Author Archives: petewishart

ABSTENTIONISM AND THE SNP

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There has been a bit of traffic on social media recently that I abandon my post at Westminster and ‘return’ to Scotland with the rest of my fellow SNP MPs.

Borne out of frustration at the treatment of SNP MPs at Westminster I have to say I will never abandon my post as an SNP MP and leave my constituents at the mercy of this Tory Government. I was elected to represent all of the people of Perth and North Perthshire regardless of how they voted – something I have pledged following every election I have contested. To up-sticks and walk out of Parliament would be contrary to every commitment that we as SNP MPs made to the people who voted for us and it would result in us never being elected to anything again. I will leave Westminster only when the people of Scotland have voted for Westminster to no longer be a feature in our national life. 

Where abstentionism is a perfectly legitimate political tactic it would be an absolute disaster for the SNP. Like it or not, Scotland is still part of the union and Westminster is the legitimate Parliament of the UK. Westminster remains responsible for the economy, most welfare, foreign affairs and crucially the constitution. It is currently taking our nation out of the EU against our national will and diminishing the powers of our Parliament. To allow them to pursue this agenda without speaking up on behalf of our nation would be a gross abrogation of responsibility. Under these conditions standing for election on a pledge to not turn up and represent the people who elected us would be the very definition of political suicide in Scotland.

The SNP is not Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein do not recognise the legitimacy of the UK state in Northern Ireland and exist exclusively to return unity to the island of Ireland. They represent a distinct political constituency in Northern Ireland and their agenda of a united Ireland is entirely different to a party seeking independence and the end of a political union. Where violence has been a feature of Irish unification no one has even secured a nose bleed in the democratic cause of Scottish independence. Our movement is based on consent, majoritarianism and democratic legitimacy. Scotland is not Northern Ireland. 

Nothing would delight the Tories more than empty SNP benches. It has been the SNP that has been the only effective opposition to the Tories in the past few years. Witness the way they try and shout us down and silence us whilst remaining almost silent when the hapless ‘official’ opposition speaks up. Observers of Parliament have taken this ‘compliment’ as a demonstration of disrespect and the reason why we should abandon our posts. Believe me, in my 18 years in Parliament, there has never been a golden age when the SNP has been listened to in respectful silence. We have secured nothing other than their total contempt because we represent everything they oppose. We seek an end to their ‘precious’ union and our social democratic agenda is the exact opposite of their austerity and support for the wealthiest in our society. 

The simple fact is that we will only secure our independence when a majority of our fellow Scots believe that it is in the best interests of our Scottish nation. This is secured by persuading those yet to be convinced and there are no shortcuts. Independence will not be achieved by leaving our constituents in the lurch and Scotland without a voice in a Parliament seeking to diminish our authority. 

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A PEOPLE’s VOTE AND AN INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM. ONLY ONE CAN PREVAIL.

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In Scotland there are currently two campaigns being conducted to secure two different and distinct constitutional referendums. One seeks to reverse the decision of the EU referendum and keep the UK in the EU whilst the other seeks a second referendum to make Scotland an independent country. Both sit rather uncomfortably and incongruously with each other and success in securing one would almost certainly mean that the conditions for the other would disappear. If independence is secured through a referendum a UK wide People’s Vote would not be necessary in Scotland. If a people’s vote is successful the set of conditions to progress independence in the near future all but disappears. 

The SNP supports both of these referendums but our recent emphasis and focus has been primarily to back the call for a people’s vote. We started out as sceptics of a People’s Vote, to rightly conceding that we would not stand in its way, to being a passive supporter, to ending up as one of its biggest cheerleaders. A second EU referendum now underpins practically everything we say on Brexit.

Such is our endorsement of a People’s Vote that we have unconditionally given our support to a second EU referendum, regardless of its outcome, and without any guarantees for our nation or acknowledgement of a future vote in Scotland. Without the inclusion of a set of conditions we could be expected to ‘respect’ the outcome even if it meant that Scotland was taken out of the EU against its will again. If somehow a People’s Vote is successful we remove the very conditions that makes Scottish independence a majority position amongst the Scottish people. Critically, we also remove the specified condition of the current mandate included in our manifesto in 2016.

