I’VE been really flattered by the interest in my announcement to stand for Speaker of the Commons. I only hope it doesn’t come as a crushing blow to Sunday National readers that Ladbrokes has given me the rather cruel odds of 50/1.
Nonetheless, even long shots can come in, so I have crafted a manifesto with several key reforms to bring Westminster into the 21st century. Mainly, they are designed to demonstrate the farcical and absurd way that Westminster operates and to contrast that with how things are done at Holyrood.
I have no idea when a contest will be called, but the Westminster expectation is that it is imminent. That means that SNP MPs participate in choosing the next Speaker and that choice should not be restricted to Tory or Labour candidates.
I will offer an entirely different option to fundamentally question the ways of Westminster.
It should come as no surprise that number one of my top 10 proposals is to introduce electronic voting. I have probably spent several weeks of my life just voting in the House of Commons and wasting time in cramped, packed and, at times, dangerous division lobbies. The way we vote is more reminiscent of a medieval assembly. Worse than that, because time taken up with this nonsense, several key decisions may not be considered.
The other issue that I know irks many people is that SNP MPs contribute at the end of debates with speaking time curtailed.
This is because MPs are called to speak based on seniority and a crude arithmetical assessment of party strength. With nearly all SNP MPs being relatively new and from a group of 35 out of 650, we inevitably lose out. What I propose is to overhaul how MPs are selected to speak based on equality. I would end “seniority” and have members with a long-standing interest in the debate – regardless of party – called early with a ballot system designed to then select the rest of the speakers on an equitable basis. I would also put in place a list of when members would be expected to speak prior to the start of a debate and have this made available to the House.
And I want to address the many nonsensical ways in which the House conducts itself during debates. I remember the response when SNP MPs were rebuked simply for clapping. Legislatures round the world seem to manage perfectly well by allowing this and in the absence of clapping, strange and exotic sounds have emerged in the Commons.
We must also address how we refer to each other. I know that many would take issue with the prefix of “Honourable” to the Gentleman/Lady or Friend that we currently use.
We all have names and if they are good enough for us in all other day to day discourse they should be good enough for the chamber of the House of Commons. There is also the absurd notion that the Speaker should dictate how MPs dress in the chamber. As Speaker, I would end these pointless conventions.
I would also want to democratise the management of the Commons by creating an “Executive of the House” to include staff members and the wider Parliamentary community.
I have also suggested extending proxy voting to those with illness or caring responsibilities and I have proposed taking the debates we have in Westminster Hall around the UK.
Lastly, I would seek to address our historic commitment to reform the House of Lords because it is an undemocratic anachronism unreflective of our communities.
I would lead a cross-party convention of Parliament involving the devolved legislatures to progress our democracy and make both the “Houses” of Parliament more accountable and representative.
Is my programme likely to secure widespread Parliamentary support? Is my tongue firmly in cheek as I propose this almost revolutionary agenda?
I will leave that for you to decide. Scotland will be leaving Westminster soon so I will be in a hurry to conclude this agenda. I would like to maybe think that this could be our parting gift – from us to them.