Monday, 18 May 2015

SNP grab the front row seat from Skinner

The SNP has launched an attack on Labour’s left wing squad in Westminster by seizing the front row seats usually occupied by the party’s awkward squad.

The rebels’ bench, down the gangway from the opposition dispatch box, is the prime spot for heckling the Prime Minister across the floor of the Commons.

It has been the preserve of Bolsover MP Dennis Skinner for over 40 years in opposition.

But ahead of the new parliament meeting for the first time today, the SNP have put their towels, or rather their MPs, on the green leather.

Three new SNP MPs were seated in the rebel benches hours ahead of the parliament meeting at 2.30pm.

The MPs were taking it in hour-long shifts to stop Skinner and left-wing Labour colleagues taking the spaces.

Partick Grady, Margaret Ferrier and Stewart Mcdonald (Glasgow South) were camped out on the seats at 11.30am to reserve space for SNP Commons leader Angus Robertson and the SNP’s front bench team.

SNP MP Pete Wishart, who was organising the rota, said: “We are the third party and we will make sure the House sees that.”

There are no rules about where MPs can sit.

By convention when parliament is sitting MPs can reserve seats early in the morning by placing prayer cards in the spaces.

But there are no prayers today ahead of a Speaker being chosen for the new parliament and Wishart signalled that the SNP is ready to defy the convention.

“We are there, this is where we want to be, this is our space in the Commons,” he said.

The move to symbolically assert the SNP presence in the Commons comes ahead of the Speaker being chosen and the swearing in process taking place on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Ronnie Campbell, another Labour MP in the awkward squad, said he didn’t see what the fuss was about.
“Alex Salmond put them up to this, do they think they’re more left wing than the Labour party?”

Speaking last week Skinner said that his fight for the seat was not for one day.

“David Owen tried  to take it off me, but he wasn’t prepared for the long fight,” Skinner said, recalling the 1980s split from Labour as if it was just yesterday.

Of the SNP’s possible encroachment on his territory, he said defiantly: “I was there before them, and I’ll be there when they’re gone.”

Update for the Daily Record: Skinner -1, SNP -0
SNP setback
Torcuil Crichton

The SNP suffered their first Westminster setback yesterday when a ruse to seize the rebels’ bench occupied by Dennis Skinner backfired.

Newby SNP MPs were ordered to squat on the rebels’ bench usually occupied by the veteran left winger for hours before the Commons met.

Pete Wishart MP had organised squads of three MPs to take an hour each occupying the bench to reserve it for SNP bigwigs on the first day.

The Perthshire MP declared that the SNP would assert its right as the third largest party to take the front bench and defy Commons convention that has let the veteran Skinner occupy the seat for over 40 years.

The plan worked well all morning but at 1pm, an hour and half before the MPs were due to meet, the SNP squad was asked to vacate the chamber to let police sniffer dogs in.

Labour’s Kevan Jones MP spotted the chance and grabbed the position which is the prime spot for heckling the Prime Minister across the floor of the Commons.

The burly Geordie Labour MP refused to move despite Wishart’s protestations and when the House convened at 2.30pm Skinner was able to take his rightful place.

Another attempt to garner publicity the youngest SNP MP, Mhairi Black, attempted to photobomb opposition leader Harriet Harman by sitting on the Labour benches behind the deputy Labour.

She and SNP colleagues sat next to Labour’s Diane Abbot in order to get their faces on the news.

The SNP’s 56 MPs were on best behaviour as the Commons re-elected John Bercow unopposed as Speaker of the House.

Bercow said he had been honoured to serve as Speaker for the past six years and would be honoured to continue in that role for a “little longer” before being ceremoniously dragged to the speaker’s chair.

In his first comments of congratulation from the dispatch box Prime Minister David Cameron made a point of emphasising that he would govern “for the whole of the United Kingdom”.

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