John Hannett of the shopworkers' union, USDAW, summed up people’s mystification with the SNP’s antics this week pretty well.
He said: “Shopworkers across the UK will be relieved the SNP have eventually made the right decision to oppose Sunday trading changes.”
“We don’t know why the SNP have been through such a major internal discussion in order to confirm a position they took before Christmas when nothing had changed and the Government had not addressed concerns about Scottish shopworkers pay.”
Well, the SNP did get there in the end. But why go through the rigmarole of being opposed to Sunday trading last year, then opening the door to abstaining this week only to flipflop back a day before the vote?
The inside story of the Sunday trading vote makes the SNP leadership look like craven amateurs in the political jungle.
A basic rule of politics is to make the deal before you take the position. On Sunday trading the SNP took a position, flirted with a deal, then double-crossed.
The issue only returned to the Commons because George Osborne was convinced the SNP would not stand in the way this time.
“Plausible deniability” is built into backstairs accords, but Whitehall sources are adamant a deal was on offer, not on the Fiscal Framework or the status of shopworkers in Scotland, but the status of the SNP leadership.
The tawdry offer was to allow SNP deputy leader Stewart Hosie to join Angus Robertson, Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon on the Queen’s Privy Council, the ceremonial body at the pinnacle of the British establishment.
Opposition leaders and heads of devolved governments are automatically enrolled. But the privilege is only extended down the rungs of a party if an MP has special status, which the office of deputy leader of the SNP must surely be worthy of.
To smooth the path the SNP was also to be granted an extra seat on the Commons Scottish Affairs Committee.
This would have given the nationalists a controlling committee majority, and with other minor concessions the SNP would abstain on Sunday trading.
Thankfully for shopworkers, Osborne and the SNP leadership weren’t the only ones on manoeuvres.
The STUC was alerted and right on the button issued a tight, three-page briefing paper to SNP MPs spelling out that no protections for Scottish shop staff were in the Tory proposals.
By the time the SNP group met on Tuesday night the rank and file mood was galvanised and the leadership knew not to push their luck lest they face mutiny.
So, miraculously, press releases hailing the SNP as saviours of Sunday emerged from a meeting in a room that has no printer.
And before churches sing praise, the Fourth Commandment wasn’t in the room either. The SNP has travelled a long way from the land of John Knox. Hosie is still open to a new Sunday trading deal being tabled.
Not that a seething Osborne is likely to repeat the offer. He thinks he’s a Machiavellian, he should have checked history.
Jim Callaghan, when he was in a tight fix in 1977, put SNP leader Donald Stewart on the Privy Council to get 11 SNP MPs off his back.
Stewart was canny enough to pocket the Rt. Hon. title and went on to vote down the Labour government anyway and usher in Margaret Thatcher.
George, offering nationalists baubles buys you nothing in the end.