Shooting the Tory Fox

fmf2When I started writing this piece on Tuesday morning, there was still the prospect that the SNP group in Westminster were going to vote against the government on the proposed review of the legislation on fox-hunting in England and Wales. I was all set for some nerdish anticipation of some parliamentary gameplay which could well have resulted in the humiliation for Cameron’s new administration on being voted down on a measure resonant with cultural significance. Since then, the Tories have shot their own fox by withdrawing the bill, postponing till September a possible arithmetical test of their majority.

Now one set of foxes have been saved by Tory reluctance to go into their first summer hols with the memory of a parliamentary defeat to spoil the taste of cocktails in the beach hut. And no doubt the predatory instincts of Her Majesties Opposition are quietly self-satisfied with the taste of Tory Chicken this lunchtime. But the endangered species who should really be nervous this afternoon are those without any kind of paw in the game any more : yes, I’m talking about the Scottish Labour Party. Let me get back to them after picking a few more obvious bones from this particular mess of road-kill.

The near pulling of the teeth of the ban on fox-hunting introduced by the Blair government in England and Wales, and by parallel legislation by the LibLab coalition in Holyrood was totemic in two ways this week. Firstly, of course, the ban on fox-hunting represents to the Tory backwoods the very epitome of all that they hated most viscerally in Islington Man, with his macrobiotic, multiculturalist intolerance for all that made England England. Secondly, despite the best constitutionalist convolutions of Angus Robertson, if ever there was an “English Only” piece of legislation, this surely had to have been it. We are aware that the exclusive definition of “Englishness” is problematic thanks to Barnett Consequentials, But it took some proceduralist contortions indeed from the SNP to argue that the rules governing the social pursuits of Hampshire are any of the damn business of the MP for Moray.

I have to say that reading the headline this morning that announced that the SNP were going to take part in the vote on this matter, when even the Tories were making it a matter of individual conscience made me feel a little queasy. Both in principle and practice, I felt uneasy about both Angus Robertson’s pretzel shaped justifications, even while I could understand the enthusiasm for causing the red-coated buffoons on the government benches a little discomfort. The charge of hypocrisy against the SNP…for seeking independence and yet still wanting to keep their lang nebs in English Only affairs would surely stick. And that may well still be the charge, although the Tories have rather blinked and ducked the confrontation…and so may not amount to very much.

But it didn’t take a lot of thought to understand what had really swung the SNP’s decision. Because their primary fight, as Westminster Parliamentarians may well be with the Tories. But the happy side effect of saving English Foxes from a literal version of what happened to Alexis Tsipras in Brussels on Sunday night aside, the really happy result of this piece of legislative hokey cokey for the SNP lies not in besting the Auld Enemy, but in discomfiting the Near Enemy. Not England…but the Labour Party in Scotland.

Because what happened, you see, is that the UK Labour Party asked the SNP in the UK parliament to support them in voting down the fox-hunting legislation. And that, for the SNP in Westminster, is Christmas and their birthdays rolled into one. Because what it means is that the UK Labour Party, before even they have elected new leaders, are treating the SNP as potential allies…not all the time, of course…but where there is a real prospect of beating the Tories at Parliamentary Games. And if people were asking Harriet Harman this weekend : “If the Labour Party are going to support the Welfare Cuts that destroy every principle of universal welfare they used to represent, then what is Labour FOR exactly?” the same question is now being asked of prospective Labour MPs in Scotland. And the question is not one of abstract numinous stuff like “morals” – it is a cold, hard question of parliamentary arithmetic.

“If the UK Labour Party and the SNP in Westminster can successfully carry out a parliamentary manoeuvre that can force the Tory government to withdraw primary legislation, then what exactly might any future Scottish Labour MPs be FOR?”

That’s why, foxes or no foxes, the SNP were so delighted to risk their old style parliamentary principle of absenting themselves from legislation that they decide is genuinely “English Only”. Not because it gave a chance to defeat the Tories, although that was a nice bonus. But because UK Labour asked them to cooperate and they were delighted to say yes. The precedent now set, I’m sure we will see this tactical cooperation extended and deepened to the point where Labour will be hard pressed to persuade anyone to stand as a prospective parliamentary candidate in 2020 so Quixotic and pointless will that have become.

Whether I am entirely happy with this aspect of the New Normal that is taking shape in British politics is another question for later . What is of significance right now, as we head into the summer break at Westminster, is that Labour and the SNP have now successfully already combined on the procedural question of EVEL and on a piece of pure parliamentary gamesmanship.

Parliamentary games only take us so far in the same week where democracy in Greece is stamped into the killing floor of the EU, and where the same economic orthodoxy that animates the righteous boots of the Eurocrats is set now to tear apart the social democratic experiment that once upon a time constituted “Great” Britain. But parliamentary games in red coats on horseback are part of the way things are done here. And this week, the fox whose tail is nailed to the door is called Kezia.

