THIS week will see a minor piece of constitutional history in the Commons – it will be the first time that a party seeking to represent a constituent part of the United Kingdom has an automatic right to weekly questions at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) since it was begun in 1881.
The two questions a week for the SNP at PMQs and the automatic right to questions at every other department’s question time in the Commons will be the embodiment of what Nicola Sturgeon promised as “a stronger voice for Scotland” in Westminster.
This voice will echo even louder with the automatic right to a seat on each committee which is given to a third party with a sizeable nunmber of MPs.
It would be wrong to equate the SNP as being Scotland’s only voice despite winning 56 of the 59 seats. They still represent only half the electorate and, of course, independence was rejected less than a year ago. However, at every turn in the Commons over the next five years the Scottish dimension will be heard more loudly and clearly than ever before because of the SNP’s presence.
But the real question is does this make Scotland’s voice stronger as promised in that extremely effective campaign slogan in the election?
While the voice will be louder it may not be stronger.
The Tories have a majority government which now has the lowest representation of MPs representing Scottish seats in its ministers since the Act of Union more than 300 years ago.
This means that in those private discussions in the cabinet committees where policy is shaped and decisions are made there will be a very limited Scottish voice and influence.
In contrast, in the last government, the now deposed Danny Alexander, as chief Treasury secretary, was able divert all sorts of resources to Scottish causes including ski lifts, the sleeper train, cutting fuel duty and even a VisitBritain campaign to advertise his most famous former constituent around the world – the Loch Ness Monster.
In the Blair/ Brown Labour governments there was a huge Scottish presence which is one reason devolution was delivered. Even John Major had three cabinet ministers with Scottish seats including Malcolm Rifkind his foreign secretary in 1997.
The current make up of the government means that Scotland will have less influence on policy than it ever has. This will probably suit the SNP who have set out their stall to be outsiders whether it was by clapping or arguing over seats or more importantly acting as the opposition voice to a Tory government elected by England with very little mandate north of the Border.
But it may be that Scotland’s voice is not stronger, just louder.