Saying Scotland could do better if it had independence just isn’t enough

  • First published in : Visit Website
  • First published on: 01st Apr 2022

If you watched PMQs this week you will have seen several of my SNP colleagues ask very pertinent questions. Carol Monaghan on why Westminster is punishing Scotland’s renewable sector with exorbitant grid connection charges, Chris Stephens on why the UK Government has cut food waste funding to zero, and Patricia Gibson on the Tories abandonment of their manifesto promise on the triple lock on pensions.

What you won’t have seen is anything resembling a pertinent answer. This is a recurring problem in House of Commons question times but it’s worse at PMQs because the non-answers are usually peppered with a good few lies. Fact checking PMQs has become a full-time job.  

Having Boris Johnson as PM means we have a moral void at the heart of British politics. It’s not just that someone who lies and dissembles as a matter of course has been promoted to high office, it’s that he continues there without any consequences for his actions. He should never have survived being found to have prorogued parliament unlawfully. That he was not held accountable for such a shocking attack on our democracy shows that there is something badly wrong with our system. That he went on to win an election does not cancel out what went before but it has emboldened him. For, as we all know, he has form.

Before he became PM and misled the Queen, parliament, and the courts, about the reasons for the prorogation he had lost his job as a journalist on the Times for making up stories and as a shadow minister for lying about an extra-marital affair. As editor of the Spectator, he lied about the victims of the Hillsborough disaster. His casual attitude towards facts as Foreign Secretary added years to Nazanin Zagari Radcliffe’s sentence in Iran and of course his lies about the savings to be made by leaving the EU helped deliver Brexit which is now having such a disastrous effect on the British economy.  Boris Johnson’s lies have destroyed lives, reputations, and livelihoods.

On partygate he insisted for weeks that no rules had been broken. An enterprising journalist at Business Insider has identified that he did so on no less than 39 occasions.

It is particularly significant that some of these occasions took place in the House of Commons. As Robert Peston said earlier this week the fact that fines have been handed out now establishes beyond doubt that No 10 was party central during the covid lockdowns. So, when the PM told the House of Commons that there were no parties, and no rules were broken he misled MPs. British constitutional convention dictates that if a minister does that knowingly he or she should resign.  Personally, I have no doubt he did so knowingly because that is what he does. But there is no sign of him going.

At the Liaison Committee this week, Pete Wishart suggested that if Johnson himself gets a fixed penalty notice he will be toast. I am not so sure. We seem to be in a very different place from where we were just a few weeks ago when everyone was obsessed with how many letters the 1922 committee had received.  The war in Ukraine may have saved Johnson. The fact that so many Tory MPs chose to party on the very day that the first batch of partygate fines were handed down tells you all you need to know about how seriously they are taking this situation now.

If being PM at the time when the people of Ukraine are suffering so grievously has saved him then it’s a rich irony that on the one thing he could really do to help the Ukrainian people he has so abysmally failed. Perhaps his most egregious lie this week was when he told one of his own Tory backbenchers that visas for Ukrainian refugees who want to take advantage of the sponsorship scheme are being processed at the rate of 1,000 a day and that 25,000 have already been issued. In fact, the UK has granted only 2,700 visas under the Homes for Ukraine scheme and the remaining 22,800 visas have been issued to Ukrainians seeking to join relatives under the Ukraine family scheme. The rate of processing of the sponsorship scheme visas is as any MP will tell you grindingly slow. 28,300 applications have been submitted under the sponsorship scheme but only 2,700 have been processed. The scheme opened on 14 March. Did Johnson tell the truth when he said 1,000 are being processed a day? You do the maths.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Government stands ready to take more than our fair share of the refugees who want to come to the UK, but their hands are tied by the red tape of the Home Office and the dogged insistence on visas. Across Europe other countries are taking in way more Ukrainians fleeing the war than the UK and not delaying matters with visa applications. Boris Johnson is bragging about schemes that are mere window dressing in comparison.

It is immoral.  Yet, its trite to say Scotland could do better than this with independence. Readers of this paper know that. What they want to hear is a plan and the policies that together will deliver independence and the reality of doing things differently to Johnson when it comes to the big moral and humanitarian challenges of our time. Saying there will be an indyref next year is not enough. As well as the answers to the hard questions which we all know will be asked about borders, currency, EU accession etc. during a campaign proper, we also need to be proceeding with a policy agenda at Holyrood that prepares the ground for independence and demonstrating that in Scotland, even under devolution, we do things differently.

Last week when I wrote about how executive accountability at Holyrood could be improved, many of the readers who chose to leave comments seemed to think this could wait for independence. I disagree. Doing things better than Westminster doesn’t have to wait for independence. It should be an ongoing project. It’s our parliament and if it too is failing to hold the executive to account properly there are things we could do to improve it right now. We don’t need to wait for independence.  That Boris Johnson is beyond compare when it comes to evading responsibility for his actions does not mean that we too could not do better in our parliament. 

Joanna Cherry QC MP

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