One thing we know about SNP MSPs is that they’re a pretty compliant bunch who don’t give their whips much bother.
The biggest rebellion to date is over an internal party issue, NATO, which led to the resignation of two SNP MSPs from the party, although they continue to vote with the Government in practice.
Today, though, all eyes will be on the four SNP members of Holyrood’s Justice Committee as they vote on a report which, if implemented, would see the closure of ten sheriff courts around the country. It’s typical of the SNP’s desire to centralise anything that sits still for more than five seconds.
I used to work in courts in England. Nobody goes to them at good times in their lives. They are either in debt, victim or accused in a criminal case, or going through deep family trauma. It goes without saying that they don’t need the hassle, particularly if they don’t have a lot of money, of having to travel great distances to access these services, particularly when the courts that they would be centralised into are already not meeting their targets. If you are dealing with issues about where a child should live, or whether a parent should have contact with them, you need to sort that out pretty quickly and efficiently. You don’t want the reason for delay to be an overloaded, over-capacity administrative system. Travelling from Cupar to Dundee, or Stonehaven to Aberdeen or Haddington to Edinburgh or Arbroath to Forfar is really too much to expect people to do, especially when public transport options aren’t always up to scratch.
I’ve heard it said by SNP types on Twitter that this is an administrative, not a political decision. This is nonsense and typical of the SNP’s “it wisnae me” attitude. Today it’s politicians voting on this proposal, so they cannot escape accountability.
All the opposition MSPS will vote for Labour’s motion against the proposal. All 3 opposition leaders have signed a letter to the Justice Committee which says:
Rod Campbell, MSP for North East Fife has gone on record to question the proposal to shut Cupar Sheriff Court in his constituency, but will be put his vote where his mouth is? Highland MSP John Finnie, now an independent after resigning from the SNP over NATO is also sceptical.
Willie Rennie said that the spotlight was now shining on this committee and SNP MSPs on it:
The spotlight is now shining on nationalist MSPs. They have to choose between their constituents and their government. In the interests of local justice and in support of our local communities they need to do the right thing. The SNP government’s case for the closures is chaotic and cavalier, and support for it is very difficult to justify. It seems to be centralisation gone mad.
All I want, though, really, is for MSPs to think about the human consequences of the decision to close local courts. All of them earn more than enough to enjoy easy access to transport, whether car or public. Think about what it might mean for people who aren’t that lucky, and think of the human consequences of cases being delayed by an inefficient, centralised disaster.