Here’s what www.parliament.uk says about the House of Lords -
The House of Lords is the second chamber of the UK Parliament. It is independent from, and complements the work of, the House of Commons. Members of the Lords play a vital role making laws and keeping a check on government.
Here’s what I say about the House of Lords – it is historical relic maintained to limit the power of elected democracy in the House of Commons – the choice of the people. It is comprised of the Lords Spiritual, who are there simply because they are unelected bishops of the Church of England, founded by Henry VIIIth to legitimise his dubious marital arrangements, by hereditary peers who are there because an ancestor either fought or bought his way into the favour of the ruling monarch of the time, and by life peers, who are unelected political appointment by one or other of the London parties, usually political hacks who once were MPs but for one reason or another were booted upstairs into the sinecure of the ermine, or former generals, admirals, etc. with a fair number of businessmen who have contributed a substantial amount to ??? - and a few figures from the arts and entertainment world.
As of 21 December 2011, this gang of gandy dancers and railroad men – and women – numbers 788, plus another 21 who are on leave of absence or otherwise unable to collect their generous attendance allowance. The elected representatives of the people in The House of Commons numbers 650 MPs. Endless rubbish is talked about reforming this pernicious, faintly ridiculous and undemocratic institution, but in the main, nothing happens because the system suits the London parties and the Establishment. (Something has been done about the hereditary peers, who never mattered much anyway, but it will be a cold day in August before the London political parties let go of their right to create new Lords.)
The Labour Party, the party of social equality, the party of the people, simply loves the House of Lords, and former horny handed Labour sons of toil can’t wait to get as far away as possible from the sordid realities of their crumbling constituencies and into the ermine and on to the red benches. Lord Martin of Springburn, the disgraced former Speaker of the House of Commons, forced to resign over the expenses scandal, was relieved to find the pain of his ignominious exit from the Commons effectively and speedily ameliorated in this way.
Yesterday, another former Speaker of the House of Commons, also Labour, who left in a more dignified manner than Michael – now Lord – Martin did, Betty Boothroyd - now Baroness Boothroyd – decided to prompt the Today programme on BBC radio, to cover an issue that she felt wasn’t being discussed enough – the implications of Scotland’s imminent independence, especially its relevance to the UK’s defence policy.
A word in the right ears, and, lo and behold, it’s on the agenda for Today yesterday (sorry about that!) and a couple of Lord come a-leaping to the defence of the UK’s inalienable right to WMDs for the purpose of intimidating other nations, by killing Scottish servicemen and women in foreign fields and by basing nuclear weapons of mass destruction in Scotland, thereby making it a prime target in a nuclear exchange, and placing the indigenous population at risk of nuclear accidents and pollution of the environment. All of this is justified by a kind of job creation scheme argument over defence expenditure, one that seems to have great appeal for the Scottish Labour Party and Scottish trades union bosses.
The two Lords who leapt into the fray at the Baroness’ behest were Lord Forsyth and Lord West.
THE LORDS WHO LEAPT – Michael Forsyth
Baron Forsyth of Drumlean, the wee Tory laird, former confidante of Lady Thatcher, archetypal Scottish Tory needs no introduction. Utterly opposed to devolution, to the Scottish Parliament and to the independence of his nation, his contribution was predictable, and in its a way, a vintage Forsythian diatribe.
Today’s James Naughtie invited Lord Forsyth to comment on the questions that might be asked in the referendum.
With characteristic moderation, the unelected Forsyth opened by describing the elected First Minister of Scotland, - the acknowledged front rank UK politician, Briton of the Year, with a higher popularity rating than any other political leader and a decisive mandate from the Scottish people - as “a snake oil salesman”.
Forsyth, like others of his ilk, seems oblivious to the fact that this questions the judgment of the Scottish electorate - and their intelligence. In fact they do recognise snake oil salesmen – and women – when they see them, which explains the parlous state of Scottish Tories. (Like many of my generation, I saw the real thing in the 1940s and ‘50s in the Glesca Barras – Prince Monolulu.)
