Monthly Archives: January 2016

THE TORIES HELPFULLY DEFINE THE CONTEST FOR SCOTLAND’S FUTURE

I admit to being a student of all things Scottish Conservative. They are my closest rivals in Perthshire and just a few elections ago they came within 48 votes of taking the Perth constituency. Defiantly enigmatic the Scottish Tories are the great outsiders. Decades after being electorally wiped out a toxicity still sticks to them like a radio active limpet to the Scottish body politic. They are the ‘effing Tories’ of lore as so brilliantly characterised by David Cameron, and they have a rare ability to infuriate even the passions of the apolitical.

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Their core support remains the more intemperate members of the Scottish middle class fortified by the charms of the Daily Mail. No election in Scotland would be complete without the now obligatory claim that this will be the election that will see a Scottish Conservative revival. This is usually followed by a further reversal of Conservative fortunes. Last time they secured yet another historic low securing the affections of only 14% of our fellow Scots. It seems that no amount of bagpipe blowing or tank manoeuvring from their still unloved leader can rescue their association with the ideological demagogues amongst their compatriots south of the border

So what of this election? Well, what you can say about the Tories is at least they have a strategy this time. The Scottish Conservatives have painted themselves as a defiantly unionist party recognising the fact that it is the constitution that still defines Scottish politics. Where SLab were left on the wrong side of their supporters in the referendum the Tories had no such problem and their unionism was cheered to the rafters by Tory voters who nearly all voted No. Where SLab ended up as the biggest helpful idiots in the history of Scottish politics the Tories emerged unscathed and probably in a better condition than when they first entered the Better Together alliance.

They have absolutely nothing to lose therefore by adopting a hardline unionist strategy and this also allows them to pick off the Labour unionist vote – and there is at least some evidence that this might just be working. Labour meanwhile are caught in the headlights, still against their former voters on the question of independence, but curiously not convincingly unionist enough. It is a perfect storm in a teacake.

And all of this is great for us. With SLab still pitched against their former voters the Conservatives unwittingly continue to feed the cavernous appetite for constitutional politics. They assist this effort immensely by helping create the idea that a vote for the Conservatives is a vote for the union. Helping define the contest as such and characterising an independence vote as an anti Conservative vote could’t be more helpful. Incredibly, all of this is being propagated by the Scottish Conservatives.

In this election it is the Scottish Conservatives that will not stop talking about another referendum and there are going to be some fascinating hustings as a result. Unless SLab start to get to grips in how they are to respond to the ongoing constitutional/independence debate they are simply going to be washed away.

Decimated by allying themselves with the Tories SLab could be finished off by dithering about how they respond to the still great constitutional divide. The Tories have expertly played Labour for all they were worth and the endgame of Better Together is just about to played out. A second referendum, anyone?

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BANNED FROM VOTING IN THE HofC

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP):
I am grateful, Mrs Laing.

So, this is what an English Parliament looks like. It looks pretty much like the unitary UK Parliament to me. This is a remarkable day. It is worth noting how significant and historic this is. For the first time in the history of this House and this Parliament, Members of Parliament will be banned from participating in Divisions of this House, based on nationality and the geographic location of their constituencies.

Alberto Costa (South Leicestershire) (Con):
The hon. Gentleman’s constituents in Perth and North Perthshire, who may well have voted for him, surely see this as a very fair motion to safeguard the United Kingdom by having a fair devolution settlement.

Pete Wishart:
The hon. Gentleman tempts me. I will say a couple of things to him. First, I was elected on the same basis as him. My constituents expect me to participate in all debates and all legislation in this House. I am now denied that opportunity. Secondly, if he thinks that going down such a route as this, whereby Scottish Members of Parliament are banned from voting on certain issues that are considered English only, will save his Union, he has another think coming. Nothing has infuriated the Scottish people more than the measures on English votes for English laws.

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John Redwood
rose—

Pete Wishart:
How can I resist the right hon. Gentleman?

