Edinburgh MP Joanna Cherry has said that SNP MPs are routinely ignored in Westminster, and are impotent to do anything substantial to defend Scotland in the face of a Conservative government with an eighty seat majority. She cites this as one of the reasons why she’s throwing her hat into the ring as a potential SNP candidate for the Holyrood seat of Edinburgh Central which will be vacated by Ruth Davidson next year. Ruth is leaving politics to spend more time with her ego and her bank balance.
Other senior SNP figures such as Angus Robertson have also said that they’d like to be the SNP candidate for the seat. I’m not going to get into whether Joanna or Angus would be the better candidate for the SNP, I’m not a party member. However both of them are huge assets to the cause of independence, and both of them would be a huge asset in Holyrood. In an ideal world there would be some means found of ensuring that both of them could have seats in the Scottish Parliament. After all, there will be other MSPs who will most likely be standing down at the next Holyrood elections.
However it’s worth pointing out that when two heavyweight SNP politicians and their supporters start to brief against one another on social media, the only winner is British nationalism and its pals in a Scottish media which is always itching to highlight divisions within the SNP. So gaunnie no dae that. Jist gaunnie no. You’re not helping. Especially not at a time when others are doing their utmost to stir up divisions within the yes movement because their own personal agendas are more important than independence, and just before we’re about to weather a media shitstorm in the shape of an upcoming trial.
The role of SNP MPs at Westminster is a far more interesting question. Just what can a pro-independence MP achieve in a Parliament where Scottish representatives are heavily outnumbered, and where representatives of the Conservative majority routinely walk out of the chamber or heckly and barrack loudly whenever an SNP MP gets onto her or his feet. It’s not merely that the Conservatives have no interest in listening to the opinions of the vast majority of Scottish MPs, they want to ensure that we know that they are not interested in listening to them. In their overweening arrogance they don’t even bother with the pretence that the UK is a union of nations. If Scotland’s elected representatives are not supine and submissive, then they are to be treated with contempt in a very public manner.
Arguably, the SNP contingent was more powerful in the previous Westminster Parliament, despite the fact that it was smaller in numbers. In a hung parliament with a minority government, a determined bloc of 35 MPs could make a difference. It’s harder to make the case that a determined bloc of 48 independence supporting MPs – the 47 SNP MPs plus the independent Neil Hanvey – can make a difference when they’re up against a Conservative government with an overall majority of 80. The Tories know that too, and buoyed up by their landslide in England they’re in no mood to make any concessions to uppity Scots. They don’t need to care that in Scotland they stood on a platform of opposing another indyref and then lost over half their Scottish seats to the party demanding another referendum, and they don’t care. Scotland is merely an irritating noise in the House of Commons Chamber, a noise that can be drowned out with insults, or ignored with walk outs.
There are those who say that the SNP should boycott Westminster entirely. They point to the SNP walkout in June 2018 when the entire SNP contingent walked out of the Chamber in protest as Ian Blackford was ejected for refusing to sit down as he complained about the lack of time given to debate how Brexit would affect the devolution settlement. The walkout garnered huge publicity and a massive boost in the numbers of people signing up to join the SNP. It was seen at the time as a sign that the SNP was going to play hardball, and would make life difficult for the Conservative government. However that walkout proved to be a one off event, much to the disappointment of many within the independence movement.
SNP MPs could point out in response to calls to boycott Westminster that they were elected by their constituents to represent them in the House of Commons, and they’d be letting their constituencies down if they boycotted Westminster or persistently walked out. It’s a reasonable point. A lot of the work of the Commons goes on without the glare of publicity shone upon the main Chamber. There’s committee work, there’s constituency surgeries and interventions on behalf of constituents. It’s important that this important work where a difference can be made should not be thrown out with the dirty bathwater of the childish public schoolboyery that goes on in the Chamber.
However there are ways in which this important work which does have a positive impact can be protected and defended, while at the same time making a public statement that Scotland’s elected representives, and by extension the people who voted for them, will not tolerate the contempt with which they are treated by the Conservatives in the Commons. The Scottish national inferiority complex is a real thing, this nation has had long and deep discussions about the Cringe and its effect upon the psyches of countless people in Scotland. Witnessing our elected representatives being repeatedly mocked and insulted in the supreme seat of power in the UK only contributes to that psychological damage. If we seek to heal as a nation, if we seek to undo the damage done to us by hundreds of years of being culturally dominated and politically marginalised, one way to start is by adopting a policy of zero tolerance for those who refuse to show Scotland the respect that Scotland is due.
The arcane rules of the Commons allow Tory MPs to barrack and insult Scotland’s representatives. It seems logical that if the rules are stacked in your opponents’ favour, you should play by different rules. The rules of the Commons prohibit members from calling another member a liar, even when Boris Johnson blatantly lies. SNP MPs shouldn’t hesitate to call the lying liar a liar, and if that gets them removed from the Chamber it will merely publicise the fact that Boris Johnson is allowed to lie. There’s something seriously wrong with a rule book which thinks that calling someone a liar is a more serious offence than actually lying in the first place.
SNP MPs can show their disdain in many ways. It only takes a bit of imagination, and a willingness not to be bound by a rule book which sets up Scotland’s representatives for failure. They could stand and turn their backs on Johnson when he pontificates in the House. They could walk out at strategic moments. They can refuse to adhere to ridiculous rules such are not referring to other MPs by their names but instead as the “honourable member for Toryshire”. They could just call them by their surnames. They could refuse to refer to members of the Lords by the titles they insist upon. None of these things will change anything by themselves, but they send a signal that the SNP is not prepared to abide by the cosy regulations that sustain the British establishment. The key would be to find any means possible of being a nuisance, of showing that Scotland’s representatives are not prepared to play nicely with bullies. Adopt a policy of zero tolerance in Westminster, a policy of constructive obstruction.
SNP MPs could trawl that rule book for any obscure procedural device which could be used to embarrass or frustrate the Conservatives. They could seek out laws and regulations enabling legal action against the Tories. Even if a case is going to fail, the mere fact of starting it generates publicity and headlines. They could spend less time in the Chamber, and more time in Scotland, speaking about and publicising the ways in which Westminster is unfit for Scotland’s purpose. Above all, they can demonstrate that they have no intention of getting comfortable in Westminster.
Update 10pm: Just to add that Joanna Cherry has been in touch to point out that at no point has she briefed against Angus Robertson nor encouraged her followers to do so. Am happy to clarify that point.
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