SNP’s feeble 45 at Westminster will feel right at home
The newly revealed plan by the Cabinet Office Minister, Michael Gove, to scrap English Votes for English Laws will be welcomed by fellow Unionists who felt this ‘Evel’ act rubbed salt in Scottish rebels’ wounds after the 2014 referendum. Actually, it was more of a desperate ploy by David Cameron to counter the threat of UKIP before he could work up the courage to call a referendum on EU membership. His cynical, partisan manoeuvre failed to have that designed effect, of course. All it did was leave Scottish MPs feeling like second-class members of the Westminster club. And we all know how much the SNP contingent loves to be cradled in the arms of the Mother of Parliaments.
Anyone who doesn’t realise quite how at home Ian Blackford and co. are in the House of Commons should read a blog posted by Andrew Gimson on the influential website ConservativeHome. A former parliamentary sketch writer with the Telegraph, this right-of-centre scribe had many opportunities to observe the SNP group at close quarters from the parliamentary press gallery. He didn’t dislike what he saw:
Most of the SNP MPs are not, at heart, wreckers. Many of them grow fond of the Commons. Just as a footballer cannot help feeling an affection for a stadium in which he or she scores goals, so a debater cannot help feeling an affection for a Chamber in which he or she scores points. And what is even more wonderful, some of these SNP MPs yearn to become members of the Privy Council, entitled to be addressed as Right Honourable, and sworn to defend Her Majesty the Queen against all assaults by her enemies.
In 2015, when the SNP made its great Westminster breakthrough, winning 56 out of 59 Scottish seats and supplanting the Liberal Democrats as the third party, its then parliamentary leader, Angus Robertson, was made a Privy counsellor, having been appointed a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee. To compile a full list of the SNP MPs who yearn for this distinction would be beyond my powers, especially as those on the list might deny any desire for such a bauble…
The SNP ought not to be taken as seriously as it wishes us to take it. Much the best way to embarrass its members at Westminster would be to hail them as friends and fellow members of the Establishment.
That already seems to be happening. Jacob Rees-Mogg, Leader of the House, has taken to referring to the Nats’ Westminster chieftain affectionately by his first name, telling ConHome:
The difficulty for Ian is that he’s such a fundamentally decent and nice man that he can’t really upset proceedings in the Commons. He’s not Parnell.
Charles Stewart Parnell, the legendary leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, created havoc in the House in the late 19th century as he skilfully pursued his campaign for Home Rule. But the Commons amended its standing orders to put a stop to such sabotage of its business. Consequently, as the Alba MP Kenny MacAskill regretfully acknowledged recently, any fierce rebels who converge on the Palace of Westminster from other parts of the Celtic Fringe are simply unable to emulate Parnell.
Merrily aware of this, Michael Gove is showing no hesitation in giving back to Scottish MPs the right to vote on legislation affecting NHS England and the education system south of the Border. Such a situation was deemed patently unfair and undemocratic by Labour’s most determined opponent of devolution Tam Dalyell when he posed his famous West Lothian Question. But it now looks certain to be restored. Zealously spearheading the UK Government’s efforts to save the Union, Mr Gove told The Times today that Evel has outlived its usefulness:
Ultimately, it’s a convention which arose out of a set of circumstances after the 2014 referendum, where you had a coalition government and so on. We’ve moved on now, so I think it’s right to review where we are on it. The more we can make the House of Commons and Westminster institutions work for every part of the UK and every party in the UK, the better.
The move was immediately endorsed by Labour’s Shadow Scotland Secretary, Ian Murray, who warned back in 2015 that the Conservatives were “putting a wrecking ball through the constitution” with a move designed simply to appease rebel Tory backbenchers. He told The Scotsman today:
Evel was an ill-judged and reckless act by David Cameron which undermined the Union just hours after Scots voted to remain in the UK. The policy is an incomprehensible mess which has weakened British democracy, weakened Scotland’s voice in Parliament, and created two classes of MPs despite being supported historically by SNP MPs.
The reaction of nationalist members in the Commons to the introduction of Evel was quite a sight to behold. Pete Wishart looked as though he might burst a blood vessel when he warned that removing his right to vote on English laws was “only going to help me and my honourable friends cause damage” to the constitutional status quo:
This is probably the one thing — the one thing — that is going to drive the demand for Scottish independence. This isn’t saving the Union, this is creating division.
Quite why any Scottish nationalist should feel a burning duty to proffer advice on saving the Union wasn’t something the member for Perth and North Perthshire explained. Perhaps the reason was that Mr Wishart was already preparing to launch his (vain) bid to replace John Bercow as Speaker of the House. A bauble I wish the British parties had mischievously granted him, if only to reveal just how comfortably assimilated the SNP contingent at Westminster has become.
Giving back the right to potentially vote down English legislation possibly triggered some alarm among fellow Tory Cabinet members when Mr Gove put his plan to them last week. Professing to have his finger on the Scottish political pulse as the adopted son of an Aberdeen fish merchant – along with the fact that the Conservatives currently enjoy a comfortable majority in the Commons – probably allayed their anxieties. Acknowledging the nationalist complaint that the mechanism had reduced the power and prestige of Scottish MPs, a Whitehall source told The Times:
Abolishing Evel would reaffirm the fundamental constitutional principle that we are one United Kingdom, with a sovereign parliament comprising members elected on a basis of equality, representing every community in the land, able to make laws for the whole kingdom.
Hear! Hear! will be the cry from the SNP group in the Commons as they start to feel even more comfy on those green leather benches. Being delivered from EVEL will delight the feeble 45 as they get back to doing something they clearly enjoy – casting futile Scottish votes against English laws that will be forced through anyway because of the prevailing parliamentary arithmetic. This charade will do nothing to placate those of us who are genuinely determined to stop all the Tories’ EVIL schemes – by achieving independence.