THE SCOTTISH AFFAIRS COMMITTEE HAS BEEN TRANSFORMED

7D2E1315-FA25-4C30-8A97-192DA6D95909

When I was first elected in 2001 as part of a group of five SNP MPs I never thought it would be possible for an SNP MP to ever chair a select committee in the House of Commons. Following our landslide in 2015 when we became the third party of the House I became the first SNP MP to be confirmed as a committee Chair. With our 47 MPs in this Parliament the SNP will once again assume the Chair of two select committees.

I will therefore be throwing my hat in the ring again to continue to build on the the work that has been achieved on the Scottish Affairs Committee and hope to continue to innovate in the way that work is being done. 

When I assumed the chair in 2015 the credibility of the committee had never been lower. During the independence referendum the committee inexplicably adopted a position in the debate immediately alienating large parts of Scotland and excluding a number of key stakeholders. My first job therefore was to unite the committee, rebuild its credibility and make it a proper cross party body of scrutiny, representative of all opinion in the House. This involved patiently listening to our stakeholders and reassuring them that the Scottish Affairs Committee would be there for all Scotland. It also meant taking the committee round Scotland to engage meaningfully with the people of Scotland and listen to what they wanted from the committee.

Four years later and the reputation of the committee could not be higher. It is now seen as a key interface between civic Scotland and Westminster and through our innovative reports and inquiries it is by far the most reported parliamentary 8D3A641F-7E77-4A6C-A20D-D7A13C358D16_1_201_acommittee in Scotland. Having conducted inquiries into fair work, bank closures, Scottish agriculture, oil and gas, problem drug use and the creative industries, the committee is now an indispensable part of the national debate in Scotland. In the hothouse of Scottish politics under my chairing nearly all reports have been unanimously agreed and the Scottish Affairs is the best attended committee in the House. 

I have ensured that at least once a month the committee meets in Scotland for one of its regular sessions. More than that I have ensured that we have regular public engagement events pioneering town hall type meetings all over the country. 

I was also keen to build on relationships with colleagues in the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Affairs Committee is therefore the first committee at Westminster to undertake joint work with committees in the Scottish Parliament when we conducted joint sessions into the transfer of welfare responsibilities to Scotland. 

This article appears in the House Magazine. 

THE ‘PEOPLE’S VOTE’. A CAMPAIGN DOOMED TO FAIL.

2C0E148C-FA5E-4364-9E5A-9AF6BBD98656_4_5005_c

There has surely never been a campaign so inept and ineffective as the campaign for a ‘People’s Vote’. Outplayed and outsmarted at every turn it was as if the whole campaign was designed to fail. Where the hard Brexiteers had a simple clarity to their ‘get Brexit done’ message the ‘People’s Vote’ offered nothing other than a sort of half hearted ‘stop Brexit’, which required doing the whole miserable EU referendum all over again and hoping for a different result.

Not only did the hard Brexiteers totally outplay the ‘People’s Voters’ their overwhelming success  saw them secure the hard Brexit they always craved. So total has been their victory that they are now in a position to inherit the Brexiteer bulls eye of a ‘no deal’ if the ‘deal’ eventually offered isn’t sufficiently hard enough for their insatiable anti European appetites. Where the hard Brexiteers successfully recognised and manipulated the means to deliver their hard Brexit (the Conservative party) the ‘People’s Voters’ made next to no progress in having their policy adopted save from the hapless Liberal Democrats (of whom more to come). Following the 2019 General Election the Brexiteers victory over the ‘People’s Voters” was total, brutal and absolute. 

And it could have been so different. Following the surprise result in the EU referendum there was a stop Brexit campaign there for the taking. Stunned with their success the Brexiteers were initially paralysed in knowing what to do with their prize. A minority UK Government meant that Parliamentary opportunities were aplenty and very quickly the UK public was coming to its senses in realising the scale of the mistake they had made. A solid ‘stop Brexit’ campaign from the outset could have derailed the whole project and strangled this disaster at birth. Instead what happened was that Parliament voted to trigger Article 50 on a three line Labour whip setting the clock to take the UK out of the EU in stone. Some of the leading lights of the ‘People’s vote’ incredulously voted for or abstained on this madness crippling any future campaign to stop Brexit that they themselves would seek to lead.

