The UK Government was reminded of just how wafer thin their majority in the House of Commons is this week as they were forced into a humiliating climbdown over the date of the proposed referendum on Britain’s EU membership.
Facing a joint opposition amendment, led by the SNP and carrying the support of a considerable phalanx of Tory rebels, the Tory government tabled a last-gasp concession late on Monday night, to effectively rule out a May 5 date on the face of the Bill as had been their intention.
This date would have clashed with 2016 elections for Holyrood and for the Northern Irish and Welsh assemblies.
In short, the government faced retreat or defeat on the issue and the SNP, with enough united opposition from members of other parties, have blown them off course.
This is very much the shape of things to come and has hopefully taught this arrogant Tory government a lesson – show some respect to the nations of Scotland and Wales and to the people of Northern Ireland.
Doubtless there will be more Tory retreats and defeats before this Bill is through.
LABOUR SITTING ON HANDS WHILE SNP ARE REAL
And just the very next night, after the government’s embarrassing climbdown over the proposed date for the EU referendum, it was Labour’s turn to play the fool.
Effectively they had an incredible opportunity to force a defeat of the government at an early stage in this parliament and instead chose to sit on their hands over a vote on purdah restrictions.
Literally “purdah” is a term of Arabic/Persian origin, meaning a screen or curtain behind which women were contained behind to protect their modesty in historic society in the subcontinent and middle east.
It crept into use in British politics through the Raj, in the same way that other commonly used words such as “bungalow” did.
In the UK context, purdah now describes the period immediately before an election or referendum, when governments are prevented from making any new initiatives which could be seen to advantage the government or a candidate or cause.
So when they had the chance to ensure that such rules are enforced for next year’s EU referendum, Labour yet again chose to abstain on a key vote.
They need to find a backbone and become an effective opposition in parliament.
The UK Government has already caved in on its proposal to have the EU referendum on the same day as the Scottish and other elections - but now because of Labour, we’ve missed the opportunity to defeat the government on purdah restrictions.
It was clear that the Tories were angling to hijack Scottish elections with the EU referendum and the united opposition had blown them off course.
The SNP will continue to campaign for Scotland’s role in the EU- but if we are to have an EU referendum we will help ensure it’s done to the gold standard of the Scottish referendum.