With opinion polls remaining obstinately consistent since 2014 it is Brexit that provides the best opportunity to progress the independence agenda. Nearly every opinion poll shows a lead for independence in the event of Brexit taking place. The conclusion of this therefore would be to solidly and consistently argue that it is independence that would ensure that Scotland was rescued from a Brexit it doesn’t want and never voted for. Instead we spend a disproportionate amount of our time promoting a mechanism that could actually remove the conditions that make independence more likely. Where it is a noble intention to want to save the UK from itself we have to be entirely sure that it wants to be rescued. Opinion polls do show a lead for remain but none are decisive and the latest polls are beginning to show a tightening in this contest particularly when remain is pitched against viable leave options.

Rerunning this contest is also not consequence free. For a start it is likely to descend into the ugliest democratic choice that the British people have ever participated in. You can only imagine the campaign the Brexiteers will run. It probably wouldn’t even be about Europe anymore. it would more than likely end up as a verdict on the ‘political elite’ and how that ‘elite’ denied the British people their democratic choice. Scotland wouldn’t be immune from this anti-politics contest and it will almost certainly impact on our domestic Scottish politics. We would then have to try and re-stimulate another referendum campaign after this experience and the referendum fatigue we saw at the General Election of 2017 would be as nothing to what would prevail after this.

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It is true that the cause of Scottish Independence would be better served with the UK remaining in the EU. Divisive issues such as borders and free movement of goods are undoubtedly better served with an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK in the EU. But all of this is beyond our control. It will be England again that will decide whether we remain or leave the EU. I always believe that it is much more useful to try and influence events which are under our control rather than waste energy on events that we can not change or influence. 

I also get that there is political mileage in encouraging remain voters who voted No in the independence referendum to our cause. As a constituency MP I am struck by the sheer numbers of new people getting in touch with me and the interest that there is in the Brexit debate is unprecedented. However we don’t help Remain/Nos on that journey if we don’t properly detail to them that the end destination of that journey has to be Scottish independence. 

In the last few days I have noticed an encouraging new tone in our statements about Brexit with more of an emphasis on independence as opposed to a second EU vote and that is to be welcomed. The First Minister will reveal our plans for an independence referendum in the next few weeks and my views on that are well known. I profoundly believe that we should only have a second referendum when there is good evidence it could be won and that it be held when there are the optimal conditions for success. I believe that another defeat would be unthinkable and could fatally undermine any future campaign for Scottish independence. 

That is why we must fully take advantage of the disruptive forces that come our way and demonstrate Scotland’s fragile position as a junior partner in the UK. Brexit helps provide these conditions but as yet we have barely nudged support for Scottish independence in the polls. As the disaster of Brexit approaches and the very real consequences start to be felt that could all change and we have a duty and responsibility to detail clearly that it is only Scottish independence that can rescue our nation from the all encompassing isolating ugliness of Brexit. A ‘people’s vote’ should not be opposed, and I would always support it in any vote in the House of Commons, but it is in building support for the referendum that will ensure that there will be no more Brexits that should always be our priority.  

SETTLED STATUS – WHAT THE TORIES ARE REALLY DOING TO EU NATIONALS

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Over Christmas, when very few people were paying attention, the Home Office put out a video and further information on its EU Settlement Scheme. Full of stock photos of smiling people, apparently having a whale of a time, the video provided a chilling and provocative reminder of the precarious situation EU nationals living within our community endure as we approach Brexit.

In a rare moment of clarity the Home Office confirmed that EU nationals would have to ‘apply’ to remain in the UK under the Settlement Scheme and a new menacing tone was introduced. The video detailed that criminal checks would be required and that specific data would be accumulated on EU nationals who have lived in the UK for decades. This time there was no dubiety about the cost. Every EU national without citizenship or leave to remain would have to pay the £65. Children would secure the ‘cut price’ cost of £32.50. The most invidious feature was the underlying threat that failure to comply or failing the ‘application’ could result in, well, who knows what…… It was as unsettling as it was sickening and sent alarm bells throughout the UK’s 3.6 million strong EU national community. 