John Redwood:
If the hon. Gentleman is such a passionate believer in us settling everything together, why am I not even allowed to express a view, let alone vote, on local government, health and education in his constituency?

Pete Wishart:
The right hon. Gentleman just does not understand, so I will try to explain it to him patiently once again. We live in the United Kingdom. There is asymmetric devolution within the United Kingdom. We have a Parliament in Scotland that determines and decides the very issues—[Interruption.]

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mrs Eleanor Laing):
Order. The hon. Gentleman is a Member of this House and has a right to be heard. He will be heard.

Pete Wishart:
I did not know whether I was a Member of this House or an international observer, but I will take the initial one as your favour—thank you, Mrs Laing.

Let me say to the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) that we have a Parliament in Scotland that determines and decides on these matters—he is right; we do that in Scotland. We do those things in this House too, but what he wants, and what has been created today, is a quasi-English Parliament within the confines of the unitary Parliament of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. That is the nub of the issue, and that is why this first meeting today is so significant and remarkable.

Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South) (Con):
May I remind the hon. Gentleman that what we have before us is a consent mechanism for Members from England, or England and Wales, to agree to measures that apply only to us? On Third Reading, if the hon. Gentleman fundamentally disagrees with something in the Bill, he will have a vote to vote against it.

Pete Wishart:
Let me tell the hon. Gentleman what it feels like to us. What it feels like to me, and to my right hon. and hon. Friends, is that we are on the wrong side of a banishment and a bar that denies us our right as legitimately elected Members of Parliament from participating fully in the House today. That is what is being done; that is the key point, which people still fail to grasp. What has been done with this Legislative Grand Committee is the creation of two types of Member of Parliament of this House. That is the issue that we object to and find so difficult.

Simon Hoare (North Dorset) (Con):
While Conservative Members find their handkerchiefs to mop their tears, will the hon. Gentleman say why, if he and his party feel so passionately about this Bill, there were no votes from SNP Members on Second Reading or Report?

Pete Wishart:
We have no great interest in this Bill. [Interruption.] I do not know why that comes as a surprise to the hon. Gentleman. Let me say it again, in case he missed it: we have no great interest in this Bill. He is right to say that we did not vote on Second Reading or any of the proceedings that we were allowed to participate in, because we respect the right of English Members of Parliament to determine issues on that basis—of course that is their right.

Simon Hoare
rose—

Pete Wishart:
I am not giving way again—I am answering the hon. Gentleman’s point.

That is why we took no interest and stayed away on those Divisions. However, the creation of this Legislative Grand Committee—again, I am astounded that Conservative Members do not understand this—has created two classes of Members of Parliament of this House. One class is able to participate in every Division in this House, as we are about to see, while other Members of Parliament, such as my hon. Friends on the Benches behind me, are not able to participate in all parts of the legislation. That is what hon. Members have done.

Several hon. Members rose—
Pete Wishart:
Far too many Members wish to intervene, so I will say no to them all.

Even if I wanted a say in this Bill, I would be barred from doing so. I am not allowed to vote on this. I am not even allowed to call a Division, and if I attempted to do so, you would quite rightly rule me out of order, Mrs Laing, according to the standards of the House. If I were to vote in the Division I have no idea what would happen. I presume that the Serjeant at Arms would come chasing after me with his little sword, telling me that I cannot participate in this vote, and he would chase me out. That is what he should do; that is what his job would be.

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con)
rose—

Pete Wishart:
I will give way to the hon. Lady, because I like her.

5.30 pm

Dr Wollaston:
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He will know I have a great deal of respect for him. He talks about how this feels for him and his colleagues. How it feels for my constituents in south Devon is that an historic injustice has been righted. I put it to him that they feel they have been under-represented, and that we care about our constituents in this House, not ourselves.

