SNP MP prepared to cast deciding vote against independence as Speaker

An SNP MP has said he would be prepared to cast the deciding vote against Scottish independence as Commons Speaker.

Perth MP Pete Wishart announced his bid to become the new Speaker when incumbent John Bercow steps down.

The current Speaker had to side with the Government in a historic Commons tie over indicative votes in order to break the Brexit deadlock.

When the Press Association asked Mr Wishart what he would do if a similar deadlock were ever to happen in the Commons on Scottish independence, he admitted he would have to make “unpalatable” decisions.

He said: “The Speaker always has to cast the vote in favour of the status quo, regardless of how unpalatable that might be.

“From personal point of view it’s not great but there are years and years of these types of conventions.

“In terms of Scottish independence I can’t actually foresee a situation where we can expect Westminster to be deciding that, though.”

But Mr Wishart said nobody should doubt his personal commitment to independence, as he had demonstrated during the first independence referendum.

Acknowledging some SNP supporters had been extremely unhappy with his announcement, claiming he was not “settling up but settling in”, the Perth MP appealed for them to recognise his long history of campaigning for Scottish independence as an MP.

He said: “I was here in Westminster during the first independence referendum and I don’t think I ever worked so hard to kick myself out of a job than during that.

“When we have the next independence referendum I will be trying equally hard.

“Some of the more enthusiastic supporters could look at who would be better in the chair than an MP who comes from the SNP.”

Mr Wishart said he also understood he would not have the natural, large support base of the two main parties but hoped to attract MPs who were tired of the status quo and wanted a modernised and more equal Commons.

The shadow Commons leader’s manifesto includes bringing in electronic voting, which is already in place in the Scottish Parliament, and calling MPs who have campaigned on topics first instead of by seniority.

The veteran MP, who also chairs the Scottish Affairs Committee, wants to end the practice of referring to MPs by their constituency, because he wants MPs to “speak to each other like ordinary human beings”.

Prime Minister’s Questions
Prime Minister’s Questions

And Mr Wishart said he had “total respect and admiration” for the work of his friend Mr Bercow, despite accusations of bullying.

The SNP MP said: “I think (Mr Bercow) has transformed the whole role in the face of consistent attacks from the executive and the Government and the way he has conducted himself has been exemplary.

“I hope he does stay on for his whole term.”

He does not address the issue of bullying directly in his manifesto, which he admits to the Press Association he should “probably have included”, and stressed his long history of working to combat bullying.

A pledge to reform the management of the Commons by including staff as well as MPs, is included, as is promise to remove sanctions for clapping and push for more family-friendly working hours.

Mr Wishart also denied he was edging towards retirement due to disappointment when he pulled out of the deputy leadership last year.

“I’ve got no intention of retiring,” he said. “I’ve never really had any leadership ambition.

“I sort of stumbled into being a politician from being a musician and I’ve taken forward causes that are really important to me regardless of how popular or unpopular they might be.

“This is the same thing because people at home are looking at us and thinking ‘what on Earth is going on in that place?’ and we need to look at what a 21st-century Parliament should be.”