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by Chris Marshall
08 March 2024
Scotland does have a voice at Westminster - 59 of them to be exact

Stephen Flynn and Keith Brown with former Westminster candidate Katy Loudon | Alamy

Scotland does have a voice at Westminster - 59 of them to be exact

Anyone who has visited the Palace of Westminster will know what a special place it is. Steeped in history, the building’s grandeur often feels like it has an inverse relationship to the tawdriness exhibited on the floor of the House of Commons.  It’s also a crumbling wreck. Last year a report published by the Commons’ Public Accounts Committee warned of collapse even before much-needed renovations can be carried out, with running repairs currently costing the taxpayer around £2m a week. 

It might be stretching things to suggest there’s a metaphor there for the state of the UK, but if there’s ever been a high-water mark for parliamentary democracy then this most assuredly isn’t it. After nearly 14 years in power, the government is spending its dying days attempting to legislate that Rwanda is a safe country to send asylum seekers to, even though the Supreme Court says it isn’t. Other recent lowlights include a by-election brought about by a veteran Tory MP indecently exposing himself and another which led to the return of George Galloway. 

Still smarting after being outmanoeuvred by Labour over a vote on a Gaza ceasefire, the SNP’s frustration with Westminster appears to be building. In a newspaper column, the party’s deputy leader Keith Brown suggested it might be time to step back from the UK Parliament given its apparent determination to “deny democracy” in Scotland. Brown, a former Royal Marines Commando who appears to spend a good amount of his time railing against the media on Twitter, didn’t elaborate on how this strategic withdrawal would look but presumably he was thinking of something similar to Sinn Féin’s abstentionism policy where the party’s MPs do not take up their seats in the Commons. We’ll likely never know because within hours of the column appearing, Brown was slapped down by party leader Humza Yousaf who rightly saw the problem with that particular message in the run-up to a general election.

But Brown is far from being an outlier when it comes to undermining the legitimacy of the Commons. The party’s current Westminster leader, Stephen Flynn, is fond of posting Twitter videos in which he stands outside the Houses of Parliament jabbing his thumb in its direction while repeatedly referring to it as “this place”. “The values of this place – they aren’t Scotland’s values,” he said in a video posted in November. It’s not hard to imagine what Flynn’s reaction might be if a Tory MP on the right of the party said something similar about England. 

Behind the scenes, however, the SNP are very much part of the Westminster establishment. On a recent trip to parliament, some of my colleagues were given an unofficial guided tour by one of the party’s MPs, which included an excitable visit to an office once used by Oliver Cromwell. And despite what the party says publicly about the House of Lords, there were recent reports that former Westminster leader Ian Blackford is keen on becoming a peer. 

There’s a hypocrisy within Scotland’s ruling party, one which allows it to complain about the work of the Scottish Parliament being undermined while simultaneously seeking to question the credibility of Westminster. It’s the same hypocrisy which allows its leader to lament the divisiveness of the Tory right while sharing newspaper front pages which decry his opponents as “traitors”. 

If some of the polling is to be believed, then the SNP could lose around 20 seats at the general election. But polling has been wrong in the past. Many independence-supporting Scots will continue to vote for the SNP even if through gritted teeth. 

Despite suggestions to the contrary, Scotland does have a voice at in the Commons – 59 of them to be exact, 43 of whom currently belong to the SNP. If they struggle to make themselves heard, then that’s as much an indictment of the SNP as it is of Westminster. 

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