Monthly Archives: June 2014

THE QUEEN’S SPEECH – THE SCOTLAND BIT

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Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Erewash (Jessica Lee), who may have one of the most unusual-sounding constituencies. She must be commended for her work on modern slavery and on children in particular.

I want to address what we now refer to as “the Scotland bit” in the Queen’s Speech. We are always grateful to Her Majesty for acknowledging Scotland in her Gracious Speech; it usually comes about two thirds of the way through, and again this year we were not disappointed. In the Queen’s Speech Her Majesty confirmed that her Government will

“make the case for Scotland to remain a part of the United Kingdom.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 4 June 2014; Vol. 754, c. 4.]

No surprise there; that is what we would expect her to say. In fact, it would have been quite remarkable had she said something else. Imagine if, for example, she had said, “I look forward to my subjects in Scotland securing the normal powers of an independent nation. I look forward to them enjoying the resources that will make their country one of the most dynamic and prosperous in the world.” Of course, she did not say that. Her Majesty knows, as we all know in Scotland, that the whole range of facilities available to this Government and this House will be pitted against Scotland in the next few months to try to influence the vote.

All the donors and cronies down the corridor will be engaged in trying to make sure that Scotland remains in the United Kingdom. All the resources available to all the Opposition parties will be engaged in ensuring that Scotland remains part of the United Kingdom. All of Whitehall, all Government Committees and all Select Committees will be engaged in trying to ensure that Scotland remains a part of the United Kingdom. I am one of six Scottish National party Members, so I am very much aware of the range of forces pitted against us. Out of 650 Members of the House there are maybe 10 of us calling for Scottish independence, and thank

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goodness for the hon. Member for Leeds East (Mr Mudie), who has now joined the call. If we add the 800 Members from down the corridor, there are 1,400 Westminster parliamentarians who are against Scottish independence versus the six of us. That seems like reasonable odds to me. It is reasonably fair. What we have to do now is recognise, as the Queen did in the Speech, that the entire resources of Westminster—the whole of the House of Commons and the whole House of Lords—will be ranged against Scotland. Last week they even enlisted Lego figures in their fight to stop Scotland becoming independent, to much laughter and ridicule.

In the Scotland bit of her speech, Her Majesty confirmed that the Government “will continue to implement new financial powers for the Scottish Parliament”.These are not the new financial powers that the Prime Minister apparently signed up to only last week. These are the remaining consequential issues from the Scotland Act 2012 that need to be tidied up.

More devolution is all the rage in Scotland. We cannot walk around one of our big cities without tripping over some Unionist or UK commission looking into the issue. It is like the proverbial buses all turning up at once. It has got me and all the other people in Scotland wondering why they are doing it now. Is it anything to do with the prospect of a referendum on independence? Surely not. Yet that is almost certainly the case. It is curious because our Unionist friends did everything to keep a “more powers” option off the ballot paper for the referendum in September. They would give us anything else, such as the right to administer the referendum. They even allowed us to frame the question. It is we who were in charge of the franchise. The one thing they did not want was a “more powers” option on the ballot paper. Now, we are expected to accept that they are sincere in delivering all these shiny new powers, when they did so much to keep them off the ballot paper. There are two words that we say about that: “Aye. Right. Fool us once and we’ll blame you. Fool us twice and it’s our fault.”

Michael Connarty: Might not the logic be to expose the fact that what has been offered by the Scottish National party was the lunacy of independence, as against staying within the Union where we could negotiate changes, and to expose the paucity of the hon. Gentleman’s argument that independence might be better for the people of Scotland, whereas we know that it would be a disaster for them?

Pete Wishart: The hon. Gentleman has his own view but why not offer the option on the ballot paper? There was accommodation with the Scottish Government about that. We were quite happy and relaxed about a third question being put forward. The Scottish people should always get what they want. That is my view and I am sure it is the hon. Gentleman’s view, so the question could have appeared on the ballot paper, but it was rejected. It was the one thing that the Government did not want included.

We have been here before. The hon. Gentleman will remember this. It was in my own constituency—Alec Douglas-Home trooping up to Perth city hall in 1979.

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What did he say to the Scottish people? “Vote no and we’ll give you something better. We’ll give you a better Parliament” than was on offer in 1979. What did we get? Eighteen years of Thatcherism, the destruction of our industrial base, and Tory obscenities like the poll tax. We will not be fooled by that again.

One of the funny consequences of all this—it is quite ironic—is that the party that so defiantly opposed the Scottish Parliament in any form of Scottish devolution is now the party of more devolution. It has made a more substantial offer than the party of devolution, the Labour party. We might be in the ridiculous situation whereby in the next Parliament, Labour Members oppose a Conservative Government offering many more powers than they ever intended to offer. Incredible, but that may be the case.

