Dodd lays into the Tories for laying into the SNP’s mandate (and side-slaps the SNP)

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.

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  • chrisjones2

    How subtle to attack the SNP but get a dig in at Mr Speaker along the way

    Ah ha. The game is afoot.

    Bercow escaped by the skin of his teeth last month. Nigel just parked his tanks on the manicured lawn of Speakers House. Watch this space after the election, no matter who is in power.

    A DUP Speaker at Westminster – now who might ever have thought it

  • T.E.Lawrence

    “A DUP Speaker at Westminster” is that the cake they with held on their “Shopping List” ? Although in saying that I think Dodds would be a good speaker of the house, he is definately at the races !

  • Korhomme

    Curious dichotomy in the Tories position, denigrating the SNP. The SNP want to have a voice in the running of Britain (meaning England), and the Tories find this totally wrong.

    Yet, the Tories have always felt that they, as English, have the right, for it is proper and normal, to have a say in what happens in Scotland (and Ireland, for that matter).

  • james

    I think it would be a fitting and welcome gesture.

  • chrisjones2

    You could be right. I have always seen him as a sort of compressed spring constrained by the NI situationand the party leadership …in a bigger environment away from the cosntraints of paranoia on gays and flegs he might fly

  • Robin Keogh

    It must also be remembered that Britain is sailing through some very choppy and unchartered waters. Its political geography is changing and new cleavages are emerging. This is problematic in terms of forming governments because the FPP system is simply not designed for multiparty competition. Political scientists are watching with a very keen eye on how things will move, particularly the Scottish Question. It seems the answer to that question is still a matter for debate because as Dodds correctly points out, the SNP – regardless of what they say – are ultimately going to take Scotland out of the UK.

    But he is quite wrong when he claims that the SNP are reversing all their positions, they need to be parked or put on ice for a while but as with all nationalist parties, they will twist and turn in the wind if they have to in order to protect the ultimate goal.

  • Robin Keogh

    ” compressed spring ” thats a brilliant analogy

  • Mirrorballman

    If it ever happened…Could you see Nationalists not contesting his seat out of “British HoC Tradition”? Me neither….

  • Reader

    Korhomme:Yet, the Tories have always felt that they, as English, have the right, for it is proper and normal, to have a say in what happens in Scotland (and Ireland, for that matter).
    And yet they managed to comprehend devolution of powers (to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), whereas those who are so quick to condemn them seem to struggle with the idea that similar powers should be devolved to England.

  • Korhomme

    The system in Scotland was designed to give coalitions; the system in NI likewise, and has Petitions of Concern allowing blocs to impede progress. Westminster politicians don’t like STV or coalitions, preferring ‘strong’ government and FPP. Doublethink?

    And who has control of the money?

    (And who gave Scotland a ‘Vow’ and promptly reneged on it the day after the referendum?)

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Agree Chris, his career path is very much different than the normal run of the mill Duper’s. He is very much capablable in that Westminster Arena !

  • the rich get richer

    That speaker job is a great number. I am available ! ! ! ! !

  • Barneyt

    That was my reaction too. SNP has to show an acceptance of the referendum outcome as far as they can, and be seen to move forward on that basis, however they will be keeping their powder dry. What other choice do they have in the present set up. I don’t agree that they have “burnt their nationalist” credentials” at all.

  • Reader

    The vow has not been reneged upon. Extra devolved powers for Scotland and Wales are part of the Conservative’s 1st 100 days plan.
    I assume you have no objection in principle to devolved powers for England?
    If so, by all means make suggestions for devolved English powers and structures. I don’t think there’s anything concrete yet. It’s not surprising that the big beasts aren’t so keen on PR, as they do better under FPTP – maybe you could do everyone a favour and impose something on them?
    By the way – petitions of concern were put in place in the NI Assembly to protect nationalists. So well played to SF and the SDLP…

  • Korhomme

    What was there in the ‘Vow’ about England? Why did this appear the day after the referendum? It all smells of bad faith.

    I have no objection to devolved powers for England, or English regions; but I can’t see any easy way to establish this; the Westminster parliament was originally English, and only later did it accommodate Scotland and Ireland. So devolving things from it is bound to be troublesome. The allied powers imposed a federal structure on Germany; if it’s good enough for them, why not the UK?

  • Gingray

    Nige doing his best to divert attention away from the Jim Wells stories! Meaningless muttering until the votes are cast.

    If the DUP are not needed to prop up a government then they will continue to achieve as much in Westminster as Sinn Fein.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I thought Peter Robinson was good on the Today programme this morning, following up Dodds’s comments yesterday on the same topic.
    (go to 2h:40mins for comment on Tory attacks on Scottish voters:

    Questions are:
    (1) will the Tories be sufficiently worried about losing DUP support to stop beating the anti-Scottish drum, if they feel it’s working for them in winning little Englander votes?
    (2) is Tory recklessness with the future of the UK in this campaign, for their own short term gain, enough to genuinely lose the DUP?

    Obviously the DUP are happy to have a chance to communicate to the Tories they are not to be taken for granted. But how biddable are they?

    My take on listening to Robinson and Dodds over the years as well in recent months – who will be the key decision-makers here, the troops will follow – is that they are genuinely agnostic between the two big mainland parties.

    Which means I can see them, if the circumstances throw up arithmetic that makes it possible, supporting a minority Labour government. I’m not saying that will happen, just that the DUP are more prepared to do so than I think a lot of the media assumes.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    It’s quite possible isn’t it … and it’s a good thought that the Cambridge double first graduate (that’s takes some doing, btw) enjoys surprising people with his intellect and being taken seriously in Westminster. He could quite fancy it.

    Whither then the leadership of the DUP in the Commons … it would leave my earlier thought about potentially supporting a Labour government in need of revision as I’m not sure another DUP leader in Westminster would be able to carry his/her colleagues through that quite as adeptly.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Like you say Mainlander ‘what he achieved takes some doing’ Always regarded him as one of our best polticians from NI and always suspected that there was an element of jealousy against him for his academic achievement background within the Inner Circle of DUP Land !

  • Kevin Breslin

    Tories had a good chance to get rid of the SNP out of Westminster for good … back Yes Scotland.

    Actually, erm that would probably backfire on Yes Scotland

  • Kevin Breslin

    ANC, Fianna Fáil have had ruling majority governments under PR systems, while last time out the FPP in the UK had a coalition.There are weak one party governments, and strong multiparty coalitions.

    Under First Past the Post People vote for coalitions when they really want one. Under Proportional Representation people get coalitions but vote for individuals who contribute to that governance.

    The system doesn’t make the governance strong, only the individuals in it.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I think Nationalists should let Fra Hughes have a free run in North Belfast, in that case he wouldn’t even need to stand on a nationalist ticket.

  • Korhomme

    You can certainly get majority rule under PR—I can’t really say much about FF etc, I’m not well enough informed. But, perhaps curiously, the three major UK parties are all ‘coalitions’: the Tories have the Colonel Blimp arch eurosceptics with the vaguely one nation conservatives; Labour have vaguely social democrats with mad Bennites, and the LibDems are, well, a mixture of liberals, tending towards one nation tories, and social democrats tending to Labour. A good recent example was the Major government; weak because, amongst other things, of internal divisions.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Every party has their caucus groups, their ginger groups, their spies and their entryists.