He then accused Alex Salmond of campaigning for devolution in 1997 “alongside Donald Dewar” the arguing against it in 2004. Since devolution and a Scottish Parliament were the first crucial steps on the road to independence, the leader of the SNP was hardly likely to campaign against it, but as Dewar, Forsyth, Tam Dalziel and others clearly recognised, it was not an event but the beginning of a process, a process now well advanced, thanks to the First Minister.
Both Tories and Labour (Johann Lamont was at it recently) now attempt to make the ludicrous case that the SNP cannot work under a devolved settlement and campaign for full independence – that they are somehow the enemies of devolution. A hauf-witted chimp could see through that argument. Forsyth, of course, was and is opposed to devolution, the Scottish Parliament and independence. When he looks at the rump of the Tory Party sitting in Holyrood, he must wonder what the **** they’re daien’ there …
He claims that Alex Salmond “wants three questions” in the referendum “because he knows there is a majority against independence”. Neither Michael Forsyth nor Alex Salmond knows any such thing. What they know is that a series of opinion polls indicate the the majority of Scots are in favour of a radical change in the constitutional settlement – that some favour full independence, some appear to want the maximum powers devolved to Scotland but to remain in the UK, some want the status quo, and some are undecided.
It would never occur to Lord Forsyth, a grandee of a party that is essentially undemocratic in its atavistic power-based instincts - someone who is viscerally opposed to Scotland’s independence, or indeed devolution and the very existence of the Scottish Parliament – that Alex Salmond is a democrat, that a referendum is a democratic process, and that, on fundamental constitutional issues, the question or questions must be framed in a way that allows the electorate to exercise the choices it appears they want to make, rather than the simplistic ones a reluctant Tory Party - which has had no democratic mandate to govern Scotland for at least 14 years – wants to foist on them.
$64,000 question from James Naughtie: “Are you still convinced that there is a natural majority in Scotland against full independence?”
Lord Forsyth: “I don’t know, Jim, but what I am convinced of is that continuing with this deliberate war of provocation which Alex Salmond is engaged in will damage the Union and damage Scotland’s interests …”
Forsyth seems to be having a problem with his short-term memory – a moment ago, he was saying that Alex Salmond “knows that there is a majority in Scotland which are opposed to independence.” He also seems blissfully innocent of the fact that Alex Salmond doesn’t want to damage the Union – he wants to end it completely to advance Scotland’s interests. Forsyth does have special knowledge of how to damage Scotland’s interests – at the time he was Scottish Secretary of State to Maggie, this bleak twosome managed to destroy Scotland’s industrial base, throwing thousands on the scrapheap. Scots haven’t forgotten, even if the wee Laird has …
Forsyth is concerned that the English now appear to be more supportive of Scottish independence than the Scots, and this of course reflects the underlying anxiety of all Scots who have allowed themselves to become dependent on the British Establishment and Westminster that the nation to which they have sworn allegiance will show them the door. There will be no Scottish MPs after independence, and I would not relish being either an Scot who is an MP in an English constituency or a Scottish Lord after independence. The Queen, Scotland’s new constitutional monarch (or perhaps King Charles and Queen Camilla?) may find a way to look after the Scottish Lords – after all, it was she, at least in theory who ennobled them.
The apprehensive wee Laird then tried to suck James Naughtie into his paranoia, reminding him that he was Chancellor of Stirling University, and inviting him to share Forsyth’s indignation over fees charged to English students. He then rather ruefully quotes Alex Salmond’s delivery of the Vulcan Death Grip to such critics by pointing out that independence would make English students troubles go away – they could then all come to Scotland to escape the iniquities of the Tory-led Coalition’s brutal fee burden.
Naughtie ignores the fee nonsense, as well he might, and asks Forsyth what he and the other two unionist parties are going to do about it?
The wee Laird flounders. “Well, I – I believe that we need to –er – work together and make the case for the union, and put it to the people of Scotland, and demonstrate how none of the big questions which – aah – matter to Scotland – erm – in terms of – eh – getting growth in our economy, getting jobs, what would happen –er - in respect of our defence –er – er – forces – er – what would happen about the national debt – none of these things have been discussed.”
As always, when a Scottish unionist talks, one is never quite sure who he means when he says our, as in our economy, etc. He presumably would like us to think he means Scotland. In point of fact, Alex Salmond has talked cogently and incisively in many forums about growth in the economy, in jobs, unlike the incompetent Tory-led Coalition, who not only have nothing intelligible to say about such things, but who are also making a king-sized mess of of doing anything about them.
The national debt is a big question, given the fact that Labour, the LibDems and the Tories have increased it astronomically by their financial and fiscal ineptness, and it clearly can only be addressed in the negotiations that follow the independence YES vote, over two years away. Not least of the problem is that, given the monumental cock-up that is the Coalition, not even Gypsy Amalia could predict what the national debt will be in 2015 or thereabouts.
As for “our defence- er –er- forces –er ..”, the our clearly refers to the UK defence forces, and specifically the nuclear issue. But we’re coming to that …
“We have this extraordinary phenomenon of Alex Salmond …” You got that right, Michael! “…with Brigadoon economics”. Well, no, Michael – the First Minister is the only politician in the UK talking sense about economics at the moment. The Coalition’s economics could best be described as Mickey Mouse economics, except the Walt Disney’s ghost would probably sue me for defamation. Ah hope it disnae …
“Ah, eh – telling people that he want to hold a referendum on the future of the United Kingdom – in the teeth of a financial crisis – on the anniversary of a medieval battle – Bannockburn. Yeah, yes – indeed – if it weren’t so serious, it would make you laugh.”
The wee Laird audibly relaxes with relief, having come out with this inaccurate and entirely trivial and irrelevant point, the climax of his inarticulate fumblings. You did succeed in making me laugh, Michael – at you.
This man went straight from St. Andrew’s University to Westminster City Council and spent his life up to 1997 in politics. Following the collapse of the Tories and with them his political career, he was speedily ennobled, and has since become Deputy Chairman of Evercore Partners International, a Director of J & J Denholm and NBNK Investments, and a former Deputy Chairman of J.P. Morgan UK.
All of these exalted organisations clearly saw qualities in Michael that must have had something to do with high finance and banking, and not just his Lordship status and his political contacts. He, in turn, must have learned a lot about the role of banks and financial institutions, not to mention Maggie’s deregulation, followed by 13 years of Labour incompetence, and now Coalition incompetence in the financial collapse of Britain’s economy.
He clearly could have marshalled all the formidable financial expertise he clearly must have to survive and prosper in this exalted company to offer trenchant arguments and a critique of Alex Salmond. But instead, he offers cheap insults and Brigadoon and Bannockburn. Oh, Mikey, how you disappoint me …
He is again thrown into panic by Naughtie’s question of who is to lead the Unionist campaign against independence. “Well, certainly not me,” he says rather hastily. “I, I, I, I,- I think" Michael as Carmen Miranda seems to be on the horizon, or even cogito ergo sum, but then “we need to have – errr – the Unionist parties – er – working together – together with business and others, putting forward – er – the arguments for the Union! And this Alex Salmond has promised - this is a once in a generation decision - and the sooner we take it the better.”
As the wee Laird said “And this Alex Salmond has promised” his voice rose almost to an eager, hopeful falsetto, and doubtless his wee buttocks – delicately covered by Union Jack shorts - clenched excitedly under his kilt. As the late Jimmy Edwards used to say, you couldnae have got a tram ticket between the cheeks o’ … (Stop it right now, Peter!)
Aye, aye, aye aye, aye – I don’t love you veeery much, Michael …
THE LORDS WHO LEAPT – Alan West
Lord West of Spithead was First Sea Lord, head of the British Navy, before he became a politician under Gordon Brown, and, to my astonishment, was at Clydebank High School, and must have been there when I lived in Dalmuir, near Clydebank, from 1960 to late 1968.
This entirely irrelevant fact made me predisposed to like him, wholly irrationally, but this feeling was speedily dispelled once he opened his mouth.
James Naughtie invited him to detail the defence questions he claimed hadn’t been properly considered in the debate (what debate?) on independence.
“Well, I, I, – good morning first of all – I – “ Haud oan, there’s only room fur wan Carmen Miranda here, Alan!
“Alex Salmond hasn’t even – he’s guilty of not even having addressed defence issues, he’s sleep walking, I think, into disaster.” Poor Alex, he’s not just a snake oil salesman, he’s also guilty – and sleep walking! I have to give these two ********* full marks for bizarre inventiveness in invective. More ! More !
“The implications are - are very, very far reaching. How does Scotland – how would Scotland see itself in this new guise?”
A. As an independent nation with its own defence forces.
Would it be part of NATO?
A. Not while NATO is committed to nuclear WMDs
“Would it be part of an EU defence force?”
A. Yes, almost certainly …
“How would it defend its sea areas?”
A. With its own navy and its own vessels, appropriate to Scotland’s defence needs.
I’m tempted to ask where the **** you’ve been, Lord West, when these questions were being asked and answered by the SNP in many media forums. If an auld punter like me knows the answers, why don’t you? Maybe you were busy considering the fact that Britain has more admirals than ships, perhaps? Or maybe not …
“There’s no doubt whatsoever that Ireland, for example, has relied on the UK and NATO to look after its defence needs – er, er – effectively …”
I wonder what The Republic of Ireland has to say about that?
“Would that be what Scotland were doing? Erm –eh – we would need to look at issues such as – what size of force would Scotland have? What are the nuclear implications for the whole thing?”
Ag! At last we get to the nub of it – this is what is really bugging the UK about Scotland’s independence. It’s the WMDs, stupid – any fool can see that …
“And of course defence industries –these are all key issues.”
Aye, right – defence industries. I wondered when that one was coming, because a large part of the gravy train comes to a shuddering halt if Britain, i.e. the UK, cannot maintain itself – or claim to – as a world power brandishing nukes. The military/industrial complex, and its ever compliant handmaiden, Westminster, and indeed a large part of the insidious web of wealth, power and influence flows, or should I say, radiates from the ‘independent’ nuclear deterrent.
James Naughtie prompts the coy Lord: “You’re talking about what would happen in the event of –eh – what you might describe, just in shorthand, as full independence? Scotland being a separate country entirely – if that were to happen …”
Naughtie’s breathless description, full of pregnant hesitation, makes this sound like an impending global catastrophe, on the scale of, say, Yellowstone Park erupting. Is there any other way to describe full independence other than as – erm – ah – eh – full independence?
I mean, haud on there, jist wait a minute, Jimmy! Ah thote this wis jist a wee country, barely a tenth o’ the size o’ the mighty UK, hardly able tae brush its ain teeth withoot Westminster tae haud its wee haun – why is the skitters runnin’ doon yer legs at the prospect? Whit’s gaun oan here? Eh?
Naughtie goes on: “What is the extent to which installations in Scotland are an important part of UK defence?”
The noble Lord is calm and measured, almost reassuring initially, but he’s building up to the heavy muscle – the threats …
“Well, they are important to the defence of our islands – there’s no doubt about that .. and therefore, any …” (For ‘our islands’, read ‘the UK’)
“Faslane is the obvious example.” prompts Naughtie.
“Faslane’s obvious – but clearly, I’m looking at –eh – eh – the option of Scotland separating. Faslane and Coulport, I think without a doubt …” The noble Lord’s gold braid quivers and he tries to move on swiftly, but Naughtie again – and pertinently – intervenes to cut through the merde -
Naughtie: “We’re talking about nuclear submarines here.”
Lord West: “Nuclear submarines, attack submarines - the SSNs and also of course the deterrent submarines, with the -eh – nuclear warheads …”
There – that wisnae too hard tae say, wiz it, Lord West – nuclear, attack, and –eh – nuclear warheads?
“Erm– basically, that base would effectively close. I think the SSNs – the attack submarines – would be moved with their jetty – there’s a big jetty that can actually float and be moved, down somewhere, like, Devonport or Milford Haven.”
Get ready fur two heids an’ a green glow, residents o’ Devonport and Milford Haven – and ye’ll need mair than an Anderson shelter when the nukes come doon oan ye … But think o’ the joabs – the joabs … Surely that’s worth being made a prime target – is it no’ ?
But. naw, ye’re gonnae be all right efter a’– the nuclear wans might no’ go at all!
“The actual ones with nuclear weapons – there has to be a real question then, of – would we keep nuclear weapons? Would this effectively lead us into unilateral nuclear disarmament?”
