As the country goes to the polls for today’s European elections, one of the biggest questions is how well the Brexit Party will fare.
It looks set for an extraordinary showing in England. Whilst the range of results offered by different pollsters is fairly wide, it seems likely that Nigel Farage’s party will match or exceed UKIP’s strong showing in 2014, despite only having been in existence for a matter of weeks.
But what about the rest of the country?
The Welsh political class have always been intensely irritated that their voters backed Leave in the 2016 referendum. It undercut both a well-prepared grievance narrative about the Principality getting ‘dragged out’ of the EU by England and a broader, flattering image of Wales as an inherently ‘progressive’ nation.
Of course, the Cardiff Bay devocrats didn’t let the reality of Wales’ political choices knock them off script for long. But the underlying strength of Welsh Euroscepticism has refused to go away, and looks set to deliver a truly extraordinary set of election results this week.
Professor Roger Awan-Scully, the doyen of Welsh political polling, has the figures: the latest Political Barometer poll puts the Brexit Party on 36 per cent, which would give it two of Wales’ four European Parliament seats. The other two would be taken by Plaid Cymru and Labour, with the Nationalists knocking the latter into third place.
(The Tories are sixth-placed, on just seven per cent of the vote. A spotlight was put on their woes this week when a Welsh association chairmen wrote on this site about his support for the Brexit Party – and then refused CCHQ’s demand he resign.)
Were Farage’s team able to carry this momentum through to the next Assembly election, they would scoop 13 seats, versus just seven for the Conservatives. This would put paid to any lingering Tory hopes of a two-party coalition with Plaid. Farage has already made sure to impress his authority on the new group after UKIP’s was plagued by infighting.
Then there’s Scotland. There has apparently been something of a conspiracy of silence around the Brexit Party’s prospects north of the border. As in Wales, its strength undercuts the stories devocrats tell themselves about Scotland and, as with devo-scepticism, it is therefore under-represented in the media.
Nonetheless, they look to be set to take second place, and are the only party other than the SNP which currently look guaranteed to win at least one MEP. According to this final projection from Election Maps UK they may even win two, the same number as the SNP.
The final two seats in that scenario go to Labour and the Liberal Democrats, with the former once again recording a miserably low position in a territory it once dominated. As in Wales the rise of the Brexit Party appears to have squeezed the Tories (although this projection does show them picking up a seat despite the former getting two).
Scottish Conservatives have attacked the Brexit Party for wooing Scottish Nationalists, with Farage calling on ‘genuine nationalists’ to support his party and arguing that Scotland wouldn’t be properly independent inside the EU. This makes tactical sense, as roughly a third of independence supporters backed Brexit and they’re utterly unrepresented by either the SNP or the Greens, the two formally separatist parties.
Whether this stance is bad for the Union isn’t yet clear. It would certainly be problematic if the Brexit Party’s ambivalence on the subject survived the formalisation of its policy agenda ahead of a general election. In the short term, however, there is definitely an upside to a party which could potentially peel a chunk of voters away from the Nationalists, especially in pursuit of a policy which (as I have argued previously) is good for the Union.
As for Northern Ireland, the Brexit Party is not standing there so as not to undermine the Democratic Unionists. Ulster uses a different electoral system for its MEPs, so with Sinn Fein and the DUP still locked for one seat each all the energy is concentrated in a tense three-way battle between the SDLP, Ulster Unionists, and centrist Alliance Party for the final seat.
Until now the forces of capital-U Unionism have held two out of three of Northern Ireland’s MEPs, a fact which seems likely to change this week. The significance will depend in part on who takes it: the Alliance is pitching to pro-Remain unionist voters with an explicit argument that opposing Brexit need not mean forsaking allegiance to the United Kingdom.