10 March 2007

Devine Intervention

The BBC report that Jim Devine, MP for Livingston, is resigning as PPS to Health Minister Rosie Winterton, with a view to voting against the Government when the House of Commons debates the replacement of the Trident system.

This of course will bring up memories of the resignation of Devine's predecessor, the late Robin Cook, who resigned his post as Leader of the House of Commons days before the invasion of Iraq. It will also have echoes of Malcolm Chisholm's resignation from the Communities Minister post in the Scottish Parliament, after he voted with the SNP on Trident. The job of PPS may be one of the lower rungs on the Parliamentary ladder, so this resignation might not have the same impact as Cook's or even Chisholm's, but that he's willing to climb down from it shows some presence of backbone and principle that does restore a little faith in politicians.

But should it? Consider Devine's constituency: in the By-Election to replace Cook, Devine saw a 10% swing against his party to the SNP. A majority of 13,097 turned into a lead of just 2,680. There's now an argument for calling Livingston a Labour-SNP marginal seat, with a swing of less than 4.6% on the By-Election result being required for the SNP to take it at the next Westminster Election, the sort of swing which, especially if people vote to give Labour a kicking then, will be possible.

And there are more immediate concerns: Devine's Westminster Constituency contains almost all of the Holyrood Constituency of the same name and Angela Constance (Devine's challenger 18 months ago) needs a swing of just over 6% to unseat Bristow Muldoon in May, and the opinion polls show that such a result is possible. Devine also represents about one fifth of the Holyrood's Linlithgow Constituency, where Fiona Hyslop needs a swing of less than 4% to defeat Mary Mulligan.

Perhaps I'm being unfair; perhaps this is just a co-incidence. But doesn't it seem odd that Devine acting on principle could also be seen as depriving the SNP of a stick to beat Labour with in a few weeks?

On second thoughts, if it is a political decision, it's a stupid one: this only really works if the House votes against the government and opposes the upgrade of UK nuclear capabilities. This is unlikely as the Tories are likely to vote with the government. Also, Devine can say that he voted against Trident, but he's not on the ballot paper: that falls to Muldoon and Mulligan, so Devine's own opinion is largely irrelevant, especially as both of those voted against both the SNP motion in the Scottish Parliament and the Liberal Democrat amendment to that motion, both of which opposed any government decision to renew Trident right now. "Vote Muldoon, because Jim Devine opposes Trident"? "Vote Mulligan, because Jim Devine will vote against upgrading the UK's nuclear weapons now"?

No, that's just too crazy. It must be principle. Fair play, Jim!


Angry Steve said...

If only we could somehow convince all these waste of space labour bastards to resign...

Mrs I P Knightly said...

It is like the Labour and Liberals MSP's in Fife who voted against their parties on the Bridge tolls. Done no doubt for election purposes only

Zeth said...

The implication that someone makes a stand only because he is about to lose his seat is a little worrying, though your whole post is more balanced so hopefully you were just pointing that out rather than arguing it.

The logical counterpoint is the political parties are willing to sign up for Trident because some of the 25 billion pounds of taxpayers money, i.e. our money, will end up being given back to the political parties, it creates some public sector jobs and then lets all meet up in 20 years and do it again, lather, rinse, repeat.

Sadly, as I have argued in depth elsewhere, in the 200th anniversary of William Wilberforce's successful campaign to end the slave trade, no one is willing to argue that we should not do this because it is plain wrong. Instead opposition is in turns of delay or costs. If one man is willing to stand up, then I will celebrate him, no matter how dodgy his majority.

Anonymous said...

It's nothing to do with principle - Devine has none. For donkeys years he was the lead UNISON officer on Health in Scotland. Throughout this time he argued against the privatisation of the NHS (mostly when the Tories were in power) yet within months of becoming an MP he accepts a PPS post to do what? Yep, to help continue New Labour's privatisation plans for the NHS. Devine wouldn't know a principle if he tripped over it on his way to the cheapest bars in Scotland!

Grant Thoms said...

aw.. Will, and I thought you were commenting about the good Bishop of Motherwell too.. urging his flock not to vote Labour. Looks like it's only me who's bashing this bishop.

Will said...

Well, Grant, I will never forgive the Bishop for putting me in the sad position of agreeing with Margaret Curran!

I've had my rant about the Bish before, I'd just be repeating myself, though I do wonder what would he would say if a prominent politician publicly recanted Catholicism, informed us that he would be announcing his new faith in due course, and suggested to members of his political party that while they didn't have to follow his instruction, he would happily 'take the lead' on the issue.

Though if I were a Labour man, I'd be relieved that he was not going to back the party. In fact, nearly every political party in Scotland will be hoping that he doesn't publicly support them!