Wishart eyes end to Scottish Affairs Committee ban

Pete Wishart hopes most committee members will represent Scots constituencies
Pete Wishart hopes most committee members will represent Scots constituencies
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THE new chairman of the Scottish Affairs Committee in the House of Commons wants to end the ban imposed on it by Holyrood and have a room allocated at the Scottish Parliament buildings for regular meetings.

Pete Wishart has become the first SNP MP to chair the ­committee and has vowed to “reconnect it with Scotland”.

Ian Murray. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Ian Murray. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

In an interview with Scotland on Sunday, the Perth and North Perthshire MP has said he wants to take the committee on a “tour of Scottish cities and communities”.

However, one of his priorities is to end the four-year ban on the committee holding meetings in Holyrood.

The decision to bar the committee came in 2011 after the previous Labour chairman, former Glasgow South West MP Ian Davidson, was accused of making offensive remarks to Nationalist MP Eilidh Whiteford, who boycotted the committee afterwards.

However, opponents of the SNP suggested the ban was enforced because of the decision to launch an inquiry into “Scottish separation” and the independence referendum.

‘It was very partisan to ban the committee from the Scottish Parliament’

Nationalists accused Davidson and the pro-UK members of the committee of using the group as a platform for the No campaign.

Now, Wishart says one of his top priorities is to end the animosity and bring the Westminster committee to the heart of Holyrood.

He has also proposed breaking new ground by holding joint inquiries with Holyrood committees, such as the external affairs committee.

Wishart said: “I want to reconnect the committee with Scotland and I want to make it relevant again.

“I hope we can get agreement now for the committee to hold meetings in the Scottish Parliament and even maybe find a room for us to regularly use there.”

On plans to take the committee around Scotland, he said: “I would like the committee to meet in cities and communities around the country. I want it to be taken closer to different communities around Scotland.”

He added: “I would like the committee to meet regularly in Scotland.

“Obviously I have yet to be officially confirmed as chairman and we still have to have the membership confirmed, but when we meet up and decide our schedule I hope we can agree to take it regularly to Scotland.”

Wishart is hoping to have a majority of members of the committee representing Scottish seats, which would mean a majority of SNP members.

Under Commons rules the Tories are entitled to six of the 11 members, Labour four and the SNP one. However, Scottish Secretary David Mundell has offered up to two of the Tory seats to the SNP.

Wishart said: “That is very generous and helpful of David Mundell and the Tories. I hope we can reach an agreement with Labour so we can have a majority of members of the committee who represent Scottish seats.”

Under Davidson, the committee had wanted to hold hearings in Holyrood on major social issues including blacklisting and zero hours contracts.

Labour shadow Scottish Secretary Ian Murray said: “It is to be welcomed if the committee is to be allowed to meet in Holyrood.

“The select committees of Westminster have a proud tradition of being non-partisan and it was a very partisan decision to ban it from the Scottish Parliament.

“I hope the new chairman will maintain the tradition of being non-partisan and can do its job of holding both the UK government and Scottish Government to account.”