In the past year, two of the UK’s biggest political insurgencies suffered major setbacks: the SNP went down to a ten-point defeat in last autumn’s independence referendum, whilst UKIP were smashed on the rocks of Thanet South in May.
Each party had been built up and led into their respective Waterloos by a similar sort of politician: charismatic, larger-than-life, driven, divisive, and male.
Yet where the SNP have since rebounded to deliver the largest delegation of separatist MPs the Commons has seen since Ireland seceded, UKIP is in the doldrums. And I suggest that a significant factor in this is how their leaders handled defeat.
Alex Salmond resigned, an act which entailed leaving not only the party leadership but also the post of First Minister of Scotland. Nicola Sturgeon took over and has since blossomed into a political phenomenon in her own right.
Nigel Farage resigned… and then tore his party leadership to pieces undoing that resignation. After a spate of horrendous headlines as senior figures tore strips from each other in public the People’s Army largely dropped out of sight, resurfacing to a fresh tranche of unhelpful coverage of this week’s party conference.
Meanwhile, the tension between UKIP’s leader and its only MP led first to a nasty row over the public funds to which Douglas Carswell was entitled, and now to a public falling out between Carswell and major donor Arron Banks over the former’s endorsement of a rival ‘Out’ campaign.
In each case, Farage and Salmond had fully explored the limits of their appeal. Those who loved them, loved them – but their styles also put off many people who might otherwise have been receptive to the party’s message.
The SNP’s leadership handover was also nicely timed to allow it to adapt to the surge of interest from a new sort of voter – left-behind, left-wing, urban – that had occurred during the referendum campaign – no small feat for a party which built itself up in ex-Tory heartlands as the Scottish Parliament’s anti-Labour option.
UKIP also turned out to appeal much more strongly to working-class, urban voters in Wales and the North of England, but has been too consumed by Nigel’s consolidation to effect the sort of fundamental reorientation the Nationalists managed.
As a result, the SNP looks set to be a major player in British politics for the foreseeable future, whilst People’s Army risks dwindling into the organisation which organises Farage’s seaside cabaret tour.
Could Suzanne Evans have been UKIP’s Sturgeon? It doesn’t look like Farage will ever let them find out.