There is only one way for the Scottish Parliament to get more powers. There is only one way to ensure we get the powers that Scotland needs, and that is to vote yes in the independence referendum. If we do not, we leave it up to this House. We leave it up to the largesse of predominantly English Members to give us more powers. I know lots of English Members. Some of them are very good friends of mine. I do not detect a mood around the House that if Scotland votes no, they will rush in to give us more powers to reward us. I get the sense that they are much more interested in issues such as the Barnett formula. They believe their own propaganda and are concerned that Scotland gets more than the rest of their English regions. They are more concerned about that than about giving us power over income tax or more powers over welfare.

The other thing that consumes English Members is the West Lothian question about what Scottish Members could do here. Maybe it is just me, but I do not see a groundswell of English Members of Parliament queuing up to reward Scotland for turning down the prospect of independence. They are more likely to be thinking, “Scotland’s had its chance. It’s time for my region for a change.”

Other than the Scotland stuff, there were no other constitutional issues in the Queen’s Speech. That means that we will leave this Parliament with the House of Lords commanding the same position in our democracy as when the great reforming Liberals took part in government. What a disgrace. That unelected, crony-stuffed, donor-inhabited affront to democracy will remain in the same condition as when we came into Parliament.

The Liberals had lots of red lines when it came to the constitutional debate. I am not blaming the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) personally, although he is looking at me as though I am. They could have made much more of reforming the House of Lords. They went for AV—the inconsequential mouse of a reform measure—when they could have done something about that place, so we are left with it. In his parting shot, the Liberals’ Lord Oakeshott hinted that cash for honours is still very much a feature of securing a place next door. It is an absurd place and I hope that the next Queen’s Speech will enable us to do something about that affront to democracy. This Government this time round have done nothing.

Some have described the Queen’s Speech this year as a speech for a zombie Parliament. If it is a zombie Parliament, it must be a phantom Queen’s Speech, because it does not address the political dynamic that

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exists throughout the United Kingdom, what is going on and what should be debated. A few Members have said that. I think I am the only Member to raise the subject of UKIP. The party won an election a couple of weeks ago and made significant gains. Nobody wants to talk about UKIP here. Nobody will address the issue of what it has done. UKIP is pulling the strings of this Government and they are responding in the only way they know how—pandering to UKIP’s agenda instead of challenging it.

I am much more interested in what Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition are going to do. I challenged the shadow Home Secretary on that today. They are at a defining point. They are at a critical and crucial moment. The Labour party has two choices in relation to the immigration/UKIP agenda. It can challenge the assumptions that it is based on, do something about it, take it on, risk not being the favourite of the right-wing press and maybe alienating a few voters who have bought into this pernicious agenda; or it can pander to it and accommodate it.

I have seen the letters from Labour Members encouraging the party leadership to accommodate the UKIP agenda and saying that it could be addressed. They must reject it, stand tall and do the right thing. I know it is difficult sometimes for the Labour party to do this but it must offer leadership. If the Opposition offer leadership on immigration and challenge UKIP on its agenda, they will get my support. I will help them out. But they must not give in to it. They are in a critical position on the immigration/UKIP question. Don’t blow it, Labour. The nation is watching. Labour cannot face two ways on this—it either takes UKIP on or accommodates it. I very much hope Labour does the right thing.

Labour has let itself be bullied by the Tories and UKIP. It is appalling. Labour has been bullied into apologising for its years of immigration. That is one of the best things the Labour Government did and I cannot believe that the Opposition have been bullied like this. Stand up to them, for goodness sake! They should not be afraid to say that they got it right on immigration. It has been fantastic for the whole of the United Kingdom. It has made the city we are in one of the greatest cities in the world. Only about 30% of the people who live and work in London came from this place; the rest are from overseas. What has immigration done for us, as Monty Python might have asked? Look at this place and see what it has achieved, then try and argue that immigration is not good. Come on, Labour. Get on with it. Stand up to them and do the right thing.

I shall deal quickly with Home Office issues, few of which affect Scotland. We are practically independent when it comes to policing and judiciary arrangements. Thank goodness for that. When the Home Secretary turns up to the Police Federation for their annual meeting, she is booed, jeered and shouted down. Then I see our Cabinet Secretary turning up to the Scottish Police Federation and being cheered to the rafters for what we are doing for police officers in Scotland, compared to what this lot are doing here.

I welcome the Modern Slavery Bill. Even though it is for England and Wales only, I hope it is successful and I pay tribute to the many Members who have spoken in support of the measure. In Scotland we have our own people-trafficking Bill and we will continue

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to work with the UK on the matter, particularly in areas such as extra-territorial intervention and maritime policing.