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  1. James Campbell says:

    Perhaps better if the SNP had retained the moral high ground and stayed out of this issue, sacrificing English foxes for a better outcome on EVEL and devolved powers – it could have even been a bargaining chip.

    1. Scav says:

      Another way of looking at this is as a deliberate SNP provocation to force the Tories to move EVEL forwards before they have time to think it through and make it more plausible. As it stands, it’s a constitutional mess and effectively a declaration of colonial occupation that could very soon be followed by a declaration of Fuck Off Then.
      As for getting a better outcome on devolved powers: that’s a pipe dream. The Tories have made that clear, as it was to us who voted Yes last year knowing what they are fucking like. We warned we’d be punished for upsetting the masters rather than be rewarded for staying, and punished we shall be.

  2. Broadbield says:

    I too am uneasy – a principle is a principle, not a nearly principle. I could understand if SNP had said that because Tories have rejected all amendments to the Scotland Bill, i.e. have shown themselves to be undemocratic, then we are putting our principle to one side and will vote/not vote on a case by case basis.

    1. Scav says:

      The real principle is either there’s a union or there isn’t. If there is, all UK MPs have a right to vote on all UK policies, and until England gets a devolved parliament, English issues are UK issues.

      Note that nobody was tying Scottish Labour or Lib Dem MP’s hands when they were exercising their right to vote on anything their parties told them to, English or otherwise.

      The 56 represent the same constituencies composed of the same voters. Those constituencies aren’t magically more Scottish and therefore constitutionally peripheral just because they voted SNP this time.

      What previous SNP MPs may have chosen to do is no more relevant than Alex Salmond’s use of the phrase “once in a generation”. The 56 ultimately answer to the people in their constituencies NOW, and they damn well do have a mandate from us to stick a big spanner in the Westminster works whenever it’s convenient.

  3. Johnny says:

    Like the EU with Greece, there will be no ‘better outcome’ from SNP negotiations with Tories.

  4. Dougie Blackwood says:

    Getting the Tories to back down may end up as a pyrrhic victory as it will allow the Tory press to beat the SNP over the head with it from now until hell freezes over. Yes Labour asked but was it worth it?

    In my view we should have waited for a piece of legislation that had some relevance to Scotland. The problem with that is that then Labour probably wouldn’t play; we must remember that Westminster Labour is in reality almost entirely English Labour without their Scottish spear carriers. In the main they will be delighted with anything done to rain on the SNP’s parade.

    Maybe this is where Nicola and the 56 are seeing things as they are rather than as we would like them to be. Watch what happens when another piece of Scottish interest comes up. Will any, other than the 56, stand in Scotland’s corner or will we get more of the Scotland Ayes, 56 England Noes, several hundreds?

  5. hindmost says:

    I was looking at this from a slightly different angle. The SNP group at Westminster and the First Minister have all said that they would work with the other parties on the opposition benches to oppose this government. That made voting on a devolved matter inevitable at some point. The fact that the first time it happened it was over fox hunting simply added a frisson of pure pleasure at the reaction of the provisional wing of the tory party.

  6. Anton says:

    I’m more uneasy about this than other posters here.

    First, because the SNP have a long standing policy of not voting at Westminster on issues that don’t affect Scotland. So this is a very significant reversal of SNP policy, which (as far as I know) has never been previously debated or discussed. So it smacks of a cynical top-down command rather than a considered position.

    Second, because Nicola Sturgeon justified the SNP’s position as the result of “overwhelming demand” from English voters. Since when did the SNP represent English voters, and on what basis does she think she has right to do so?

    Third, because Sturgeon also told the BBC that the SNP would also vote because, though Scottish law is actually more lenient on the number of dogs than English law, she disagreed with Scottish law. That surely is her problem. Her party has been in power in Edinburgh for eight years, during which time the SNP has done absolutely nothing to address the issue. So why raise it now?

    This all looks to me as a betrayal of the SNP’s integrity in pursuit of the cheap thrill of giving Cameron a bloody nose.

    1. florian albert says:

      I agree totally. The SNP seems to be working on the assumption that its popularity is set in stone.
      A decade ago, SLAB had similar illusions.

  7. C Rober says:

    No need to ban a fox if there was natural predators higher up the chain.

    As it stands the argument is that foxes are bad , they deprive land owners and farmers from income….other than a few days fox hunting from them , with the tax reduction that comes from estate management , without which it would only be “pheasant in wine again” and another two courses for tea.

    However if there is no food , as nature dictates , then the animal and the species itself will die out if not evolve.Unlike the dxxks on the back of horses , they somehow defeat darwin , must be the inbreeding.

    I am more worried that you kin get a 400 quid fine for letting a dog shit , but cat owners are allowed to let out an animal every day to go hunting birds and then shit in next doors garden to infect their kids with toxiclara. The same people that say “oh the poor foxes”.

    Surely the SNP can set a time frame for preventing cats being let out , forced micro chipping , and then legalizing properly the culling of neighborhood vermin – for the sport of the lower classes as well.