I suppose we all knew that this day would come. Immigration and ending freedom of movement is the cold beating heart of their Brexit. Keeping people out and othering those from beyond our shores is the de facto case for leaving the European Union. The day of reckoning was never going to be pretty. Leave groups have to be pandered to and the new dawn of Brexitised UK has to be clearly understood. We are creating a new drawbridge society and those who have already made the journey here will have to know their place and fully understand why this Brexit has to be done. Ending freedom of movement is paraded as the main ‘prize’ of their Brexit. For these Brexit Tories, those that made the journey under FoM are an unfortunate consequence of something that pre Brexit Britain got so badly wrong. EU nationals are, I suppose, for the Brexit Tories, Britain’s big mistake. 

So far the Tories have been very careful to promote a culture of reassurance and comfort. A sort of ‘don’t worry your pretty little European head’ has been the tone and message. It was unsustainable. Promises of ‘no change’ to status and ‘everything will be the same’ can’t work when everything is to be completely different. Registration would always require applications and checks or there would be no point in any sort of registration at all. This is a Tory Home Office that created the ‘hostile environment’ its instincts are to start with suspicion and then work backwards from there. 

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At least they are starting to be honest. Their draft immigration bill sets out clearly the type of nasty, intolerant Brexit UK they want to create. Everybody knows that EU nationals greatly contribute to our economy but that doesn’t matter a fig when there are Faragists to pander to. Scotland’s population growth is almost entirely predicated on immigration. We have a dependency ratio that is about the most acute in Western Europe. Ending freedom of movement will be disastrous for our economy and for the service sectors that soak up the majority of inward migration. We didn’t vote for this Tory Brexit but yet we will be the nation that will be most impacted from this, the main plank of their case for leaving.

I loathe their Brexit. Everything about it simply diminishes us. It is impossible to identify any redeeming feature of what the Tories are doing to us in this chaotic and clueless mission. But it is what they are doing to our friends and colleagues from Europe that makes me loathe their Brexit even more. 

As we shape up the sort of new country we want to be in Scotland we will assess everything that the Tories have done on immigration and vow to never, ever follow them down that souless, barren, self-defeating cul-de-sac. Scotland is better than this and soon we will show that to the world. 

GENERAL ELECTION ANYBODY…..?

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As we prepare for the Christmas recess all the talk is of an early General Election. A vote of no confidence is apparently to be imminently considered with the prospect of an early General Election on the horizon. A vote of no confidence following the Fixed Term Parliament Act now no longer means that an automatic General Election would follow. Fourteen days have to be set aside to form a new Government and the Parliamentary arithmetic does suggest that no alternative Government readily presents itself.

To secure a Labour led majority all the other parties in the House would have to unite to oppose the Tories, a highly unlikely proposition. There is also talk of a Labour minority Government and where it is possible it would be the lamest duck in the duckpond infirmary. Also the experience of the last minority Labour Government in the 70s should stand as a salutary lesson to my comrade friends. 

But do Labour really want a General Election? It is all they’ve been banging on about for the past few months but when offered the support they demanded they went curiously cold on the idea. Yes, they are right, there are optimum times for success but surely it doesn’t get any better than straight after a vote of confidence in a Prime minister who had one third of her party declining

to offer that assurance. Following the meaningful vote is now the time talked about by Labour ‘strategists’ for them to make their move but don’t be too surprised if something else emerges which would mean Labour rethinking this again. 

And looking at the polls it’s easy to understand why Labour would be nervous about a General Election. Most opinion polls show the Tories and Labour neck and neck with most showing a continued Tory lead. For all the chaotic shambles enveloping the Tory Party there seems little love for Corbyn’s Labour. Labour are also doubly conflicted by the fact that even in the midst of Brexit meltdown at least 45% of the UK still want to leave the EU and an awful lot of the people who still support leave are represented by Labour MPs. Brexit would continue to dominate a General Election forcing Labour at last to take some sort of stance. Probably the best Labour could seriously hope for in an early general election is to become the largest party at Westminster swapping this hopeless position with the Tories. 

