Jeremy Corbyn had one of his best PMQs ever. Then it all went wrong. His witty use of Boris’s recent tape-recorded solecisms went down very well in the chamber. The evening news would surely have celebrated Mr Corbyn’s deftness at the despatch box. But he was undone by the publicity-burglar, Ian Blackford. The SNP leader in Westminster accused Mrs May of expropriating ’80 powers’ from Scotland. Mrs May pointed out that these powers were not being removed from but restored to Holyrood. Replying Mr Blackford said, a little vaguely, ‘I ask that this house now sit in private.’
Some procedural kerfuffle ensued. Mr Bercow asked him to formalise his request since it would entail a debate and a vote immediately. Was that his intention? It was, said Mr Blackford. Mr Bercow looked very unhappy but seemed unable to over-rule him.
‘My view is that it is better for the vote to be conducted at the conclusion of questions to the prime minister.’
Mr Blackford, hungering for trouble, declined this advice and said, ‘I beg to move,’ the formula that initiates a debate.
Now there was chaos. For nearly nine minutes Mr Bercow appeared to have lost control of the playground. Whispered conversations were held between the bewigged clerks. Notes were passed to and fro. Mr Bercow tried to calm the house by bellowing instructions and comments in all directions. He yelled ‘Order’ about fifteen or twenty times. Eventually, after failing to get Mr Blackford to ‘resume his seat’, he finally restored discipline.
‘Withdraw immediately from the house for the remainder of this day’s sitting,’ he ruled. Mr Blackford waddled towards the exit followed by a grand exodus of SNP members. The monstrous chain-gang surged out into the streets, ravening for interviews. The TV stations duly obliged.
Unresolved was the issue of Mr Blackford’s request – granted by the chair – for a debate. ‘He chose,’ said the Speaker, ‘to put himself in a position where he would not be able to persist with that application.’
So having won an extraordinary concession – the right to a debate and a vote – Mr Blackford discarded it by getting himself ejected. Scottish members denounced his self-centred histrionics. ‘Pathetic and theatrical’, said Douglas Ross, PM for Moray. ‘A stunt,’ said the LibDems’ Andy Carmichael.
In any case, Mr Blackford has no interest in acquiring ‘80 powers’. His plan is to surrender them all, along with Scotland’s financial autonomy, to a continental super-state run by two unelected gravy-guzzlers from Luxembourg and Poland. So although he poses as a patriot Mr Blackford is really an Artful Dodger, picking his country’s pocket and fencing the stolen goods to a richer gang.
And the tantrum-prone SNP doesn’t realise how privileged Scotland is. Very few citizens in the UK have been given the chance to determine their constitution. Nobody in England has ever voted for the present system. In Scotland, everybody has. Twice. The Scots chose to have a devolved parliament at the 1997 referendum. They also opted to remain within the UK in the 2014 referendum. And where England uncomplainingly accepts a system it has never overtly endorsed, the SNP indulges in non-stop hysterics about a constitutional settlement agreed upon after two plebiscites. England notices this. Scotland, probably, notices it too. The Scots may not be keen to reward a lot of hissy-fit SNP politicians who are plotting to send them back to the polls, yet again, with orders to ‘get it right this time.’