This week we will have the Annual Oliver Brown Award, going this year to Lesley Riddoch. As I followed the cantrips at Westminster I was reminded of one of Oliver’s quotes regarding the Westminster Parliament “The Lord Privy Seal is neither a Lord, a Privy, nor a Seal”. We still have Black Rod, whatever that is, and ‘Strangers in the Gallery’, all outmoded and belonging to another age. I am particularly aghast at the voting system; when a vote is called the Division Bell rings and MPs have about 15 minutes to get to the voting lobby, where their names are marked off by a clerk, or a Deputy Whip who counts the votes up and then goes to the Chamber where they stand in front of the Speaker- Ayes to the Right , Noes to the Left – or vice versa – who then announces the figures. The procedure probably takes about 20 minutes, just a guess on my part. The point of this is what an archaic method of counting. In the Scottish Parliament, every MSP has a voting button and this is done electronically. Other gems from Oliver Brown “A shiver ran through the House looking for a spine to run up” –irrelevant as we now have SNP MPs, and “All a man needs in life is a good cause and the enmity of the Glasgow Herald, and he can be sure if he has the first the second will automatically follow” – this comment needs to be amended to “The Scotsman”. One of these days someone will republish Oliver, but I am now too old.
It is a matter of great regret that I never met Oliver; I heard the news of his death on my car radio en route to the SNP Conference in Motherwell, 1976 I think. That was the Conference where the local authority would not let us fly the Saltire over the Conference Hall.
I do not think that the public in general appreciates what the current political situation is; on Saturday I went into the Local Tesco and had a brief glance at the headlines on the newsstand: most of them were concerned with a soap star who had died, but I noticed the Scotsman had a headline about an “SNP spat”, a trivialisation of what actually happened at Westminster last week. To be factually correct there was no “Spat”; the SNP Westminster leader moved a motion which was struck down by the Speaker; when Ian Blackford MP refused to sit down the Speaker expelled him from the Chamber. His colleagues followed him. Mr Blackford was lodging a protest as Westminster was depriving Holyrood of its powers, enshrined in the 1998 Act, and only 15 minutes was allowed for the debate, all of which was taken up by David Lidlington, an English Tory Minister, and no Scottish MP was allowed to speak. Mr Blackford was correct in his approach and the Speaker was scrabbling around in Erskine May, the House of Commons bible first written in 1844, and last revised in 2011.
As far as I understand the SNP is getting a debate; the Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell, has said the Westminster can now pass any legislation it wants on Scotland, thereby scrapping the Scotland Act of 1998. Dyed in the wool Unionists will be happy to see the end of the Scottish Parliament, which is the logical consequence of Westminster’s actions, but this is only beginning to sink in.
A lot of advice is being taken as to what tactics the SNP should use as Westminster habitually ignores Scotland – for instance when the amendments to the bill were put through – the infamous Vow, the SNP put down dozens of amendments, to a generally empty House; when the division bell rang MPs left the bars and restaurants, arrived at the voting lobby and voted them all down. At this particular time the SNP had 56 MPs and there was 1 Tory, 1 Labour and 1 Liberal MP. We are now advised that we should disrupt Westminster, using their own rules, as was done by Irish MPs in the late 1800s under Charles Stewart Parnell; (Parnell died in 1891 but his words are still carved on the Monument in O’Connell Street in Dublin “No man has the right to set the bounds to the march of a nation. No man has the right to say to his country “This far thou shall go and no further”) we will see if that comes to fruition. The Irish did not gain independence by parliamentary tactics, but as a result of the Easter Rising in 1916. After the rebels surrendered at the Dublin Post Office they were led away by armed guards and had rotten fruit thrown at them by the crowd; this consisted mainly of women whose husbands were away fighting in the First World War. The tide did not turn until the British Army started to shoot the rebels; the only one spared was Eamonn De Valera, who was an American citizen, and the action of shooting James Connolly, a Scot from Edinburgh was particularly abhorrent. He was badly wounded and could not stand, so they tied him to a chair and shot him. I believe that this was the catalyst for the independence movement. However we in Scotland are proceeding on a different path, one of peace and negotiation, but the UK almost always misjudges diplomacy, especially when dealing with their second class citizens which is how they regard the Scots. The whole Brexit situation is in chaos, the Welsh kowtowed, being run by the Labour Party, but the Scots will not be cheated and there is still a massive roadblock on the Irish Border, so the Gaels could dictate the outcome. Verily indeed, we live in interesting times.
A t the SNP Conference in Glasgow in November I went to a fringe meeting where Professor James Mitchell was presenting his book “Hamilton 1967”; on the premise as to what effect by-elections have on the electoral cycle. I bought the book and put it on the shelf. I only discovered it last week, and it is fascinating reading, especially to those around at the time. I could not spend any time at Hamilton as I lived in Peterhead, roughly 160 miles away, but I knew some of the participants, but not Winnie. On the night of the by-election the Peterhead Branch members went to a house where somebody had a TV and it was riotous. I remember phoning my wife, probably about 2 am, to tell her we had won Hamilton; she already knew as the phone had never stopped ringing! We did not have a TV at that time. I came across one item in the book which I do not think I knew; Scottish Office civil servants based in Dover House, London were jubilant on hearing the result; this provoked Tam Dalyell to ask Willie Ross the rhetorical Parliamentary Question “whether it was with his authority that officials of his Department sent a congratulatory telegram from Dover House to the Hon Member for Hamilton on Friday 3rd November” Ross replied that he was confident no senior official would “forget his professional code” and he did not intend to conduct an interrogation. As the book says “Hamilton tapped into a mood that went beyond support for independence or home rule”.
As to the long term consequences of Hamilton it was only when reading the book that I was struck by these consequences for myself. After we lost Hamilton in 1970 Winnie was tasked with finding candidates. At one National Council she collared me “Jim Lynch- why are you not on the Candidates list?” Being a smarty pants I answered “Winnie, many things I would do for Scotland but to hell with going to live in London”. Her riposte was “I had to do it, what makes you so good?” I was flattered, my wife less so, as being the Chairman of Corstorphine Branch, and I think Edinburgh West Constituency Association, took up a lot of time, but I went on the List, going on to fight two Elections in Edinburgh North, one in Central Fife (now Glenrothes) and finally in Dundee West in 1983 never losing a deposit, but completely changing my life.
When the Commission Report was published I received a copy on the Web and decided to run it off, but just before I pressed the Print button I saw 354 pages! I came out in a cold sweat at my wee printer churning out all these pages, so I thought I would get a copy at the Aberdeen Conference. I forgot, so I asked SNP HQ for a copy; it weighs a ton – or should I say tonne until Brexit? Anyway it has arrived and I have started to read it; Scotland’s Future was 600 pages and took me about 8 weeks, so I think this one will take me about 6 weeks. I want to read it because I want to know what it says rather than what somebody else says it says! I am about Page 15.
As far as I can gather we had a debate on Monday 18 Jun; Ian Blackford said that David Mundell had stabbed Scotland in the back, giving headlines for The National; as for the business it was voted down by the Tories, some of whom might have been in the Chamber. At First Minister’s Questions last week Nicola Sturgeon said the SNP had signed up 5085 new members; since then there have been more but I cannot find any trace of them – a rumoured figure of 10,000 has been hinted at, but things are moving very quickly. Watch this Space ?