The SNP position on fox hunting shows it will play the game
From badgers ‘moving the goalposts’ to the current fallout over fox hunting, David Cameron’s attempts to kill small mammals always seem doomed to failure.
In fact it says much about the state of UK politics that, over the last five years, woodland creatures that have proven to be the toughest political opponents the Tories have faced.
Labour could probably learn something. The party, distracted by simultaneously holding a leadership contest while conducting the post mortem on its general election result, seems a little preoccupied at the moment. In fact the Tories must be delighted with the chance to push through their agenda without interference from a united opposition.
Nicola Sturgeon: fox hunting vote to pressure Conservatives
Land reform and inequality: What does the debate tell us about Scotland?
Labour urges SNP to oppose fox hunting ‘repeal’
Meanwhile, despite its rhetoric, the SNP has struggled to make much traction as the self-styled ‘real opposition party’ in the Commons.
Ignored on the Scotland Bill and only successful in delaying English Votes for English Laws because of Tory back bench unrest, the SNP has realised how limited its opportunities to win victories will be.
In fact there seemed to be a creeping realisation of what it means to be the minority in a minority.
But, as of today, things seem to have changed. Angus Robertson has sprung out of bed and taken a different tack.
In announcing it would vote on fox hunting legislation – which will not affect Scotland – it has changed its loosely held, self-imposed convention of abstaining on these issues.
Maybe it is because the party genuinely finds the idea of hunting down a fox with a pack of dogs horrifying. Or maybe it has realised it won’t get anything without playing Westminster’s games.
Certainly Angus Robertson’s language, in announcing the change, suggests it is the latter.
He said: “We totally oppose fox hunting, and when there are moves in the Scottish Parliament to review whether the existing Scottish ban is strong enough, it is in the Scottish interest to maintain the existing ban in England and Wales for Holyrood to consider.
“We are in a situation where the Tory government are refusing to agree to any amendments to improve the Scotland Bill - which are supported by 58 of Scotland's 59 MPs - and imposing English Votes for English Laws to make Scotland's representation at Westminster second class.
“In these circumstances, it is right and proper that we assert the Scottish interest on fox hunting by voting with Labour against the Tories' proposals to relax the ban - in the process, reminding an arrogant UK government of just how slender their majority is - just as we will vote against the Tory welfare cuts next week, and appeal to Labour to join us.”
Pretty clear then – the party is doing this to teach the Tories a lesson, after ignoring its wishes on the Scotland Bill.
And this represents a change in strategy. In fact in February Nicola Sturgeon actually chose fox hunting as a specific example of an issue the SNP would steer clear of.
But that has changed. As Sturgeon put it on the Today programme: “On this issue, while it may be a narrow one, there is a Scottish interests in a sense that is likely to be review of the Scottish law.”
The definition of ‘Scottish interests’ is the interesting part here. Because actually, the term could mean voting on literally any issue, in an attempt to gain leverage for future votes that do affect Scotland.
And doing so is legitimate – or at least as legitimate as the Tory majority blocking amendments to the Scotland Bill. The party has been elected to the UK Parliament and, at least until some sort of EVEL-like move goes through, it has every right to vote on English issues.
There will be plenty of opportunities to make life difficult for Cameron, and to make his party realise there are times it is better to work with the SNP.
So although fox hunting is not the biggest issue Westminster will debate this term, the fallout is significant because it represents a change in approach from the SNP. In announcing it would vote against the Tories, the party has signalled that it will start to play the game.