COMPLICATED, isn't it?

David Cameron calls Nigel Farage's Ukip a bunch of "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists". Mr Farage comes to Edinburgh and denounces demonstrators as racists after they accuse him of racism. He calls them scum, they call him a scumbag.

Having admitted before the English local elections that some of his candidates might be British National Party members, Mr Farage then draws the inference that some nationalists in Scotland are fascists, and scum, and anti-English racists. Gordon Brown recently likened Ukip's attitude towards immigrants to the provocations of Enoch Powell. Where does that leave the former Prime Minister on the crypto-fascist scale?

After his brush with a miniature version of the Edinburgh mob, Mr Farage asserted that he had never encountered such treatment before. That might be because elsewhere he has managed to present himself as the moderate, affable man in the pub who likes a laugh and a punitive immigration policy. Mr Farage's strategy is to portray Ukip as the mainstream party of "common sense". Some of us don't feel obliged to believe it.

Still, the speed with which Mr Farage translated jeers over immigration and homophobia into "anti-English racism" was mightily impressive. True, it appears that someone did suggest he could put his Union flag in a place where it would receive no salutes. True, someone else did demand that he should "Leave Scotland, go back to England", a sentiment your basic Ukip patriot wouldn't struggle to grasp. 

But seriously: was there a row in the Royal Mile over the man or his policies? "Anti-English racism" has become the default position of a lot of right-wing folk trying and failing to import this or that piece of ideology. When all else fails – for surely the vote-winning policy can't be at fault – it becomes the only explanation they can grasp. Some even seem to find it congenial.

Let the sponging Scots go. Independence for England. Dissolve (this is one of Ukip's) the Holyrood Parliament. There's a lot of it about. According to some recent research, there has been a fascinating parallel increase in the numbers of people identifying themselves as English rather than British. One conclusion being drawn is that this might explain the Ukip phenomenon.

We are not short of racists in Scotland. We don't lack for those witless enough to believe that all their problems would be solved if "something was done" about immigration. There are handfuls of blood-and-soil types hanging around the fringes of nationalism. None of it has thus far amounted to anything. The BNP and its predecessors spent years trying to work out why they couldn't turn Scottish prejudices into support, even at football grounds.

Ukip has the same problem. Why won't proudly-British reactionary Scots flock to its cause? Mr Farage and his friends have a prejudice for every occasion. With barely a third of voters in the mood for independence, meanwhile, you can accuse a few dozen radicals on Edinburgh's High Street of being anti-English, if only as handy distraction, but it's a struggle to pin the label on the whole country.

Mr Farage is not what you would call anti-nationalist. At the last General Election he stood for this ambition (from the Ukip manifesto): "No longer will our country have to grovel to the EU for permission to spend our own money to save our post offices, car plants or power stations, or to negotiate our trade deals and determine our destiny". 

The Ukip leader's conceptual difficulty is one of those squaring-the-circle problems. He shares it with all those Tory MPs who are giving David Cameron such grief. Seeking "independence" from the European Union is a proud and noble ambition. Seeking independence from the UK is but one step away from anti-English racism. Embattled in Embra, Mr Farage said: "Clearly this is anti-British, anti-English. They even hate the Union Jack".

The elision from British to English was, as always, fascinating. But if a chap doesn't know the difference between the Union flag and the Union Jack he's probably beyond help. Mr Farage's real problem is two-fold. First, you might find yourself detested if your policies are detestable. Secondly, what he calls anti-English racism is better explained by Ukip's success in making itself a repository for English identity.

Don't take my word for it. The research mentioned has been carried out by the universities of Edinburgh and Cardiff – non-aligned observers, you might say – along with the Institute for Public Policy Research for a work called the Future of England Survey. The full results mined from the 2011 census have yet to be released, but there are preliminary conclusions.

For example: in the census "70% per cent of the English population identified themselves as either solely English or English in combination with some other national identity. Just 29% of respondents identified themselves as feeling any sense of British national identity". Fully 55% of Ukip's supporters said they were "English not British".

Equally, when people were asked: "Which party best stands up for English interests?", Ukip topped the list, scoring 21% to 19% for Labour and 17% for the Tories. Writing in the Spectator earlier this month, Guy Lodge, Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) associate director, commented that "it is exactly those voters who feel more strongly English who also believe that England is getting a raw deal from its membership of both the European Union and the current political settlement in the United Kingdom".

Richard Wyn-Jones, professor of politics at Cardiff and co-author of the report, was meanwhile quoted in the IPPR's press release. He said the Ukip phenomenon is more than anti-European or anti-politics. It is a "much broader transformation in attitudes", one that is "bringing England and Englishness to the fore as a political community and political identity... Ukip is surfing a wave of existential angst about England's place in world."

Almost simultaneously, Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University has produced a briefing paper for ScotCen (the Scottish Centre for Social Research), entitled Who Supports And Opposes Independence – And Why, using the 2012 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey. In part, this confirms what you might have guessed: 23% say they are "Scottish not British"; 30% identify themselves as "more Scottish than British".

So why isn't there 53% support for independence? Crudely put, because a Scottish identity is "a near-ubiquitous attachment that unites rather than divides most people in Scotland". Britishness is a different matter: "the more strongly British someone feels, the less likely they are to support independence". Among Scots generally, it is "how British they feel that divides them".

In short – this is my gloss – the SNP's task is not to encourage Scots to feel more Scottish, but to persuade them to feel less British. In that event, of course, a Farage will pop up, England's chosen voice, and accuse Alex Salmond of being anti-English. Nationalists will have to live with that.
One country wants to be independent of the other. The other, in this case, is England. The idea that the process will be amicable at every turn is naive. With Ukip on the scene and English nationalism resurgent, we probably haven't seen the half of it.