Not everything can or should be seen through the prism of constitutional politics. Yet, some, it would appear, are so caught up in that hothouse that they are failing to see what is in the common weal (to borrow a phrase).
This week’s Sunday Herald reported on the latest allegations facing Bill Walker and considered UK Government proposals to introduce a power of recall of MPs. (I’d post a link but it’s impossible to find). It follows Bill Walker’s refusal – some might say obduracy – to stand down following his expulsion from the SNP. The newspaper’s analysis revealed that the proposals as they currently stand would only apply to MPs and not to parliamentarians in any of the devolved jurisdictions.
It means that even if they wanted to, the people of Dunfermline could not rid themselves of their MSP. Unless he does the honourable thing and resign, they – and we – will be stuck with him until the next election. And that seems highly unlikely given his defiant stance to date.
So, opinion was canvassed. Lord George Foulkes rose to the challenge and declared that he would raise the matter in the House of Lords to try and get any UK bill extended to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Yet, bizarrely, both the Scottish Greens co-Convenor and an SNP MSP suggested that this was not something Westminster should legislate for. Patrick Green MSP said: “I certainly wouldn’t want Westminster to amend its bill so that it applies to the Scottish Parliament. Holyrood should be in control of its own rules.”
And James Dornan, MSP for Glasgow Cathcart, added: “Clearly, there are issues with these politicians, but these matters should be decided by Scotland’s Parliament.”
I don’t disagree with the principle being espoused. The Scottish Parliament should be in a position to legislate on all matters pertaining to its operation, including electoral arrangements. But that is some way off, no matter how hard some of us might wish it.
In the meantime, are they serious? That because Scotland lacks the constitutional powers for its Parliament, we should not take advantage of a legislative opportunity to fix a problem that has recently come to light?
Who cares who does it? Having blogged previously in favour of such a power of recall, what I want to know is how and when, with the emphasis being on a solution being found sooner than later.
Bill Walker’s sticking two fingers up at the democratic process – and also Eric Joyce’s – has exposed a fault line in that process. That once they are elected, we cannot rid ourselves of politicians we no longer want, or we consider no longer meet our standards. Clearly, with any legislation (whoever passes it) safeguards would have to be built into such a power to prevent frivolous attempts to remove sitting members. It is easy to see how it might be misused by parties or community groups with a bee in their bonnet.
The current stushie over wind farms is a case in point. If we had a power of recall, anti-windfarm campaigners, if they were feeling mischievous and were funded by the likes of Trump, could launch a campaign for the recall for high-profile supporters of renewable energy. Like the First Minister.
But safeguards could be provided. No matter where the legislation is passed.
Politicians would do well to remember that democracy is not theirs but ours. To be fair to the parties in this situation, and in particular, the SNP who pushed Bill Walker out – Eric Joyce resigned from Labour before he could be shoved out of the fold – they have done their bit. The SNP followed its disciplinary process and reached the obvious conclusion: there is no place for Bill Walker in its parliamentary grouping nor in its party. So, it should now do what it can to remove him from the Parliament too.
If there is no place for him in the party, there is no place for him in Holyrood. The sooner the electorate has powers to act to remove the likes of Walker from his comfy berth and salary the better. It should not matter which legislature gives it the tools to do the job.
Sometimes, there are more important and urgent matters to be considered than constitutional niceties. And politicians, especially those advocates of more powers for Holyrood, would do well to remember that. We don’t all inhabit the hothouse; some of us have to live in the real world.