Alistair Carmichael: Voting for what the SNP wanted would have left Scotland weaker

There’s been a lot of ill-informed nonsense on social media about the way the Liberal Democrats voted, or in fact didn’t vote, on devolution in the Commons the other night. I was going to write a post to explain it all but then found I didn’t have to, because Alistair Carmichael had done it for me, and better.

What I think was the problem is that we didn’t really get our story out in good enough time and allowed the SNP to put it about that we had somehow not stood up for Scotland. We need to learn from this and explain it all beforehand.

Actually, and unsurprisingly, the situation is very different. As Alistair explains here, if we’d voted the way the SNP wanted and had won that vote, we’d have gone back to the original clause of the Bill, which was awful because it would have repatriated all the EU powers to Westminster to be doled out from there. No thanks.

So, Alistair now takes us through what happened and comments on the extraordinary PMQs session yesterday.

There was a single motion voted on which was a government motion to agree with an amendment from the House of Lords (apologies some jargon is unavoidable here but I shall try to keep it to a minimum). This amendment related to the inclusion of a new clause in the bill dealing with the transfer of powers coming back from Brussels post-Brexit. I was not going to support that motion as there is not yet any agreement between the Scottish and UK Governments – the reason why Liberal Democrats in the Scottish Parliament quite rightly voted against granting the legislative consent motion for the Bill.

At the same time, however, the Welsh Government HAVE reached agreement with the UK Government and that is what is now contained in the bill. If it is wrong to vote against the Scottish Parliament’s view then surely it is wrong to vote against the view of the Welsh Assembly. There was an amendment to the government motion from the Labour Party on the order paper that reflected the true position and it was originally my wish to vote for that. Unfortunately, however, that amendment was not put to the vote so, in the circumstances described, an abstention seemed like the appropriate thing to do. In this view we were joined by the Labour Party.

One further consideration. It may not have been what they intended but the actual effect of the SNP vote (if successful) would have been to restore the Bill to the position that it was in when it left the Commons – a much weaker position for Scotland than the one that the Bill currently provides!

There are serious points at issue here :

• This set of circumstances is quite unnecessary. Time could and should have been made available to a proper debate and all necessary votes on this issue. The Conservatives used the Commons procedures to avoid debate rather than to engage in it;

• The SNP and the Conservatives should have tried harder to reach agreement on how this should be handled – the differences between them are not massive. It has, in fact, been widely reported that the SNP Minister Mike Russell was prepared to sign up to the same arrangements agreed by the Welsh but that he was over-ruled at the last minute by the First Minister.

The next day, Wednesday, the SNP Leader in the House of Commons, tried to pull a stunt in the chamber at Prime Minister’s Questions. When the Speaker called him to order he defied the chair and ended up being suspended for the rest of the day. As a consequence of his suspension an application that was due to be heard (and was almost certainly going to be granted) for an emergency debate on this whole subject fell and could not be made. Or, to put it another way – the SNP pulled a stunt to highlight inadequate time for debate and as a result managed to lose the chance of a three hour slot to debate the subject about which they were unhappy.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • I watched Ian Blackford ask that the house sit in private he was offered two options
    Option 1️⃣ he could have the vote now
    Option 2️⃣ he could have the vote later
    Mr Blackford chose option 1 and called not once but twice to call the motion. The speaker took advice from the man sitting in front of him then decided to tell Mr Blackford that the vote will be held later, this was not standard procedure and he was wrong to do what he did.

    Mr Blackford continued to call for the motion while the speaker shouted for him to be seated that’s when he decided to throw him out of the chamber and rightly so the rest of the party followed him in disgust.

    May I respectfully suggest that Mr Carmichael watch the video of the events carefully so he can see and hear for himself. There was a lot of noise and commotion going on at the time so Mr Carmichael may have missed exactly what happened.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 14th Jun '18 - 10:43pm

    @Liz: Alistair was right next to the SNP MPs so was perfectly well aware of what was going on. The point is that, whatever the rights and wrongs of the situation, and I do think Bercow aggravated it, Blackford should not have put himself in the position of being thrown out because by doing so, the Parliament lost a chance to hold a 3 hour debate on the issue they were protesting about.

  • Bill le Breton 15th Jun '18 - 7:43am

    ” if we’d voted the way the SNP wanted and had won that vote, we’d have gone back to the original clause of the Bill,”

    Had we added our 11/12 votes would this have meant that the vote would have been won?

    As a good friend remarked to me, “It ought to be obvious that if our MPs have been defending a Conservative Government that is grabbing Henry 8th Powers and using Parliamentary voodoo to avoid a debate something has gone very wrong with what passes for the thinking amongst Liberal Democrat MPs.”

    Or if their tactics have allowed them to be painted as defending the Tory power grab, then they were naive in the extreme.

  • Forgive me but if the Welsh Government agreed to such a pathetically short period of debate over this matter then why should the Scottish Government accept it under terms of not going against another Celtic nation? There is form in the Welsh Assembly not acting in the best interests of Welsh people recently with Carwyn Jones agreeing (welcoming) Alun Cairns decision to name the second bridge after the prince of wales and the (less recent but recently highlighted) issue of not protecting Welsh place names and allowing these to be changed to English. The second day may have seen the SNP get it wrong (don’t forget that Tim Farron remembered when Lib Dems did the same thing previously) but in abstaining labour and lib Dems have erred and in the actions of the first day Tories and Westminster has shown a great deal of disrespect. It may be the correct thing to recognise poor behaviour all round but Lib Dems should not have abstained – you’re not elected to sit out unless it’s a matter which doesn’t impact on your constituents.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 15th Jun '18 - 8:07am

    Actually, if no option presented is palatable, then abstention is fine. Voting with the Tories was unthinkable. Voting with the SNP would have left Scotland worse off so on this occasion it was the correct decision.

  • Bill le Breton 15th Jun '18 - 9:26am

    Caron, it has not been demonstrated that “Voting with the SNP would have left Scotland worse off “.

    What vote? How would 11 or 12 not abstaining have made a difference inside the Chamber?

    If you dislike having to follow the SNP, the lesson is to be competitively more creative than the SNP.

    It seems that working in Coalition all those years has left a legacy on those involved – a sympathy for the business requirements of the Governing class – a legacy of Establishmentitis.

    The next leader must clearly not have been an MP in the 2010 – 2015 years.

  • The LibDems did the right thing for Scotland (and Wales) by abstaining, and the SNP denied other Scottish MPs the opportunity for a proper debate that day, but there’s no doubt that the SNP won the PR stunt.

    I’d say we allowed their press people and enthusiastic followers to control the narrative, but I’m not sure saying or doing anything more promptly could have stopped that juggernaut, especially as so many were on standby to throw disinformation about. The big problem is that the SNP have convinced a lot of their supporters that they are the only ones who can and will stand up for Scotland, and this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe that, then you automatically believe that any challenge to the SNP point of view is proof that other parties are not standing up for Scotland, and there’s no need to check the boring details.

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