Tommy Sheppard

MP for Edinburgh East

Was this the emptiest Queen’s Speech ever?

Well, this is awkward. I had hoped to use my column this month to bring a digest of the Queen's Speech. This is where Her Majesty reads out the legislative programme of the government of the day. Only there isn't one. Well, there is, but it is so vacuous and devoid of content that there might as well not be.

It’s surely bordering on abuse of the elderly to oblige a 91 year old woman to read this rubbish out loud whilst wearing heavy robes in London's suffocating 34 degree heat.

I’ve just come from the House of Lords, where we commoners were summonsed to hear Her Majesty’s address. This is pure pantomime. The costumes are great – all red velvet and ermine and more bling than a Jay Z show. Fantastic set too – gothic and gilt. Only thing it needs is a better soundtrack. And seating. I was crushed in at the back trying without success to see anything at all over the top of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s head.

Having listened and then read the three and half page handout it’s clear this is the thinnest of programmes from a government with neither a mandate nor a majority. Queen’s Speeches are always platitudinous, the political equivalent of sugar and spice and all things nice. But this was more devoid of content and saccharine than ever.

At most I counted ten bills – and that’s a programme for a full two years. Or so we are told. God only knows how we're going to stretch the debate on this out to six days. Thankfully, we've got 80 odd maiden speeches to fill in the time.

This is clearly a government in denial. That's understandable. They got a pretty huge shock at the election, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. But they need to get over it, and fast. 

First up, the Tories have to accept that they simply cannot get things all their own way - and the more they try, the more they'll get nothing at all.

Brexit defined the last parliament. And so it will this one. But a hung parliament means that no one party, and certainly no one faction within a party, can get their own way. If this is to proceed at all it must do so on the basis of all party and all nation discussion.

In fairness, the speech began with references to working with the devolved administrations and building the “widest possible consensus”. Now we need to see if they are a serious.

And that means stuff that was off the agenda before the election goes back on. From Scotland's point of view that means revisiting and giving proper consideration to the suggestions in the "Scotland's Place in Europe" report published by our government at the end of last year.

It means looking at different arrangements for different parts of the UK. In any other large state the suggestion of regional variation would be unremarkable - but for some reason in our highly centralised UK one size must fit all. Well, not any more. Why shouldn't the Scottish government have some power over immigration for instance, especially around work visas? After all we really do not have a problem with too many people coming here. If anything, it’s the other way round.

The SNP will be fighting in the weeks and months ahead against a hard Brexit and to stay in the single European market after the UK leaves the EU. Given the weakness of the Tory starting position I get the strong feeling that we are going to win some of this. Exciting times ahead, despite the Queen’s Speech.


Article first published in Edinburgh Evening News - 22nd June 2017


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