Legislative consent motions will be required for some of the measures in the serious crime Bill, and I know that again, my colleagues in the Scottish Government will work closely with the Home Office to ensure a co-ordinated response to serious crime. But Scottish National party Members want more than that. Grateful as we are to Her Majesty, we want more than the Scotland bit. It is great that in every Session of Parliament it is included, and we look forward to it, but we do not want the insignificant wee bits here and there, the bits of Bills that apply to Scotland. We want a legislative programme for Scotland in the interests of the people according to our agenda and our priorities. We do not want to be dictated to by a Government for whom we did not vote. That is what we will get on 18 September. That is what the Scottish people will vote for.

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PEACE AND RECONCILIATION

cybernat1If you were to believe some of our more excitable unionist friends you would think that we are currently living in some sort of dreadful conflict zone; a fearful, intimidating place, inhabited by ‘vile’ ‘cybernats’ waiting for the next twitter post to crush the ‘yoonionist’ enemy with their insults, barbed comments and parody sites. It’s a world where multi-millionaire business leaders cower behind their B&Q shelters as they remain ever fearful of the ‘Salmond hordes’ that roam the land keeping them from speaking out in support of their treasured union. How can anyone possibly survive this ravaged and divided land?

The truth is that no nation has indulged in a debate about its future as maturely and respectfully as Scotland has, and this is to our immense credit. It is a debate that has gripped and energised the nation, reinvigorated town hall politics with the possible participation of some 80% of our population in the vote itself. The cause of Scottish independence is probably the most peaceful independence movement in history and the police have been barely bothered by the arguments (online or not) far less street demonstrations or violent confrontations. When there have been issues they have been so unusual that they have become a story because of their peculiarity!

Yes, there is some awful stuff said online and I personally wish that it would just stop and that people could be respectful to each others point of view but that is unlikely to happen in a debate where passions are easily aroused with people new to the cut and thrust of political debate. People say some dreadful things from the anonymity of a computer screen but this is a modern phenomena not confined to politics – try taking even a cursory glance at Scottish football sites, particularly involving the Old Firm. Personally I just laugh off the abuse I regularly receive and wonder what on earth it’s trying to achieve and why people bother?

But what the unionists have cutely done is to turn this into an indy ref issue. They have been able to effectively build the caricature of the ‘cybernat’ in an attempt to demonise the whole online Yes community and suggest that all the abuse is down to them. The thing is, if you were to actually examine the evidence, the bulk of the abuse, and particularly the more serious stuff like the FM and DFM’s death threats, comes from those opposing independence. Just put the name ‘Alex Salmond’ into a search, for example, and watch the bile come flooding out.

The Nos and their right wing press ‘cybernat’ witch finder generals don’t care about that side of the equation, though. Unable to find any real sort of ‘dark’ side to our civic, inclusive independence movement they create the ‘cybernat’ as a means to build the picture of the intolerant ‘nationalist’ that inhabits some sort of twilight zone waiting to pounce, bully and silence the innocent, honest voice of the Nos. Assisted by some of the more unhelpful of our online contributors the ‘cybernat’ has almost become an online folk demon with a reputation as fearful as it is exaggerated. The creation of the ‘cybernat’ also serves a much more sinister purpose and that is to attempt to silence criticism of the unionist case. We have next to no support from the main stream media and the arrival of citizen journalism and the many Yes supporting websites has immeasurably helped promote the Yes case. Many of these new commentators are not the polished voices of the MSM and any indiscretion means that they are immediately ostracised and conveniently lumped in the category labelled ‘cybernat’ in an attempt to diminish and undermine their contribution.

But for all their efforts this just passes the public by. They remain bemused by an inconsequential online skirmish that is so far removed from their everyday experience of how the debate is actually being conducted. This is why our debate is so remarkable. Even with all the attempts to try and talk it down and create these online bogeymen the debate about our future remains one of the most positive, exciting and engaging debates that we have ever conducted as a nation. Instead of denigrating this incredible exercise we should all be celebrating it.

There is also all sort of talk about what will happen when the debate is concluded with all the stuff about ‘bringing the nation together’. Where one side will naturally be upset about the outcome of a debate that so much effort has been put into, we as a nation will accept the result and a democratic conclusion. I sincerely believe that we will win the referendum, but if we don’t, the first thing I will do is to write to Alistair Darling and David Cameron congratulating them on their win and offer my support in any initiative to bring everyone together. Maybe if everybody in the front line of the debate could similarly make a pledge to the other side it would help satisfy any concerns that people have about a post referendum rancour.

We are all citizens of this remarkable country and we will work together in the future peacefully and with respect to each other regardless of the result. Let’s show the world that Scotland can do this, and do it well.