not agree with Mr Farage on issues such as lockdowns, despite him claiming “restrictions are a threat to freedom”.
Mr McDonnell explained that “perceptions change and while this most recent national lockdown has strong support, it has fallen compared to the 93 percent who supported the first lockdown back in March”.
He added: “If this trend continues with any potential future lockdown measures, then the anti-lockdown pool available to Farage will widen.
“Additionally, his own ratings have fluctuated and are far from their peak.
“Just after the European Parliament elections in 2019, Farage’s personal approval was at 30 percent and there is no reason they won’t increase again if he is able to get enough airtime.”
But more recently, Sir John dismantled any suggestion that Reform UK could rock Holyrood by detailing how if anything Mr Farage would “divide the pro-Union vote”, and not inspire a movement.
Speaking to The National in January, he argued that the party would likely target Conservative, Brexit-backing voters, which Sir John claimed could see the Tories lose their position as official opposition.
He said: “More Leave voters vote Tory than anything else, so the Tories are the ones which will be least happy.
“A third of SNP voters backed Leave, but with Reform UK running with the type of British nationalism that was typical of the Brexit Party and UKIP that doesn’t do well up here.
“But one suspects Tory Leave voters are somewhat more vulnerable [to the Reform Party] than SNP Leave voters. Meanwhile, of course, it fractures the Unionist vote a bit more.”
Since the start of 2020, opinion polls for a second Scottish independence vote have given “Yes” a consistent lead over the rival “No” campaign.
Scotland had an independence referendum in 2014, in which 55 percent voted to stay in the union.
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