Nigel Farage flees barrage of abuse from Edinburgh protesters

Party leader takes shelter in police riot van as demonstrators chant: 'Ukip scum off our streets'

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Nigel Farage in Edinburgh
Nigel Farage is escorted away by police officers after protesters disrupted his press conference. Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA

Perhaps for the first time in his political career, Nigel Farage, the scourge of British politics, found himself in retreat on Thursday evening as dozens of protesters hounded him out of central Edinburgh.

The Ukip leader was finally whisked away in a police riot van under a tirade of abuse from a crowd of about 50 young demonstrators – students, anti-racist campaigners and activists in the radical left pro-Scottish independence movement – after being forced to retreat not once, twice or three times, but four times.

Farage was first forced out of the Canon's Gait pub on the Royal Mile after the landlord took fright as the demonstrators disrupted his casual press conference with shouts of "racist", "scum" and "homophobe". Out on the street, as the fingers pointed and taunts escalated, he was rejected by one taxi and turfed out of a second.

Then, finally, the harassed and ill-prepared handful of officers were forced to push him back into the Canon's Gait, slamming its front doors shut, as the demonstrators chanted: "Nigel, you're a bawbag, Nigel you're a bawbag, na, na, na, hey!" with gusto.

The etched sign above the Canon Gait's door read: "Enjoy your visit."

With further verses of "Ukip scum, off our streets" echoing in his ears, Farage was bustled into a police van under the glare of television camera lights.

After gamely attempting to argue back, trying to hit back at the repeated accusations of racism and homophobia with protests of innocence, Farage finally had to admit his surprise. "We've never, ever, ever had this kind of response. Is this a kind of anti-English thing? It could be," he said to a reporter.

It wasn't. Not entirely. The protesters disagreed. Many said they were there to protest at Ukip's stance on immigration and the political backgrounds of Ukip's motley collection of local council candidates; others were there to protest against his party's obscure economic policies. There was no violence, no punches thrown, no missiles lobbed.

Rachel, a young woman in a wheelchair who had wheeled herself on to the Royal Mile to blockade the second taxi Farage tried to take, said simply: "Ukip are just bullshit."

Some were independence campaigners there to remind him of his nationality: after one, standing just a few feet from Farage, invited the Ukip leader to "shove your union jack up your arse", a flustered Farage said: "Clearly this is anti-British, anti-English. They even hate the union jack."

Farage had arrived at the Canon's Gait in buoyant mood, planning for his long-denied breakthrough into Scottish politics.

Compared to the near-25% support in the English local elections, the highest his party has ever polled in Scotland is 5.2% in the 2009 European elections; in many others, Ukip support rests at under 1%.

The latest Ipsos Mori opinion poll, published in early May, found that just two Scots out of 1,001 would vote Ukip.

He was hoping for a quiet, convivial briefing – hopefully with pint in hand – with the Scottish political press corps. This was to be the official launch of Ukip's campaign for the Holyrood parliamentary seat of Aberdeen Donside – a seat held very comfortably by the Scottish National party.

"We've proved we can get votes in Wales, England and Northern Ireland, We're still untested in Scotland," he said. "We've not had an opportunity to test Ukip policies with the Scottish people for a very long time." Asked about Ukip's chances, he was optimistic. "I wouldn't be at all surprised if we did quite creditably."

Less than 30 minutes after speaking those words, the MEP for South-East Counties was sitting hunched on the rear seat of a police riot van being driven off at speed, his plans to introduce Otto Inglis, Ukip's ever hopeful candidate for the Scottish parliament byelection on 20 June, forgotten.

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