The tartan mist came down in a conga line of crazy crossness in the House of Commons: QUENTIN LETTS watches as the Speaker’s authority withers away
Foregoing their usual sunny optimism, the entire Scots Nat contingent at Westminster stomped out of PMQs, stabbing angry fingers at the London air and yelling – until their tonsils all but dangled outside their gnashers – as they did so.
One out, all out! The SNP’s leader here, Ian Blackford, had just been booted out by Speaker Bercow for refusing to accept the authority of the Chair. Up and off they went, every SNP Member in the Chamber following one another in file towards the double doors. It was a conga line of crazy crossness. The old tartan mist had come down.
‘*%”$!*%!!’ they screamed. Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh SW) gave a disobliging gesture to the Speaker. Angus MacNeil (Western Isles) and Tommy Sheppard (Edinburgh E) huffed and puffed, swinging shoulders like pub bouncers after trouble. Springy-footed Mhairi Black (Paisley & Renfrewshire S), in training shoes and punk-rock trousers, moved so close to Conservative MPs it seemed she was going to nut ’em.
Off they go: SNP MPs walk out during Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday as their Commons leader Ian Blackford is expelled
The back of the conga line was brought up by a grey-haired, soberly-suited MP who rather lacked his clan’s molten aggression. He settled for extending a pudgy hand and giving a shy little wave goodbye.
Up in the Chair, Speaker Bercow guppy-fish gasped, his voice failing. ‘Don’t tell me what the procedures are!’ he had croaked. Shades of the poor, late Michael Martin, who near the end of his Speakership, as his authority withered in similar fashion, was reduced to bawling ‘Don’t you tell me how to do my job!’.
The trouble had started after an exchange between Theresa May and Mr Blackford. The latter was unhappy that the previous day’s time-limited Brexit debate had not included a specific discussion about Scottish devolution.
After Mrs May gave what he felt was an unsatisfactory reply, Mr Blackford announced his intention to propose that the House immediately go into private session.
This is an obscure parliamentary wheeze used as a way of causing a hiccup in proceedings and thus gaining attention.
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We should not be entirely shocked if the whole protest was planned. Mr Bercow refused to accept Mr Blackford’s legitimate demand for an instant vote. Mr Blackford remained on his feet. ‘Sit down, young man,’ bawled Bercow. Young man, indeed! Blackford is older than the Squeaker. ‘No!’ shouted some SNP voices. Greatly incensed, they were clapping Mr Blackford.
When Mr Blackford refused to resume his seat, Bercow red-carded him. This meant he had to leave the parliamentary premises for the rest of the day, without pay.
Irresponsible of me, probably, but I do love a walkout. It caused mayhem with PMQs (which is these days not worth revering) and it created a stir, which is what politicians are surely meant to do. Here were the SNP, who so often disdain Donald Trump, succumbing to Trumpian histrionics. Good for them.
Up in the visitors’ gallery, a delegation from the Ukrainian parliament stared down, boggle-eyed. ‘Good griefski,’ they possibly thought, ‘and we thought OUR democracy was chaotic!’ The Tory Chief Whip was by now crouching beside the Clerk of the House, whose hair was askew.
Speaker Bercow flailed unexpectedly in these waters. He normally prides himself on knowing every arcane procedural gambit but this seemed to torpedo him. Come his biggest test, he froze.
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford, surrounded by the party’s MPs, in College Green, Westminster, after he was kicked out the House of Commons
Later, after recovering his wits, Mr Bercow dismissed the walkout as a ‘stunt’. The last time we had this sort of caper was a decade ago when Nick Clegg’s Lib Dems flounced out. They were cross that they were being denied a referendum on our membership of the EU. Times change. Maybe the Speakership should, too.
Amid all this rhubarbery, in the gallery opposite me, sat a couple with an infant. Carefully, and with great tenderness, they passed the baby to a young woman with them who had learning difficulties.
While the noise from below raged, I found myself transfixed by the look of complete wonder and happiness as this young woman held the tiny child. Parliament seldom felt so marginal.
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