… I think some of them are starting to enjoy it.
I have to admit it’s not much more than an impression gleaned from brief TV news items and photos appearing on social media, but some of them really look as if they’re settling in nicely. All the signs are there. The way some of them sit and listen, apparently intently, to what other MPs including opponents, are saying. The way they speak when they’re making their own contributions, aware that they have to speak thoughtfully to be heard in the same way. Even the apparently respectful way some of them stand at the far end of the house when they can’t get a seat. As for Salmond, it’s almost as if he’s never been away. Lapping up every minute.
As a group they’ve been allocated their places on committees and are presumably getting to grips with the away-from-the-headlines work of like-minded groups of people interested in the subject matter of one of the departments of government. Committees may not be the most dynamic of human institutions but if they’re to work members have to make a reasonable stab at getting on with each other. And, accompanied by a tremor amongst some unionists, their leader Angus Robertson has been appointed to (and accepted) a place on the sensitive intelligence and security committee.
It’s almost as if they’re going native. I don’t know if they applaud as much as they did in the early days. I don’t know if they’ve got over their misapprehension that ‘Hear, hear’ is a posh boys’ way of saying ‘Keep out, oiks.’ But anyhow, who wouldn’t prefer the gentle murmur of ‘Hear, hear’ to the banging on desks and nodding donkey syndrome of Holyrood? Far less disruptive.
Are they starting to realise that ‘Westmonster’ is after all a serious place that does serious work?
The counter-argument can be made through the continued posturing of some (is it most or all?) of the group who seem to be ready to drop everything at a moment’s notice to appear clutching placards publicising the latest shock-horror-outrage about some aspect of social welfare or foreign policy. It can be made too through the continued social media activity of some (step forward inter alia Paul Monaghan), ready to get down and dirty on Twitter with opponents and butter up their more rabid supporters online, not realising they demean themselves more than anything else in doing so. Having no connection with any of the local SNP MPs I don’t know how they disport themselves when they’re back on home turf. I suspect there’s a deal of bluster to prove the flame of nationalism still burns hard and strong in their hearts. But I suspect there’s also a bit of cognitive dissonance developing in the brains of some of them.
Meantime, it seems that not all the troops are happy with the way the first minister reconciles Holyrood power with current constitutional arrangements. I write this in the aftermath of the official opening of the new Borders railway and, a happy coincidence for many, the day the Queen became the longest-serving British monarch. What a joy it was to see Nicola seated with the Queen and Prince Philip on the royal train, getting in a gracious reference to her reign, managing to utter the words ‘Britain’ and ‘United Kingdom’ without apparent distaste or irony, and even having a stab at singing ‘God save the Queen.’ But scarcely was news of the happy occasion out than she was being accused online of being a ‘traitor.’ I put the word in quotation marks because that was what they said. Bizarre.
Let me now jump to a subject I’ve tackled previously before ending with a final thought that will probably annoy everyone.
The subject is the SNP’s inclination (because they believe Scotland should be independent/separate) to dabble at Holyrood in areas of responsibility that are not devolved. There are a number but to make the point I’ll just cite external affairs, about which I’ve written before. They find any number of excuses to do this in Edinburgh, whether it’s a refugee crisis, Palestine, foreign trade, culture, or humanitarian aid. Westminster however is a different issue. There they are elected to the United Kingdom parliament that is responsible for all these matters and I see no reason they should not take a full and proportionate role in determining or, as an opposition party, opposing UK policy.
And here’s my final thought that pulls all these threads together as far as I can.
Why should the SNP not define itself as a regional party, accepting of the current constitutional settlement and contributing at every level of government to the functions of that level? The goal of ‘independence’ is already hazy, and one that the electorate has rejected within the last year. SNP MPs, by and large as I describe above, seem to be settling down at Westminster and increasingly behaving positively within the constraints of opposition. Such a change would lose some supporters. But if that minority can call the first minister a ‘traitor’ on the basis that she sits in a train with the monarch, and foam at the mouth as they demand UDI within twelve months, then they are lost to the party anyhow.
The suggestion will agitate many, from diehard nationalists to the members of political parties that oppose the SNP. It may even irritate a wider range of Scottish opinion which, rightly in context, objects to the characterisation of Scotland as a region. But there are plenty of countries, for example Germany, Canada and Spain, where regional political parties are quite happy to pursue their area’s interest within a larger state.
Yes, it’s a curious thing about the SNP at Westminster. Perhaps with the growing enjoyment will come understanding and enlightenment. I hope so.