Pete Wishart:
Here is something for the hon. Lady, for whom I have a great deal of respect, to consider: how about if we all retain equality in the House of Commons? How about we retain the same rights and privileges, just like we did just a few short weeks ago? The hon. Lady and all her hon. Friends obviously feel very strongly about this. I understand the passion of English Members of Parliament on this issue. How about they create a Parliament? How about designing a Parliament in their own image, where they can look after these issues like we do in the Scottish Parliament? Why do not they not have a Parliament, one that does not necessarily sit in this House but in one of the other great cities throughout the United Kingdom, where democracy could be seen in action? How about that as a solution? We could then come back together to this House as equal Members and consider the great reserved issues of foreign affairs, defence and international relations. That is how most other nations do it. It is called federalism and it seems to work quite adequately in most other nations.

What Conservative Members have done today is create this absolute mess—a bourach guddle. Nobody even understands how it works! We have just rung the Division bells to suspend proceedings, so that the Speaker can scurry off and consult the Clerks to decide whether it is necessary to recertify certain pieces of proposed legislation. This is what has happened to the business of this great Parliament. This is what we have resorted to today.

Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con)
rose—

Pete Wishart:
I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, who I also like very much.

Mr Rees-Mogg:
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but I think he has actually got it fundamentally wrong. Two tiers of Members of Parliament have not been created by the mechanism that has been used. By using Standing Orders, which can be changed by all Members of Parliament, and by this being a Grand Committee—we see where the Mace is—and not the House sitting in full session, the rights of every individual Member remain intact. That is crucially important.

Pete Wishart:
In all candour, I have to say that that is not what it feels like on this side of the House. If a Division is called, the hon. Gentleman will be able to vote and express his view as a legitimately elected Member of Parliament. My hon. Friends and I, as equally legitimate Members of Parliament recently elected at the general election, will not be allowed to vote. We will be banned. We will be barred. We will be effectively banished from that process.

Mrs Main:
Does the hon. Gentleman really expect taxpayers to pay for another Parliament just because his feelings are somehow being assaulted? I do not how he could explain that extra layer of bureaucracy and cost to the British taxpayer, but maybe spending other people’s money is how they like to do things in Scotland.

Pete Wishart:
I do not know whether I am grateful or not to the hon. Lady for her intervention. I think she is saying that she wants great dollops of cake so she can spend her time eating it and having a singularly English Parliament. Let us just use the House of Commons to accommodate that. The thing that has been created here is a quasi-English Parliament, but his Parliament belongs to me as much as to her. It belongs to the Scottish people as much as to the English people. What has happened today with the Legislative Grand Committee is that she will be able to represent her constituents in all Divisions, but my hon. Friends and I will not.

Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con):
I think what the House will take from the hon. Gentleman’s animated, passionate and, as ever, fluent speech is the fact that he is furious about a typically British evolution in the system of government that blocks his most devout desire, which is, of course, separation for Scotland. This system makes it fair in England. It deals with that grievance and means that his hope for independence disappears. That is why he is so angry.

Pete Wishart:
As with so many things, the hon. Gentleman is half right. This has been noted in Scotland. A lot of people are observing this and seeing this Parliament becoming, in effect, an English Parliament. They are seeing the voices of their Members of Parliament, so recently elected, diminished in this House. They will not be able to speak or vote in particular circumstances.

Throughout the debate on EVEL, the Leader of the House gave the impression that these votes would be subject to a double majority—that the whole House would express its will and then there would be a vote for English Members, which would effectively be their veto—but that has not happened. Instead, there has been a banishment. That is the brutal reality of EVEL. This is what happens when we start mucking about with the Standing Orders and our membership arrangements. We are left with some Members who can do anything—participate and vote on any issue—and others who cannot. It is totally unsatisfactory. We have wasted God knows how much time discussing these issues today. It has made such a mess of parliamentary proceedings and added extra elements to the functions of an already hard-working House when considering Bills. It is a total mess.

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con):
The hon. Gentleman has already told the House that the Scottish nationalist party—[Hon. Members: “National!”]—that the Scottish National party has no interest in this measure, which in no way applies to Scotland, and therefore will not vote on it. What is his problem? SNP Members have every right to speak, and we have addressed an injustice. For years, Conservative Members felt like second-class citizens, unable to vote on health and education matters in Scotland, while they have been able to vote on matters solely to do with England. Would the SNP have voted on the measure to bring hunting regulations in England and Wales into line with those in Scotland?

