Sunday, June 12, 2005

SNP split over taking up seats in Lords

From The Herald on June 10 2005

SENIOR figures in the SNP are openly defying Alex Salmond by urging the party to end its historic opposition to the House of Lords and take up seats in the upper chamber.

At least two of the Nationalists' six Westminster MPs publicly endorsed the move yesterday, and there is growing grassroots support for it within the party.

A formal proposal which would lead to SNP peers, after decades of antagonism to the Lords, is now expected to be debated by the party's decision-making bodies later this year. A debate has already begun within the parliamentary group at Westminster.

However, any such change runs the risk of infuriating Mr Salmond, the party leader, and splitting the Nationalist rank and file. Pete Wishart, SNP group leader at Westminster, believes the Nationalists should have a voice in the upper house to put the party line when legislation is progressing through parliamentary procedures.

"I want to encourage open debate in the party about whether we participate in the House of Lords. My own view is that we should take up places in the House of Lords," Mr Wishart, MP for Perth and Perthshire North, told The Herald yesterday.

"In the Commons, we do what we can to defend and protect Scotland's interests but, when legislation goes to the Lords, that protection is lost.

"With the disappearance of hereditary peers, our historical objection for not participating in the Lords also disappears."

Mr Wishart's position appears to have growing support within the party.

At the SNP's national council last weekend, the Kelvin City and Maryhill branches submitted motions insisting that the SNP should consider membership only of a directly-elected House of Lords, but both motions where rejected to allow a fuller debate to take place.

Angus MacNeil, newly elected MP for na h-Eileananan an Iar (Western Isles), also threw his full support behind SNP membership of the Lords. He said: "Westminster is a bi-cameral parliament and clearly it makes sense, especially with the changes in the Lords, that as
we're represented in one of the chambers of parliament, we should also be represented in the other.

"As a new member at Westminster, I am also of the belief that, wherever a parliament has power and makes decisions over Scotland, it is obvious that the bigger the SNP representation, the better.

"In a two-chamber parliament, the SNP should be in both chambers. I would prefer the second chamber to be elected, but we have to live with the world as it is at the moment if we are going to change it."

Mr Salmond, who hopes to be re-elected to the Scottish Parliament in 2007, remains hostile to SNP membership of the Lords, as long as the present system prevails. "There is no chance of us joining the Lords.

We would have nothing to do with a nominated system. If it was wholly elected, that would be a different set of circumstances."

Mike Weir, the MP for Angus, also stressed that the party's decision would depend on the government's final plan for a reformed upper chamber. "The more democratic the mandate, the more likely it is that we will buy into it. If the House of Lords is largely nominated, I can't see us having much truck with it."

Stewart Hosie, the newly-elected MP for Dundee East, was undecided. "The argument for it to be mainly or totally elected is a strong one, but I will listen to contrary arguments."


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