The Blog

The Big House... From the Inside

The Government's travails with the SNP continue. This last week Mr Cameron and his friends were fully intent on changing the current arrangements on hunting and on English Votes for English Laws. But, spectacularly, they had to yield to the dreaded Scots, whilst at the same time performing acrobatic moves that would have easily won them a headlining place in the Moscow State Circus.

To a large extent they were the authors of their own troubles, having tried to avoid the extended parliamentary rough and tumble that always comes with contentious bills. For neither of these significant changes were to be achieved in the usual legislative way. Instead, they tried to alter House procedure in order to achieve EVEL, and to change the law on hunting through an order that would only warrant a brief debate would not be open to amendment.

The SNP were vehement about EVEL (as I mentioned last week) and the reply from Chris Grayling as the Leader of the House was as best feeble and confused. Eventually there was no debate at all on hunting (and it is not clear how Mr C will keep his election promise on the matter - or that he will even try). As a consequence we had an extended debate on EVEL, without a vote at the end, but with a promise to return to the issue in the Autumn.

Why is all this significant? To me it is an indicator of the high quality of the Scots' strategy and tactics and of their readiness to seize the moment.

I rather suspect that the two main parties had hoped that the SNP group of 56 would behave much as the former group of 6. The Scots though have grasped the opportunities that come from being the third party, not just another opposition group. They crowd the green benches. They respond to every statement in full. They take a place on every select committee and use their new strength in numbers with boldness. (As do the Tories and Labour of course*.)

There is much grumbling and fault finding amongst the habitues of the Tea Room. But rampant Labour and Conservative unionists can hardly complain that the SNP have committed themselves to the Westminster melee, given that they were so adamant during the referendum that Scotland should remain part of the 'nation'.

One shrewd veteran did venture to me that he was doubtful whether the SNP could sustain this momentum for 5 years. But whichever way things turn out it's going to be extremely interesting, and hopefully transformative for the old worn out Westminster way of doing things.


On Tuesday we had an interesting backbench debate on 'Diversity in public broadcasting'. A member from England had secured the debate and she made a good, if slightly predictable speech, about the position of women, black people, disabled people,0 people from the 'regions', older people and gay, bisexual and transgender people.

She did not mention language or culture. So I took the opportunity to raise the damaging uncertainty about S4C funding and the Welsh language broadcasters' virtues as the only one 'in the universe' that provides a service in Welsh. I also noted the gathering campaign by Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh language society).

The answer from the minister, alas, was also very much along the usual lines.

For my part I was also glad of the chance to point out that Radio Cymru excel in finding Welsh speakers for interviews in the far corners of the earth when there is, for example, a small earthquake in Peru, few injured. And I was especially pleased to mention BBC Radio Cymru and the Mafia in the same sentence, both being close to the communities that they .... serve, both knowing exactly where we live.


*As a kindness I do try to stop myself from mentioning the Liberal Democrats. Last week's Budget debate though demonstrated their mastery of parliamentary tactics. They called a vote on the last formal motion on the Budget, when everyone else had headed for the exit, and so lost by 327 to 6.

A version of this column appeared in the Welsh language newspaper Y Cymro on July 16th. Translation by Gwenno Hywel.