By midnight on Thursday it was hard to find anyone in Edinburgh who was gladdened by Nigel Farage’s leaden-footed incursion into Scottish politics. Certainly not the landlords of the Canons’ Gait pub on the Royal Mile, who were given just a few hours’ notice of the Ukip leader’s decision to hold court in their establishment. Nor the taxi driver who refused a fare rather than chauffeur Farage through a small knot of confused protestors, who moments before had been imploring him to go home. And probably not the police, who bundled Farage back into the pub, ostensibly to ensure his safety, but more probably to save themselves the bother of having to arrest him and be stuck with his company for even longer.
History is supposed to repeat itself first as tragedy and later as farce. Farage’s instinct, however, is to eschew the formalities and dive head-first into farce. Why else conduct a press conference in a pub, if not to establish the saloon bar as a credible political arena? The students who interrupted him could have conducted themselves in an orderly manner and engaged the Ukip leader in rational debate. But that would be to extend a courtesy that has never encumbered Farage’s own rhetoric. He is the man who built a career on cheap insults and empty slogans, who told the president of the EU he had “all the charisma of a damp rag” during a European Parliament debate, whose adviser Christopher Monckton once described the Scots as “subsidy junkies whingeing like a trampled bagpipe” as the country’s industry was being shut down, and who only minutes before the Canons’ Gait press call turned ugly told a demonstrator: “you are less intelligent than you look, dear boy”. If politics today is in the gutter, it is because Farage has been instrumental in dragging it there. He is a troll who has gone offline and ambushes mainstream politics from below.
Nowhere was this better illustrated than in the stunningly mendacious tour of television interviews that Farage embarked on on Friday. Almost nothing that he said during a one-man rolling news marathon was distinguished by any semblance of truth. He began by demonstrating his commitment to fair, honest and open debate in a bewildering interview with BBC Radio Scotland which culminated in his slamming the phone down. He later claimed the exchange was “insulting, unpleasant and virtually condoning the behaviour we saw on the streets of Edinburgh yesterday”. In truth David Miller had done no more than ask a few pointed and moderately aggressive questions based on statements the Ukip leader had made in the past. Farage went on to accuse Alex Salmond of saying “the same as those yobbos said yesterday: ‘Go home, we don’t want you here.’” Salmond had said nothing of the kind, merely dismissing Farage as an irrelevance in Scottish politics and suggesting he should get a sense of perspective. Meanwhile, anybody on Twitter who questioned Farage’s honesty was accused of blaming the victim and siding with the yobbos. But there are no victims in farce: it’s one of the distinguishing features of the genre. Farage had blundered into a publicity coup and was determined to extract full value from it, like the pub bore who gets punters to buy him drinks by showing his “war wounds” that were actually sustained in a kitchen altercation with the tin opener.
People who should know better have since portrayed Farage as a martyr to free speech and the episode as exposing the savage anti-English underbelly of Scottish nationalism. It was a bandwagon started up by Farage himself when he claimed the protesters were fuelled by a “desire to burn the Union Jack”. This was plainly untrue: the demonstrators’ slogan stated quite unambiguously that they had a very different fate for the flag in mind. Farage later softened his line that he had been attacked by a bunch of virulently anti-English savages when it emerged that many of those who accosted him were, in fact, English. There are people in Scotland who hate the English and there are people who want to build a modern nation: who see the English as neighbours rather than landlords and think it’s about time the political reality caught up. Only an idiot or a cynic would confuse the two; Farage can decide for himself which category he falls into. But it’s a sure sign that a political situation has descended into farce when Lord George Foulkes is able to position himself as the voice of reason. “He is like a bull in a china shop and has just come into Scottish politics with flat feet and muddied the water,” the Labour peer surmised. This confused and laboured simile should be the epitaph for Farage’s Scottish political odyssey. That and the sound of a phone line going dead.