Friday, 4 April 2008

The Mother of What?

We are often told about the high level of debate in the London Parliament, how those great and finely honed minds of the Members wrestle with the important issues of the day and how those rapier wits and shining lights sparkle and shine from their Thameside fastness and shed understanding and brilliance around the world.
Being the kind of person I am - handsome, witty, dashing and debonair (and modest with it) - I like to check up on these things so, from time to time, I like to peruse the Official Report of Westminster - a publication they call Hansard. That's how I came to be reading the report of the debate on the Scotland Act from Tuesday just past. Sponsored by one Pete Wishart, it attracted all the greatest talents and was an excellent example of the best debating skills of Westminster. Let us enjoy it together.

Just a couple of minutes into Pete's opening speech when he was talking about the Scottish Government's National Conversation the sage of Midlothian intervened:
Mr. David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab): I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not think that I am part of his national conversation. The first conversation that I have with him will be the last.
Lovely, isn't it?In cruised slim Jim (Hood of Lanark and Hamilton East):

I welcome the national conversation, but I should like it better if we could have it in Westminster.
Kind of missed the point there. The National Conversation is with the people of Scotland - it doesn't belong to politicians - far less to 59 MPs sitting in London, but I'm glad to see that at least one Labour MP intends to engage. Here's something interesting though, see these contributions from Labour MPs:

Sandra Osborne (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (Lab): I enthusiastically support the
commission because it will develop the Scottish Parliament in a very positive manner.
Mr. Adam Ingram (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (Lab): I want to support the commission that is under way—for one good reason. It allows us to review the whole gamut of the Scotland Act 1998, which allows powers to be taken back from the irresponsible Administration that currently exists in the Scottish Parliament.
Obviously singing from the same hymn sheet but one of them is holding it upside down. Sandra Osborne seeing Wendy's Independence Commission as being a move towards greater powers for the Scottish Parliament, Adam Ingram, still smarting from not being important any longer, sees it as a way of destroying Scottish democracy. I find it interesting that Adam Ingram has been an MP for 21 years and was a Minister for 10 of those years but still doesn't understand the difference between the legislature and the executive - Parliament isn't the Government.

Pete wasn't being kind to them, though:

I have imagined the scene in the Scottish Parliament when the commission idea was first suggested and mooted. I can imagine the Labour Members of the Scottish Parliament sitting in their weekly meeting, despondent and depressed. They have been completely shattered by their Scottish leader getting involved and embroiled in the donations scandal; bruised by the continued popularity of an SNP Government riding high in opinion polls; and monstered on a weekly basis at First Minister’s questions. I can see the former, sacked, disgraced, over-refreshed adviser going to the meeting and saying, “I’ve got an idea to get one over on the Nats. Let’s take the whole issue of the constitution to the SNP”. One can imagine all the back-slapping following such a suggestion.
However, Labour MSPs did not account for hon. Members here in Westminster. I can imagine the steam coming out of the ears of the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton, East (Mr. Hood) and others when they heard the plan for more powers for the Scottish Parliament. I can imagine mutterings of “Over my dead body” from the right hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow and the state of apoplexy induced in the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Devine).
Then that terrible cad MacNeil joined in the baiting:

Mr. MacNeil: I am struck by the impatience of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties to get on with a referendum, which is welcome. They must know, of course, that the matter will come to the Scottish Parliament, in the terms of the Scottish Parliament, but I thank them for their impatience. Its importance to them is witnessed by the number of Labour Members who have come here today to join in the conversation.
He's a bad lad!
Anne Begg, though, Labour MP and star:

The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire began his speech by saying that it is accepted everywhere that devolution is a process, not an event. Again, we can argue whether that is accepted everywhere, but it is his interpretation of the word “process” with which I have a problem. I have always understood a process to involve moving forward and perhaps changing something, not necessarily taking more powers. I do not think that any dictionary definition of “process” includes an assumption of more power. Sometimes it involves putting things together, as in the case of a process worker, but I do not know of any definition that necessarily involves adding, taking back or taking more powers.
Eh? If you know what the Dickens she's on about can you let me know? Mad as a badger!
Gordon Banks (not the former England goalie):

the Calman commission, to which I alluded—is approved by the Scottish Parliament;
Erm - no it's not - that Commission is still to come! He went on to say that

I did not engage in the conversation
which is a great shame -that such a tribune of the people will not engage in the National Conversation started by Scotland's Government. It gets better though:

Willie Rennie (Dunfermline and West Fife) (LD): Perhaps the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr. MacNeil) will stand up again and give us his view on whether it should take place in the Scottish Parliament.
Mr. MacNeil: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Willie Rennie: No
I've taken a wee bit out that Willie continued with while Angus leapt to his feet, but this is the essence of the exchange. Marvellous! Here's his Libdem colleague Alastair Carmichael answering Angus MacNeil:

