SNP stunt kills off chance of devolution debate

Well, I suppose a bit of drama at PMQs brightens up the day, but what exactly was the point of the SNP’s mass walkout and their leader depriving himself of a vote as one of the most crucial pieces of legislation ever to go through the Commons. Not only that, but he had an application in for an emergency debate on the devolution related issues that everyone except the Scottish Tories are livid about. That fell because he was no longer allowed to be there. Presumably the SNP decided that a walkout would get them more attention on the news than a 3 hour debate. It did, but when this news cycle is over, what have they actually achieved? The square root of bugger all, to be honest.

At the heart of all the fuss is the issue of what happens to powers that were enacted by the EU when/if we leave. There is no agreement between the two governments about what should come to Westminster and what should come to Holyrood. The Scottish people don’t seem to give two hoots either way, to be honest. However, the Scottish Parliament voted by a large majority (everyone except the Tories) for the Scottish Government’s Continuity Bill rather than give consent to the EU Withdrawal Bill. This means that the two Governments are not in agreement and the Tories think that the way to resolve that is for Westminster just to dictate what happens. That is simply not acceptable.

However, there isn’t likely to be a settlement that satisfies the SNP. Their prime motivation is to drive as many wedges as they can between the two Parliaments. The clue is in their name. Everything they do is about trying to get independence.

So today, Ian Blackford, the SNP leader, had a justified go at May at PMQs and then pulled one of the biggest diversionary Parliamentary stunts in the book – moving a procedural motion for Parliament to sit in private. That would have meant that the public galleries would have been emptied and that the broadcast would have been stopped, but only if MPs had voted for it. Speaker John Bercow decided to flambe the situation rather than calm it down. He was all over the place on the procedure. First of all he said that the vote should happen straight away. Then he said he was minded to have it at the end of PMQs. Then he gave the SNP a choice. They all said they wanted it there and then and he insisted it would happen later. If he had just held the vote in the middle of PMQs, the SNP would have lost it and normal service would have been restored. Instead, Bercow went over the top and threw Blackford out. I know I’m always saying that Bercow should be throwing people out, but not like this. I meant the people who jeer and behave like toddlers.

The result was that Bercow’s dithering gave the SNP much bigger headlines than they were expecting. The Speaker isn’t usually so ignorant of procedure. You might be forgiven for thinking that he knew exactly what he was doing. He certainly seemed quite chuffed with himself.

But this excitement will die down. And we’ll be no further forward.

Tim Farron has form for this sort of stuff and he thought they’d made a mistake:

Christine Jardine was equally annoyed at both SNP and Tories:

I am utterly appalled that the SNP abandoned the opportunity to discuss Scotland’s future in favour of a stunt. They did nothing but silence themselves and other Scottish MPs.

Equally, the Scottish Tories have dirt on their hands. Their cowardly move to block amendments on devolution being heard in Parliament got us here. Both the SNP and the Scottish Tories have shown contempt for the people who elected them.

Only the Liberal Democrats offer a path away from this standoff, which is creating more uncertainty for businesses and people in Scotland. We want the people, not these politicians, to have the final say on the deal and an Exit from Brexit.

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

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • nigel hunter 13th Jun '18 - 10:07pm

    Brexit is a mess. SNP and Tories playing a poor game. Equally is Mogg playing a game? He is a co-founder shareholder of Somerset Capital Management He says he does not make investment decisions!? The company has set up in Ireland for business outside of the EU. Is he watching his back, an insurance policy for after Brexit?.

  • It is noticeable that last night when Liberal Democrats had the chance to vote against the Tory power grab and help defend devolution, the only one to do so was Wera Hobhouse, who represents, not a Scottish or Welsh area, but Bath, putting her Scottish Liberal Democrat colleagues to shame!

    Time and again, when Scottish Liberal Democrats have the chance to stand up for Scotland, they lie down and roll over.

  • David Becket 13th Jun '18 - 10:29pm

    Where were the Lib Dems when this important vote was taking place, and where were the Scottish Lib Dems.
    It may have been a stunt, but it appears to have gone down well in Scotland where they have gained a lot more members.

    When you are a small party you have to take actions to get yourselves noticed. Our party has not woken up to this. Until we start thinking outside the box we will stay at 8% in the polls with no publicity.

  • Why are we so quick to criticise other parties when even in this situation only 1 LD MP stood up for devolution? How can we be champions of localism if we allow this to slide?

  • Sandra Hammett 13th Jun '18 - 11:21pm

    Presumably the campaign for independence trumps opposing Brexit, any action that will further their cause ie staging a walk out because Westminister doesn’t listen, is worth doing. The SNP calculation is that they can allow Brexit since they can rejoin the EU later independently. I believe they call it ‘playing the long game’.

  • It would be possible to take Caron’s criticism of the SNP’s ‘stunt’ much more seriously if the then much more numerous Lib Dems, hadn’t performed a similar ‘stunt’ led by Nick Clegg in favour of an EU referendum back in 2008 when a Lib Dem MP was ordered out by the Speaker.

    As for John Bercow, he seems increasingly full of garrulous self importance in inverse proportion to his competence.

    Politics, including the Lib Dems, is far from impressive these days.

