After the last laugh, the coda

.. and worth another thread in my view. Here we have a sad little case of a British solution to an Irish problem. Or is it the other way round? The British are slippery and the Irish are churlish. One of those pinpoints of attitude so beloved by disputants on both sides that illustrate the essential gap between them that survives the peace process.

 The Westminster authorities were undoubtedly disingenuous (the Tory Richard Bacon is right, quoted by Nevin below) by deeming Adams to have applied for the office when he obviously hadn’t. But to start with, Adams was churlish and arrogant to a fault. His letter to the Speaker bordered on the contemptuous. Of course he had little choice but to steer clear of the nominal Crown office. Any breath of acceptance would have set all loyal Ulster crowing. Yet what a pity that a light touch with a bit of grace was beyond him, Westminster having bent over backwards for decades to allow him the best of both worlds.

Does it matter? Not much, just now. Only the Tory right and the Westminster- hardened (and I suppose unionists) actually love the quaint traditions of the centuries at Westminster, like not being allowed to die on the premises even if you keel over on camera. Like the slow growth of support for a more democratic oath, this gesture may be one of those small pebbles that may one day contribute to a rockfall of reform. But singling out SF for special treatment would set no precedent for change. As qualified abstentionists they have no interest in it and wish only to hold onto their exceptional status. The rooms and halls of Westminster give them a public platform and lobbying access and that is all they want.  If pushed, they will quit the precincts altogether, raising the old cry of victimisation. Chris Donnelly is right. At this level SF will win if challenged because here, they have no scruples. That, it seems to me,  if not a very admirable position to hold.

 The SDLP should stay out of it. They observe the rules and procedures including taking the oath under mild  protest. Their civilised stance recognises the fact of the Union which participation in Parliament entails even if they legitimately would like to change it. An SDLP MP seeking early retirement would be a far better catalyst for change. They have the basic credentials. 

As the impact of the peace process recedes, this little affair adds a few points to Conservative dislike of Sinn Fein and contributes to the perceptible hardening of attitude towards republicanism that is markedly less indulgent than in the Blair era. One day, that might matter.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London