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Where an early election wouldn’t necessarily be greeted with cheers from the rafters in a Perth and North Perthshire constituency where we ‘enjoy’ a 21 majority it would certainly be welcomed more enthusiastically than last year. All opinion polls show a modest rise in support for the SNP with a similar decline in support for the Tories and Labour. This will be a Brexit General Election and the Tories most certainly won’t get away with the ‘vote Ruth Davidson to oppose a 2nd referendum’ nonsense they did last time. The Scottish public will demand to know what the Scottish Tories will do to deal with this crisis and the conjuring tricks of last year won’t work. The Scottish Tories also now have a Westminster record to defend and the actions of their singularly useless group of MPs will be cruelly exposed. The opportunities to win back seats from the Tories and Labour will be there for the taking.  

We have to be ready for an early General Election and we will have to ensure that it stays on our ground this time. We have been entirely consistent on Brexit and have represented our constituents effectively through this crisis. We also have a neat and elegant solution to all of this for Scotland. As solutions go they do not come any better than getting completely out of this mess and making our own way as a nation of our own. 

MAJORITIES AND A MEANINGFUL VOTE

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It was Norman Lamont who said of the equally disastrous John Major Government ‘we give the impression of being in office but not in power’. Such is the situation with this Government they don’t even give the impression of being in office! Never before has such overwhelming shambles characterised a Government’s approach to running the country. The tenuous majority they secured with the £1 billion DUP bung seems to be abandoned as the DUP vote against the Government. As the sound of ‘never’ reverberates from the opposition lobby this must be the worst political investment in history. How this Government must wish that they had included some small print which obliged the DUP to hand back the cash if they voted against them.

With no majority the Government are now very reluctant to test the will of the House. Last week the SNP got through two amendments in the Finance Bill on tax avoidance and fixed odd betting terminals because the Government dare not face defeat. They are prepared to face the indignity of accepting opposition amendments to crucial bills rather than lose a vote. They are now in the position where they are barely capable of running the country.

It is in this very tenuous minority situation they now have to put the most important vote of recent times to Parliament. With the EU having approved their Brexit deal it now comes to the House of Commons to give its view and we will now have our say on the 12th December. The Government are therefore doing everything possible to restrict Parliament to a binary choice of their bad deal or no deal. They are doing this even though there is no majority in the House for neither of these options. The real battle of what we eventually vote on is quickly becoming the first big battle in the House of Commons on this ‘meaningful vote’.

Because of the delicacy of the situation the Procedure Committee of the House of Commons were charged with investigating this and they detailed three possible options. Follow the usual practice of the House, to allow the Speaker to call more than one amendment for decision at the end of debate. This would allow the House to determine the process and secure the maximum number of options. This option is hotly contested by the Government. The second is the Government’s preferred option to have the vote on their deal put first and only consider amendments if it fails. The last option is to have an almost pointless set of indicative votes on amendments to test the will of the House.

What is crucial is that the House must be able to express its view and consider the deal on the basis of whatever it chooses. There are signs that the Speaker (usually responsible for the selection of amendments) is growing increasingly exasperated with the Government insistence of the binary choice of the ‘devil or the deep blue sea’ and the incredible stand off between him and the Leader of the House on this was something else.

Such as its importance that the outcome of this piece of procedure could determine the future of a nation. It would be unthinkable if we were to have an outcome that had no majority and we just had to accept it. Having no majority and having no real chance of getting their deal through this Government might just be prepared to burn down the whole House with a no deal Brexit before it hands back the keys. We start the debate on this the week after next. We have to know exactly what is on offer when that debate commences.

