The SNP contingent at Westminster has more than lived up to its billing of “stronger for Scotland”. It has fought tooth and nail on every bill before Parliament thus far, always packing its corner for debates and motions and showing what representation should be.
There’s of course been the rattling of the chains as well. Things like nicking Dennis Skinner’s seat and clapping in the chamber are as much a sign of good humour and mocking old and defunct institutions as they are of disrespect.
But last night the SNP message at Westminster turned a corner as they announced they would oppose the Government’s planned repeal of the fox-hunting ban.
Now don’t get me wrong at all, fox-hunting is an archaic and barbaric excuse for a “sport” and one that shouldn’t still exist in the twenty-first century. It’s of a by-gone era that should be the demonised relic of the past that it has been for the last x years. Even though it somehow snuck into the Tory manifesto for 2015, it’s exceptionally hard to argue that the Conservative majority is a mandate for re-introducing this ridiculous pursuit.
But here’s the rub. While the Conservatives campaigned on a platform that, however lightly, contained re-introducing fox-hunting – the SNP campaigned much more strongly on an ideal that they would vote only on Scottish issues, or on issues that affected Scotland’s budget.
That SNP ideal made perfect sense as a moral high ground along the lines of “we’ll not meddle with your affairs so long as you don’t meddle with ours”. Even though the SNP strongly oppose the English Votes for English Laws (ironically acronymed EVEL), that makes sense – Scottish MPs losing voice over significant budget issues that affect Scotland is definitely something that they should fight against with their “stronger for Scotland” message.
Fox-hunting is neither a Scottish issue or a budgetary one. It has been banned in Scotland since 2002, when Labour introduced legislation here before doing so in the rest of the UK. And as strange and weird and plain wrong as it is that a modern-day Government is going to bring back terrorising and killing innocent animals in the name of a jolly good time – it’s something that they can do and should be allowed to do.
As much as an injustice as fox-hunting is, voting on the issue will cripple part of the SNP’s well-earned integrity so far. Of course they have a right to vote on it – they’re UK MPs and should be allowed to vote in the UK Parliament – but when part of your argument and your overall message is that you’re there to stand up for Scotland then it’s not a smart move. This is a back-track, and needs to be seen as such. During the General Election debates Nicola Sturgeon even called out fox-hunting as an issue the SNP wouldn’t vote on if they were elected to Westminster. That’s turned out to be untrue. Banning fox-hunting might be backed by a majority of Scots (and Brits in general) at the moment, and that will support the SNP’s new plans to tighten up the legislation here in Scotland, but that support won’t carry an election on its own – while a backlash from the Westminster parties targeted against the SNP very well could.
For now, with the course surely set by Angus Robertson and his 55 colleagues, the best result is that the fox-hunting repeal goes up in smoke. The decision is thought to based off the notion that they’d have backing from Labour, the other parties and some backbench Tories that are to vote with conscience rather than ideology. If the SNP’s intervention is a success, then they have been the “progressive voice” and championed the cause of the left as they are wont to do.
The only problem is that even in that best case scenario, the position of the SNP is going to be weakened in the eyes of the other UK parties and the media too. This is a stick to beat them with when there is far bigger battles to be had – such as over the devastating cuts made to welfare this week, the new Scotland Bill that is a weaker version of the already diluted Smith Commission plans and the EVEL legislation that, while on hold, threatens to make Scottish MPs second-class. Being belligerent here is on the side of good, but politically and constitutionally it’s a losing game. The fate and destiny of our nation’s representation shouldn’t be jeopardised by being the fox in the coop.
The SNP have been a breath of fresh air so far. I’m just hoping that fox-hunting isn’t the issue that turns the gust towards them.
Update 12:51pm – The SNP’s decision to oppose the fox-hunting legislation in tomorrow’s debate appears to have sufficiently rattled the Tories into postponing it. While this is appears to be a victory for the SNP, without even having to cast a vote, it still remains that the SNP have shown their hand when it comes to what they will and won’t do in Parliament. This could still prove costly further on down the line, but for now at least the SNP have got the better of things.