The foreign parliament

We have now had the last media debate in the SNP leadership contest, and satisfyingly it has ended with the Scottish Tories clutching their pearls in one of their regular bouts of performative outrage. One of the topics that came up in the debate, as might be expected from a Scottish media in search of an SNP divided headline, was the Gender Recognition Reform bill which was vetoed by Scotland Secretary Alister Jack, thus preventing it from passing into law. Humza Yousaf noted, quite correctly, that if Scotland were an independent country it would not be possible for a foreign parliament to veto its legislation. Cue histrionics from the Scottish Tories, with perma-smug Scottish Tory MP Andrew Bowie calling the comment ‘idiotic’ and plaintively asking how Westminster could be a ‘foreign parliament’ given that he is a Scot, a government minister and represents a Scottish constituency at Westminster. It’s pretty rich of six chips Bowie to call anyone else idiotic when he cannot even wrap his head around a simple if-then conditional, one of the simplest and most basic commands in computing. What Humza Yousaf stated is absolutely and unarguably true,*If* Scotland were an independent country *then* Westminster would indeed be a foreign parliament incapable of vetoing legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament.

But that simple conditional statement does not compute with Andrew Bowie, a man who could keep his smug look during a zombie apocalypse because if he were to happen upon a horde of ravenous zombies looking for human brains to feast on, then they would shuffle right past him. But that’s a joke which depends upon an if-then conditional so it’s a safe bet that Andrew will need someone to explain it to him.

Indeed there are many of us, myself included, who would argue that notwithstanding the presence in it of a handful of Scottish Tory MPs who collectively have less computing power than an abacus with half its beads missing, Westminster is right now a foreign parliament to most people in Scotland. That is doubly the case when we look at the largest parties in that parliament, which espouse values and principles which are not merely foreign to the majority of people in Scotland but which are actively alien and alienating to most people in Scotland. Most people in Scotland believe it should be for the people of Scotland to decide whether Scotland has another independence referendum. Most people in Scotland do not want to heap more pain and misery on desperately poor asylum seekers trying to reach safety by taking the extreme and dangerous step of attempting to cross the English Channel in a flimsy inflatable boat. Most people in Scotland are either profoundly apathetic about or actively hostile towards the institution of the monarchy. Most people in Scotland want to be a part of the European Union, or at the very least to rejoin the European Single Market and Customs Union. But none of these majority Scottish points of view are reflected in the two largest political parties at Westminster, both of which are now to all intents and purposes parties of English nationalism and are hell bent on imposing policies dictated by that English nationalism on Scotland whether the people of Scotland want them or not.

The main event at that foreign parliament on Wednesday was the latest instalment of the Boris Johnson Show, Westminster’s long running work of fiction. Johnson made a three hour long tetchy appearance before the Commons Privileges Committee which is investigating whether he ‘recklessly and knowingly’ misled parliament – spoiler alert, he did – when he repeatedly assured MPs that no rules had been broken even though anyone with a handful of functioning neurons, so that’s you excused Andrew Bowie, would have known that having forty people gathered in a room for a booze fueled karaoke sesh was very clearly stetching the definition of an essential work event way past breaking point and as such not permitted during lockdown. The guy whose actual job was setting the lockdown rules and explaining them to the public ought to have known that better than anyone else.

During his appearance before the committee Johnson expressed his incredulity that anyone should dare to attempt to hold him to account for lying repeatedly as he tried to cover up his law breaking life as a party animal while he was imposing strict lockdown rules on everyone else. How dare anyone imagine that Johnson should be bound by the same rules as everyone else. After all, it is a core principle of that foreign parliament that important and powerful upper middle class men like Boris Johnson never ever suffer any consequences for their actions.

The most likely outcome is that Johnson will be found to have misled Parliament and will be sanctioned, but the sanction will fall short of being excluded from the House for more than ten days, a punishment which could potentially trigger a recall of Johnson by his constituents leading to a by-election which the Conservatives would find embarrassing and challenging. This is an eventuality which the Tories are desperate to avoid. Sunak just wants the whole story to go away and for Johnson to receive as much press attention as the Prime Minister’s tax returns, which entirely coincidentally were belatedly released on Wednesday, a day when media attention was elsewhere. Johnson will effectively have got away with it again.

You will not be surprised to learn that Sunak is obscenely rich, raking in – the word ‘earning’ implies he’s done something to deserve it – over £5 million in the past three years thanks mainly to gains from his US investment fund. There’s your man of the people who understands the struggles of ordinary households on low incomes which have to choose between heating or eating. However there are still unanswered questions, the published information contains no details about Sunak’s ‘blind trust’. The tax statement does not explain the detail of the arrangement that governs Sunak’s financial interests and arrangements. Neither do we know anything about Sunak’s tax returns to the American authorities during most of the period when he held a US Green Card while he was an MP.

A government headed by an obscenely wealthy man who pays for upgrades to the National Grid in order to heat his private swimming pool better even while his government slashes funding for public swimming pools is a government which is profoundly alien, not just to most people in Scotland, but to most people anywhere in the world. Maybe Andrew Bowie should stop whining about Westminster being called foreign to Scotland and work to ensure that it properly represented and cared about Scotland’s concerns and interests. But if Westminster was really representative of Scotland, Andrew Bowie wouldn’t have a job.


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