Time to Leave the Mother of All Parliaments

Have you got some bit of equipment lying around the house you just don’t need any more? A Roll and Pour juice dispenser? A 1980s work-out abs-enhancer, lying dusty in the corner? Westminster is increasing looking like such a gadget, once full of good intentions and now just a waste of space.

In a three hour debate on devolved administrations and Brexit tonight Parliament heard from just two Scottish MP’s (one of them cut off), one Welsh MP and one MP from Northern Ireland. This counts as “all four corners of the UK” by Westminster standards. As Tommy Sheppard put it: “Less than four minutes per amendment, no limit on speeches, Tories talking for half an hour, votes not allowed – mother of parliaments!”

In the face of EVEL and with the Tories Mark Harper securing more time than everybody else from the devolved legislatures combined isn’t it time just to leave this farce?

We’ve touched on this before and George Gunn mentioned it in his column on Monday:

“As the days pass it becomes ever more apparent that Scotland has no representative purchase or political territory in the UK Parliament. What do the Scottish people gain from sending 59 MP’s to London, when English Votes for English Laws have made them second class members of the club? Now the determination of most English MP’s to “follow the rabbit down the hole”, as Ken Clarke put it, to activate Article 50 and which goes against the democratic wishes of the Scottish people, must surely reduce the relevance of the Scottish politicians there to zero? So, let us recall the SNP’s 56 to Edinburgh and set them to some useful task such as structuring a working constitutional apparatus for an independent Scottish nation. There is much work to be done to undo the “vices which have brought (us) to servitude” as Milton put it.”

The danger in staying is that we give credibility and credence to an institution that is not fit for purpose. By taking their seats at Westminster we are saying “this is a functioning democracy that has legitimacy”. Watching the pantomime of MPs barking at SNP members or the ancient boys club tactics of fillibustering, the contempt of scheduling (with debates happening late at night), you realise this is not a functioning contemporary seat of democracy.

Having taken their oaths and been sworn in they could still take their salaries. There’s no link between attendance and salary, as David Cameron and Gordon Brown will testify.

A mass withdrawal would have four immediate impacts:

1) It would cause unprecedented constitutional crisis.
2) It would allow MPs to work in their own constituencies.
3) It would delegitimise Westminster.
4) But most importantly it would create the opportunity for a dual power base. And there is precedent.

A constitutional advisor told us: “The Sinn Fein MPs elected in 1918 did not take their seats in Westminster, but met in Ireland and proclaimed themselves the ‘First Dail’. If the SNP really wanted to do something dramatic, the MPs should go to Edinburgh, declare themselves as a Constituent Assembly, and then submit a draft Constitution to the Scottish Parliament. No power can stop them from doing that. They wouldn’t be replacing the Scottish Parliament, they wouldn’t be usurping any power; they would simply be taking their popular mandate and transforming it into a constituent mandate.”

It would be a game-changer.

So we can waste our time being treated with contempt or we can have a constructive withdrawal and start creating a Scottish Constitution (the UK constitution is reserved, the Scottish constitution is not, because it doesn’t exist) and put it to the people.

I’m sure we can find a building, or better still tour the country in a process of mass participatory constitution building. Parliament without walls anyone?


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Comments (49)

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  1. Robert says:

    Like the idea of a mobile assembly. Perhaps the best venue would be a large tent that could be moved around to different cities and towns. This would make it clear just how much of a circus politics really is. 🙂

    1. Robert says:

      Sarcasm aside, I actually think a mobile assembly would be an excellent way of bringing government closer to the population and ensuring that an isolated political class cannot get established. It would be difficult to get rid of a sedentary government and parliament altogether, but perhaps there could be a second chamber that is obliged by law to meet (and listen to people) in any location where enough signatures are gathered on a petition, or something like that. It’s well worth considering, in the (increasingly likely-seeming) event of Scottish independence.

