Andrew Vine: Vindictive SNP urgently needs its wings clipping with English votes for English laws

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A MINOR comedian on a radio panel game the other day had me reaching for the off switch.

Not because she was about as funny as having a tooth out, but because of the gloating animosity of her tone as she delivered line after dreary line about how the Scottish electorate had given the English political establishment a bloody nose at the General Election.

Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat – it didn’t matter. What mattered was that they were the hated English, and they’d been seen off. Hooray for the plucky and principled Scottish National Party.

The show was recorded on her home turf, and so this jingoistic nonsense went over a storm with the audience.

It was the worst sort of swaggering, narrow-minded boastfulness, and sadly typical of a nasty them-and-us tribalism that is proving to be the principal contribution of the SNP to the political life of what remains – to its chagrin – the United Kingdom.

This poisonous attitude, and the naked hostility that goes with it, will be seen at its ugliest in two days’ time in what is certain to be a bruising battle over English votes on English-only legislation, which has attracted the unappealing acronym “Evel”.

The Government’s attempt on Thursday to push through proposals to prevent Scottish MPs voting on matters that concern England is far from certain to succeed. The vote has been postponed once already, amid Conservative threats to oppose the measures, either because they did not go far enough, or were too strong.

But it needs to succeed, because it is a matter of simple fairness and democracy that addresses an iniquity that has persisted for far too long.

The SNP’s influence on this country’s politics has been pernicious. For all the party’s stunning success at the General Election, and its wipeout of a lazy and complacent Scottish Labour Party that deserved to be ejected from office, the volume of its shouting is far greater than the influence it deserves to wield.

The SNP’s MPs represent only a small fraction of the UK’s electorate, and for them to hold sway over the vastly superior numbers of English voters is wrong.

It would be wrong even if the SNP were a moderate force that could be trusted to vote sensibly for the good of the whole country, but it is even more reprehensible because it cannot be relied on to act in that way.

There is a vindictiveness about the way the party goes about its business that is worrying. It does not seek to win arguments, but utterly destroy opponents.

Some of its MPs already stand accused of ill-mannered behaviour in the Commons and around Parliament that verges on the boorish, which can only be taken as an indication of contempt for the institution.

It is beyond doubt that the gleefulness with which the SNP put a gun to Labour’s head during the election campaign, raising the prospect of propping up a minority government in exchange for concessions, alarmed many voters and contributed to the party’s crushing defeat.

Hardly less alarming is the question of accountability. Those who rage against the influence of the EU and its unelected officials might reflect that there is no need to cross the Channel to find a figure wielding power without accountability.

Nobody south of the Scottish border has been able to vote for or against SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon. Yet it is she who directs her MPs at Westminster, who has the power to affect the outcome of votes and who the Prime Minister has to treat almost as an equal.

Secure in her Scottish redoubt from being booted out by UK voters, Ms Sturgeon can pull strings, cut deals, and yes, even threaten block voting to stymie the hated Tories, all the while continuing to preach the Toytown economics that took in large and gullible sections of the Scottish electorate during the referendum campaign.

Oil would make an independent Scotland rich, she promised, months before a disastrous price fall that had the country voted for independence would already have left its fledgling economy billions in the red.

It is simply not acceptable for such a figure, and the political puppets who dance to her tune at Westminster, to hold sway over matters that affect England, especially when the SNP’s stated aim is the break-up of the United Kingdom.

That ambition underpins everything the SNP does and colours all its political manoeuvrings. It is the question the party asks itself constantly – does this take us closer to another referendum that we can win?

Political parties are often vilified for putting self-interest before the national good, but at some point those in power have to be trusted to do the right thing. And there lies the problem with the SNP. It cannot be trusted to do that, because everything is viewed through the prism of its ultimate aim of independence.

For the voters’ sake – and the good of the country – would-be rebels should swallow their doubts on Thursday and vote to clip the SNP’s wings.