In a twist to the parliamentary habit of demanding futile apologies from each other, here is a story where an apology on the floor of the House would actually have had a useful effect. Instead, the SNP’s John Nicolson weaselled, wriggled, slithered and slalomed in self-justification – and still got referred to the Privileges committee. That doesn’t sound so serious – but if Parliament were a Glasgow bar, there’d be blood and broken glass, and Nicolson would walk with a limp for the rest of his life.
David Davis, from his spot high on the backbenches, laid out the case for the prosecution. In short – Nicolson had wanted to pursue Nadine Dorries over her testimony to the Culture committee on which he sat; the committee disagreed; Nicolson went to the Speaker to ask for a debate; the Speaker disagreed.
“He did not ask for a Division before the report was published; he did not vote against it; he did not publish a dissenting opinion.”
Instead, Nicolson took to Twitter to give “a partial and biased account” of his exchanges with the Speaker and in the subsequent pile-on, retweeted a post accusing the Speaker of “Ermine-pursuing theatrics” and that he had placed his “integrity above that of Parliament”. The integrity of the Speaker is a cause which unites MPs across the House. A Motion was put, to see whether Nicolson would be referred to the Privileges committee (sharp intake of breath)…
Nicolson stood unrepentant. His apologetic non-apologies were artfully crafted to sound like he was apologising. In condensed form, they read:
“I am deeply sorry that the Speaker is upset. I am truly sorry the Speaker is upset. I am very sorry that the Speaker feels that my revealing his decision has put him in a bad light with the public. It was never my intention to insult the Speaker. I bear him absolutely no ill will. I apologise to the Speaker for breaking a House rule.”
“I did not criticise him. It was not my intention to summarise him inaccurately. I believe I summarised him fairly. I did not consider I had broken any confidence or betrayed any trust… I assumed the matter had been laid to rest. I soon discovered the Speaker was angry.”
When Members apologise to the House, MPs accept any reasonable appearance of remorse. It’s another convention John Nicolson seems to be unaware of. But, he might argue, how can you apologise when you have done nothing wrong?
Simon Hoare made a succinct comment halfway through this performance: “Put down the spade.”
The House voted to refer Nicolson to the Privileges committee.
Ayes: 371, Noes 16.
NB There are 45 SNP MPs in Westminster. Of those fierce, tribal loyalists, 29 declined to vote for their man.
The voting record of Wednesday’s Finance Bill debate shows John Nicolson didn’t vote in person but had a proxy cast by a colleague. House guidance states that proxy votes are allowed in cases of “childbirth or care of an infant or newly adopted child or where there have been complications relating to childbirth” – and “in cases of serious long-term illness or injury”. If anyone has visited the invalid’s sickbed please let Guido know how he is, in Tip-Offs (above).