      1. Jack Collatin says:

        Robert, When Scotland regains Self Determination, I argued the case during the Independence Referendum that we should avoid the centrist option of simply replacing London with Edinburgh as the ‘centre of Government’.
        I postulated ‘Central Government’ as anathema, the undemocratic poison which fired Independence in the first place.
        There is nothing to stop an Independent Scotland spreading departmental ministries throughout the towns and cities of Scotland.
        Industry in Glasgow, Finance in Edinburgh, Energy in Aberdeen, Agriculture in Perth, Education in Dundee, and so on.
        Do we really need 32 LA Councils? Yorkshire with a similar population to Scotland has three.
        Parliament itself could be a ‘moveable feast’, sitting occasionally in towns and cities throughout the land, although it can scarcely be argued that we set up a Marquis Gathering as an alternative to a permanent base, which at the moment is in Auld Reekie.
        I am chary about our 56 walking out, Mike. They would love that. Taking our bat and ball home smacks of Woof Woof behaviour breeding behaviour.
        I comment elsewhere on Bateman that we must ‘keep our enemies closer’ during the Brexit years.
        The Scottish Independence campaign is not the Reign of Terror, it is not Dublin 1916, it is not Moscow 1917, and it is certainly not Ireland, 1922, 0r N Ireland 1969.
        We are doing it at the ballot box. Just sayin’ like.
        To walk out is to legitimise our exclusion.

        1. Jack Collatin says:

          ‘Marquee Gathering’, not ‘Marquis’. Autocorrect, or a Freudian slip.
          There will of course be no place for Lords and ladies in Independent Scotland?
          Then the real ‘Land reform’ kicks in; and that’s really what scares the shit out of many of the Scottish Branch of the English Establishment. We are quite literally taking our land back.

          1. K.A.Mylchreest says:

            I think rather than a marquee, an inflatable structure might be more appropriate. We might call it The Windbag, no? 😉

            More seriously though, the idea of decentralising different parts of the apparatus of government is one to push for. At present, I understand, there are plans to set up a new bureaucracy for something or other (finance?) in Wales, and the civil servants in charge of deciding the location have pre-rigged the criteria so that it pretty much has to be in or close to Cardiff.

        2. Richard says:

          I quite like a lot of this suggestion, though I’m not entirely on board with the complete denigration of the concept of Central Government – ultimately, there has to be a legislature with responsibility for the whole country.

          However, Central, does not mean Concentrated and by chance and evolution, we are already uch less concentrated than the UK as a whole – where our Parliament sits is where our financial centre is (Edinburgh), but this is not the largest city (Glasgow), and neither are the most significant industrial city (Aberdeen). Even our National Football and Rugby teams play in different cities.

          Therefore, I completely agree with the notion that ministries should be spread across the country in iScotland, providing employment and opportunity across a broad geographic area. We are physically small enough that this should theoretically be feasible.

          Your point about council areas is an interesting one, though. Almost every discussion I’ve heard about them in the past has been that they are too big and there aren’t enough, rather than the other way round. In Highland, for example, the population concentration in Inverness compared with the rest of the area is greater than London compared with the whole UK (20% compared with 13%) – it is not for nothing that Highland council not nicknamed Inverness County Council by many on the west-coast. As the centre of population, most spending, investment etc is concentrated there. Reducing the number of council areas would only impact this more.

        3. DaveM says:

          We already have the largest councils in Europe. Are you seriously suggesting creating an even greater distance between the people and their local tier of government? We need more councils, not fewer; and for these to be more representative of, and properly accountable to, the people they represent.

          1. Jack Collatin says:

            Lads, lads. Cool your jets.
            Do we really need 32 Heads of Social work, 32 heads of education, 32 heads of ,and so on.
            Geographically we are 1/3 0f the land mass of the UK, which is BIG.
            I am not advocating taking decision making away from locals, far from it.
            But there must be a ‘joined up’ way to coordinate and achieve economies of Scale, which COSLA seem unable to achieve.
            IT is a move in the right direction that Head Teachers and Parents in schools identified as requiring attention, are having funds channelled directly to them, for example. I’ll stop now. I’ve hit a Local Government nerve, methinks.
            In this world of IT, Skype, and databases, we can surely be more joined up in Administration?
            Off now.

  2. John Page says:

    Fully agreed.

