I always enjoy reading statements made by Sussex MPs who set out arguments for Parliament which would lead to a very clear and meaningful reform of our democracy if followed through or adopted. It is most common for such statements to come from MPs who are outside of the mainstream of our Government. Caroline Lucas is the person who is most consistent in doing so in recent years as the Green Party have less connection with the winning part of the House of Commons than either the Liberal Democrats where Stephen Lloyd used to belong, or the Labour Party which has been less successful than the Conservatives in winning elections ever since they replaced the Liberals as one of the two main parties in our Parliament. The fact is that there are many people who from time to time claim in speeches or writing that the UK Government represents the “Mother of Parliaments” and by implication that we have very little to learn from other nations. It would be fascinating to bring John Bright back to life to discover if he would agree with those people who claim that our nation’s democracy is credible under our current setting? After all in 1865 when he referred to England as the Mother of Parliament things were very different for many people in our nation and indeed whilst he supported the idea of free trade, he also opposed the idea of a Home rule for Ireland, both of which would be fascinating to compare to our current arrangements. However back to this century, last week after the Queen read the speech that Johnson had supplied to her MPs began to debate the content including Worthing West member, Peter Bottomley. At the end of his comment he spoke about Scotland in a clear criticism of the approach taken by the leader of the SNP parliamentary group. Peter pointed out that at the 2017 election, the SNP vote in Scotland dropped from the previous 50% result to 37% even though they still claim to represent the majority of Scottish people. He also compared that position to the fact that across the whole of the UK, the Conservative votes expanded from 37% to 42%. He then stated “The SNP always floats the idea that it has a majority, but that did not happen last time and I hope it does not happen next time.”
It is of course understandable if you are a member of a dominant political party to want all other parties to obtain fewer votes than your party, although the loss of Ruth Davidson as leader of the Scottish Conservative party is likely to lead to a major shift at the next election in the opposite direction to Peters desire in terms of the Tory votes. However many people in Scotland and England as well as Wales and Ireland feel very frustrated due to the impact of how their votes work in a system that may have satisfied John Bright and even Peter Bottomley in West Worthing but which is problematic for most people. Following on from Peter’s comment that was critical of the SNP, Patrick Grady who is the SNP Chief Whip pointed out “We still won a majority of seats in the 2017 election. We still have a very strong mandate to speak on behalf of the people of Scotland. It was the second best result in our party’s history here.” This claim pushed Peter into making a statement which I think has much more bearing than he probably intended. He stated “I could have said that as well, and as gently too, but it is also worth remembering that having a greater number of seats does not mean that those Members speak for all the people in Scotland. I think they will accept that getting 37% means that other parties got 63%, and they deserve to talk, if not shout, as much as the hon. Gentleman’s party.”
While I am not sure if Peter Bottomley is intentionally arguing for a proportional representation electoral system to replace the current first past the post in England or even in Scotland, it seems perfectly clear to me that his statement is calling for a strong reform of our voting system. Of course he is a believer in political parties and so he is referring to which of those will win. My personal view is that candidates should not need to be members of a political party to be elected as people like Martin Bell and Sylvia Hermon have played an important part in our House of Commons. However Peter is right that just as in Scotland, the many voters that did not vote for elected MPs deserve to gain some vocal and indeed voting opportunities supplied in our proud Mother of all Parliaments!