It is indisputable that the new group of 56 SNP Members of Parliament have made their mark. What started as a battle for seats ended with major victories and an impression that they may well be the de facto official opposition at least until Labour selects their new leader.
A great deal has already occurred since the general election. Within this first session the Government:
- Was forced to re-think their approach on English Votes for English Laws (EVEL)
- u-turned on the EU referendum being on the same day as the Scottish Parliament election
- postponed any possible repeal of the Human Rights Act
- postponed the vote to relax the fox hunting ban in England and Wales
While not the sole effort of the SNP, it showed – particularly on the issue of fox hunting – how very fragile the Conservative majority actually is.
Previously SNP MPs voted on English only matters if it had a discernible ‘Barnett consequential’ or in layman’s terms if the bill had a financial knock on effect for the Scottish Budget. The reason for this policy change is directly linked to the UK Government’s refusal to accept any amendments proposed by any party to the Scotland Bill during committee stages. SNP Westminster Leader Angus Robertson said this policy change will remind the ‘arrogant UK government of just how slender their majority is’.
The Conservatives of course can hope to secure enough votes for their EVEL plans and avoid a defeat in the future but the willingness of the SNP to play serious hardball was made clear. To use an industry term the UK Government has an ‘optics’ problem when viewed from north of the border: when your sole MP from Scotland blocks what the other 58 want it doesn’t look good. Perhaps in recognition of this Secretary of State for Scotland David Mundell has said he will ‘reflect’ on possible amendments that could be made at report stage when parliament returns. Sounds like a fun summer for the team at Dover House and Melville Crescent.
Pressure on Labour
Further votes in the Commons were cleverly triangulated by the SNP to put the rudderless Labour Party under serious pressure in Scotland. The SNP couldn’t believe their good fortune when interim leader Harriet Harman called on her party not to vote against Welfare Reform Bill at second reading. Only a few days later the Labour Party failed to submit a reasoned amendment to the Finance Bill, or indeed vote against it. Whether this was a major oversight or political posturing the net result for the SNP is manna from heaven.
The impact of the group is even more impressive given that their new presence on every single select committee hasn’t yet been felt – it will be another avenue for them to get their message across once the committees start meeting regularly. This combined with a willingness to vote on issues pertaining to England, Wales and all of the UK means that the SNP will truly be full spectrum players in Westminster.
Planning for 2016
However the SNP have a challenging summer and autumn ahead. While Alex Salmond’s statement that another independence referendum is ‘inevitable’ is nothing new to followers of Scottish media, pressure is growing for First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to clarify whether a commitment to a referendum will be included in the party’s 2016 manifesto. Also on the agenda is the hotly debated issue of the moratorium on fracking – the SNP is facing calls from within its own party to set out more detail on what that actually entails.
The party’s conference in October in Aberdeen will be their biggest ever and while it will undoubtedly be a celebratory atmosphere it will also be the chance for many of those seeking nomination to be MSPs to have a big party platform. It is also the first opportunity for many of the new 100,000 plus party members to really start making their voices heard. With unparalleled levels of interest from the third sector and business, questions over the possibility of a further referendum, and new faces looking to make their mark it will not only be the largest but also one of the most important conferences the SNP has ever had.
By: Luke Skipper