    1. Willie says:

      Yes we do need 32 councils. The deadwood troughers that suck the lifeblood out of public service need to be sated.

  3. muttley79 says:

    I don’t agree. Firstly, the SNP MPs were not elected in 2015 on an independence platform, it was about standing up for Scotland. Therefore, they would be effectively violating the mandate they were given by the voters here if they quit Westminster, and tried to draw up a constitution for an independent Scotland. There would also have been voters who do not support independence but voted SNP in 2015, and hence their vote and views would be ignored and marginalised. This is why the SNP separated the constitutional question from Holyrood and Westminster elections, by supporting a referendum(s) to decide the issue.

    I also think it is very unhelpful and unwise to try and compare the situation in early twentieth century Ireland to Scotland. By 1918, a number of people had already died in political violence in Ireland, so that formed a significant part of the context for Sinn Fein not taking their seats at Westminster.

    1. Mike Pinchard says:

      Ending up in a 70’s like northern Ireland situation is not as unthinkable as it used to be. Something really needs to be done, I don’t understand why we need english permission to take independence. They treat us like scum, take our resources, and expect us to be grateful. Even the ordinary English want us to have it. Albeit through gritted teeth. In addition we have the legal right in accordance with the act of the union and the Scotland act 1998.

      1. tickle says:

        you’re generalising about millions of people you don’t know mate.

  4. Mark Rowantree says:

    I would with increasing reluctance oppose such a move at the moment. However, if yesterday’s Disgraceful parody is repeated: I reserve the right to revisit the issue.
    As ever in politics, political parties must respond and adapt to changed realities and whilst I agree that SNP MPs were not elected on an independence mandate per ce. It could be argued that in certain circumstances ‘defending Scotland’s interests’ could be interpretated as requiring abstention.
    Bottom line is that I’m against abstention at the minute, but wouldn’t role it out unequivocally.

  5. Richard MacKinnon says:

    I need a drink. I find myself in agreement with Mike Small.
    I have always thought SNP MPs sitting on the Westminster benches looks ridiculous (and when they stand up even more so). But do they see it that way? No chance. They love it down there. They feel part of it, because they are.

    1. Willie says:

      Bang on Richard. Save for some exceptions it’s nigh on impossible to make contact with some of the SNP MPs. All wrapped up in being busy and too important to deal with mundane issues as they sup their new well paid existences. So what do they do the Feeble Fifty Six.

  6. muttley79 says:

    Another problem with abstention from Westminster by SNP MPs would be that the Tories would bring forward something very important to the Commons, and it would be used as a device to discredit the SNP and the wider independence movement. You could be almost guaranteed that the unionists would do this. It would be a PR victory for them, and a PR disaster for independence. There has to be a SNP presence in the Commons until there is a vote for independence imo. It does not make any sense to me to provide the unionists with such an obvious thing to beat us with. At this stage we need disciplined, intelligent and professional representation in the Commons, from a pro-independence point of view. The last thing we need is inane, ignorant slogans and soundbites, such as ‘taking back control’ and ‘drain the swamp.’

    1. Nobody used those phrases Muttley. The danger is that we give legitimacy to the illegitimate and just sit there without influence or purpose.

      1. muttley79 says:

        Nobody used those phrases Muttley. The danger is that we give legitimacy to the illegitimate and just sit there without influence or purpose.

        The SNP have influence and purpose by trying to put pressure on the Tory government, if they are ignored, ridiculed etc then that will be noticed by a significant element of the electorate in Scotland. As for the legitimacy question, the 2014 independence referendum result gave Westminster that legitimacy over the Scottish affairs under their control. They will have this until a Yes vote. We have to win the economic argument for independence, and this should be the our main objective imo.

      2. muttley79 says:

        In terms of the phrases mentioned in my original post, I meant that they were used to achieve Brexit and the election of Trump as President of the USA.

  7. Robin Kinross says:

    Something needs to happen. Last night’s events were deeply insulting and unsatisfactory. My suggestion is that SNP MPs should talk with SDLP and Plaid MPs and any other sympathetic MPs (Sylvia Hermon?) from “the devolved parts” and figure out a joint course of action in Westminster – boycotts, sit-downs or anything else.

