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Monday, May 27, 2024
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HomeDemocracy in DecayHow about a vote of no confidence in Holyrood?

How about a vote of no confidence in Holyrood?

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STOP PRESS: Humza Yousaf announces his resignation. You can read more here.

THE Scottish parliament will witness two votes of no confidence this week, one in First Minister Humza Yousaf and the other in his SNP government. No one can predict what result or the fallout will be. But whatever happens, both initiatives surely, spectacularly, miss the main point. What Scotland really needs is a vote of no confidence by the people in Holyrood itself.

After the shambles of recent weeks, months and years, and the consistent failure of successive devolved administrations and first ministers to deliver effective government, only the deluded could claim that devolution has been a success for Scotland. Who could possibly argue that the parliament, that £400million (ten times over budget) cathedral of cant, has generated productive debate, or seen the emergence of statesmen and women that have done Scotland even a modicum of credit? The very suggestion is risible.

Instead, so far beyond a joke have things gone that it is hard to think of a suitable analogy for the goings-on in the oak and sycamore chamber, especially those of the seemingly endless SNP era. A circus? Scottish Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton pulled that one out of the bag again last week when he talked of the clowns having left the clown car – by which he presumably meant the Greens. But circuses employ highly talented people and offer a reasonable standard of entertainment, so the analogy fails.

Is Holyrood in fact a madhouse? You might have thought so during the debates on the Gender Recognition Reform Bill when a member of the public spent the session making quacking noises and claiming to be ‘a duck trapped in a women’s body’. Who could blame her when she had witnessed an amendment from a Tory MSP to exclude those accused of sex offences from claiming to be trans women during their trials – thus potentially gaining access to women’s prisons – voted down. Yes, you read that aright – it was actually voted down. 

But unlike the inmates of an actual asylum, the madness of Holyrood is manifested only in the nature of the debates and the policies that emerge and bedevil the long-suffering Scottish people. As for how the MSPs look after themselves, there is method in it. There is nothing remotely unhinged about how they have voted for, or secretly agreed to, longer holidays and above-inflation pay increases to take account of council tax rises.

What else? Well, the image that came to my mind last week was from the last episode of Patrick McGoohan’s surreal 60s masterpiece The Prisoner when the star chamber of masked officials presided over by a deranged judge descends into chaos and mayhem when confronted with its own absurdities and internal contradictions. The Prisoner escapes and heads to . . . Westminster. On reflection this fails too, as say what you like about the ‘Village’, it was at least well-run.

No comparison works, and nothing compares to Yousaf. So let’s just call it what it is: a disaster. Devolution has failed utterly to improve the governance of Scotland and has instead created a chamber of horrors, full of (with a few honourable exceptions) low-grade, self-serving, time-serving troughers. It has granted power to ideologically possessed extremists intent on upending Scottish society in the name of an ill-defined pathological progressivism that seems to defy not just common sense but common decency. 

From ruinous educational reforms (the curriculum for excellence, or ‘excrescence’ as some teachers dubbed it) to abortive anti-family measures such as the named person scheme, the Orwellian gender and hate crime Bills, and the anti-capitalist, unworkable rent caps, the history of Holyrood in the last 15 years has been that of a factory spewing out a never-ending stream of dreadful policies that have demeaned and diminished the country and left it poorer, weaker, more divided and more demoralised. It has been poisonous. We have become the sick man of the UK.

Can it be reformed? The baffling and bizarre d’Hondt system has encouraged tactical voting and allowed micro parties such as the Greens to manoeuvre themselves into positions of power and influence vastly disproportionate to their popularity in the country. There are too many MSPs; they are overpaid and under-scrutinised by an insufficiently inquisitive mainstream media. Nothing works as it should: even the chamber itself is poorly designed, horseshoe shaped so that attacks are delivered sideways, delivering glancing jabs rather than the straight right hooks of Westminster.

All that could theoretically be fixed or at least improved. But it won’t be because those who would need to do the fixing are the ones who would lose out as a result. It’s a turkeys and Christmas situation. If the lamentable and Olympically useless Humza Yousaf survives it will be almost certainly be because those who would oppose him are focused on their own seats and at least two more years of generous remuneration rather than any principle, let alone what is best for Scotland.

The depressing thing is that despite all the above, a vote of no confidence in Holyrood would almost certainly fail. So skilful and relentless has been the anti-Westminster and pro-Holyrood propaganda of the SNP (far more successful than in Wales) that even many of their critics would likely opt to keep Holyrood. The idea of ‘our parliament’ being taken away from ‘us’ would be high-octane fuel to feed into to the grievance-generating machine, ever whirring away in the background of Scottish life.

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