Nowt so queer as MPs

I actually didn’t know I cared quite so much.

I blogged on equal marriage before and my attitude then was one largely of bemused indifference.

But tonight, watching the result of the 2nd reading of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) bill nearly live on Channel 4 News, when it was announced that the ayes had it – by 400 to 175 – I cheered.  Despite its name, for I’d much prefer to think of it as an equal marriage bill.

Yes, history is well on its way to being made.  And what interesting history we are carving out here, not least because of what the detail of who voted for and who didn’t tells us.  Frankly, there’s nowt so queer as MPs.

There’s wee Sarah Teather, the only non-liberal liberal in the village, who despite having supported the idea of equal marriage, somewhat loudly and proudly, found that when it came to actually voting for it, her conscience forbade it.  Her conversion to the Cornerstone club is quite a coup.

A handful of Liberal Democrat MPs also abstained, some with genuine reason to do so.

And then there’s all those Conservative MPs.  Including, according to the Westminster rumour mill, a handful defending the sanctity of marriage while having adulterous affairs and some even engaged in clandestine gay relationships.  So many of them that more actually voted against government policy than for it, leaving David Cameron with a huge problem.  It might have been a free vote but he now has a significant rump of his backbenchers having scented and now tasted blood.

The scale of the Conservative opposition to this bill is quite breath-taking and clearly the modernisation project isn’t working.  If this is the fluffy face of the Tories, heaven help us when they decide to get nasty.  Except they already have with welfare reform.

The biggest disappointment was allowing this to proceed as a free vote – a conscience vote, as Francis Maude styled it.  Yet, this is government policy.  And since when did a matter of equality require a conscience behind it?  You either are a rights respecting legislature or you are not, and clearly the Conservatives would rather not be.

But what does any of it mean for Scotland?

First, a sizeable number of Scottish MPs either abstained or voted against and as a result, Scotland must run Northern Ireland close for having the largest percentage of non-supporters of any geographical block.  Lord Thurso and Charles Kennedy were absent from the vote – for apparently legitimate reasons.

And in a peculiarly male, pale and stale roll call of dishonour, step forward the living embodiment of unreconstructed Scottish man in the Labour ranks, in the form of Brian Donohoe, Frank Roy, Jim Sheridan, Tom Clarke, Michael McCann and Jim McGovern.  Each conforming to stereotype and voting against equal marriage.  Also abstaining or absent from the vote were Dame Anne Begg, Jim Hood and a certain Gordon Brown.  No doubt they all had proper excuses, though it would be interesting to hear the former Prime Minister’s in particular.

Second, the SNP MPs all abstained.  Pete Wishart MP tweeted this afternoon that “The SNP won’t be voting on the Westminster same sex marriage bill because none of it affects Scotland and we have our own legislation“.  For a long time, the SNP held firm to the principle of not voting on Westminster bills which were exclusively or largely related only to England and Wales.  But that principle was breached by the group voting against the hike in tuition fees.  At first glance, the decision by the party and the group appears to make sense – this equal marriage bill is largely for England and Wales and Scotland is currently consulting on its own bill.

But thanks to the eagle eyes of Martin McCluskey – admittedly, a Labour and union staffer but that doesn’t make his spot any less accurate – this bill has specific provisions affecting Scots and will apply to Scots serving in the armed forces, for example, as well as providing for cross-border matters.  Which means that any couple married in England or Wales who then moves to live in Scotland is entitled to continue to be married under the law:  the couple won’t have to go through the ceremony twice, unless of course, they fancy a wee Hielan waddin just for the thrill of it.

So not only has the SNP re-instated a principle, but the group has ignored that the bill does apply to Scots.  The reason is why?

The only logical conclusion is that some in the group were discomfited at the prospect of voting for something they did not agree with.  Had they exercised their consciences and cast a no vote – particularly if a majority of the six did so – it would have caused trouble for their own government here in Scotland, which has, after lengthy consultation and consideration, come down on the side of supporting equal marriage.  The way to avoid an unnecessary stushie was to abstain on the grounds set out.

