Most political parties would be doing well to have a panellist on Question Time within three days of coming into existence. The Independent Group aren't even a party, but they managed it courtesy of Chris Leslie's appearance on the show last night. That prompted Ian Gibson to make a prediction on Twitter -
"And off we go. Watch as these 11 MPs rapidly rack up more appearances than the 35 SNP MPs."
Now, in fairness, Question Time often tries to be topical with its choice of guests, so perhaps it would have been odd if the Independent Group hadn't been represented this particular week. But it's certainly a point worth keeping a close eye on for the future. When it's observed that political coverage from the BBC and other broadcasters doesn't seem to reflect the fact that the SNP are by some distance the third-biggest party in the UK Parliament, we're often directed to the popular vote as a handy excuse - ie. across the UK, the SNP were outpolled by the Liberal Democrats in the 2017 election. That shouldn't cut any ice with anyone, because if the insanity of first-past-the-post is sometimes good enough to give us a government that 65% of people voted against, it ought to be more than good enough to decide who gets third-party status as far as the broadcasters are concerned (unless of course the establishment are trying to have their cake and eat it).
But if the Independent Group end up receiving more network TV coverage than the SNP, the broadcasters won't even have an excuse. The Liberal Democrats may have received almost 2.4 million votes at the 2017 election, but as things stand the Independent Group have received zero votes in any election that has ever been held. Constitutionally it's quite correct to say that, as individuals, the defecting MPs still technically represent the voters of their constituencies. But collectively, the Independent Group represent literally no-one, because no-one has ever voted for them or even had the chance to vote for them. Unlike the Lib Dems, the one and only basis on which the new group can possibly be receiving invitations onto programmes like Question Time is the number of seats they hold in the House of Commons - and the SNP hold more than three times as many seats. So if, over an extended period of weeks or months, the SNP appear on network TV less often than the Independent Group, something will have gone very seriously wrong. It'll be an open and shut case, and the broadcasters will have no conceivable defence. And yet I wouldn't be at all surprised if that's exactly what happens. We'll see.
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Ex-Labour MP Gavin Shuker (nope, me neither), now of the Independent Group, was interviewed yesterday about the possibility of propping up the Tory government, and said this -
"We need a general election like a hole in the head right now"
You're quite right, Gavin, you're in no fit state to fight an election just yet, and the chances are that all eleven of you would lose your seats. It would be utter carnage. What's that? Oh, when you said "we", you were referring to the British people and not your own self-interest? Ah yeah right, I'm with you now. Totally. I should have realised. Silly old me. *Winks*
Just a friendly piece of advice for the Independent Group - if you're seeking to enter into negotiations with Theresa May to win a People's Vote and other concessions in return for a confidence-and-supply deal, it's probably best not to publicly advertise on a daily basis just how petrified you are of facing a general election in the near future. Because if you do, the Prime Minister will know the "confidence" part of the equation is already sewn up without her having to concede a single thing. She'll realise that if a no confidence motion is tabled by Jeremy Corbyn, the Independent Group will abstain even without a deal, and that will leave the government with a DUP-proof majority (albeit a slender one).
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Jackson Carlaw treated us to a thrilling display of Tory logical gymnastics yesterday, when a reporter pointed out to him that what he calls "the SNP car park tax" is in fact a discretionary power for elected councils that they are free to use or not use. Carlaw retorted that this is a special case, because many people who pay the "tax" will be travelling for work into local authorities where they do not live, and where they therefore did not have any say in electing the council imposing the charge.
Hmmm. Actually, I think most people readily understand the principle that if you travel into a different jurisdiction for a day or a week or a month, you're subject to the laws and regulations of that jurisdiction even though you don't have a vote there. That includes being subject to the car parking charges that Tory councils have been imposing since time immemorial. (And if the Tories object to that principle for whatever reason, they had a great many decades in charge of the Scottish Office during which they could have stripped local authorities of the power to charge anyone for parking their car.)
Carlaw's belief that people cannot possibly be subject to rules they haven't had a vote on does of course have wider implications. The Tories must obviously now abandon any suggestion that another independence referendum cannot be held for "a generation", because over that period hundreds of thousands of young people will reach voting age and will have been given no say on whether they want to remain trapped in the United Kingdom. And naturally the EU referendum will have to be re-run, this time giving a vote to the millions of EU citizens who are having their status changed in spite of being given no say on the matter in 2016. (Let's not forget that if non-British-born EU citizens had been given a vote in the EU referendum in exactly the same way that non-Scottish-born UK and EU citizens were given a vote in the independence referendum, Remain would have won with a bit to spare.)