WHY WE SHOULD BE WARY OF THIS PEOPLE’S VOTE

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As Brexit approaches its inevitable disastrous endgame the calls for a People’s Vote grows more strident. Reinforced by 700,000 people marching through the streets of London, the SNP will apparently support any second vote in the House of Commons It now seems there is an irresistible momentum towards a second EU referendum and together we will halt their Brexit.

Only I have big concerns about supporting a second Brexit vote and I am particularly anxious about supporting such a vote without any guarantees that our choice in Scotland will be respected next time round. In the last vote Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU only to be totally ignored, with our national view contemptuously dismissed. Every attempt to broker an outcome acknowledging how Scotland voted was rejected and any position to try and minimise the impact of Brexit in Remain-supporting Scotland binned before the ink was even dry. Now we are to offer unconditional support for another referendum which could produce the same result and conditions throughout the UK once again.

No-one from the People’s Vote campaign has attempted to answer the question, which is: What if Scotland votes to remain (which it will) and the UK as a whole votes to leave again (which it might)? They won’t answer because, for them, it is a UK vote and the outcome in Scotland is irrelevant and just the same as the outcome in any other part of the UK. They simply do not acknowledge that we as a nation have our own national view and national interest.

To say that we will sign up to a referendum without any guarantee that our Scottish national voice will be at least acknowledged is little more than an open invitation to have our national view ignored and disrespected all over again. We are simply inviting all the indignities we are currently enduring to be replicated and refreshed.

Then there is precedent. There is now a view amongst the politicians leading the People’s Vote campaign that all big constitutional referendums should now have a “confirmatory” second vote. The politician with perhaps the highest profile in the People’s Vote campaign, Vince Cable, has explicitly said that a confirmatory vote would be required on a successful independence referendum. By enthusiastically buying into this confirmatory vote for an EU referendum, we weaken our hand in resisting Unionist calls for a second vote on a successful indyref. You can just imagine the Unionist chorus: “You were all for a second confirmatory vote on the EU but not one for independence.”

And if they were successful in using this precedent against us, unreconciled Unionists would be working non-stop from the day after the referendum to ensure that a successful outcome would be overturned. Every apparatus of state would be deployed and they would ensure that the worst possible “deal” would be offered to the Scottish people in the hope that their Union could be rescued.

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But in saying all this Scotland would want the UK in the EU. The most seamless transition to independence would be with a common customs union whilst being part of the EU single market with the rest of the UK. With the UK out of the EU, borders will become the totemic scaremongering feature of a future referendum campaign. One can only imagine the relish a Unionist campaign will have in insisting the Scottish people will have a hard border and no common travel area with the rest of the UK. Having the UK in the EU is in the interests of Scottish independence.

We want Brexit reversed and I hope that somehow it can still be stopped. But the second vote advocates have to come a couple of steps towards us and at least acknowledge that the UK is a Union of nations each with its own national view on the EU. But they won’t. Beyond the Unionist politicians who lead the campaign there are the celebrities like Bob Geldof and Dan Snow, people who couldn’t be more strident in their opposition to independence. To throw our weight behind their People’s Vote without any guarantees or recognition of our national position is like throwing the dice on someone else’s roulette wheel.

Realistically, though, It is very unlikely to be realised. We will be out of the EU in less than six months and there is just not the political capacity to win a second vote. The few Tories likely to vote in favour will be swamped by the number of Labour MPs who believe that the “result must be respected” even if the Labour front bench could be tempted to support it. We could be presenting all sorts of risks to a future independence referendum for nothing.

The only thing likely to stop Brexit is the contradictions of its own incompetent impracticality and we should never stop pointing out the disaster that is coming our way in the vain hope that it can be stopped. There is a sense that the campaign for a second vote is over before it has really begun. The key choice that is facing Scotland is do we want to be part of a UK out of the EU with all the disastrous consequences or do we want to determine our own relationship with the EU as an independent nation?

