Tag Archives: Westminster

Shuffle the Deck

You always know what’s going on when groups of MPs are huddled together in excited groups and the mobile phones are gripped even more intently than usual. Yes, it’s reshuffle day and expectant would-be Ministers are waiting excitedly for that call from Number 10. With one call, the fortunes of the politically ambitious can be either be made or thwarted and it’s an experience that is unlikely to trouble this Honourable Member.

Last week saw reshuffles take place in both Westminster and Holyrood, with very different and distinct messages coming from the respective Governments.

At Westminster, the coalition tensions are now almost at boiling point, with Liberals determined to have their agenda pushed more robustly in Government; whilst Conservative MPs become even more irritated with their Liberal partners. What eventually happened was that the Liberal numbers were increased around Whitehall, whilst there was a lurch to the right to satisfy the Conservative backbench.

In Scotland, a reshuffle was also undertaken following the decision by former Perth and Kinross Council leader and all round political good guy, Bruce Crawford, to stand down after years of service. The First Minister used this opportunity to bolster his ministerial team by putting an almost exclusive focus on economic growth. With the Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, securing a brief on infrastructure we now have the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and Finance Secretary, John Swinney, with responsibility to ensure economic growth and to work to mitigate against the worst excesses of Westminster austerity policies.

Nicola Sturgeon also combines her role with ensuring that the Scotland’s constitutional issues are addressed. This, of course, makes perfect sense as they are intrinsically linked and are almost entirely inter-dependent on each other. I think that the Scottish people recognise that the Scottish Government can do so much with the economic powers that we have. We can ensure that Scotland is better protected and we can invest where we can. But it’s like playing a game of golf with just a few clubs at your disposal. What Scotland needs are the big drivers, and that means securing the full range of economic powers that would come with independence. Having the constitution linked with the economy, the Scottish Government are then in a better position to demonstrate just how that interconnection works.

So there we are, a tale of two reshuffles- one based on political expedience and one based on Scotland’s priorities.

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This article first appeared in the Blairgowrie Advertiser on Thursday 13th September 2012

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Scots Independent – June 2012

Do you ever feel you’re living in a parallel universe? Well being an SNP MP at Westminster is sometimes quite like that. You see, Westminster doesn’t like the idea of Scottish independence. In fact it doesn’t like the idea of it a lot. Out of the 650 MPs in the Commons 640 of them are totally hostile to the suggestion. In the House of Lords it’s probably even worse. All 786 members would probably take exception to the notion, apart from Plaid Cymru peer, Dafydd Wigley, and the Liberal, but indy-supporting, Earl of Mar. That’s an awful lot of indy-loathing parliamentarians. In fact, that is about 1,400 unionist MPs or Lords and Ladies determined to let Scotland know how they feel about the whole proposition.

With these sort of numbers, it should perhaps come as no surprise that the debate about Scottish independence is just a little bit different in London than it is in Scotland.

Any cursory look at Scottish Questions will give you a flavour of how they approach the debate. Unionist MP after unionist MP will rise to give Scotland the benefit of the strength of his or her unionist passion. The prospect of an independent Scotland has to be talked down and the wonders and joy of the union repeatedly spelled out – ad nauseam.

In the House of Lords it’s even worse. Now, I know that it should never be recommended, but watching the Lords debate Scottish issues is almost funny. During the passing of the Scotland Bill former Scottish Ministers, both Tory and Labour, would practically be fulminating at the gall of the people to vote for an SNP Government. Such is the surreal quality of the Lords that the ever popular Michael Forsyth is the star turn at these events!

Then there’s the Scottish Affairs Committee, all unionists, who can’t even bring themselves to mention the word “independence”. They are accompanied by the (at least) other 4 Westminster select committees, again all entirely unionist, and all looking at issues to do with “separation”.

Should we care what Westminster thinks about Scottish independence? Should we try and accommodate its view and take on board its concerns? Well, if it’s going to be reasonable, then yes, we should. But if it can’t bring itself to even say the word independence, if it believes that the whole concept of independence is somehow illegitimate, and if it attempts to try and shout down the few of us who take a contrary view in London, then Westminster diminishes its contribution. We want a constructive debate about independence in the next couple of years and Westminster needs to engage constructively and sensibly.