Mr. MacNeil: Let the people decide.
Mr. Carmichael: The people have decided; they decided last May and his party got 20 per cent. of the electorate’s votes, so let us not hear any nonsense about people deciding
That would be the SNP he's talking about. The SNP got 33% in the constituency and 31% in the additional member vote - more than any other party and more than the 16% and 11% scored by the Libdems. Maybe we shouldn't trust Libdem analysis, eh?
Another Libdem, Alan Reid:

Pete Wishart: This all seems to be quite a bit of a shambles; hon. Members cannot agree among themselves about these sorts of issues. What we need to hear from the hon. Gentleman is an answer to this question; if the Labour party persists with the idea of taking powers back from Holyrood, at what point will the Liberal Democrats leave the commission and have nothing whatsoever to do with that particular objective?
Mr. Reid: I will reiterate what I have said; the Liberal Democrats do not support any transfer of powers from the Scottish Parliament back to Westminster, and if the hon. Gentleman and his party would join the commission, they could add weight to that argument.
Pete Wishart: Will the hon. Gentleman answer my question?
Mr. Reid: That is typical of SNP members: they take the ball away; they will not participate in the discussions, and simply shout abuse from the sidelines, as the hon.
Gentleman continues to do.
Abuse? Jimmy Hood's back with his rapier-sharp wit though:

Mr. Hood: Is the hon. Gentleman going to tell the House that, if it was not for his policy, we would not have an SNP Government today? Is he saying that that was a good policy?
Mr. Reid: If it had not been for the Liberal Democrats insisting on proportional representation, the result of the Scottish Parliament elections would be very unfair, and we would have a Labour Government with an overall majority despite the fact that Labour won less than a third of the votes. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not arguing that we should go back to that situation.
Mr. Hood: Yes.
See that intellectual giant strutting his stuff?
Ben Wallace once a Conservative MSP, now a Conservative MP for an English constituency, also spoke - I urge you to just read his speech for yourself - a rant in the classic style!

And so to the big gun - rolled out for a broadside on this occasion was that towering genius David Cairns, Minister of State at the Scotland Office - a grand title ...

Pete Wishart: For clarification, who was the Minister referring to when he came up with the phrase “the McChattering classes”? To which group of people in Scotland was he referring?
David Cairns: Actually, I had in mind the people who write opinion columns in the Sunday Herald and Scotland on Sunday. In fact, the newspapers could save money on those who write those columns. They could send an office boy around to St. Andrews house to collect press releases rather than have Ian McWhirter write them.
Losing the election must have hurt. There's a difference between disagreeing with what a journalist has to say and questioning their right to say it or questioning their motives. Old Cairns carried on -

We remember what things were like before the Act, when a handful of Ministers in
Dover house took all the decisions that affected health, education and transport in Scotland. We remember that that was wrong, and we remember how hard we worked to change the situation, and to have democratic accountability so that decisions on the big day in, day out issues—health, transport, crime—could be taken by Scottish politicians in Scotland who are closer to the people who they represent.
Local taxation maybe getting a look-in there David? Good to see, though, that he acknowledges that the SNP Government is closer to the people of Scotland than Labour could ever hope to be. In that case, though, surely the Scottish Government is in a better position to make decisions on the model of governance for Scotland?

As Mr Cairns himself says:
letting the people exercise power at a level that is closer to them is part of our core principles as a party.
He must be delighted with the SNP Government exercising power so well.
Every time I read Westminster debates I come away thinking "is that the best they've got?"
I think I'm going to have to go down there and sort them out before Scotland heads off into Independence - it doesn't seem fair to leave them drowning.


Anonymous said...

Will the honorable gentleman take an intervention?

Anonymous said...

A pretty depressing debate. But made even more depressing by the fact that not Pete Wishart, not Angus Brendan, not even Mr Cashley can see that the people who support a referendum on independence now apart from the SNP are the enemies of Scotland and Scottish home rule. I wonder why that is?

Instead of exploiting the divisions in our opposition exposed by this debate, we unite them by pushing them all into an anti-independence corner.

The day for independence will come, but now is not the moment - we have a historic opportunity to advance Scotland's cause through a consensus of all Scottish parties seeking further power for our home rule institutions. Advancing little by little, independence is inevitable. Attempting to give history a push by an independence referendum will undermine our cause for decades, if not forever. Demanding an independence referendum in the next two years is both irresponsible and foolish but it isn't the SNP's worst crime.

