Although COVID-19 is still very much the major news story, Parliament last week debated some fundamentally important questions.
The SNP got the chance to choose the topic for one day’s debate. We asked Parliament to call on the UK Government to accept the EU’s offer to extend the Brexit transition period as so much vital negotiating time and preparation time has been lost due to the Covid-19 crisis. It was no surprise that the Tories voted this down but what was astonishing was that Labour didn’t turn up for either the debate or the vote. The Lib Dems, who claim to support an extension, spent most of their speeches attacking the SNP and when the vote was called fewer than half the Lib Dem MPs voted for what’s supposed to be their policy.
That same day the UK Government privately briefed the press about a new “White Paper” on what the Tories have chosen to call the UK “Single Market”. This was a serious breech of Parliament’s own rules as any major announcement like this must be made to Parliament first. The White Paper claims to be about protecting all our interests after the Tories drag us out of the EU Transition Period in December, but in fact it’s about stripping away the powers of the devolved national parliaments and assemblies. The UK Government are proposing to set up an unelected quango that could overturn a decision of any of the devolved governments if the UK Government thinks it might affect trade. The SNP have pointed out that if this had been in place before, it would have been able to overturn Scotland’s decisions on free university tuition, the ban on smoking in public places, and minimum pricing of alcohol. More worryingly, the same quango would have the power to overturn the current Scottish Government ban on privatisation of big chunks of our NHS.
There’s increasing debate around the UK Government’s plans to spend £4 billion on renovations to the Houses of Parliament. While nobody would disagree with the need to repair and maintain the buildings, there must be questions about spending so much money on it at this time, especially when there’s not even any guarantee that they would use the opportunity to make the building fit to host a modern democratic parliament.
Finally, the UK Parliament is about to “rise” for a four-week recess. Sadly, I won’t be able to do my usual round of summer surgeries and visits, but my team and I will continue to deal with constituent queries. I’m hoping, however, that my staff will be able to get some well-earned and much needed time off.