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%.