All of this has important lessons for Scotland.  There is clearly a body of socially conservative opinion among parliamentarians, most of it dressed in a suit, on such equality matters, which raises the prospect of a significant rebellion when the Scottish bill comes to Holyrood, especially if it is allowed to proceed on a free rather than a whipped vote.  There will be some in Labour’s ranks who will vote no, but significantly, there are as many if not more MSPs in the SNP ranks who might oppose the bill.

If the SNP couldn’t persuade all of its MPs to vote for the Westminster bill – and allowed them to abstain instead – then it has set a precedent to allow some of its MSPs, including some Ministers with previous form on matters of gay equality, to vote against or at least, abstain on its own bill.  And depending on the size of that vote, the Scottish Government might well find itself in the same choppy waters as the UK one:  having to rely on opposition votes to secure a victory.  For political anoraks like me, it’s fascinating stuff.

But it is all rather dispiriting that in the 21st Century, we have significant numbers of elected representatives out of step with societal attitudes, prepared to put their consciences before their duty to all their constituents, and dress up prejudice and intolerance in a range of guises.  And political parties which still refuse to treat LGBT rights, justice and equality as matters of policy.

One MP, however, stands above them all;  one who has not yet been named and shamed;  one whose behaviour in voting against this bill is an act of betrayal and of laying waste to the legacy he was bequeathed.  Iain McKenzie, Scottish Labour MP for Inverclyde, claimed he was voting against equal marriage because his constituents did not support it.  The man is a disgrace.  For he made this tawdry excuse in full knowledge that he is MP for an area which previously voted for a former Catholic priest who was openly gay when elected and in a longterm relationship with his partner, which he confirmed in a civil partnership.  And whose partner, I understand, encouraged Iain McKenzie to vote for this bill.

Iain McKenzie said on his election that “If I can serve my constituents half as well as David, I shall be doing well indeed.”  Well, here is the news Mr McKenzie.  You can’t and you won’t ever.  You are the worst kind of politician who pretended to be something you clearly are not in order to secure your sinecure.

You have trampled all over the memory of a fine and principled politician.  You aren’t fit to lace David Cairns’s boots.

33 thoughts on “Nowt so queer as MPs

  1. Pingback: Undecided Scot decides | Edinburgh Eye

  2. I’ve not seen any specific comment from the SNP MPs about this but there is no question that the West Lothian question did still apply to the bill. There were 2 elements to the bill – 1 which was exclusively about English and Welsh law and one which applied to UK citizens abroad. Your blog here implies ignores the fact that it is undemocratic for non-English/Welsh MPs to vote on the former and in doing so misses that it could be argued that abstaining from the vote was the right thing to do from a democratic fairness point of view.

    The thing here is that the UK government could easily have sidestepped the West Lothian question by putting forward the bill in 2 parts – one which was exclusive to England & Wales and one which applied to all UK. The outcome would surely have been the same but the democracy of the process would have been more sound. As it was, I can see a validity to both sides of the argument for voting or abstaining.

    However, as for the argument of whether the bill should have been passed or not – I believe the only valid argument for parliamentarians won the day there and I’m happy that the bill was passed so emphatically, despite the failings of the process.

  3. As ever, a good piece, Kate, and on the whole fair. However, as one of the SNP MPs who abstained last night I am happy to clarify that I support same sex marriage, and support the process ongoing at Holyrood to legislate for Scotland. This is a devolved policy area; I respect the right of the Scottish Parliament to legislate on same sex marriage, and expect MSPs to tailor robust legislation for Scotland in due course. As a point of principle, I don’t vote in the House of Commons on legislation for England and Wales- the only exceptions to that have been where there were significant implications for Scotland (eg. significant knock-on financial impacts through the Barnett formula). Not everyone will agree with that stance, but I hope they will at least respect its consistency.

  4. My understanding is that SNP voted on the hike in tuition fees because the Barnett consequential would have reduced funding to Scotland.
    As far as I can see the SSM Bill does not affect Scotland or Scottish law.
    Overall your comments on the SNP just seem to be a bit of casual SNP bashing.

  5. Iain Mackenzie is a disgrace to Inverclyde. What exactly were his motives for voting against equal marriage…. Wait a minute, I think I can guess.

