The SNP did not, “abandon its principled stance of not voting on English legislation”, as claimed by Tom Peterkin in The Scotsman. It has merely altered its criteria for deciding which issues the SNP group of MPs should refrain from voting on. As, of course, it is perfectly entitled to do given that this is an entirely voluntary, self-imposed constraint on the normal powers of an MP.
And it’s not even as if it’s much on a shift in position. The basis for the self-denying ordinance has always been the interests of the people of Scotland from the perspective of the SNP group of MPs. The fact that this group is now large enough to have effective influence at Westminster has inevitably changed that perspective. While it may always have been in the interests of the people of Scotland that their elected representatives should engage with people in England, it is only now that the party is in a position to actually do something about the things which concern those people. Or, at least, be a voice for them against the clamour of a British political establishment otherwise almost entirely given over to the cult of austerity and unquestioning commitment to neo-liberal orthodoxy; and against a government set upon an ideologically-driven programme to reorder society so as to further entrench the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state.
While the voice of the British establishment sneers at Mhairi Black and the Tory Government seeks to give English MPs even greater dominance of the UK Parliament by relegating non-English MPs to second-class status, thousands and perhaps even millions of people across England are listening to the likes of Mhairi Black and Tommy Sheppard and Philippa Whitford and asking, “Why can’t we have MPs like that? Where is the passion and the principle and the aspiration in our elected representatives?”.
Under those circumstances, it would be wrong – perhaps even immoral – for the SNP to fail to reach out to those people. It would be wrong – perhaps even a dereliction of their duty as citizens, if not their responsibility as MPs – for the SNP to ignore those people in England who have been left without a voice by the British political system.
The response of the British parties to Angus Robertson’s announcement is as predictable as it is shallow and inane. Politicians who lately accused the SNP of “narrow nationalism” now demand that they restrict their interest and their activities to “parochial” matters. If they hadn’t already done so, moderately well-informed people across the UK will look upon the embarrassing spectacle of Ian Murray and John Lamont demanding that SNP MPs concentrate exclusively on matters devolved to the Scottish Parliament, and they will despair. Clowns such as these serve only to make it even more obvious that people in the rest of the UK need “The 56” on their side just as Scotland does.