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European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:45 pm on 9th January 2020.

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Photo of Tommy Sheppard Tommy Sheppard Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons 3:45 pm, 9th January 2020

If the hon. Gentleman had had the patience to wait for another couple of paragraphs, he would have allowed me to develop my point. I will address explicitly what he says.

The point is that we have a Government elected on 43% of the vote in an electoral system that I believe corrupts the expression of popular opinion across Parliament, rather than allowing it to be deliberated. But rules are rules, and we all went into the election understanding the rules of engagement and what the contest would be. I am not in any way saying that I do not accept the result and the Government, even with 43% on a first-past-the-post basis and a majority of more than 86, have a legitimate democratic mandate not just in principle to leave the European Union, but to deliver Brexit on the terms that it proposed to the electorate. I accept that.

However, I do not accept—this is my central contention—that that mandate runs in Scotland. The 12 December vote was very much a tale of two election campaigns. The Conservative party won the campaign in England, which was dominated by the relationship that this country will have with the European Union. The SNP won the campaign in Scotland, which was dominated by whether Scotland would have the right to choose to go down the path set here by the United Kingdom—[Interruption.] I am being heckled by James Cleverly, who I think is still a co-chair of the Conservative party, so let me explain and offer some rationale. I do not say these things glibly.

Others have talked about statistics. The Scottish National party won the election in 80% of the areas in which it was contested in Scotland, and 80% of the Members of Parliament returned here from Scotland are from the SNP. We won 45% of the popular vote, and the central proposition that we put to the electorate was that Scotland and the people who live in Scotland should have the right to choose how they are governed and whether they want to go down the path chosen by the United Kingdom Government.

There are echoes and similarities between what happened in December 2019 and what happened in May 2015. Then, as now, a Conservative Government were returned with a majority. Then, as now, the SNP won an overwhelming majority of seats in Scotland. The difference is that in 2015 we did not seek a mandate from the people of Scotland in relation to the constitutional position or how the country should be governed. We did not do that because the election took place just months after the 2014 referendum, when the electorate made a choice and decided to remain in the United Kingdom. That does not apply now, because in December 2019 we went to the Scottish electorate and explicitly asked them to endorse the proposition that people who live in Scotland should have the right to choose how they are governed and whether they wish to go down the Brexit path being offered by the United Kingdom Government.