I had an unplanned extra week at home last week after I was floored by a respiratory virus. My covid tests were negative and the worst of it cleared by the middle of the week but by the time I was fit to travel it was nearly time to come back up the road. I didn’t envy colleagues who had to make the journey during the tail end of Storm Isha; almost none of them made it down in time for the start of business on the Monday afternoon.
The previous week we saw the full force of the UK government’s brutality as they forced through their “Rwanda Bill” despite being told it was illegal under international law. The SNP took the unusual step of forcing individual votes on each clause of the bill, much to the annoyance of Tory MPs who had to troop through the lobbies when I’m sure they had important drinks receptions to attend.
In total the House of Commons spent just under four hours that week just hanging around waiting for votes to be counted. In most parliaments it would have taken about half an hour. This doesn’t just affect MPs. Scores of staff members have to stop what they’re doing as soon as a vote is called. Witnesses giving evidence to committees have to wait until the MPs come back from the votes. Some lifts and escalators are out of bounds for staff members in case they get in the way of MPs. Senior Tory MPs tell me the “lobby” voting system is a good thing because MPs can buttonhole Ministers who have nowhere to hide. These same Tory MPs are the ones who cheer the loudest every time a Minister dodges questions from MPs.
I supported a Bill from my constituency neighbour Neale Hanvey to give the Scottish Parliament the right to decide whether and when Scotland’s people should be asked again if we want to be independent. Not surprisingly parliament took the rare step of refusing even to allow Neale to present his Bill to be debated. What might surprise some people was that it was the Liberal Democrats who led the opposition to the Bill, providing the only speaker against it who waxed lyrical about how well we do out of the Union. A few hours later another Lib Dem MP led a debate on how the cost of living crisis is affecting pensioners – a crisis that is largely caused by allowing someone else to run our economy and is made worse by “great” Britain having one of the meanest state pensions in Europe.