A campaign was required, one that would lead the increasing stop Brexit voice with a clarity of message uniting the UK in opposition to this disaster. And that is when the ‘People’s Vote’ presented itself in all its middle class, metropolitan horror. From the very first celebrity endorsement it was apparent to anyone that this was a campaign doomed to fail. Almost self congratulatory in its self styled ‘People’s’ exclusiveness the ‘People’s Vote’ offered nothing to leave voting communities save promising only to do this all over again. And the journey that it took us on in trying to win a rerun of the referendum was almost inexplicable. When challenged to describe what would be on a rerun ballot paper they hadn’t even thought through what the possible options would eventually be. Instead an imaginative range of barely credible propositions were presented in line with the ‘People’s Voters’ assessment of the current political situation. It even got to the stage that the vote they sought no longer became a stop Brexit vote and became instead a ‘confirmatory‘ vote on the Tory deal. Worse than that they even started to support a ’confirmatory’ vote without a clear option to remain. It was at this stage that I parted company with the whole exercise and broke the SNP whip to abstain against voting for this increasing nonsense.   

It was just about then that the anti Brexit UK public took the whole initiative into their own hands with the quite incredible revoke petition. This petition quickly became the fastest growing and most signed petition in UK history and seemed to totally stun the ‘People’s Voters’. Could stopping Brexit now become a real feature in the campaign to actually stop Brexit? Well no, the ‘People’s Voters’ representatives in Parliament simply ignored this petition refusing to back the various revoke amendments that I and my colleague Angus Macneil continued to put forward in Parliament. Revoke remained a forlorn and unloved concept even when the ‘Scottish case’ brought by SNP colleagues and others ruled that Article 50 could be unilaterally revoked by the UK Parliament. Bizzarely, only the initial founders of the People’s Vote concept, the Liberal Democrats, grasped the opportunity and became a party of revoke, only too late, and half heartedly. Stung by the criticism from their former comrades in the People’s Vote campaign they laughingly tried to hide from this new found policy to much ridicule and eventual electoral pain. 

And yet the ‘People’s Voters’ limped on with no majority in Parliament and up against a Conservative party that had found its Brexit mojo. I don’t think that it came as a surprise to anyone when the People’s Vote campaign finally collapsed in acrimony consumed by its own contradictions before the final General election ignominy. 

The anti Brexit voice throughout this whole miserable experience could not have been more poorly served and let down. This failure was even achieved when nearly every opinion poll suggested that there was a clear stop Brexit majority just waiting to be properly led. A failure to provide any message clarity and a failure to try and secure an effective route to secure its ambition was only the start of the People’s Voters manifest mistakes. The lessons for the SNP are manifold and will have to take another blog to explain properly. Needless to say I had profound issues with the SNP going anywhere near this campaign and wrote about my reservations at length. 

We are unlikely to see a campaign as inept as the ‘People’s Vote’ ever again and we can only feel sorry for the majority of the UK public who still oppose the UK leaving the EU. It is this majority who will now have to suck up the whole impending Brexit mess. 

Out played and not up to it, the ‘People’s vote’ was simply the worst of campaigns. 

A TALE OF TWO ELECTIONS

0_wishart

Well, that was some result, wasn’t it? 48 seats and 45% share of the vote. 2017 now seems like another era. The SNP are closer to where we were in the landslide of 2015 than where we were in 2017 and everything has changed once again.

What was behind this shift and what does it tell us about where we are going? I had a front row seat in this political spectacle having successfully defended what was the most Tory/SNP marginal in the whole of the country. We went into this election a mere 21 votes ahead of the Tories and came out of the experience with a majority of 7,550 securing 51% of the vote. 

There are the obvious things. Brexit and the character of the Prime Minister himself were key. These played out miserably for the Tories and it is little wonder they rarely mentioned either of them. What they did want to talk about, in fact the only thing they talked about, was the constitution. They made this election about ‘stopping’ another indyref and every piece of literature from every candidate majored on this. They honestly believed that all they had to do was to rerun the same campaign from 2017 and they would secure the same result. They could not have been more wrong.

Their big mistake was to believe that Scotland 2019 was exactly the same as Scotland 2017. It was a huge mistake that cost them more than half their MPs and has left them in a situation which will be all but impossible to recover from. 