  • If the behaviour of the SNP was attention seeking then they achieved their aim. For those who have not yet fully understood the implications of the Brexit bill ,for devolved governments in Scotland,Northern Ireland and Cymru, this is a wake-up call. Devolution needs to be defended. The failure of Liberal Democrat MP’s to oppose the power grab by the Tories will, I fear once again weaken the standing of the party in Scotland, NI and Cymru.

  • Well done, SNP!

    Had there been a vote on the SNP motion it would have been lost and disappeared into the ‘noise’.; by their actions they got ‘noticed’.
    As those before me have asked, “Where were we?”…Lost in the noise.

  • John Marriott 14th Jun '18 - 9:10am

    Quite right Caron. It WAS a stunt. However, what it does highlight is that, when push comes to shove, nanny Westminster always thinks she knows best. When will some people actually get what true Devolution really means?

  • Bill le Breton 14th Jun '18 - 9:36am

    Some very good comments above – the Scottish LD Party lost its way some years ago now.

    Full marks to Wera.

    But this was only one example of some very odd positioning yesterday. Perhaps LDV could ask the Chief Whip to explain what was going on.

    It appears that only 11 LD MPs voted in favour of requiring the Government to back full EEA membership by voting against the Government when it rejected the Lord’s amendment to this effect (Amendment 51?).

    If this is correct were the others paired?

  • Anne Cunningham 14th Jun '18 - 9:51am

    For a brief moment, England heard about the Power Grab yesterday – for the first time – but where were the LDs? They should, at the very least, be applauding the SNP for standing up for what the SLD voted for in Holyrood. The SNP, yet again, set their own ideology aside to represent Scotland and its position within the UK yet their own interests would actually be better served were they to let the Tories destroy Devolution. This is the second time the LDs have reneged on backing the Scottish Government since the Brexit vote and their irrational obsession about Independence is harming both Scotland and the UK.

  • I have to correct a couple of you on some things. Wera voted both for and against the motion, which is allowed under parliamentary rules. In effect cancelling her own votes in some sort of ‘active abstention’.

    Then we had Jo Swinson, who represents a Scottish constituency. Her excuse for abstaining was that the Welsh government (note, not the Assembly) had already capitulated and that by voting against the Tories she would be denying the Welsh Assembly what they wanted.

    As for the SNP walkout, the Speaker was required by standing order 163 to ‘forthwith put the question’. Ian Blackford was given the option by the Speaker to have the question now or later, and Mr. Blackford chose now. The Speaker then immediately back tracked and said it would be later and that is when Mr. Blackford protested by refusing to sit.

  • nigel hunter 14th Jun '18 - 10:16am

    True we must think outside the box. Is the party run by ‘traditionalist establishment figures’ who keep a low profile and do not wish to rock the boat?. It would seem the SNP got new members from their action.. What can the party do to the same?

  • David Becket 14th Jun '18 - 11:01am

    @ David
    I thought Jo Swinson represented a Scottish Constituency. This lame excuse does not look like one suitable for a Deputy Leader of our party.

  • Richard Underhill 14th Jun '18 - 11:09am

    Speaker Bercow received advice from his clerks and read out the relevant standing order. The previous day he had said when trying to decide on numerous requests for points of order that he was not familiar in detail with all the standing orders, but that in general they gave him very little power.
    He did conform with general practice, which is to allow at least one chance for withdrawal.
    A previous speaker wrote in her memoirs that she had to name (the late) Ian Paisley MP, who later thanked her for doing so because he had received a full page of coverage in the Belfast Telegraph. (The current Ian Paisley MP is the son of the former First Minister, sometimes know as Ian Paisley Junior, including on DUP literature when standing for the devolved Assembly, which did meet in those days).
    [Random House 2001, ISBN 0 7126 7948 0, pages 170-171]
    She also banned Dennis Skinner (Labour) for a day, once.
    The Solicitor General tested the patience of the Speaker by warning him that he expected to speak for an hour. He received a time-check after 45 minutes and proceeded to exceed the hour.
    In the process he had called Anna Soubry (Con, Broxtowe) “an old friend” which she disliked. The Speaker intervened to offer “longstanding” and the Solicitor smoothly asked for “the record to be corrected” so “old” will not appear in Hansard.
    Anyone who has heard Michael Heseltine speak in Parliament will know that the word “friend” can be pronounced as if it contains numerous hyphens.
    Father of the House Ken Clarke is explicit in what kind of “friend” he means.

  • Richard Underhill 14th Jun '18 - 11:19am

    The late Ian Paisley MP, MEP protested when the late Pope (Polish) came to speak.
    The European Parliament did not have rules for expelling members but some large members of staff eventually persuaded Paisley to leave after his placard had been televised.
    In one campaign Paisley had said that the EEC was “a Catholic conspiracy”, factually wrong and not recognising Greek Orthodox members.

  • The fact that Plaid Lafur have given in should not mean that the struggle for devolved rights are over.In fact their capitulation underlines the need for full independence for Cymru and that is why I am a member of Yes Wales who campaign for full devolution; Independence!

  • Just now…………..Bercow grants emergency debate on Sewel convention for Monday
    John Bercow, the speaker, has just granted an emergency debate on the operation of the Sewel convention. He allowed it in response to an application from Ian Blackford, the SNP leader at Westminster. It will take place on Monday…………..

    So the ‘walk-out’ got publicity, new members and they’ve got the debate!

    Again, well done the SNP.

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