Brian Monteith: Salmond and Farage play similar game

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There’s a big election next month, although with all the fog of our war of independence you could be forgiven for not knowing this. It’s the one where we send representatives to the European Union’s Parliament, that august self-important body which has all the relevance and virility of a castrati singing Old Man River.

By the end of May it will be upon us, and maybe as many as a third of us will take part in the election – the same as in 2009. Back then, the Conservatives came first with the United Kingdom Independence Party – in second place and the Labour government trailing in a hugely embarrassing third.

It was the beginning of the growth of Ukip. Sure the party had been around for years, but it was the moment when it arrived and the media had to start taking it seriously and not as a protest vote.

Although it has yet to win a Westminster constituency, it has come very close in by-elections and has consistently knocked the Liberal Democrats into fourth place in UK-wide polling.

It has often intrigued people why Ukip does not make the same impact in Scotland (although it consistently polls better than the Greens and occasionally beats the Lib Dems here too). There is one obvious reason for that, Alex Salmond and the SNP.

On Wednesday night, there was the second of a series of debates between Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Ukip leader Nigel Farage.

The polling afterwards put Farage out in front as a clear winner by 68 to 27 per cent (YouGov) or 69 to 31 per cent (ICM). Whatever way you look at it this was a crushing and humiliating defeat for the Lib Dem leader.

Also this week there was a documentary on Channel 4, Nigel Farage: Who are you? It looked for the man’s flaws to see if there’s a hidden darker side, but found little that could be called embarrassing.

Indeed, Farage was as likeable as any politician can be when the kissing babies and faux charm is unravelled. Farage is clearly a genuine person who tells it as he sees it – and even if you don’t agree with all what he says one has to admire his sincerity.

What was striking to me, being able to look at both a Scottish and a British angle, was just how many similarities there were with oor own Alex Salmond.

Now I don’t agree with Salmond’s politics but one can’t underestimate him and I admire his skill in turning dark clouds into the promise of bright sunlight.

What we have in Farage is a man who likes nothing better than sharing a pint and fag with his friends, preferably down at the local – and is not averse to be seen doing this.

After all, it shows his common touch and reassures many that he’s “one of us”. The same goes for ­Salmond, there’s nothing he likes better than a curry at the local Indian. Again, while genuine, accentuating this trait is all about playing-up the “one of us” persona.

Both by instinct have a warm, welcoming, happy demeanour. Even when listening seriously to a convoluted question they can instantly switch on that smile and charm the viewers and listeners – if not their interrogator.

This wins sceptics over and, so long as it does not look like arrogance, becomes very difficult for opponents to combat without coming over as earnest or zealous. Like Clegg did this week.

Both are quick on their feet, good at what can be called plausible bluster, and almost always have an answer. And both want independence, Farage for the UK from the European Union and Salmond for Scotland from the UK – but this is where they part, for what they call independence actually differs.

In Salmond’s independent Scotland we are told, we shall still be members of the EU, although we will have to renegotiate our membership fee and all those treaties the UK signed up to – losing in the process some of the advantages that past prime ministers won for us.

Thatcher’s rebate? Forget it. John Major’s Maastricht exemptions? Gone. The VAT reductions on many goods? Finished. And the chance of a referendum to say if we accept the terms? Of course not, Alex Salmond refuses to countenance one.

Not only that, but if Salmond gets to keep the pound through a formal currency union, the Bank of England, the UK Treasury and Westminster will all keep oversight and influence over Scottish public spending, our tax rates and interest rates.

Farage wants the whole of the UK outside the EU trading with the world. He wants us to save our £34 million a day membership fee, set our own trade agreements with countries such as China or South Africa and make our own laws about cucumbers or e-cigs. Unlike Scotland’s commercial relationship with England, which is our biggest customer, the UK’s relationship with the EU is that they need us more than we need them.

And we don’t have to take Farage’s word for it – he wants us all to have a say on it. Ironically, by staying in the UK we could become more independent than if we leave.

Two independence parties. But which is led by the joker?