 

 

SCOTTISH TORY MPs AND THE ABUSE OF MINISTERIAL ACCESS

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Those familiar with the activities of Scottish Conservative Members of Parliament will know that they like to be photographed with their more senior and better known colleagues. Any cursory glance at their social media output will see a phalanx of photos with any number of UK Ministers and Secretary of States. Beaming with pride and bonhomie they look glaikitly into whoever’s iPhone is available to capture ‘the moment’. Inevitably, there will be the caption. Included will be the essential words ‘working towards, listening, resolving, showing’ with the clear message that it is they that have the access and the ear of Ministers. Having become the most supine, obedient and enthusiastic of lobby fodder Scottish Conservatives need something, anything, that suggests somehow they are doing something. 

So what do you think happened when I asked for the self same meetings with these Ministers that I identified in those photos? Well, not one agreed to meet with me, with most not even giving me the courtesy of a response and one telling me that I can take up the issue with her in the tea-room!

In trying to give these Scottish Conservatives this ‘leg up’ the UK Government has dangerously politicised access to Ministers for narrow party political advantage. There isn’t even an attempt to hide this co-ordinated and crude attempt to give this advantage and it is is something that goes against every principle of the Ministerial Code. 

Access to Ministers must be something that is afforded to all Members of Parliament. We are all elected to serve the people of this country and every constituent should be afforded the same rights from Ministers through their democratically elected MP. To politicise access for party political advantage is simply unacceptable and anti-democratic.

And this politicisation of access is now hindering the work that is required to resolve and deal with the pressing issues across my constituency and the people I represent. For example, I alongside my Dundee colleagues, recently wrote to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury asking for a meeting to discuss the delays in the Tay Cities Deal, a meeting that was refused. I have since seen a social media contribution from a Tory MP, who has one Tay Cities Deal project in his constituency, sitting down with the Chief Secretary where he boasts he is discussing his project with her.

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Then just this week there was a photo of a Scottish Tory MP pictured with the Home Secretary with a caption from her saying she was discussing a seasonal agricultural workers scheme. The next day a pilot scheme was announced in an obvious attempt to try and credit her with its introduction. This is despite me writing to the Home Secretary to meet several weeks ago and also chairing an all party Select Committee which recommended a scheme’s introduction. 

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The killer though must be a visit to a job centre in ‘my constituency’ where a Scottish Conservative MP hosted the Disabilities Minister, a meeting of which, I wasn’t even informed! She of course has never even gave me the courtesy of a response when I asked for a similar meeting. 

All of this is a shocking abuse of Ministerial party patronage. I can understand why this Government feels the need to give extra support to these Scottish Tory MPs. Their main contribution in Parliament is to rage against a Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government beyond their Parliamentary responsibilities, irritating and bewildering their constituents, who just want proper representation in the Parliament in which they were elected to serve. Giving the illusion that they can somehow ‘influence’ decision making with their party colleagues is an easy and lazy bit of Parliamentary cover. 

The range of issues with which Scottish Conservative MPs have now been credited extends to ending VAT on police services, the revitalisation of the oil and gas industry and the worldwide success of Scotch Whisky. Next we’ll find that they are responsible for the Scottish enlightenment, the finding of the Loch Ness monster and the lunar moon landings! The simple fact is that they have no influence on a Government that is tightly controlled from the centre and riven by its own contradictions and tensions, The only role required from the Scottish Conservatives MPs is to enquire ‘how high’ when asked to jump on behalf of their Government. 

If anything they have got in the way of ensuring that solutions are properly delivered. Take this week’s announcement of a Seasonal Workers Scheme. I tried to secure an all party approach and consensus in securing a useful scheme that properly consulted with the industry. The hastily arranged effort to try and credit a single Conservative MP managed to disappoint everybody in the sector with the Government announcing a scheme providing a paltry 2,500 workers of the 64,000 that they themselves say is required. 

With an absence of 20 years the re-introduction of Scottish Conservative MPs into the Scottish political wildness was always going to be a ‘difficult’ project. Where we can put up with their blind obedience to their Government and their almost hysterical attempts to ‘attack’ the Scottish Government in all their Westminster contributions we can not allow them to get away with this abuse of Ministerial access for critical constituency issues. It must end now.