It can't have escaped anyone's notice that the EU Withdrawal Bill was back in Parliament this month. And it came with some significant controversy. Given the large number of amendments proposed by the Lords you could be forgiven for thinking there'd be a decent amount of time allocated for debate but that wasn't to be. You can read my bumper blog on the main two days voting and the SNP reaction here but I'll pick out a couple of key points for you.
The way the debate was structured, combined with the archaic voting practices of Westminster meant that there was just 19 minutes allocated to the impact of Brexit on devolution. And it wasn't only about Scotland - it included Wales and the rather significant issue of the Irish border. 19 minutes and it was all taken up by the Minister. I recorded this video diary just after the final votes that night - it's fair to say we were feeling a little scunnered by it all.
The next morning the Prime Minister failed to answer questions from our leader Ian Blackford on the constitutional implications of the UK government ignoring the will of the Scottish Parliament. To be clear about what happened, Ian Blackford moved that the House meet in private – one of the few archaic processes available to us to express our discontent by ensuring an immediate vote. He was perfectly entitled to do so. The Speaker decided not to allow a vote immediately but instead to have the vote after PMQs.
Ian tried to explain why he was allowed to have a vote immediately under the rules but was asked to sit down. As he did not do so he was expelled from the House for the rest of the day. It’s very important to note that Ian did not walk out. The rest of us, as a group, decided to leave with him in solidarity. This wasn’t pre-planned – we were working on instinct - but as it turns out, it was the most effective way to make our point as the media paid attention. I was on Sky News that afternoon - see the video here. Then that evening I recorded a video diary that explains the situation in more detail (watch it here).
The other key area of interest was around parliament having a meaningful vote. We had thought we might see a Tory rebellion on this but the whips are made of powerful stuff and they managed to talk the vast majority of potential rebels round with promises of a compromise. In the end only two Conservatives (Anna Soubry and Ken Clarke) voted against the government on Lords Amendment 19. The SNP voted to uphold the amendment but it was disagreed to (i.e. won by the government) by 324-298.
This was the only amendment that then came back to the Commons again through the process of 'ping pong' where the Commons and the Lords try to come to agreement. Again, it looked like we might end up with a rebellion but it amounted to nothing with even Grieve voting against his own amendment.
After the SNP walkout Ian was granted an emergency debate on the Sewel Convention (the convention that applies when the UK Parliament legislated on a matter that's normally dealt with by the Scottish Parliament). This type of debate wasn't able to change the impact of the EU Withdrawal Bill but it did allow us to make our points in the chamber. You can watch my contribution here.
So that's it. The EU Withdrawal Bill has gained Royal Assent, against the wishes of the Scottish people and the Scottish Parliament. It isn't quite all over as the UK government will need to bring the Brexit deal back to Parliament and, of course, the SNP group in Westminster and the SNP Scottish government will continue to fight for Scotland's voice to be heard.
Outwith the Brexit chaos, I'm attempting to carry on with other work. I arranged a meeting with Lord Gardiner about the campaign to ban the sale of electronic shock collars for dog and was pleased to be joined by Lisa Cameron MP (Chair of the APPG on Dog Welfare), vet Marc Abraham and dog behaviourist Victoria Stilwell. We're now awaiting the UK government's response to their consultation on the use of these horrid devices.
Many constituents have been in touch raising their concerns about Trump's immigration policy. The images of children being placed in cages, separated from their parents are almost beyond words. I firmly believe that the UK government should not be welcoming the US President with open arms while he chooses to withdraw his country from the UN Council of Human Rights. So I've written to Theresa May asking her to reconsider the invitation for him to visit next month.
I'm privileged to represent the SNP at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. This month I was working in the political affairs committee on the regulation of digital media in election campaigns. I also met with a Palestinian delegate whose daughter lives in Edinburgh (it's a small world!) And it's been interesting just how many people from other European countries express support for Scotland having its own voice.
At the SNP conference earlier this month a motion was debated condemning the violence during the protests at the fence between Gaza and Israel. It also called for an end to the seige on Gaza and for urgent humanitarian assistance. I seconded the motion which delegates passed overwhelmingly.