Firstly, let’s deal with 2017 because a lot of nonsense has been talked about that election and what was and wasn’t done by the SNP. The conventional wisdom is that independence wasn’t put to the electorate hard enough, that somehow we were running away from our core message. This view starts and ends with the belief that the Scottish public were just sitting in eager anticipation waiting to be sold an enthusiastic indy message by SNP candidates. It then follows that because this wasn’t forthcoming large sections of our support simply stayed at home instead. Where it is an appealing and convenient view it is total bunkum.

What actually happened is that the First Minister had just announced that we would be seeking a further independence referendum – the starting gun to securing our place in Europe as an independent country. It was the first step in a process of taking the case to the Scottish people and interlinking the Scottish response to Brexit with our national ambitions. It was a case that was going to take a while to properly marshal and would require a detailed case to be put. Then Theresa May called her election and took everybody by surprise. We were completely blindsided and unprepared with the result being we couldn’t even give a referendum away. 

Exactly at that point we were dealing with an electorate experiencing a deep rooted constitutional fatigue following a bruising Brexit experience and who just wanted all talk of referendums to go away. The Tories immediately seized on this mood and ran an efficient and devastating campaign of opposing that referendum. 

And it was hard election. Particularly for candidates in seats like mine where there was a historic Conservative organisation which had a core support to build upon. Even amongst our own support stopping any more constitutional upheaval had a resonance. The amount of times I was told ‘I voted for you in the last election, I even voted Yes to independence, but this time I am voting Conservative to stop another independence referendum’. It really was the worst of times.

Fast forward two years and things couldn’t be more different. Scotland has looked over the Brexit cliff edge and it does not like what it sees. It now recognises that independence is a necessary life boat to spare us from this impending UK disaster. It is collectively concluding that Scotland could be better and be so much different to Brexit Britain. Yes, we lost some support from SNP supporters who favoured Brexit, but we have gained so much more. Remain voters impressed with our commitment to retain our place in the EU and even soft Tory voters were prepared to offer us their support. I was seeing quite remarkable things in my canvass in areas that I had previously written off as Tory no-go areas.

Our job then is to hold on to that burgeoning support. It is fragile and is yet to be fully convinced. It wants to believe and we have to accommodate it. Talk of illegal referendums, UDIs, dissolving unions and trying to game or trick our way to independence will send all these aspiring recruits running back into the arms of the union case. The Tories are hoping beyond hope that we now blow it through impatience and alienate this new support that is coming our way. Instead it should now be all about gentle persuasion, about convincing and understanding. There is a real sense that we are in the end game of Scotland’s participation in their union. It really now is only ours to lose. We now have the opportunity not just to win it but to win it well and put it beyond all reasonable doubt and question.

This is now our task and we have got to show that we are up for it. I can’t wait. 

Dear Constituent – thank you for writing to me concerning the many issues to do with Brexit.

images

Dear Constituent

Thank you for writing to me concerning the many issues around Brexit. At the time of writing this response the future of the whole chaotic project remains uncertain. I will endeavour to write to you again when things become clearer but this is what I have been doing on your behalf as your Member of Parliament in the past few weeks.

My immediate priority has been to stop the prospect of a no deal Brexit. A no deal departure would be the worst possible outcome bringing significant economic disruption, raising concerns about food supplies, medicines and the availability of fuel. In Parliament I have supported the successful efforts to secure the Benn Act which would legally oblige the Prime Minister to seek a further 3 month extension denying him the prospect of a quick no deal departure. I have also supported the actions in the Court of Session and the Supreme Court to have the suspension of Parliament declared unlawful. I was pleased when this was successfully upheld and I was able to return to Parliament to work on your behalf.

What underpins my whole approach to Brexit is the desire of this constituency to remain in the European Union. My view is the best deal we have is the deal that we currently enjoy as a full member of the European Union. Perth and North Perthshire did not vote for this Brexit and I have taken that as the mandate to oppose any deal that would make my constituents worse off.

The next few weeks will determine the conclusion of this divisive project and we should know what the future of Brexit holds. The Prime Minister is still determined to leave by the 31st of October with or without a deal – though he is yet to explain how this is possible with the legal constraints of the Benn Act. Beyond that there will almost certainly be a General Election which will in all intents be a ‘Brexit election’. I will be standing again as a strong and determined voice against Brexit and I hope to continue to make the case against Brexit if successfully returned. 

Thank you for getting in touch and I look forward to writing to you again. 

Pete

 

WE WILL WIN OUR INDEPENDENCE WHEN A MAJORITY OF THE SCOTTISH PEOPLE WANT IT.

