The government easily defeated a motion calling for the dissolution of the Westminster parliament last night. The motion from the SNP and Plaid Cymru, the Welsh nationalists, would have paved the way for an immediate general election but despite support from the Lib Dems and the Conservatives the motion was defeated by a majority of 72.
Opening the debate for the SNP the party’s Westminster leader Angus Roberston said an election was the only way to rebuild public trust and confidence after the expenses scandal.
"In truth the Government’s case against an election has nothing to do with the need to pursue Parliamentary reform or to manage the economy," he said. "It is pure, naked self-preservation in the wake of the worst electoral showing by the Labour party in 90 years."
There were no arguments against holding an election in the middle of an economic recession, India and America and Canada, had done so said Mr Robertson
"It’s clear the public believes that this Parliament is without legitimacy. It is without credibility and it is without trust," said the Moray MP, citing several opinion polls that showing public majorities in favour of an immediate election.
Responding for the government the reappointed Welsh Secretary Peter Hain accused the nationalists of being nursemaids to a Conservative government. "Tory votes support the SNP budget cuts in the Scottish parliament, The SNP in Westminster do the Tory’s bidding. The Tories and the nationalists would turn their back on the British people to suit their short term political ends. Only Labour will stay the course. We are standing firm."
Mr Hain scored a direct hit on Pete Wishart, the Perth and North Perthshire MP, when he claimed the real SNP agenda was to get Tory government and ride a wave of Scottish revulsion to undermine the Union. Mr Wishart said the last thing Scotland wanted was a Conservative government. "Is he then saying he prefers a Labour government? "asked Mr Hain.
William Hague, the depute leader of the Conservatives, said members of the government were living out their days in "an embrace of mutual terror" while the country faced huge challenges. "The question is whether these tasks are faced for the next 10 months by a twighlight parliament with a minimal and diminishing opportunity to pass legislation, with a divided government or best faced by a renewed parliament with a mandate approved by the people of the country."
The time had come for renewal: "To most people there is a clear and emphatic answer. One way to bring about legitimacy and authority and engagement is to consult the 44 million voters of this country and let them speak for themselves."
Betty Williams MP for Conway said she heard no policy from Mr Hague, only character assassination, and she decried "the boys club chorus" of nationalists who barracked the Labour benches throughout the debate.
Anne McGuire, Labour Stirling MP, attacked Alex Salmond for paying a "state visit" to Westminster to take part in "political theatre" when he could have been in Holyrood voting on reform of the rape law. The First Minister was not in the chamber at the time and made only one intervention in the debate. Mrs McGuire furiously recalled how the SNP "ushered in" the last Conservative government and the "darkest days" for the mining villages in her constituency. "The last time you did this it cost the Scottish people dear," said Mrs McGuire.
Towards the end of the three hour debate Russell Browne, Labour Dumfries and Galloway, said MPs had a duty to their constituents. "I thought that we might get an answer from the SNP on what they would prefer to see? The return of a Labour government or a Tory government?" Angus MacNeil, SNP, Na h-Eileanan na Iar, asked in return if Labour would have preferred an Independent Scotland to 18 years of Tory government.
David Heath, for the Liberal Democrats, backed the call for an election, saying the "collapse in respect" for MPs was a major reason for letting the public have their say. "We need to give the public an opportunity to back or sack every single one of us," he said. "I personally have no confidence in the Prime Minister or the Government. I believe my constituents have no confidence in the Prime Minister or the Government."
The vote was 340 against the motion and 268 for.