Over to the Lords…
10 February 2017
Written by Campbell Gunn, 3×1 Strategic Adviser and former Senior Special Adviser to First Ministers Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond
THE Thorny issue of Brexit has dominated proceedings both at Westminster and Holyrood in the past week.
And things are set to continue in the coming weeks, though this time in the more opulent surroundings of the House of Lords. Their first debate will be held on February 20, and things will rumble on until the third reading of the Bill on March 7.
There were no real surprises in the outcomes of the debates either in London or Edinburgh. At Holyrood, Brexit received an overwhelming thumbs-down, while at Westminster, it had huge majority support.
However, the debates in both places served to highlight divisions within Labour. At Westminster, dozens of Labour MPs defied the party whip to vote against Brexit, while north of the Border, some left-wing MSPs went in the opposite direction, siding with the Conservatives in defiance of Scottish leader Kezia Dugdale.
In the House of Commons, the SNP, having led the doomed anti-Brexit charge and having lost, as was always going to happen, treated the chamber to a rousing rendition of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, the European anthem. It may not have been edifying politics, but it was hugely entertaining.
Now the focus moves to the House of Lords. And that has led to muttered threats of what could happen to their lordships if they dare to reject or even amend the Brexit Bill. Remember, the Conservative Government does not have a majority in the Lords.
Labour, though, will not seek to block the Bill in the Upper House, merely to “tweak” it where they see weaknesses. So there’s no real danger of the Lords actually causing the Government any serious problems in getting it through.
Most of the opposition to the Bill in the Commons came from the 50-plus SNP MPs and they do not, on principle, accept any seats in the unelected Lords. Commentators occasionally question the SNP’s opposition to the Lords, given that decisions taken there affect Scots just as much as they do in other parts of the United Kingdom.
The Nationalists, given the level of electoral support they currently enjoy, would be entitled to a good handful of seats in the Lords – anything up to a dozen, perhaps even more.
Given the SNP’s long-held opposition to an unelected upper chamber, there is no chance of a u-turn on the issue.
But there may be some within the party who are ruing a missed opportunity to stymie Brexit.