The SNP, not Labour, is the real Opposition in the Commons
Jeremy Corbyn’s tired party isn’t a match for the feisty Nationalists in Westminster
Michael Fabricant MP
The Scottish National Party are now proving themselves to be a real heavyweight force in Westminster.
Their emphatic election to Parliament in May 2015 – taking 56 out of 59 seats in Scotland – saw an invasion of Parliament that Bonnie Prince Charlie could only dream of. And they are probably here to stay.
But their debut in the Commons did not foretell how they would rapidly evolve. MPs from across the House looked on aghast as these maundering hoards began taking selfies in the Chamber, enthusiastically applauding during questions and even orchestrating a ?coup d??tat? to remove the veteran Labour MP, Dennis Skinner, from his coveted spot at PMQs. The only thing missing were woad painted faces and a Glasgow kiss in a Commons bar.
The accumulative effect of this behaviour caused the Father of the House, Sir Gerald Kaufman MP, to label them ?goons? and ?infants?. He had a point! Were any of us safe? It seemed that the SNP had not come to Westminster, with their unquestionable mandate, to represent the serious concerns of their constituents but to play the disruptive child.
Six months later, we are now seeing a very different beast. I have witnessed one of their whips, Pete Wishart MP who turns on his own fire-brand persona in the Commons Chamber when required, patiently explaining procedure to his new MPs. I am sure these new young Turks were also taken aside by other wiser parliamentary hands in the SNP: those who remember being part of a critical mass of 6 MPs, working across the House to make their voices heard.
They must have realised that the cause of Scottish Nationalism was rapidly becoming a joke. But the SNP in the Commons have been quick learners earning the respect of the House.
Each week, at Prime Minister’s Questions, Angus Robertson, the leader of the SNP in the Commons, provides a masterclass in how to probe the Prime Minister with scalpel like precision. He achieves more in his two questions than does Jeremy Corbyn with his six ‘Mary from Macclesfield? inquires which sound more like the ramblings of a night time disc jockey on a cottage hospital radio station.
And SNP MPs are pulling their weight behind the scenes too. Since the General Election and up until the end of October, their 56 MPs have tabled 1668 oral and written questions and taken part in numerous debates. Their verve is in sharp contrast to lack-lustre back-bench Labour MPs.
In Scotland, Labour are in even greater disarray. Their best talent have consigned themselves to the backbenches, while the SNP allow theirs to flourish in full public view.
It is not the red rosette that greets Scottish voters on the doorstep but a yellow and black one, where campaigning SNP MPs have already begun their 2020 re-election campaign.
SNP MPs tend to keep a small staff in Westminster, but choose to base many in their constituencies which gives them a greater presence than their Labour predecessors. They are not only visible in Westminster but in their constituencies too.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn’s plans to establish an independent Scottish Labour Party is no panacea for success. The Conservatives in Scotland have been independent from the rest of the UK for many years, but can now only boast one Scottish MP in Westminster compared with the 11 when I joined the House in 1992. An independent Scottish Party is no automatic recipe for a political come-back.
So with the same old tired faces on Labour’s front bench and their brooding, demoralised back-benchers behind them, it is the SNP who have effectively replaced them to become Her Majesty’s real Opposition.