Drew Hendry won a lot of praise from Yes supporters a few days ago when he seized the Mace in the Commons. It’s not easy to speak in the chamber at any time and doing so in the face of hostility from the Speaker is challenging indeed.
The institution of Parliament is, by its very design, geared towards control by the British establishment. Not only are all sides uniformly hostile, but even the staff and officials, usually so polite and deferential, turn on you. So it was an intimidatory atmosphere in which he acted and it can’t have been easy.
But the idea that Scottish MPs should routinely require to suffer the scorn and derision poured upon their nation and their people is long past its sell-by date. Much of the vitriol shouted wouldn’t be countenanced elsewhere and just because it’s supposedly Honourable Members who act in that manner doesn’t justify it. There comes a time when words aren’t enough.
That’s compounded by the laws being passed – in that case the Internal Market Bill – which are hugely damaging to Scotland and its people’s welfare. SNP MPs have pledged to defend Scottish interests, so the idea that they should supinely accept laws imposed that cause such harm to Scotland is patently absurd. It’s SNP elected members’ duty to speak out and to take actions reflecting the anger felt and dangers faced by Scottish democracy.
However, English Votes For English Laws, Brexit and now the Internal Market Bill have shown that attacks on Scottish interests in Westminster aren’t an aberration but are part of a pattern of undermining our land and its elected Parliament. It’s quite some time now since the SNP group walked out in disgust, to widespread public support, yet the situation has worsened and the crisis of Scottish democracy has deepened.
So, Drew Hendry deserves all the plaudits he received not just from the grassroots but from senior party figures. However, that latter support itself raises questions. If it’s right for an individual elected member to speak out and engage in parliamentary disruption then why should it not be done by the parliamentary group, as indeed has been done before? What happened to the promised “campaign of guerrilla tactics”?
Individual actions are laudable and important, from the moral perspective of the actor but especially for the cause. Not paying the poll tax was felt to be a moral duty by many, because of its inherent unfairness and the future effects on communities. But it was a mass campaign that ultimately resulted in its, and Thatcher’s, removal. There’ve been innumerable cases of legitimate actions by individuals which are multiplied by collective action, and it’s that unity and co-ordination that brings success.
Surely, then, that should be the case with Parliamentary disruption. Individual actions are laudable but it’s collective and, more importantly, coordinated actions that are more likely to have effect. Rather than just congratulating one member for what they’ve done, isn’t it time to prepare all members for what they should do? Even those members least supportive of such actions have talked about parliamentary disruption in the event of a Section 30 order being refused after the Holyrood elections.
But why wait? Scotland’s plight is worsening by the day and the incompetencies of Westminster rule are being magnified. The supposed Mother Of Parliaments put into recess before calamity, and calls for recall ignored. Sins of the Tory administration are agreed to, or go unchallenged, by the Labour opposition. The time for a change in parliamentary tactics has arrived, even if it’ll be constrained by the almost inevitability of virtual parliament for the first few weeks – if not months – of next year. Action must commence before, not after, the Holyrood elections.
Suggestions of refusing to sit on Public Bill committees go nowhere near far enough. That’s too little too late. Steps must be taken to show Scotland’s anger (and not just that of SNP voters, either) at the contempt it’s being treated with.
When the Scottish Affairs Committee produced a report on drug policy during the last Parliament it was ignored by the British government. Instead, following their majority in 2019 – despite yet another comprehensive rejection in Scotland – the Tories have crammed it with English MPs. That’s treating Scots MPs with contempt, yet all the while it’s Scots that are dying in our communties through drug addiction. In any event it’s not the job of SNP MPs to administer the British state, least of all when it’s actively undermining our own land.
It’s time therefore that SNP parliamentary tactics changed and parliamentarianism ended. Just what that will entail has to be discussed and planned but action there must be. Righteous anger isn’t saving victims of drug addiction, virtuous outrage has neither stopped Brexit nor mitigated its effects, and honourable speeches aren’t protecting our land or its democracy.
Scotland needs MPs that act, not just speak, in its interests, and that must be by collective, not just individual, actions.