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By Jason Michael
Scotland must eat its cereal. By rejecting independence in 2014 on the promise that a No vote was the only way to stay in the EU we have learned the hard way that being an “equal member” of the UK means being a silent, powerless partner.
During the ongoing debate on the EU Bill – Westminster’s finalisation of the issues that will lead to the triggering of Article 50, starting the negotiations with Brussels that will take the United Kingdom out of the European Union – only two SNP MPs were given time to put forward the concerns of Scotland. All hell broke out in response. While still on her feet Joanna Cherry was railroaded by the deputy speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, who point blank refused to give the MP for Edinburgh South West anywhere near the same time as Government and Labour MPs had been given to make their case for England. No one in the House would be allowed defend Scotland.
Raising a point of order Alex Salmond reminded Hoyle in no uncertain terms that the speaker “cannot reinterpret the wishes of an honourable member who is on her feet,” but this was to no avail; the Scottish National Party – the party that represents 95 percent of Scotland at Westminster – would be forced to sit down, shut up, and – as per usual – listen to the English agenda. All that the former First Minister was to be given from the chair was a command to “sit down” before he insinuated that Mr. Salmond had used unparliamentary language – which he had not. No matter, this was for the benefit of a useful soundbite for the Tory press.
So what’s the problem with a small party being given such little say and its members being spoken to like children? Certainly in the context of the House of Commons the SNP is a small group – having only won 56 seats in a 650 seat House. That is not more than 8.6 percent of the British parliament, and viewed solely in the context of the United Kingdom the SNP is fortunate to have been given two speaking slots in the first place. But there is a lot more to it than this. Scotland is neither a county nor a region of the UK. Scotland is a nation, a country in its own right – and as such, being one of the two kingdoms proper that constitute the United Kingdom, it is an “equal member” in this community of nations. Its less than ten percent representation in the Commons and its negligible platform are a far cry from anything approximating equality.
Devolution was supposed to address this imbalance of equality, but what we have learned from Brexit – when Scotland resoundingly rejected leaving the EU – is that the Scottish Parliament has precisely a zero percent share of power. We find ourselves now in a predicament where Scotland – as an equal member of the UK – rejected Brexit but has absolutely no power to stop it being dragged out of the EU because 53.4 percent of England voted Leave. This is not a United Kingdom of equals. This is an English state in which Scotland, Wales, and the North of Ireland are reduced to mere spectators to an English Westminster agenda. In this context Alex Salmond had every right to be fuming, and so does every powerless voter in Scotland.