Pete Wishart:
I say this in all candour to the hon. Gentleman, whom I very much respect: we hear much from our English colleagues about their deeply held views on EVEL. He is a fine exponent of this perceived injustice: “How dare these Scots oppress English Members”—they only make up about 85% of the House!—“by coming down here and stealing our votes and having a say in our legislation?” With this Conservative majority, 88%, I think, of the House is English-only, yet we are the reason they cannot get their way. It is a ridiculous argument.

I do not want to take up any more time—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] I can if Members would like—but we will return to these issues in the future. This is not concluded. I have heard several English Members say they are doing this to save the Union. I add a word of caution to my friends representing English constituencies: in establishing this Committee and pursuing the issue in this way, they are driving Scotland out of the door. That is how it is seen in Scotland. During the referendum campaign, as you will remember Madam Deputy Speaker, we were told: “Stay with us, Scotland. Scotland, we love you.” But the minute we park our backsides on these green Benches, we are diminished in status and not allowed a say in all matters.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab):
As someone proud to represent an English constituency, I feel—I do not know if my Labour colleagues feel the same—that the Tories are making precisely the same mistake as their predecessors did over Ireland. The way to proceed is for Scottish and Welsh Members to show self-restraint in deciding whether to vote on an issue. To have first and second-class Members does a disservice to the Union. I deplore what is being done.

Pete Wishart:
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I knew his would be one of the quality interventions of the debate. He is absolutely right. The only thing I would say to him is this: where on earth is his Front-Bench team? They are not even prepared to make a speech or statement. Why are they not participating? Labour Members used to be stalwarts of this debate. I remember when we had 50-odd Labour Members for Scotland. They would have been making a fuss and standing up for Scotland’s interests, yet today there is absolute silence from the Labour Benches.

Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) (Lab):
I am delighted the hon. Gentleman has given way, because no SNP Members have participated in the Bill proceedings. We agree that this process is a complete charade, but while I was voting at 2.45 am last week on behalf of my constituents, he was in his bed.

Pete Wishart:
Maybe. It is with great fascination that we hear from the one and only Scottish Labour Member of Parliament. Perhaps the reason why the hon. Gentleman is in such a diminished position is the Labour party’s silence on these issues. The fact that Labour Members have ignored them all the way through speaks volumes about the attitude of the Labour party. I do not know whether it is due to the particular chaos it is going through, but we need to hear from Labour Members to find out their view about what has happened.

Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP):
Speaking as someone who was here in the wee small hours, I can say that Labour Members were notable for their absence, being far too busy clawing their own eyes out at the time. It is a bit of a cheek for them to seek to lecture us here.

Pete Wishart:
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding us that that was the night of the long reshuffle, so I suppose we should be grateful that any Labour Members were there. I do not wish to take up any more time.

Lady Hermon:
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene. Since the Front Benchers have boasted—and it was a boast—that this is an historic occasion, it would help if the occasion was not flawed. To take but one example, new clause 62 is designated as applying exclusively to England. Will the Minister quickly turn to it before we proceed in order to establish whether it applies only to England, because given that it appears in the new clause, I think the word “Wales” applies to it?

Pete Wishart:
The hon. Lady has made a creative intervention to put her point directly to the Minister, and I think it deserves a response. All I can say to her from the SNP perspective is that we are going to see lots more issues like that. Confining the EVEL rulings to a Grand Committee means that no consequential issues can be considered by the Speaker in making his certifications. That means that many massive issues will impact on my constituents down the line, but I will not be able to represent them in those matters.

If Conservative Members think they have won and believe that this will not have anything other than a totally detrimental impact on the fortunes of the Conservative party in Scotland, they need to have another think about it. This is unworkable; this is ungovernable; this is a mess; this is unfair. This creates two classes of Members in this House, which is totally unacceptable to my hon. Friends and the Scottish National party.