Repaying Westminster contempt in kind

After last Wednesday’s disgraceful scenes in the House of Commons when Speaker Lindsay Hoyle acceded to pressure from Labour leader Keir Starmer to trash Commons conventions and effectively to turn what was supposed to be an SNP Opposition day debate on a ceasefire in Gaza into a Labour Opposition day debate, compounded by Monday’s arrogantly disrespectful decision by Hoyle not to allow the SNP another opportunity to hold another debate on a ceasefire in Gaza, the time has come to ask whether there is any purpose left in SNP and Alba MPs remaining in a Parliament in which parties supporting Scottish independence are treated with such naked contempt.

On Sunday, Labour MP Chris Bryant, who had jumped to his feet in the Commons chamber immediately after Prime Minister’s Questions had finished, admitted that he was engaging in grubby manipulation of the rules of the House in order to delay the business of the Commons passing as it ought to have done. While Bryant was on his feet humming and hawing and deliberately wasting time, Starmer had barged into the Speaker’s office to demand that Hoyle break with parliamentary convention and allow a debate on Labour’s amendment to the SNP motion even though Hoyle had been warned by the senior Clerk of the Commons that doing so risked the SNP motion not being debated at all. In the event that is exactly what happened.

A furious SNP contingent marched out of the Commons chamber in disgust in protest at the naked contempt in which the party was being treated. All this happened because Starmer was desperate to get out of a hole he had dug for himself. Starmer’s repeated refusal to issue a clear condemnation of the war crimes Israel is committing in Gaza in disproportionate retaliation for the war crimes committed by Hamas in Israel on 7 October last year, compounded with his mealy mouthed semantic games instead of making a clear and unequivocal call for an immediate ceasefire has created considerable disquiet on the Labour benches. Had the SNP motion gone ahead for debate and a vote as it ought to have done, Starmer faced the prospect of the largest rebellion amongst Labour MPs he has faced in his four years of lying and duplicitous control freakery leadership.

But rather than man up and face and own the consequences of his own actions, Starmer instead decided to twist the rules of Parliament and strongarmed a weak and compliant Speaker into doing his bidding, in doing so he deprived Scotland’s largest contingent of MPs of their voice in the Westminster Parliament. He also gave us a lesson about his true character, and proved that he and the Labour party he has dragged to the right do not represent the meaningful change that they purport to. With Starmer we will only see more of the same underhand accountability dodging undemocratic machinations that we have grown wearily familiar with under the Tories.

The reasons for the decision to trash Commons convention in such a grubby and underhand manner were blatantly and screamingly obvious, but Hoyle and Starmer attempted to justify their actions with intelligence insulting bollocks about protecting the safety of MPs.

Hoyle’s position was severely damaged as a result of his pandering to Starmer’s authoritarianism. Stephen Flynn, the leader of the SNP at Westminster, told the Chamber that the Speaker had lost the confidence of the SNP, the third largest party in the Commons. A motion was presented by a Tory MP calling for a vote of no-confidence in Hoyle. Many Tories were also unhappy with the Speaker after he displayed such blatant favouritism. The Speaker is supposed to be neutral and unbiased, a Speaker who does favours for one party at the expense of another is anything but, and does not deserve to remain in post.

For a few days Hoyle’s position looked very precarious. In an attempt to fend off his critics the Speaker promised the SNP another debate on a ceasefire in Gaza, however over the weekend the move to oust him lost steam, and by Monday Hoyle felt confident enough to go back on his word and curtly informed the SNP that they would not be getting another debate after all.

SNP Westminster group leader Stephen Flynn raised a point of order in the House of Commons chamber on Monday afternoon, asking why the party’s application for a debate under Standing Order 24 (SO24) had not been accepted despite the Speaker’s promise last week that the party could have one. During the uproar over his decision last week, Hoyle had said: “I would say that we can have an SO24 (Standing Order 24) to get an immediate debate because the debate is so important to this House.”

Secure in his position, it was back to dismissive contempt from Hoyle. Hoyle told the SNP leader that he did not usually have to give reasons for refusing a debate, but said as a UK Government statement is due to be heard on Tuesday, there would be an opportunity for the issue to be discussed then. Trot along, annoying little separatist, your British masters have spoken.

This shabby incident merely confirms that Scotland only ever gets a hearing at Westminster when Westminster’s power is threatened, but the second that the threat is neutralised, any promises that had been made will be trashed. Let that be a lesson to anyone in Scotland who is foolish enough to consider voting Labour at the next general election in order to get the Tories out.

Scotland cannot get a hearing at Westminster where Scotland’s MPs are hopelessly outnumbered, we saw that recently when an Alba motion to give the Scottish parliament the power to hold an independence referendum was voted down by MPs representing seats outwith Scotland. However even when Scotland’s MPs look able to hold the parties of British nationalism to account as they did with the Gaza ceasefire debate last week, Labour and the Tories will change the rules so that they can’t.

The lesson is clear for voters in Scotland. Scotland needs strong representation in Westminster from real Scottish parties, not wholly owned subsidiaries of the Labour or Tory leadership, and those Scottish parties need to be willing to exploit every arcane rule and procedure to be disruptive and a real thorn in the flesh of those Conservative and Labour parties which treat the Scottish electorate with such naked contempt. That contempt must be repaid in kind.


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