Those who heard this morning’s #SluggerReport will have noted the major item was Nigel Dodds’ extraordinarily adept intervention in the Westminster debate this morning in the Guardian. It surely cannot be a coincidence that Jim Wells’ has been dispatched so quickly (hint: it was nothing to do with our toothless Ministerial code) in order to clear the air and political space for this…
Listening to Nicola Sturgeon’s progressive pan-British rhetoric, you could have thought you were listening to one of the finest unionists of the age – there wasn’t a corner of the kingdom her concern didn’t extend to. But for all the SNP leader’s talk of the common good, her unionist words are not going to be matched by unionist deeds. By definition, the SNP does not have the interests of the UK at its heart. More will mean worse, if it’s more SNP MPs at Westminster.
Ironically the problem with the SNP will stem not from nationalist dogmatism, but almost unequalled political opportunism. A party that pledged itself at Westminster not to vote on non-Scottish issues, that swore the referendum was a once-in-a-generation opportunity and claimed Scotland was economically ready for separation, now reverses all these positions.
It doesn’t matter that on any specific issue – say, full fiscal economy – SNP arguments disintegrate as soon as they hit reality, this is a party whose leaders will shamefully say anything in the expectation that their supporters will credulously go on backing them, whatever the flip flop.
OUCH! This hasn’t come from nowhere. What was remarkable about the IndyRef was just how passionately it was followed (in both parts of Ireland) by both the DUP and Sinn Fein, but how little either actually said out loud about the matter.
That would largely be because whomever they each decided to back would not have thanked either for their intervention, such is the perceived toxicity of Northern Irish politics in Scotland.
This analysis has been backed up and sitting in the pipes for some time. Like a decent Irish Whiskey, triple distilled you might say.
So, the DUP attack the SNP. Very dog bites man, you might say. Except, there’s a twist, or pivot as the American’s like to describe those cracks in the narrative that occasionally let a little new light in on a old subject:
…whatever those of us who believe in the continuation of the UK as a pluralist, multi-national state might think, we mustn’t allow ourselves to be provoked into behaving the same way. And this is where the campaign south of the border has so alarmed me.
Take the “right” of SNP MPs to vote in the Commons, or the supposed lack of legitimacy that stems from it. No one who purports to be a unionist can question it. They have the right. That’s why we fought and won the referendum: to enshrine the rights of Scots to go on sending representatives, fully equal to every other, to Westminster. Glib and lazy talk about SNP MPs somehow not being as entitled to vote in every division in the Commons, as any other British MP, simply fuels nationalist paranoia.
In the last parliament, William Hague was badly served by the putsch attempted against speaker John Bercow but, if anything, even worse has been the using of him to drum up support for Evel (English votes for English laws). I have yet to hear from a Tory colleague standing in England that a single door anywhere has been opened with the query, “whither Evel?”
But it’s not just a flawed political tactic, it’s also a constitutional mess. The Commons can’t be used as an ersatz, part-time English Assembly. It’s the union parliament, and abusing it in this way wouldn’t and couldn’t answer England’s real needs.
My own experience in talking to English voters is that they really don’t care that much about the SNP or English votes. And as Dodds rather sarcastically points out have virtually burnt their nationalist credentials, for this election at least.
Some of what has happened in the campaign so far is pure froth. I can’t take seriously the notion that a responsible party of government would vote against the defence estimates. Which, because of the Tory-Labour consensus on the nuclear deterrent, is what it would take to give parliamentary effect to the SNP’s bluff about Trident.
That has to have been tweetable over-excitedness by press officers and not a signed-off on line from on high. Since it would be in the interests neither of the country nor any other party to intentionally talk up the SNP, we can assume this hasn’t been happening. No one committed to the union would deliberately do that.
Obviously while we want a stable and secure government to emerge in the next parliament no stability can come from any conscious effort to ramp up the numbers of anti-UK MPs.
Dodds is right in one regard. Despite many warning in the past the Tories are still just winging it on constitutional issue. Take this report of Matthew Parris in what was the Croydonian in 2006:
…we will do better in Scotland, we will win more seats, but Tory policy to devolution is not seaworthy. It can be compared to the stance of the Partido Popular in Spain to Catalan separatism. It has accepted regional devolution in as far as it goes, in a reactive way, and in common with us, talks of a stance that evolves. However, maybe we need a revolutionary approach. The PP is associated with Madrid, Castile and the ‘centre’, and it has shrivelled in Catalonia.
The Tories had 17 MSPs back then. They now have 15. As noted in our second edition of the #SluggerDaily, no unionist party has a credible approach to devolution anywhere, with the possible exception of Labour’s Carwin Jones in Wales:
This is of a piece with Robinson’s response to the question of whether he would be prepared to uphold a government along with the SNP. Nae bother sez the DUP’s top man. Sure haven’t we been sharing power with Sinn Fein:
As mentioned in the #SluggerReport this morning, the DUP has been determined not repeat the mistakes of the old Ulster Unionist Party, by sending second raters to Westminster. For the first time since Robinson took over Dodds has begun to show some of his mettle.
And, this morning at least, the DUP has the attention of London.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty