David Maddox: SNP loses scramble for Commons seats

David Cameron spoke to the newly elected MPs for the first time in the House of Commons yesterday. Picture: PA
David Cameron spoke to the newly elected MPs for the first time in the House of Commons yesterday. Picture: PA
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At last an answer has been found to the paradox – what happens when an irresistible force meets an unmovable object?

The question, which has baffled logicians since it was posed by the Chinese philosopher Han Fei in 3BC, was finally answered yesterday in the Commons when the “irresistible force” of the SNP’s historic general election result met the “immovable object” of veteran Labour left-winger Dennis Skinner, aka the Beast of Bolsover. History will record that the immovable object won as the SNP group – despite the best efforts of SNP Perth MP Pete Wishart – failed to shift Mr Skinner from the prime spot on the front benches of the Opposition seats.

To pick up the tale, Mr Wishart had been organising hour-long shifts of the 56 SNP MPs in groups of three to wait for the Commons doors to open to allow MPs in to claim the seats which would be their party’s for the next five years. The prize was the second Opposition front bench which was once the haunt of the Lib Dems – in those days they were the third party in Opposition – but after 2010 became the home of the leftwing “rebel” Labour MPs led by former miner Mr Skinner, who used the position to make acerbic comments across the Chamber.

But when the Commons doors opened for the MPs to take their seats several SNP MPs did not know where to go. The new “Baby of the House” Mhairi Black, who unseated former Labour frontbencher Douglas Alexander, found herself sitting behind acting Labour leader Harriet Harman.

Spotting an opportunity to rescue the other frontbench for Labour, North Durham MP Kevan Jones sat in the prime spot where it is easy to catch the Speaker’s eye. He refused to budge despite protestations from Mr Wishart, who was attempting to orchestrate the control of certain benches. So, when Mr Skinner arrived he was able to take the seat SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson had hoped to have for the next five years. The SNP defeat was confirmed when the new Father of the House, Labour veteran Sir Gerald Kaufman – who by convention gets to choose his seat – then sat next to Mr Skinner, claiming the seat for himself and Labour for the next five years.

The SNP do not intend to give up and want to try to claim the bench early each morning by placing their cards in all the places except Kaufman’s, but while they made short work of 40 Scottish Labour MPs, the Beast of Bolsover is a tougher prospect.

While this may seem part of the anachronistic nature of the House of Commons it is important because where parties sit gives them a chance to act together rather than being split up, and certain positions are much better to catch the Speaker’s eye in debates.