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Yesterday a politician from a party with no elected representatives in Scotland ended up squabbling with around fifty students outside a Canongate pub. Yes, it was the political event of the year. Twitter was soon pouring over the incident as if it was of a magnitude of the Kennedy assassination and many people were suddenly up to their necks in tweets.

Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), was accosted by some students who initially wanted to challenge him about his immigration policies. He could not reply because they were chanting “racist scum” at him, and when he did begin to finally explain himself, the students suddenly panicked at how reasonable everything was becoming. The chanting resumed and then to save face the students chased Farage aimlessly around the Royal Mile, whilst the hapless politician tried unsuccessfully to commandeer a taxi. He was eventually bundled away in a police van. The police were obviously overreacting: this is vibrant, tolerant multicultural Scotland and not Zimbabwe where opposition politicians need police protection.

A shaken Farage gasped that “I must say I have heard before that there are some parts of Scottish nationalism that are akin to fascism but yesterday I saw that face-to-face.” One can only assume that this true, blue Englishman has heard about Scottish “fascism” from Evelyn Waugh’s WW2 novel Officers and Gentlemen (1955); in which the lunatic Scottish nationalist Miss Carmichael, an avid admirer of Hitler, proclaims that, “When the Germans land in Scotland, the glens will be full of marching men come to greet them, and the professors themselves at the universities will seize the towns.”

Although Farage styles himself as a radical, anti-establishment politician, both he and his pursuers proved equally willing to dispense with the politics. It was far easier to bleat “racist” at each other, even though neither side gave a convincing impression of knowing what the word actually means or had once meant. The murder of Stephen Lawrence had evidently occurred on a distant, unexplored planet.

I still cannot tell what Farage was trying to signify with the expression “anti-English racism.” Throughout modern Scotland, any hatred of the English is now as mythical as the Loch Ness Monster. Farage was possibly referring to the protesters’ scorn for his political conservatism. The protesters likewise called Farage a “racist,” apparently because he opposes unrestricted immigration to Britain. But since Britain was never racially coherent in the first place, it remains altogether mysterious why opposing immigration to this country should be “racist.” Perhaps Farage and the protesters have hatched a conspiracy to devalue the word “racist” until it becomes completely meaningless.

I nonetheless like Nigel Farage. He often seems remarkably straightforward for a politician. If I ever encountered him in a pub, I would like to hear him explain how he can be a libertarian and yet insist that the state should control where people can live and work. He has still to reveal how he can champion a diminished state and simultaneously wish to increase our peacetime defence budget by 40%. Perhaps he has answers to these questions, or else he might discover from talking with me that in policy terms he is treading all over his own feet.

If Farage was welcomed to Scotland with witless abuse, this morning he hung up on the BBC’s “Good Morning Scotland.” Before his interview was terminated, the journalist David Miller had put it to an overheating Farage that: “…the Scottish electorate clearly doesn’t see you as being part of the political debate in Scotland… your political philosophy is an alien political philosophy.” Unfortunately, this is more of an indictment of Scotland than of Farage. Whatever you may think of him, Farage has unique and important points to contribute to the Scottish independence debate, and they deserve a hearing.

It is something of a wonder that the Scottish First Minister should intervene to rebuke a political leader whose party currently holds no Scottish seats. Clearly Farage is still too unpredictable to be safely ignored. Alex Salmond announced that “UKIP… know absolutely nothing about Scotland.” Farage nonetheless seems to know a great deal more about sovereignty and self-determination than the entirety of the Scottish National Party put together. He yesterday pointed out that the SNP’s support for Scottish independence and membership of the EU was a “non-starter intellectually”. He added that, “I’ve no reason to think the people of Scotland would not want to live in a proper democracy rather than be governed by failed old men based in Brussels.”

Can you imagine somebody from today’s Scottish Labour Party making such an impassioned case for democracy? Farage’s ignoble exit has for now left a hole in Scottish politics, and we need desperately for something to fill it. The deciding ace amidst all of Farage’s knaves is that under EU rule, Scottish independence is likely to become merely another form of devolution. In these circumstances, one would do well to heed the warning of Miss Carmichael: “Don’t be caught on Scottish soil on that day.”

[Tychy has previously explored the controversy surrounding one of the protesters, Max Crema, here; and reviewed some excellent journalism by the BBC’s David Miller here. Ed.]

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