The SNP, the supposed party of Scotland, has actually demanded that the Unionist parties' proposals for further home rule be put to a referendum when they don't think a referendum is needed. Why would nationalists be so keen to give Tam Dalyell, Brian Wilson and Michael Forsyth, who would otherwise be political has-beens, a platform on our future? Why do nationalists want to give the editors of the Daily Record, the Daily Mail and the Sun a key say? Does no one else here remember 1979?

Cassandra Bob

Calum Cashley said...

Ah Cassandra, breaker of promises, rash temptress of the gods, condemned to alloy her gift of prophecy with a parallel curse of never being believed. A woman who was fatal to all mortals who sought to gain her.

I remember 1979 as a young boy. I remember the bitterness of that disappointment and the determination amongst many to ensure that our nation regained its rightful place.

The fact that some of my opponents choose the same battleground signifies nothing other than the fact that we have chosen the same battleground - one of us will have that advantage depending on which one of us chose most wisely (as Sun Tzu might have said) - but it is certainly a different battleground from that of 1979 - or even 1997.

I believe that now is always the moment to advance my country's cause, and I also believe that each of my countrymen and countrywomen have the right to put forward their opinion on the direction in which Scotland should travel, and I will welcome the contributions of Michael Forsyth, Tam Dalyell and Brian Wilson, they have every right to make their contribution and you never know when their eyes might open.

Likewise, the media gatekeepers, including the editors of newspapers, have the right to speak on the matter. I am confident in Scotland's ability to conduct the debate and in the ability of Scotland's party to win it.

I have no more fear of a referendum than of the shrinking beasts of Scotland's political past.

Anyone who advocates constitutional change for this nation should be prepared to put their case before the Scottish people, that is nothing more nor less than trust in democracy, surely?


Anonymous said...

Phaedrus the Roman fabulist no doubt?

As regards referendums, "trusting democracy" is pure rhetoric. By saying you don't fear democracy, you're implying I do.

Referendums were a favourite vehicle for both Napoleon and Hitler, and for the very good reason that the people are easily controlled - far more easily than the representatives of the people.

That would be fine, except it's not going to be the SNP that is in control of the referendum. The SNP does not have a majority in the Scottish Parliament. The SNP will set neither the question nor the rules. You have nothing but contempt for the unionists. If they are as contemptible as you say, you can expect no quarter, and no respect for democracy on their part.

Then the broadcast media - we have not even established Scottish control over broadcasting. The broadcasting commission is bringing us close to it. Having a referendum before we have at least ensured an independent Scottish broadcaster is foolish.

Then the press - whatever you think about the rights of the editor of the Daily Mail to freedom of expression, he will use them to spread evil and corrosive lies, as he always does. As will the Sun and Record. You might think they don't have an impact. You're wrong.

There is a lesson from 1979 and 1997 - where there is a consensus among the Scottish political parties, we stand a good chance of getting a solid result. Where the parties are divided (often against themselves) the result is likely to be disaster which, don't kid yourself, 1979 was.

I don't deny there is a chance of winning a referendum held now. But having a referendum now is reckless on the simple calculation of weighing the slim chance of success against the grave consequences of failure.

We have gained so much in our parliament and government, autonomy now and the opportunity to advance backed by all unionist political parties. Failure at a referendum will utterly undermine the authority of parliament and government, and any advance in powers will be off the agenda - we'll struggle to hold on to what we've got.

And what is the SNP's plan B? If the people vote no in your precious referendum, what will you say to them then, except "I resign"?

Anyone who advocates constitutional change should be prepared to put it to a referendum? I'm happy to put constitutional change to the people at a referendum at a time that they're ready for it, which is to say at a time when we've already got control of tax, social security and broadcasting, when as a consequence the other political parties have gone through the reformation they must necessarily go through and have become Scottish parties, and when it is straightforward to convince voters that Scotland can run its own defence and foreign affairs better than the wraith that was once the UK.

There is no need for constitutional change that adjusts the devolution settlement to be put to a referendum - such change was envisaged in the 1997 referendum.


Calum Cashley said...

Nope, Phaedrus of Platonic renown.

Since I have no idea who you are I would not be calling into question your courage or otherwise in facing democracy.

I hope your tongue was firmly in your cheek with the Hitler comment (you missed Mussolini, by the way), unless you think the Swiss should be regarded in a similar light?

I am not consumed with contempt for unionists, I have contempt for people like Wendy Alexander, Gordon Brown, and Ewan Aitken who claim to want to improve the lives of people in Scotland but whose actions appear to me to belie that stated aim.

I have due regard to the impact of the media on public opinion, and I still believe that we will win the referendum, I do not believe that it is ever foolish to trust the Scottish people to take a decision, and I believe that the people have a right to be consulted before their constitutional affairs are changed.

Bring on the referendum, I say.