  6. It saddens me that this post largely skims over all the Tory MPs who actually voted against the bill, instead devoting most time to SNP abstentions.

    You ignore the fact that the SNP abstention was wholly consistent with past policy, then go on to imply that it was because they’re secret bigots.

    I think we should all wait until the Holyrood vote before jumping to conclusions.

  7. A great post.

    I agree with every single word.

  8. The last three paragraphs just make no sense at all. A haphazard conflation of unrelated and irrelevant issues.

  9. The legislation has precisely no effective impact on Scottish legislation. But it is telling that you so readily take Martin McCluskey’s word over Pete Wishart’s. Why would that be?

  10. My understanding of the SNP’s Westminster voting protocols was that they only voted on reserved matters and matters which affect the Barnett consequentials. So they voted against tuition fees because the associated reduction in funding for English universities means Scotland gets less in the block grant. So I’m not sure it’s a case of sort of conveniently remembering their stance on non-reserved matters in that respect.

    That said, considering the SNP MSPs who have so far suggested they’ll vote against it in Holyrood, it would not surprise me in the slightest if there wasn’t unanimous support across the 6 MPs. Eilidh Whiteford would surely be in favour, as I suspect would Pete Wishart, and I’d like to think Angus Bobson and Stewart Hosie would be too, although I have no real reason to think so other than a hunch. I don’t know enough about Mike Weir to say one way or the other, so I won’t speculate. I would, however, be surprised if the other Angus was in favour. I don’t know if he’s a Wee Frees man himself, but I suspect he’d be deluged with letters from constituents who are, making their opposition heard loud and clear. It certainly seems like it’s those sort of MSPs that will end up voting against in Holyrood, which is a shame.

    • Both Angus McNeil and Alasdair Allan would lose their seats if they supported equal marriage.If people are certain that they would be prepared to lose their job and, for a politician almost as importantly, hand their constituency on a plate to the opposition, then they have every right to condemn them.

      • I think on balance they made the right decision but I do think had they all supported equal marriage, they would have voted. Bits of it do apply so to use non application as the reason is wrong. The blog aimed to show how complex an issue this is and how a short term fix can create problems down the line. SNP MSPs now have right to claim a free vote here and as I point out, that could bring a whole lotta trouble for the govt. no party better at fixing the apparently insoluble so we’ll see! Interesting times ahead.

      • I’m not condemning them! Just the reason put out for not voting! And pondering the consequences of a non vote for Scottish bill. Incidentally, it’s still SNP policy I think, for full equality for all. Cant recall an exception on marriage tho might have been added since. Policy made by Roseanna and Pete W…

      • It’s certainly an unenviable position to be in. Luckily such communities will be in the minority overall, but it’s still a shame that allowances need to be made for what is essentially petty homophobia.

        Personally, when I read some of the “Adam & Eve, not Adam & Steve” type arguments that were going on yesterday in the HoC, I long for the day people stop believing religious hogwash.

      • The next general election in which Angus McNeil and Alasdair Allan *could* lose their seats at Westminster is May 2015.

        Isn’t there supposed to be something or other happening in autumn 2014 which could in theory make SNP MPs keeping their seats a moot point?

        Or you reckon they’re just damn sure that Scotland’s going to vote No and don’t see any point in losing their place on the Westminister gravy train?

  11. This is a really poor analysis of the SNP Westminster group’s decision not to vote. As you point out, the SNP has a long-standing policy of not voting in matters that don’t affect Scotland.

    No exception was made for the tuition fees vote; in the SNP statement that you link to it is explained that the SNP MPs voted on tuition fee sat Westminster because it

    “will have a direct impact on the future of higher education in Scotland as the 80% cuts being made to the Higher Education teaching grant in England have a Barnett consequential.”

    Direct Barnett consequentials have always been one of the reasons SNP MPs may choose to vote on legislation that doesn’t otherwise impact Scotland, That’s not the case here so they didn’t vote.

    There’s no indication there that it was due to any reticence to support the principle of the Bill among the SNP MPs who are, I think, all on record as supporting equal marriage.

