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26 May 2015

Lording it over us

Following the dramatic results of this month’s General Election, I recently took the opportunity in the Scottish Parliament to highlight the absurd reality that MPs who failed to be elected at the public ballot could indeed make it back into the Palace of Westminster via the House of Lords.

The House of Lords is nothing other than a chamber of entitlement – unelected and accountable to no one. With different priorities and a tax free income for members – it is an anathema that a country which prides itself on democracy keeps this tier of government in place.

LibDem Lord Purvis defeated in 2011
then appointed to the Lords
To illustrate the deeply undemocratic nature of the second chamber, there are currently 101 Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords. In contrast there are now only eight Liberal Democrat MPs, following the recent cull. This means that there are now more Lib Dem Lords than the entire membership of the US Senate.

Since the election, Scotland’s First Minister has asked for a commitment from the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats across the chamber to ensure that MPs who lost their seats or retired from the Commons are not given a free pass to the House of Lords. Altogether, there are over 800 members of the second chamber, with running costs that go into the millions of pounds.

To add insult to injury, peers currently do not pay tax or National Insurance Contributions on their expenses. This should be changed. The main parties have failed to bring about any kind of significant reform to the House of Lords in recent years - but the SNP remain committed to its replacement. Only a fully elected second chamber will do - a completely reformed body that can truly reflect the priorities of the people that it represents.

It is unacceptable in the modern age when the electorate have proven to be fully engaged and willing to execute significant change when given the opportunity - that a chamber exists which is in essence a well-equipped club, from which too many of its members can pursue their private interests at public expense.

I was heartened to hear that Labour MP John Mann supported the SNP’s lead on the call to refrain from appointing any Lords for the duration of this Westminster Parliament. But it will be interesting to see if he has the support of his whole party.

As for the SNP, we now have 56 of our own MPs down in Westminster pressing the case for change – and we will hold fast to our principles that the time is up for this outdated and institution

To reiterate the words of the First Minister – “People with no democratic mandate should not be writing the laws of our land.”

12 May 2015

Welcome to Flora Rose

I am writing this column as we enter a new dawn for Scottish politics – and on the same day that a new Great Niece, Flora Rose, arrives to join our family. That makes it a doubly emotional time for me.

The political tide has changed overnight in this country, with General Election results that no one in the history of the SNP has ever experienced.

As the multi-coloured map of Scotland’s political allegiances turned from a mixture of red, gold and yellow to a predominantly yellow landscape, the SNP took an outrageous and unprecedented 56 out of 59 seats. In Banff and Buchan, congratulations went to the SNP’s Eilidh Whiteford who increased on her 2010 election majority by 19 per cent – topping the result with 27,487 votes – over 14,000 more than her closest Tory rival and bigger than the previous highest vote achieved by an SNP candidate at a Parliamentary election.

These are unchartered waters for the SNP, but more importantly a fundamental shift for our country. It is clear that the party that said it would fight fairly for Scotland down in Westminster have now been given the clout and the mandate to do just that.

There is now a majority Tory government in Westminster – something that many did not envisage at the beginning of this 2015 election campaign. But it is for this reason that such a strong voice for Scotland is needed, so that the leading party is in no doubt as to where we stand and what we need. The SNP is committed to fighting against austerity and for an increase in powers to be given to Scotland.

But the story of this election is about the people, and what their will to change can do. Over the course of the results, we saw the youngest MP since 1667 elected for the SNP – Mhairi Black - knocking out a Labour stalwart in Paisley which has been Labour red for the past three decades, and Liberal Democrat seats such as Ross, Skye and Lochaber held for up to 32 years switching to the SNP. The electorate – the people, readers and constituents - have made it very clear which party they want to represent them in London.

For me personally it was a particular pleasure to spend a day with Stephen Gethins, our candidate in North-East Fife, and to meet former patients of my father who retired 40 years ago. And to find them voting SNP.

Today, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon summed up what we all felt when she said that never in her wildest dreams did she imagine that we would pick up 56 out of the 59 seats in Scotland. This is a truly historic day and Scotland’s voice in Westminster will be louder than ever before.

Stewart Stevenson
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