In yesterday’s session of the Scottish parliament Labour MSP James Kelly sought to make a point of order but ended up being escorted from the chamber. From a recording of the session it’s not possible to tell what his point of order was because he never gets round to making it. But it seems to have been something to do with the competence of the parliament to discuss a UK parliament trade union bill.
It doesn’t matter. The point is what happened and how.
First, a bit of context. Here is the rule on points of order from the parliament’s standing orders:
That seems clear enough. Subject to the other requirements, the member has three minutes to make his point.
Mr Kelly got no further than 2 minutes 54 seconds (2:54) before he was removed from the chamber by the presiding officer, Tricia Marwick. Most of that time was taken up by Ms Marwick and, latterly, silence between her increasingly irritated instructions. Here are her interventions:
0:38 And your point of order is?
0:43 Let’s have it then
0:49 Mr Kelly, get to your point of order please
0:56 I want to know what the point of order is
1:02 Mr Kelly, please sit down, Mr Kelly sit down
1:08 Mr Kelly please sit down
1:11 Mr Kelly please sit down
1:20 Mr Kelly, please resume your seat
1:26 Sit down, I’m speaking. Can I remind the member that the ??? [indistinct] in a courteous and respectful manner and respect the authority of the chair. I am asking you to sit down will you please do so?
1:40 Can I remind the member of the powers I have under Rule 7.3 of the standing orders which give me the power to exclude a member from the chamber? I ask you now to desist and to apologise
1:57 I ask you to desist and apologise Mr Kelly
2:03 Thank you. Can I say the member’s been asked, repeatedly warned against his conduct and asked to desist and apologise. The member has refused to do so. Under Rule 7.3 I hereby require the member to leave the chamber
2:25 [Another member attempts to speak] Sit down Mr Findlay I’m speaking. I also exclude the member from participating in the remainder of the business in the chamber today and on the next sitting date. Can you please escort Mr Kelly from the chamber?
2:54 Kelly leaves.
She seemed to find Kelly irritating as indeed might I. For those who follow the spoof police documentary series Scot Squad, his style of delivery is akin to ‘Bobby,’ the naïf who constantly visits his local police station to bring some imagined public misdemeanour to the attention of desk sergeant ‘officer Karen.’ He’s certainly no mace wielding Michael Heseltine nor tyro Alex Salmond shouting at the then chancellor of the exchequer. Both, for those much greater offences, were excluded from the Commons.
His style of course is nothing to do with his point of order. I’d love to know what it was. Unfortunately, he wasn’t allowed to make it, nor did the presiding officer actually say why she wouldn’t let him make it, merely challenging him as to what it was then escalating rapidly, and I paraphrase, to ‘Sit doon, shut up, say sorry, get oot.’
It was a curious performance on both sides but the greater authority and responsibility rested with the presiding officer, who had her way, as is of course proper in the bigger scheme of things. But it all seemed a far cry from the BBC profile of her pre-referendum, when their reporter found her ‘funny, warm, articulate and tenacious.’ On the basis of this incident I can understand ‘tenacious’ but didn’t observe the rest. How differently I suspect John Bercow, the speaker of the Commons, would have handled a similar situation.
Bercow and Marwick have one thing in common. As speaker/presiding officer they have, temporarily at least, to resign their party affiliations while they hold their office. But you can never quite get over the feeling that all the SNP parliamentary office holders – ministers, committee chairs, yes, even presiding officer – bear a larger loyalty to their party than any other institution. Scotland’s parliamentary system is badly in need of some balancing mechanism to restrain what is at least for the while the juggernaut of the SNP.