Today's incident in the House of Commons, which saw a ranting, purple-faced Lindsay Hoyle demean his high office by screaming for the Alba Party's two MPs to be physically ejected from the chamber, has a number of past precedents. What it reminds me of most is an episode just after the 1992 general election, in which 74% of the Scottish population voted for parties promising to establish a Scottish Parliament, but were then told they couldn't have the self-government they had voted for, because English voters had decided otherwise by electing a majority Tory government opposed to devolution. The Scottish Labour leadership naturally just accepted this outrageous situation and told us we would have to knuckle down and wait for (at least) another five long years. But a couple of Labour MPs, namely John McAllion and George Galloway, broke ranks and decided to engage in parliamentary disruption tactics to try to bring matters to a head a lot sooner than 1997. The newly elected Speaker of the House of Commons, Betty Boothroyd, handled the situation deftly when Mr McAllion made his first intervention - in a highly sympathetic tone of voice, she stressed that the matter he was raising was extremely important and urged him to pursue it by other means.
Now, that's the reaction of a confident democrat who is comfortable in her own skin. Someone who has faith that the system she was elected to represent is capable - just about - of accommodating legitimate dissent and finding civilised resolutions that can command popular acceptance. Lindsay Hoyle, by contrast, clearly has no such faith or confidence. His anger is the same anger that tried to shut down the just cause of the suffragettes or of the Northern Ireland civil rights movement, who had turned to civil disobedience when all other democratic avenues had been exhausted. Because, after all, when Scottish MPs try to advance their nation's cause by means of parliamentary disruption, there is literally nothing Hoyle can suggest they do instead. He can't tell them to argue their case in a referendum, because he represents a system that has forbidden referendums. He can't tell them to argue their case in an election, because he represents a system that has decreed any majority vote for independence in an election will simply be disregarded ("elections are not for that", we are told). Scottish self-government is against the rules, and voting for Scottish self-government is against the rules. All that is left for Hoyle is to be the enthusiastic enforcer as the increasingly despotic system he represents tries to stamp the democratic voice of Scotland out of existence completely. We have to be silenced to prevent Westminster being constantly reminded of what it's become - that's the root of Hoyle's anger. His message to our country's elected representatives is simple and it is stark: "Either shut up or GET OUT of this chamber - if necessary, by force".
The 1992 comparison is interesting for another reason too. The two Alba MPs are the modern equivalent of John McAllion - dissenters who actually want to take some action, rather than legitimise the Westminster veto of Scottish democracy by carrying on with business as usual. Which of course leaves the SNP as the modern equivalent of the do nothing Scottish Labour mainstream back in 1992. That probably explains why there's been a flood of new members joining Alba since Hoyle's meltdown this afternoon. If you'd like to see Alba continue to hold up a mirror to the British political establishment, if only to make Hoyle aware of just how purple his face is getting, here's the link to join the party.
Quite honestly, I can no longer see any real argument against the most committed independence supporters joining Alba. Until a couple of weeks ago, there was maybe a case to be made for staying in the SNP just in case there was a leadership election in which someone like Joanna Cherry needed votes. But now that we seem to be heading for either a referendum or plebiscite election with Nicola Sturgeon still as SNP leader, the important thing is to keep the SNP leadership honest and to keep harrying and shaming Westminster wherever possible. As we've seen today, the best way of doing that is as part of Alba.
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The odd thing about the Tory leadership contest is that it seemed complicated and impenetrable a few days ago, but now all of a sudden it seems extremely simple. I think Penny Mordaunt is the next Prime Minister. There is convincing polling evidence (including a new and properly-conducted poll of Tory members from YouGov) that she is likely to beat Rishi Sunak in a run-off - and judging from today's first ballot of MPs, that is where we seem to be heading. The only way in which Mordaunt might still be stopped is with some very sophisticated tactical voting from Sunak-supporting MPs to try to stop her reaching the final two.
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