0_BESTPIX-All-Under-One-Banner-Pro-Independence-March-Takes-Place-In-Central-Glasgow

We will get our independence when the majority of the people who live and work in Scotland want it. I know it sounds indolently straight forward but somehow we have contrived to make this simple fact as complicated as possible. 

Scottish independence will be secured when a majority of people in Scotland demand it because attempting to keep Scotland in the union against its will could and would not work in the UK. The range of decisions that a UK Government would have to be prepared to take to keep Scotland in the union when a majority want to leave would be singularly unpalatable to the UK. I seriously don’t think that the UK public would be at ease with itself if it had to resort to Catalan style political prisoners, particularly when we now know the UK public is at best indifferent about the maintenance of the union.

Just now all we hear is how the UK would ‘forbid’ a referendum and how they would never ‘allow’ independence. The Conservatives particularly pursue an energetic and vigorous campaign to oppose and ‘forbid’ a further referendum because they believe it is in their political interests to do so. Their view is it is they who represent majority opinion on independence and therefore they play hard to that constituency in order to maintain and increase their political support. Only two years ago the Scottish Conservatives significantly increased their share of the vote and gained 12 Parliamentary constituencies on a single issue platform of opposing a second independence referendum. The minute they stop securing such political support for opposing a democratic route to independence, or when that support significantly declines, will be the minute the case of ‘forbidding’ a referendum quickly disassembles. As we have seen recently that moment may be coming very soon. 

The one thing we therefore need to do is to get support for independence as the majority view by persuading those who are as yet unconvinced. When we secure sustained majority support for independence everything changes. We saw just a hint of that when one recent single poll showed that independence was the favoured option amongst the Scottish electorate. That one poll alone created fissures in the Tories and almost broke the Scottish Labour Party who were left in the absurd and ridiculous situation of having to argue that democracy would be forbidden in Scotland. The various contradictions of promoting that position is the fate that awaits all supposed ‘democratic’ political parties. The Scottish Labour Party recently polled below 10% and are now destined to lose all their Westminster Parliamentary seats. Another recent opinion poll predicted that a seatless future also awaits the Scottish Conservatives.

We get to that majority support by persuading those who opposed independence in the last referendum by responding to their concerns and outlining how independence is the solution to issues that they care about. With the chaotic premiership of Boris Johnson and his suspension of democracy many more people are now seriously considering joining us. Scots who voted No in the last referendum but voted to remain in the EU have been impressed by our commitment to keep the UK in the EU. They are now beginning to recognise that this option is quickly closing down and the only way to secure the EU membership they desire is for Scotland to become an independent nation.

fullsizeoutput_6d5c

We must  therefore do everything to accommodate these political journeys. These switchers have serious and legitimate concerns about the Johnson government behaving unconstitutionally and undemocratically so we therefore must ensure that we look absolutely nothing like them. Talk of UDIs and illegal referendums only makes that conversion to our cause all the harder, as does talk of securing independence without the expressed consent of a majority of our fellow Scots.

It may indeed be the case that we will have to consider a range of options if the UK continues to oppose a constitutional route to a referendum but we first have to pursue our ambition to secure a legal, agreed and internationally recognised route to deliver the result we require.

And this approach is winning. Support for independence and the SNP is rising faster than it has for years. Our opponents are in total disarray, dreaming up new barriers and thresholds and are desperately grasping at anything that thwarts the rise in support for independence. They are practically itching for us to do something that puts all of this at risk and we must ensure that we do not give them that gift. That is why, as the First Minister says, we must act in a ‘calm, considered and consensual’ way right now.

After dominating political debate for the last decade views on independence are doggedly fixed and hard to shift and people are not encouraged to come over to us if they feel anxious or concerned about how we intend to get to independence. The only strategy that will ever matter is to secure the support of the majority of people who live and work in Scotland. This is now very much on its way and will soon reach a tipping point and our movement and cause will become unstoppable. 

The UK will be able to assert anything it wants until we get that consistent majority support but all that changes when we demonstrably lead public opinion. They can of course continue to resist a majority but that comes with great risks for them. With majority support for independence the UK can either resolve the situation constitutionally and sensibly or dig in for a futile and damaging campaign that they can only lose. Whatever they choose. We win.