    SNP are not as removed from the Lorded Gentry as they portray themselves to be , that I do know.If the landowner wants to put fox suits on the council house waiting list applicant , then they would be up for it to show they have improved their housing targets.

    Just this week my Local Monkey of the Scottish Parliament was in the local rag , declaring how the SNP and hollyrood have reduced homelessness in our area.

    Yet when you see the charts its a reduction – through reduced population , not SNP policy. Exactly the same reduction in the chart from Council waiting lists is followed , yet no more social housing has been built. Thus private landlords have took up the slack , and of course the taxpayer.

    My eyes are obviously not glazed over for the SNP , the more I read , the less I find the argument that they are the empowerment of the people that the declare themselves to be.

  8. Jim Monaghan says:

    Nope. Your “parliamentary arithmetic” argument worked equally both ways. The logic of your argument is that it doesn’t matter whether the MP is Labour or SNP. It could equally be an argument for “what is the SNP for?” Why bother voting SNP if the only way they can be successful is to support Labour in parliament? I am not making that argument, I am pointing out that your article suggests it.

    1. Shaunoftheundead says:

      The reply to that would be, we have had decades of Scottish Labour mps and they have not delivered very much.
      In addition the SNP mps are listening to their constituents and voting based on that.

      56 mps voting for Scotland can make a difference and as mentioned if the torys continue with ignoring amendments to Scotland bill, it makes the case to persuade no voters to vote yes easier. All of better togethers arguments are quickly being shown as lies.

  9. Jim McWilliam says:

    Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Shooting the tory fox http://www.phoenix45.org/?p=517

    1. Oh I think we’re all working from a limited of fox gags Jim

      1. Jim McWilliam says:

        I guess so. Keep up the good work.

  10. Neil says:

    It is not a ban on fox hunting – it is a ban on hunting foxes with dogs. I presume hare coursing is included in all this, as well.

    Personally, I find it all a bit daft, and I presume it is all banned for the benefit of people who find nature documentaries deeply harrowing. Honestly, your dog’s going to go after anything it can get its teeth into, anyway, preferably in a pack – it is entirely natural.

    As for the SNP abandoning their policy of not voting on non-Scottish legislation, because the government might put the SNP policy of not voting on non-Scottish legislation into law – I agree with the other comments.

  11. Angry Weegie says:

    It might be worth considering that the current (revised) Tory proposals are to give English (or English and Welsh) MPs a veto over legislation deemed to be English (or English and Welsh) only. The proposals mean that there would be two votes on such legislation, one by the English (or English and Welsh) committee and one by the whole House, and both votes would have to be in favour before it was accepted.

    It gives English (or English and Welsh) MPs a veto, but doesn’t allow legislation to be passed which doesn’t have the agreement of all MPs. Or to put it another way, it still gives SNP MPs the opportunity to vote against legislation that English (or English and Welsh) MPs have voted in favour of. So English (or English and Welsh) MPs can stop stuff they don’t like, but can’t force through stuff they do against the wishes of the whole House, including SNP MPs.

  12. John says:

    Very good article from Peter. I agree that I was a bit skeptical about SNP getting involved in this vote, but I agree that since Labour asked them to vote on it, it does send a signal loud and clear , on certain issues at least, they are willing to work with the SNP. Which clearly goes against everything they claimed before the GE. I am not naive enough to think that Labour will ever return the favour but that message they worked with SNP can be used in the future. Well worth all the Jockphobia from the Tory press, which in any case serves to gain support for SNP in Scotland anyway.

  13. Craig P says:

    I am the opposite of all the other posters on this and say good on the SNP. The more they can be a nuisance to the Tories and to Westminster in general, the better. The UK parliament and the establishment is no friend of Scotland. They are going to do us over anyway whether we are nice to them or not.

  14. Donald Mitchell says:

    Why did Call-Me-Dave not whip his hounds? Because he didn’t want the measure to pass, he want’s to get his right wingers back on side so he can pass his EVEL plans.
    What troubles me is that Nicola seems to realise this and is co-operating with him.
    If she images that establishing a a pretext for a second ref will result in a different result i’m afraid she is sadly mistaken, in these circumstances (both economic and international) Home Rule is the best that can be achieved and that should be the SNP’s target in the Scottish elections.

    1. John says:

      Donald where have you been for the last 9 months? What has happened in that time that would make you think that home rule is even a remote possibility? The unionists might pretend or even say it has happened, but it never will. Our only hope is independence.

    2. dennis mclaughlin says:

      Donald, will this be the fabled ‘Home Rule’as promised by Gordon Brown and advertised proudly in parchment signed by the Tres Hombres in our Daily Record?.
      This is and always will be an Establishment mirage.

  15. Neil says:

    The deeper you delve into this, the darker it gets. The SNP were planning on voting against bringing hunting with dogs in England into line with the laxer rules that exist in Scotland, of all places.

    And there isn’t a ban on hunting with dogs, anywhere. There are just limits on the number of dogs.

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