Frustrated SNP trapped in a maddening maze of mandarin logic

Pete Wishart's efforts to press the case for an independence referendum were tied up in mandarin speak - Stuart Nicol
Pete Wishart's efforts to press the case for an independence referendum were tied up in mandarin speak - Stuart Nicol

A sad Christmas tree has been deposited in Westminster Hall. It is ringed by fluorescent orange fencing, as if the staff are worried a drunken MP might try to drive into it. Well, no one's in the mood for Advent anyway - the weather's too warm.

The meeting of the parliamentary Scotland committee was so stuffy that I elbowed my way to a seat near an open window, where my ears were immediately assaulted by distant pop music. Belinda Carlisle, T’Pau, all that rubbish. We endured it for 10 minutes till a lady tapped me on the shoulder to complain.

"I know!" I snapped back. "It’s coming from outside."

"Actually, I think -"

"Must be builders."

I looked out the window and shook my head. "They just don't care about other people."

It was only when I took my phone out to post a Tweet about Britain going to the dogs that I discovered the music was in fact coming from my own pocket. I must've sat on the phone and pressed play, for it was humming Blondie across the room.

Pity, because Debbie Harry distracted from a good barney. Representing the Government was Lord Offord of Garvel - whose slicked back hair suggests he inhabits the 80s every bit as much as my playlist - and Alister Jack, Secretary of State for Scotland, who opened by observing that since the Supreme Court has ruled Nicola Sturgeon cannot have another independence referendum (woohoo!), the matter is behind us and this committee surely won't wish to discuss it again.

Of course, the committee spent half an hour discussing nothing else - including the question of whether or not it is legal for Scottish civil servants to continue preparing for a referendum that we now know won’t happen (the cost has been forecast at £20 million). We'll have to look into that, suggested Jack. Not only is time running out for the SNP, but perhaps money too.

Can Scotland ever have a second referendum, asked the SNP’s Peter Wishart? "Yes, of course," said Jack, but there has to be a clear demonstration of popular will. Isn't the SNP winning elections enough? No, shot back Lord Offord. Two million Scots voted to save the Union in 2014, but only around 1.2 million vote SNP.

By that standard, argued Mhairi Black (SNP), and given that they last won a majority of the Scottish vote in 1955, could one say that the Tories long ago lost a mandate to decide Scotland's future?

Ah, but the Unionists have enjoyed a majority even if the Conservatives do not. "You are bursting to tell us we are not in a voluntary union," challenged Wishart, a reasonable inference if the Union won't grant the SNP the mechanism to leave.

"Oh, we absolutely are!" replied Jack – for Scotland always can go, if nationalists can prove it wants to go, which they can only do through a referendum they cannot have.

It seems the SNP is trapped in a maddening maze of mandarin logic. The system works!