THE SPEAKERSHIP OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS

images

With the recent announcement of Speaker John Bercow’s intention to stand down on October 31st there has been a lot of interest in who may put their hat in the ring to replace him. I was one of John’s sponsors when he stood for the position of Speaker in 2009 and have since observed him become one of the most effective and successful Speakers of recent times. He has championed Parliament, reinforced the role of backbenchers and has been fearless in standing up to Government when required. John will be sorely missed and provides a fine example of what a reforming Speaker can achieve. 

In May I said that I would be interested in standing for the position of Speaker if and when that position became available, but today I confirm that I will no longer be seeking a nomination for that role. 

Since then the First Minister has introduced the Referendums Bill and has stated her intention to seek a referendum on Scottish independence in the autumn of next year, a referendum which I am certain will be won. I will not therefore have sufficient time to pursue my wide ranging agenda of reform. I also believe that it would not be fair to have a further election for Speaker in a few years following the departure of Scottish MPs from Westminster in the very slim chance that I would be successful.

My bid for the Speakership was done with the full understanding that it would be highly unlikely to be successful as a representative of the third party with only 35 MPs. Part of my motivation for standing was to highlight the absurdity of some of the mechanics and procedures of the House of Commons, to contrast it with what is happening in Scotland, and use it to detail why Scotland should play no further part in Westminster’s proceedings. A competition around the Speakership would provide an excellent opportunity to promote the case for Scotland’s independence by proposing how we could do things differently in an independent Scotland. It would also have been an opportunity to poke a gentle stick at the whole Westminster political establishment. That opportunity will now be lost in a competition that will be exclusively contested by unionist MPs. 

There were some who interpreted my standing as some sort of lack of  ‘commitment’ about securing independence or a ‘desire’ to stay at Westminster. Where this could not have been further from the truth I just can not be bothered in responding any longer to these absurd assertions. I was intending to stand in a contest where I knew I had no chance of winning as a means to promote the cause of independence. 

I did put forward a serious and far reaching agenda of reform which included electronic voting, equality in speaking arrangements, tackling the undemocratic House of Lords and even ‘clapping’ as a show of appreciation to contributions in the House. I will now be looking at the other Speaker candidates to examine if any of them are prepared to promote some of that agenda. 

Can I thank the many colleagues, from all parties, who said that they would be prepared to give me their support and to my constituents who were genuinely interested in me seeking the Speakership. I now look forward to defending my parliamentary seat in the forthcoming General election and, as I have for the past 18 years as a Parliamentarian, working flat out to secure my nations’s independence and sovereignty

PERTHSHIRE TORIES SUSPEND 2 OF THEIR OWN COUNCILLORS

JS118739029

The Conservative group on Perth and Kinross Council have suspended two of their own councillors in an unprecedented disciplinary crisis in one of the few councils in Scotland they run. Even with the loyal support of the local Liberal Democrats the Tories no longer enjoy a majority on the council. The Tory led administration is often described as ‘the council of chaos’.

Talking of this staggering development Perth and North Perthshire MP, Pete Wishart said:

‘This is quite an extraordinary development and the Conservative group within Perth and Kinross Council seems to be totally riven with infighting and personal vendettas. The people of Perthshire deserve so much better than this dysfunctional council of chaos.

In 2 years, their administration has lost the support of 3 independent councillors and the sole Labour member of the council. They have seen a by-election caused by one of their own Tory councillors being found guilty of criminality. Now they have suspended 2 of their own councillors under allegations concerning their ‘conduct and behaviour’. More than that, there have been repeated complaints about a culture of bullying and the misuse of procedure. The only friends that have stood by the Conservatives throughout all of this are their ‘trusted’ allies within the ranks of the Liberal Democrats. 

The people of Perth and Kinross deserve a full explanation as to what the allegations concerning the two suspended councillors are at the very least. They also need to be reassured that the infighting within the Conservative group will not impact on the delivery of services within Perth and Kinross. 

Conservative councillors have already been on record expressing their unhappiness about the leadership of Boris Johnson and there is a developing feud about the direction of the Scottish party. The scale of disarray within the Conservative group in Perth and Kinross is matched only by the chaos that abounds within the ranks of the Scottish party.  

In the next few weeks there may be a General Election to decide the future Government of the UK. I’m sure the people of Perthshire will be watching this unravelling local crisis and deciding that they will want nothing more to do with the Conservatives and their chaotic stewardship both locally and nationally’. 

ENDS