Did I hear that right? Nuclear weapons and all the attendant risks for the good people of Faslane and Coulport have been acceptable for decades, but they can’t be moved to Devonport and Milford Haven?
But the admiral has an answer. “Because the cost of replicating the ship lift, - erm – the explosives handling jetty, the storage facility at Coulport would be billions – eh – and we’d have to think of where that was put. Em – so the implications are ginormous ..”
Naughtie: “and where the costs would lie – with the administration in Edinburgh or the administration ..” (tails off)
I have to say you’ve missed a few open goals here, James – maybe you’ve been doon there too long, trips to Stirling notwithstanding …
Lord West: “… if this was forced on us by a separation, I think a lot of the costs of clean-up, for lack of a better word ..” There is a better word – detoxification, Lord West. “should be carried by Scotland.”
Now that’s what I call nuclear chutzpah! By God, ye’re a brazen bugger, Lord West – ye’d murder yer ain Mammy and Daddy and plead for clemency on the grounds that ye’re an orphan! Whit a man! Did ye learn a’ that at Clydebank High?
“And I think if one looks at the military – the very aspect of military forces – I – I did some rough calculation, and I looked at Denmark, Norway and eh- eh – and Ireland, and they’re all roughly five million, the same as Scotland. I looked at their defence budget as a percentage of GDP, and it would mean that Scotland would be spending something like £1bn – £1.1bn a year. This means her forces would be 8 patrol vessel, 2 maritime patrol aircraft, a handful of helicopters and eight and a half thousand troops.”
Well, thanks for your back-0f-a-Westminster-envelope calculations, Lord West, and for writing our defence budget for us, but – how can I put this delicately – that is none of your business. The purpose of independence is that we do it ourselves and get people like you and your excess of admirals vs ships off our backs. Of course, we’ll let you know what we’re planning when we’re ready, just to keep you from utter panic, but be patient.
Unlike the UK, we don’t plan to have the fourth largest defence budget in the world – behind only France,China and the US – which until the cuts, was running at around 2.7% of GDP. But you see, we’ll be about defence, not invading foreign countries, not maintaining irrelevant and obscene weapons systems, not about posturing as a global power, not about sustaining a gravy train of M.O.D. jobs. consultancies, revolving doors to the defence industry for civil servants, and lucrative directorships and consultancies for retired or redundant politicians. OK?
“Now would those troops be used for UN peacekeeping, would they be part of the defence of Europe, bearing in mind America is looking the other way now, and letting Europe do more ..”
Aye, now we’re getting to the nitty gritty. The SNP has already said that an independent Scotland will play its part in appropriate UN peacekeeping operations, just as other small countries do, and will play its part in EU alliance that are not nuclear based. As usual, the Unionist Lord is asking questions that have already been answered, answers to which he and his fellow UK defenders appear not to hear.
“I think this would diminish both our countries. I think it’s really worrying, and I don’t believe that Alex Salmond has really looked at this at all – and the implications for defence industry in Scotland is devastating.” Here comes the threat – the defence-as-job-creation-scheme argument …
“If I were now looking at shipbuilding, and looking at the type 26 programme as the next big frigate programme, and I was one of the industries involved, I would say – put all our investment in England, because if they separate, there’s no way England, Wales and Northern Ireland will pay for ships to be built in Scotland – they’ll be built elsewhere. so they would lose their shipbuilding industry – on the Clyde would go, Babcock would have nothing after the carriers, they’d have to close airbases, they’d have to close army bases. There are huge implications, and I don’t believe that Alex Salmond has really exposed these to the Scottish people, or the rest of the United Kingdom.”
Exit the Labour Lord, having dutifully delivered his Armageddon scenario, and his threat/bribe message to the Scottish people, who have suddenly become they …
We must assume that Ed Miliband and Johann Lamont stand foursquare behind these threats, and that union full-time officers are being briefed as I write to work their memberships into a state of paranoia about independence and jobs.
I would like to finish the analysis with Angus Robertson’s response to this, but I’m knackered, it is after all Hogmanay, and family and guid Scotch whisky beckon invitingly, so I’ll have to save Angus till tomorrow.
A guid New Year tae yin and a’ – and mony may ye see … Saor Alba!