  8. Iain MacPhail says:

    A walk out by Scots MPs would play into the rUK media & politicians’ hands.

    However, the SNP have (in my opinion) shown a good deal of cunning and strategy since the brainless Brexit vote. The fact is, the people fouling up democracy at the moment are the Westminster establishment, not Scots MPs.

    In my opinion (and it is just my opinion) that is very fertile ground for the SNP to lay traps, that the WM crew will blindly walk into – essentially building on existing tactics like the trap laid for Teresa May about her opening the NHS to the highest American bidder as part of her unholy deal with Trump.

    That type of activity (played out on a grander scale) retains the “guilt” with those who are guilty (ie the WM elite) and retains the PR win & the moral high ground with the Scots MPs.

    It is my view that this “playing the game, but playing it better than anyone else” is what is winning Scotland friends in places like Germany & Spain…and a seemingly “anti-democratic” walk out would jeopardise those important new friendships, which would be a massive own goal when retaining friends in Europe (while cutting off the old ball’n’chain with London) is likely to be the character of the next indyref.

    Just my view, but it’s a time for increased cunning, not walk-outs that could be portrayed as anti-democratic. Play the game, play it well, and let the other team drive decent folk over to Yes from No (as the more they talk, the more inevitable that seems as an outcome here)

    1. Why would it be ‘anti-democratic’ Iain?

      1. Willie says:

        Yes Editor, exactly why would it be anti democratic for the 56 SNP MPs to walk out of Westminster.

  9. brewsed says:

    One of the reasons for SNP MPs be treated with disdain and derision is because, within the constraints imposed, they are seen to be effective. Unlike the official opposition, they do not abstain, spend an inordinate amount of time in the bar or slope off with a migraine, they stick it out and make their presence felt – yes, within the limitations imposed. A walk out may seem like a grand gesture but it would be seen as having a hissy fit. It would be a win for the unionist side, an admission of defeat, and would, in my opinion, be counterproductive.

    So, they must stick it out for present. The time is approaching when they will become redundant and can take the Caledonian sleeper home one last time.

    1. muttley79 says:

      A walk out may seem like a grand gesture but it would be seen as having a hissy fit. It would be a win for the unionist side, an admission of defeat, and would, in my opinion, be counterproductive.


      1. c rober says:

        There is always two other options.

        Walk out – to return , only if Ref is agreed on best terms for Scotland , not for WM.

        Stand every single Council member in MAY on one mandate – a FPTP vote for the SNP is for indy being declared , or the lesser threat of at least another ref.

        But as I have mentioned in many posts there is yet another option – the tabling not for a Scottish ref on the UK membership , but that for an English one – divide is indeed to conquer , turn it on its head.

        1. DaveM says:

          One problem there – the council elections are not run on the FPTP system.

    2. Willie says:

      Well said Brewsed but you are right to say that a walk out of the 56 SNP would be a Hissy Fit. They count for nothing, have no impact on anything, so yes, a Hissy Fit they are. So why vote for them Brewsed?

  10. Alan Bissett says:

    I certainly understand the arguments in favour of withdrawal. Westminster is a farce, and each day exposes just how little Scotland’s voice matters there. But that’s the point. This can only be exposed if Scottish MPs are present to BE ignored, if you know what I mean. A mass walk-out simply allows Unionist forces to say, ‘You complain you’re not properly represented at Westminster and then withdraw the representation you have?!’ I think it would play very badly with soft No’s (and even some soft Yesses). The way it could be seen by the layman – who has not been following the parliamentary to-and-fro – is that Scotland’s elected MPs have simply declined to represent their constituents in London *and yet are still drawing a salary*. The media and the Unionist parties will of course beat that drum very loudly. I can’t imagine any Undecided is going to be impressed by an SNP who asked the electorate to choose them to represent Scotland in Westminster only two years ago now deciding it’s just not worth the bother, no matter how well presented the political arguments. Surface perception would trump everything else here. The SNP’s reputation could plummet.

