Greenock Telegraph [13/12/2018]

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PACAC – Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011

The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee has published an interim report today (The Status and Effect of Confidence Motions and the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011) which confirms the principle that the government is dependent on maintaining the confidence of the House of Commons and any vote of no confidence could topple the government.

The SNP will wholeheartedly support any vote of no confidence in the government, especially in light of the cowardly move to pull the Withdrawal Agreement vote to prevent the government facing a humiliating defeat in the Commons.

The Prime Minister herself admitted that the vote would have been overwhelmingly rejected by MPs – not just on the opposition benches, but on the Tory backbenchers as well and putting narrow party political interest before constituents across the UK is a pathetic move by the Prime Minister which she must not be forgiven for.

It is now clearer than ever before that the UK government cannot command the confidence of the House of Commons. Theresa May and her government must now be held to account for their unforgivable dereliction of their responsibility.

https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmpubadm/1813/181302.htm

Brexit – Meaningful vote

All of today’s plans got wiped as the UK government decided after three days of debate and 164 speeches that the next two days of debate would not take place and that the meaningful vote scheduled for tomorrow wasn’t that meaningful after all. I spoke last Thursday but a number of my colleagues were scheduled to speak today or Tuesday. This effectively means that their preparation time was wasted and events that had been cancelled or turned down became opportunities missed. The latest collapse in confidence displayed by the UK government did not go down well in Parliament. The speaker can’t tell the government what they must do in circumstances like this but it was clear he was less than happy with the way parliament had been directed and expected better of the government. As I write this we are no further forward and as the vote has been cancelled we are technically further back than we should be. The Prime Minister was clear why she was cancelling the vote “if we went ahead and held the vote tomorrow the deal would be rejected by a significant margin”. The key word in that statement is ‘significant’. The government expected to lose the vote but, by voting, all MPs would have expressed their intentions. The government whips would then have a few days to bully or bribe their members into changing their allegiance. But the number of Conservative and Unionists prepared to rebel against their own government was so large that the whips knew they wouldn’t win a second vote. Now they are buying time. The stumbling block identified by the government in the prime Minister’s statement is the Northern Ireland border. This is no surprise as the government bought the DUP votes for one billion pounds after the 2017 election and the DUP are not happy campers. The Conservative and Unionist slogan of ‘Strong and Stable’ looks more ridiculous every day. The Prime Minister’s deal should come before the House of Commons immediately so that it can be voted down and we can replace Tory chaos with a solution that will protect jobs, living standards and Scotland’s place in Europe.

Westminster diary w/b 3rd December

Monday

A calm start to what was going to be a frenetic week. A group of six MPs and a couple of Members of the House of Lords found ourselves on the same flight and the same tube journey to Westminster. Normally we just get on with our own business. We exchange pleasantries but not much more but today the atmosphere is different and our phones are hot as rumour and counter rumour leak and are leaked from London. The only known business of the day is the Prime Minister’s statement after the G20 summit. It’s a statement so there are no votes but it does serve a purpose as the opening salvoes are fired across the government bows. However, they took no notice. They should have.

Tuesday

The UK government flip flop from charm offensive to hostile behaviour, rotating at hourly intervals. They are clearly in a spin and are desperate to assert their authority. The first vote of the day is a government amendment to a ‘Privilege Motion’ it has the title Contempt of House. The amendment seeks to remove the censure of contempt and instead refer the question of publication of legal advice, and the increasing use of the ‘humble address’ mechanism, to the Privileges Committee. The SNP voted against the amendment (so did two Conservative members) and we won 311 to 307. We then voted on the Privilege Motion (un-amended). The motion found Ministers in contempt of the House for refusing to publish the Brexit legal advice, and it ordered immediate publication of the advice. SNP voted AYE and the motion was carried 311 to 293. A point of order followed during which the government confirmed it would publish the legal advice the following day. There then followed an amendment to allow any motion brought to the House under section 13 of the EU Withdrawal Act to be amendable.  Currently the EU Withdrawal Act and Standing Orders only require a neutral, unamendable motion in the event of a no deal situation being declared.  SNP voted AYE along with 25 Conservative Members, and the amendment was carried 321 – 299.  The Business Motion as amended was then carried without division. Then the debate started. I wandered home at midnight leaving a few of my SNP colleagues still in the chamber waiting for their turn to speak.

Wednesday

Despite lots of noise from the benches Prime Ministers Question time was a dull affair. The government were still hurting from losing three votes the night before and didn’t come looking for a fight. I spoke at the Drugs, Alcohol and Justice All Party Parliamentary Group. This group is well represented by those in recovery and those providing the services. There are differences in opinion regarding how services are commissioned but a united belief that safe drug consumption rooms could make a valuable contribution. In the evening I attended a Saint Andrew’s Day event to promote Scottish produce. I was delighted that The New Chocolate Company and The Start-Up Drinks Lab both based in the Kelburn Business Park, Port Glasgow, had produce available. I can confirm that it went down very well.

Thursday

I was twentieth on the business papers for a question to Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and miraculously I was taken. I pressed the Secretary to respect the vote of the Scottish Parliament to reject the withdrawal bill but he chose not to. I spoke in the European Union Withdrawal Act debate. I even threw in a joke from one of Greenock’s favourite sons Chic Murray.  As penance I was in the chamber until eight pm.

Friday

Up with the sparrows in time to catch the Heathrow express and the 7:40 flight to Glasgow. I had a day of surgeries throughout the constituency and in the evening hosted an evening with Lesley Riddoch in the Beacon Arts Centre. Over 120 people took the opportunity to watch two short films about, Norway and The Faroe Islands and then take part in a question and answer session with Lesley. On Sunday I shall be taking part (I didn’t say running) in the Santa Dash organised by Tommy (the clown) Armstrong.

Tele column 7th December 2018

Take the House of Commons and add nine political parties of differing origin, four varieties of countries and a couple of matured outposts of the empire. Blend in the potential for an extension of Article 50, a possible vote of no confidence, a hint of a general election and tip in the UK Government’s reluctance to publish legal advice and then leave it all to one side to soak. Mix a revolving door of cabinet ministers with a pinch of duplicity and a teaspoon of deceit. Add a soupcon of ambition and a large dollop of arrogance. Now put it all together for 40 hours in the heat of debate then wrap it in media darlings and egotists and you won’t get a plan for Brexit because what you have is a recipe for disaster. The chefs have left in disgust, the kitchens on fire and the larder is empty. And if you think this article is getting a tad ridiculous then it is nothing as bad as the reality that is the House of Commons right now. In all seriousness we have had 896 days to negotiate a responsible exit from the European Union and the long and short of it is that we have not. From day one the devolved parliaments were ignored, entire nations that voted to remain were snubbed. Infighting in the Conservative and Unionist Party created a multi headed snake. Splits in the Labour Party created an internal atmosphere of mistrust leaving them ineffective as an opposition. And all the while the Democratic Unionist Party sold its votes until they actually meant something, at which point they reverted to type and withdrew their support. This is no way to run a country. You couldn’t run any competent organisation like that. What Brexit has done is show up the shortcomings and ineptness of Westminster. Left to its own devices historically it has muddled through and over the years damage limitation has been the order of the day. But now, that it has to stand up and be counted, now that it has to be shrewd and savvy, now that it has to negotiate and compromise, it has been left wanting. Wanting for leadership, cohesion, courage and even compassion. We can and we must do better than this if Scotland is going to thrive. We must acknowledge that the answers to Scotland’s future do not reside at Westminster.