    One final point, the UK Bill does not provide for same sex couples married in England & Wales to “to continue to be married under the law” in the way you suggest. Right now, civil partnerships in Scotland are automatically recognised under English & Welsh law and vice versa. Under the proposed legislation the Secretary of State can designate some (or all) same sex marriages conducted in England & Wales to simultaneously have the same status as if the ceremony had been a civil partnership and so be recognised as a civil partnership in Scotland i.e. it keeps things as they are now: civil partnerships are mutually recognised in both jurisdictions.

    • No they are not all on record as such. This bill does impact on scots and people yet to live here so to use the WLQ was a convenient excuse. I get why they didn’t vote and understand, if don’t agree with it. But this decision has potential to cause trouble for Scottish govt on own bill. See response above.

  12. I think that you are straining at a gnat. The Bill was very much an England and Wales Bill and given that Scotland is going to get its own Act in due time the MPs were right to abstain.
    If you believe that same sex marriage is a question of equality then of course it is non negotiable. However if you wonder how calling the experience which homosexuals will go through in marriage will make it effectively different from Civil Partnership, and you see that there is a certain logic in what Sarah Teather wrote, then perhaps it is a question on which there should be freedom of conscience. Personally I think that those who opposed Civil Partnerships were evil, and I believe that it should be possible for people to celebrate them in a Religious context. However I still have intellectual problems about same sex marriage.

    • However if you wonder how calling the experience which homosexuals will go through in marriage will make it effectively different from Civil Partnership

      1. Equalising pension rights – civil partners are treated unequally by pension companies.
      2. International recognition: a marriage is recognised in countries where a civil partnership is not.
      3. No more forced divorce for couples where one is trans.

      “Separate but equal” is a fraud, as one MP put it so eloquently last night.

  13. There’s nowt so queer as some of the MPs noted above who are gay but voted against.
    It’s called cowardice generally.
    The suggestion that MPs should know the views of all his/her constituent and vote accordingly is specious. Apart from the fact that consituents hold a wide variety of contradictory views on many issues we would be in bit of difficulty I suspect on the death penalty if that was the case

  14. As I understand it this is an England & Wales only bill. Scottish Parliament will take areas which apply. I am sure there has been a reverse Sewel before, hasn’t there? Bit hazy about the finer points of legislation I must admit!

  15. Why does Iain Mackenzie have to vote for same sex marriage because David Cairns was the previous MP?

    Why does the fact that Inverclyde voted for an openly gay MP mean that they are necessarily on favour of gay marriage?

    • If you don’t know the answer to those questions, then you understand nothing of politics in Scotland. And in particular, party politics and how candidate selections work.

      On the second question, how can an MP claim to know the views of every single one of his constituents. By past form, the good people of Inverclyde had shown a tolerance on similarly related matters which suggests they would have been quite relaxed about their MP supporting such a policy. McKenzie dressed this up to suit his own beliefs. But had to disguise that because of the betrayal that represents to all those members of David’s family and circle of friends who worked like fury to make sure the seat was not lost to the SNP. Because they felt that they owed that to David. Iain McKenzie clearly has no such sense of loyalty or honour.

      • What a depressing (and quite unnecessarily insulting) answer.

        Iain Mackenzie represents Inverclyde. If, and I accept it’s an if, he was of the firm view that his constituents believed he should vote No as their MP, you still think he should have voted Yes in memory of David Cairns?

        If there’s evidence, as you seem to suggest in your comment, that Inverclyde is a progressive, pro gay marriage place then I’d agree with you more but your original blog post didn’t mention that.

        Anyway, I still think it’s worth making the point that representative democracy doesn’t (or shouldn’t) allow for Westminster votes to be favours to activists or former MP’s family/friends.

      • The point is had anyone around that by election selection in labour an inkling that McKenzie would do this, he wouldn’t have been selected. He owes them because they selected him and worked like fury to get him elected, because he was David’s successor. Which is the fault line in our representative democracy admittedly but it is how it is. He knows not what a majority of his constituents think, he used that as paltry excuse to exert his own opinion and belief on the matter. That’s the hypocrisy and having given different impression of beliefs to get the seat, his betrayal. We may not like it, but it’s how party politics works presently. This was no higher purpose vote than to indulge his own prejudices and it’s shoddy.

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