    1. Thanks Alan, I can see those arguments.

      The danger however is that credibility seeps away from the SNP bloc if they stay and are – or continue to be – marginalised and ignored. This is not a criticism of them but pointing to the need for some strategy to avoid them being pictured as impotent and without agency.

    2. IainR says:

      The great danger of the SNP MPs remaining in Westminster is that they will “go native”. The English establishment has a proud history of, just like the Borg, assimilating and neutralising it’s opponents. How many firebrands have gone to Westminster promising all kinds of mayhem, and within a few years are appointed to Westminster committees and boards of nationalised companies.

      We need to be sure that we do not lose the fire and desire for independence.

  11. Agatha Cat says:

    At first reading I totally agreed with the article, but on reflection I think it’s better to stay. In the first place only 56/59 would leave, so the abandonment of the farce wouldn’t be complete. In the second, the current set-up serves as a valuable and visible message to people in Scotland that this is how the future looks. The more we see of this the better. (Admittedly, I only know two Unionists, but Westminster could announce the introduction of the death penalty for people with Scottish accents, and that pair would imagine it didn’t apply to them.)

    So, it seems better to stay and be humiliated for the time being in the hope that more and more of the population become disgusted and choose to leave the whole crackpot carousel.

  12. H Scott says:

    Abstention is a powerful weapon, but it’s an extreme option and can only be used once. I don’t think the current situation is sufficiently extreme to justify it and, more importantly, there’s a situation where it may be more necessary and effective. In a few weeks the British government will invoke Article 50 and almost certainly reject, at the very least, the substance of the Scottish government’s proposals for a separate Scottish deal. Nicola Sturgeon will almost certainly then announce an independence referendum. There’s a real possibility that Westminster will veto, or otherwise prevent, such a referendum. At this point, the SNP MPs can all resign and stand for re-election on a single policy of independence and thus stage a referendum. If a majority of SNP MPs are returned, this is the point at which they should withdraw from Westminster and form a separate provisional Parliament (and Government?) of an independent Scotland.

    1. Sandy says:

      I sympathise with the author but agree with this post. The time to withdraw is if there is a denial of the support for a second referendum.

    2. Jim says:

      There will come a moment when it should be done. As H Scott has said, that moment will be if the referendum is refused.

      The ground must be prepared for this.

      The SNP’s honour and commitment in the teeth of endless humiliations will give the withdrawal legitimacy and moral force. At this point the only way they will be able to represent their constituents is by withdrawing from the charade.

    3. Patrick says:

      “As the days pass it becomes ever more apparent that Scotland has no representative purchase or political territory in the UK Parliament. What do the Scottish people gain from sending 59 MP’s to London, when English Votes for English Laws have made them second class members of the club?
      Alway was the same English politicians had envy of Scottish politicians outcomes in EU and Scotland with a few power. This is the reason behind the Brixit.
      Now more than ever Scotland need the Independence.

  13. Ian McCubbin says:

    This idea is very doable and is part of what is a legal UDI. If a state is frustrated by larger sate it belongs to then it can secede without permission of larger state.
    You mention Sein Fein in Ireland in 1920.
    Also happened with Kosovo and many former colonies of UK.
    Westminster no longer governs us not supplies adequate finance resources.
    U.N. would back this move as Atlantic Charter and Charter 1541 show. Kosovo also attained independence via a UN backed UDI.The U K government supported all of these. So Westminster would have no international support for blocking any move Scottish Government and MPs take in this regard.
    The UK political forum of Westminster is now frustrated too point it only works for English MPs.

  14. Crubag says:

    The 1918 Sinn Fein and the 2015 SNP manifestos are diametric opposites. The first is about withdrawing from Westminster the second is about participating in it.

    What has changed for the SNP since 2015 other than being (narrowly) on the losing side of a popular vote?

    Political parties do find referenda difficult because they effectively cut out the middle man, but Brexit is the wrong issue on which to have an internal constitutional argument.

    Westminster may yet get so dysfunctional that a boycott is justified, but I think that would need its own manifesto.

