NATIONALISTS are claiming victory in a battle over parliamentary language at Westminster, after a meeting between Labour and House of Commons clerks saw an agreement that “separation” will be dropped from the titles of debates on independence.
The Labour whips office has reached a compromise, which will mean that future debates on the effects of independence will have the words “post-2014” added instead.
The emergency meeting took place on Tuesday night after Labour cancelled a Westminster Hall debate on the future of the Royal Mail in Scotland in protest over the way clerks changed the title without informing Inverclyde MP Ian McKenzie, who had tabled it.
Mr McKenzie only discovered that his debate had been changed from “the Royal Mail in a separate Scotland” to the “future of the Royal Mail in Scotland” after the party was contacted by The Scotsman.
Clerks at the Table Office had changed it after SNP Perth and North Perthshire MP Pete Wishart formally complained about the use of the word “separate” and “separation”.
A spokesman for the Commons told The Scotsman it had been changed because a “separate Scotland is hypothetical”, so it fell outside the responsibility of ministers.
Previously, a debate on the future of the BBC called by Glasgow Central Labour MP Anas Sarwar had been allowed to use the word “separate” in its title.
After protesting at the clerks’ decision, Labour was told the “separate” was “leading” and “not impartial”, with Commons convention being that the headings of debates are always neutral.
A senior Labour source said the party’s main concern was that without a reference to independence, an MP could be stopped from speaking for going off the subject.
“That’s why we agreed to being allowed to insert ‘post-2014’,” he said. “We have to be in a position where we can debate the effects of independence.”
During Scottish questions in the Commons yesterday, no MPs used the words “separate” or “separation”.
But in a Scottish affairs select committee meeting later, which took evidence on its inquiry into “the referendum on separation for Scotland”, MPs including Lib Dem Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, who was giving evidence, used the word repeatedly.
Labour said the move by the SNP to ban the use of the word “separate” and its variations was an attempt to close down debate.
Mr McKenzie, who will re-table his debate with the “post-2014” wording, said: “The SNP don’t have the answers to the questions that people across Scotland are asking.
“I wanted to have a debate about what separation would mean for the Royal Mail – a service that people across Scotland rely on and one that employs 12,000 people.
“The SNP didn’t want to have this debate and threw a tantrum about the wording of the question. They wanted to get off the hook and change completely what the debate was about.
“We’re becoming used to this sort of behaviour from the Nationalists. They say they want to have a debate about the future of Scotland, then when they have the opportunity, they try to shut it down.”
He added: “I’ve looked up ‘separate’ in the dictionary and it says ‘acting independently’. “Have they [SNP] decided this isn’t what they want anymore? Since the SNP like quoting Lincoln so much, maybe they’ll accept secession next time.”
The SNP said the decision was Labour and pro-UK parties “holding up the white flag” on the use of the word “separate”, which Nationalists believe is insulting and pejorative.
Mr Wishart is now pressing for select committees, including Scottish affairs, defence and foreign affairs, to drop the word from the titles of their inquiries.
SNP Banff and Buchan MP Eilidh Whiteford stepped down from the Scottish affairs committee soon after she agreed to the use of the word “separation” in the title of its inquiry into the referendum, reportedly angering party leaders.
However, her boycott was because of alleged remarks made by the committee’s Labour chairman, Ian Davidson, which have been denied.
Mr Wishart said: “This is not so much ‘post-2014’ as post the white flag. Labour have completely caved in on their silly pejorative language after ‘separating’ themselves from reason with their boycott of their own Royal Mail debate.”
He went on: “The House of Commons authorities quite rightly ruled that there are no ‘separate’ nations in the world and that no-one is advocating ‘separation’ for Scotland.
“Why do Labour find it so impossible to give independence its proper name?
“Labour should start to behave like grown-ups and properly re-engage with this crucial debate about Scotland’s future.”