SNP should tolerate dissenting MSPs, not try to silence them – Scotsman comment

Nationalists should not seek to return to the iron discipline of Nicola Sturgeon’s era

Nationalist MSP Fergus Ewing’s angry attacks on the SNP probably would have tried the patience of most parties. His decision to rip up a consultation document on controversial plans for highly protected marine areas during a Holyrood debate added drama that his party leaders probably felt was unnecessary. The ferocity of his criticisms of the deposit return scheme and delays to the dualling of the A9 between Perth and Inverness will have also irked loyalists.

So former SNP communications chief Murray Foote is unlikely to be alone in believing that the “downright rude” Ewing should be disciplined. “What’s the point of keeping a [party] whip if it’s never cracked? If Ewing is continually let off the hook, others will believe they too can act with impunity – and that again only benefits the opposition,” he told the Daily Record. “His histrionics are the latest in a repeat pattern of very public dissent.”

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However, while a return to the iron discipline under Nicola Sturgeon – summed up by the phrase “wheesht for indy” – might be good for the SNP, it would not be good for democracy and good governance. Reducing MSPs to mere lobby fodder, who slavishly support the government no matter what, is a recipe for bad legislation, ill-considered policies and costly mistakes – all of which characterised the Sturgeon era.

Ewing perhaps needs to learn how to be more diplomatic, but he has a point about all three policies. Silencing him will not fix their flaws and cowing others into submission will see similar mistakes made time and again.

Politicians need to keep within reasonable boundaries to remain within their party, but they should also be given sufficient leeway by their leadership to speak out when they feel it is necessary. The cross-party committees in the House of Commons, which regularly take the UK Government to task, provide a good example of the benefits of politicians unafraid to challenge their leaders.

The public also needs to hear MSPs’ own thoughts in order to judge their qualities. A slick performer who can recite scripted attack lines may not make the best legislator. In a country that values free speech, any attempts to silence “public dissent” should be resisted. And that is especially true when the people speaking out are our elected representatives.



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