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UKIP's 'Che Guevara in tweed' sees close Scottish EU vote

EDINBURGH (Reuters) - Britain’s in-out European Union vote will be much closer in Scotland than polls have indicated, the head of British political party UKIP’s Scottish branch predicted.

“Our polls tell us that it’s almost 50-50 on Brexit (in Scotland), that there is more support than official polls indicate,” David Coburn, whose party wants Britain to leave the EU and curb immigration, said.

UKIP has up to now been weak in Scotland, where polls show a majority of voters favour staying in the European Union. Coburn is its only Scottish representative at the European parliament.

But it is gaining ground and expects to win seven out of 129 seats in Edinburgh’s devolved parliament in an election next month - its first seats in the Holyrood assembly.

“I knock on a lot of doors and people look around and down the street and say, ‘Don’t tell anyone, but I’m voting for you.’ There are lot of shy voters in Scotland,” Coburn, a Glaswegian who wears pin-striped suits and a handkerchief in his top pocket, told Reuters in an interview.

A TNS survey earlier this month found 51 percent of Scots wanted to remain in the EU and 19 percent favoured an exit, with 29 percent saying they did not know, a narrower result than in February when an Ipsos Mori poll put “remain” at 62 percent.

UKIP has around 1,000 members in Scotland, up from 600 in 2014. Growing support for the party in Scotland would be a challenge for British Prime Minister David Cameron who is campaigning for a “remain” vote in the June 23 EU referendum and is counting on Scottish voters to help him.

Scottish membership of UKIP compares with around 115,000 for the Scottish National Party (SNP), which is set for another clear majority in the election for the Holyrood parliament on May 5 - seven weeks before the EU vote.

Coburn is campaigning on issues such as “Saving the Scottish Pub”, which aims to allow pubs to reintroduce smoking rooms. The party also proposes raising the drink-driving limit.

UKIP has an anti-establishment stance which makes Coburn a “Che Guevara in tweed” he joked, referring to the Marxist revolutionary hero and the traditional Scottish cloth.

“People who vote for us are fed up of being ignored while the smart cookies have a laugh at their expense ... we are the party of the oppressed,” the former city trader said.

Senior politicians have said that if Britain votes for Brexit, or leaving the EU, but Scots strongly backed staying in, that could trigger another referendum on Scottish independence. But Coburn says that is unlikely, after secessionists lost a 2014 vote.

“I don’t think (the SNP) dares have another referendum. (First Minister Nicola Sturgeon) offers the promise of it to keep her radicals happy.”

Coburn says Scots are largely polite to him while campaigning, despite his unpopular and outspoken views in a more left-leaning corner of the electorate than the rest of Britain.

“The worst thing anyone has said to me is “go boil your head” but most people just want to have a good old moan. I get a lot of people shake my hand and say “I don’t agree with your party, but I agree with what you’re saying.”

Reporting By Elisabeth O’Leary; Editing by Dominic Evans