  15. florian albert says:

    Would it not be simpler just to hold Indyref2, as Nicola Sturgeon has been threatening to do ?
    And to win it. Ay, there’s the rub.

  16. Willie says:

    Ach c’mon folks democracy doesn’t work. I boot you in the balls to you scream no more. That’s the way it is. Talk about it all you want. In fact shooting the breeze is best. But at the end of the day, might is right. Play the game or frig off. Simple as that. And yes, the Feeble Fifty Six have gone down that road.

  17. SleepingDog says:

    Green MP Caroline Lucas fairly puts the boot into the practices of parliament in her book Honourable Friends?: Parliament and the Fight for Change (2015). In the first part, she describes her culture shock on entering the Commons, continues with a second part where she struggles to do her job and work with like-minded reformers. She ends the book with a section looking ahead to a better way of doing politics (and a hope, looking forward to the new session, that the SNP will give progressive politics a boost).

    Perhaps trying to build popular demand for parliamentary reform first would help. For example, a more accessible message might be delivered in a television documentary series covering the same ground, with appropriate ridicule, satire and exposure of the place, traditions and behaviours.

    Incidentally, people talk about the Westminster bubble, but that seems a poor metaphor for a place where the walls seem designed to keep light and visions of the real world out, more of Plato’s cave of flickering shadows thrown by some very little people.

    1. c rober says:

      One has to ask then why in 14 years of Labour did they not do the same voting methods of Holyrood on WM?

      The system is broken , or busted on purpose , to suit those that benefit the most…. its not the voters its politicians and their employment. Repeated in how the regional list works in electing the likes of Murdo Fraser – despite being rejected at the polls 5x.

      Many say the demise of Labour proper started with its rise to Nulabour and being elected , in ousting the union power , replacing it as Kinnoch wanted with degree educated career minded politicians. All that is happening , in UK and in Scotland , is that the cows have came home to roost. If the argument was to remove union power , as the reason for the demise of UK mass industry , then how come that same industry hadnt rising under Nulabour?

      As the likes of Scottish polls are showing the move from the dregs of the labour wine bottle move back to where they belonged , the Tories , SLAB have failed to listen then to both halves of its voters – failing to be 100 percent indy , or 100 percent unionist. A LA Carte simply isnt working , and the promises of the most devolved and powerful parliament in the world lies in a shallow grave with the brexit decision on Sewell.

      I do hope the SNP are taking heed of what is going on today in politics , and change Scotland for a prosperous future with it – instead of the repeating of it looking at the carcass of Slab.

      Some things need to be done , like localism empowerment proper not just the lipservice or ignored when they say no , and booting that ball oot the park on the upper chamber – unless its as a non political think tank to direct and suggest policy and prove whether political promises are deliverable pre elections etc.

  18. allan thomson says:

    The time for this proposition may yet come. Today we see the first glimmer of hope in the shape of a rising opinion poll showing 49%for Yes . Events of last week in the mother of parliaments (the effect of which is not included in todays poll) can have done little to reverse this movement should it be genuine. In the context of what may soon be a slight lead for Yes, how popular or risky might radical options prove. For my part I think I would prefer to mark time on this one.

  19. bringiton says:

    If Scots are not prepared to stand up for their democratic rights now,then I doubt they ever will.
    It is just a case of waiting for the right time to start taking remedial action.
    The so called union has been declared redundant by the Westminster establishment and they are now openly declared as the government of the state of England.
    For them,it is Scotland no more,EU no more,social democracy no more,human rights no more….
    That is how the new state of England is shaping up and Scots are going to have to decide whether they want to continue to be ruled by them or not.

  20. ronald alexander mcdonald says:

    The only current circumstance for withdrawal would be if the Scottish Parliament passed a Referendum Bill and the Uk Gov refused to make it binding.

  21. Barbara naughton says:

    Good sensible debate here. Started off agreeing with the idea of our MPs leaving Westminster, but now think they need to stay. At least until they veto our right to hold Indy 2.

  22. Elaine Fraser says:

    When are the House of Parliament to be refurbished and MP’s decanted elsewhere – is it too far off?

  23. Ed says:

    softley softley, catchee monkey !!!!!

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