The success of Ukip in Scotland is being quietly celebrated in surprising quarters. There are voters, to the left and to the right, who could not bring themselves to back Nigel Farage’s candidate at the ballot box and who do not support any of his policies on Europe or on immigration.
Nonetheless, for many moderate Unionists, a single Ukip seat in Europe, out of Scotland’s six, is preferable to a third Scottish Nationalist, and they are breathing a sigh of relief that zealots at one end of the spectrum have been balanced by a zealot at the other end.
It was Alex Salmond who had identified Ukip as the party to beat in the Euro elections and, in the final stages of campaigning, pitted his SNP hopeful Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh against Ukip’s David Coburn.
The vote, he said, was: “A contest between the new Scotland of hope and ambition that welcomes those who wish to come here and contribute to our society and the appalling politics of intolerance being peddled by Nigel Farage’s Ukip.”
He may now be regretting presenting the choice so starkly, given that around 140,534 Scots evidently favour intolerance over his warm embrace.
Part of the enthusiasm for Ukip instead of the SNP’s third candidate can be blamed on the candidate herself. Even in a cynical game like politics, Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh stands out for her naked opportunism. She defected from Labour to stand for election as a Tory candidate in the Nineties, then, when she failed to become a member of the Scottish parliament, settled on the SNP as her best hope.
Some voters, disillusioned by career politicians trying to board the Euro gravy train, might have thought this was reason enough to opt for an outfit outside the political mainstream, such as Ukip.
But Ms Ahmed-Sheikh is not the whole story. The SNP has tried to downplay the significance of Ukip’s gains in Scotland, with Nicola Sturgeon claiming that their 10.4% here was dwarfed by their huge advance in the rest of the UK. Yet the Nationalists are shaken by the upset and must now concede that even in Scotland, with its much lower levels of immigration than England, there is a growing appetite for the views of the right.
A Survation poll last week revealed that a majority of Scots approve of Ukip’s key policies, with nearly seven out of 10 backing stricter immigration controls, just over a half wanting a cut to overseas aid, and six in 10 favouring a crackdown on benefit claimants. The same poll found that a quarter of Scots want to leave the EU.
There are people here who are as suspicious of Brussels as they are of Westminster, and who would sooner have an in/out referendum on Europe than on Britain. They have more in common with their Europhobic counterparts in England than they do with Mr Salmond’s vision of a “new Scotland”.
The fact that Scots share prejudices, and anxieties, with the English, Welsh and Northern Irish should not be that shocking. After all, the constituent parts of the UK share cultural tastes watching the same programmes, listening to the same music, and stalking the same celebrities; they shop in the same shops; read the same newspapers (if they read them at all); they, mostly, eat the same food and, broadly, adopt the same dress codes.
It’s just that the Nationalist ploy has been to sell separatism on the back of Scotland’s startling divergence from the British (or rather English) way of life and that is blown apart if it turns out that we are all the same.
These Euro elections may be a watershed in European politics, with the surge of the National Front in France, the election of a neo-Nazi in Germany, and triumphant anti-immigration movements in the Netherlands, Greece and Denmark, as well as in Britain.
For Scotland, they may not change the course of the independence debate but they do show us in our true colours.
A spokesman for Mr Salmond was saying just a fortnight ago that Ukip had no mandate in Scotland and that its message did not “resonate” here.
The First Minister may curse Nigel Farage for proving him wrong but he has got to learn to live with him.