Paris Gourtsoyannis: Commons Speaker caught off guard by SNP’s guerrilla assault

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“Confuse the enemy. Keep him in the dark on your intentions.”

Those tactics were executed to near perfection by General Ian Blackford – near perfection, because the Vietcong never had to reckon with Pete Wishart’s Twitter fingers.

John Bercow asked Commons clerks for advice. Picture: BBC

John Bercow asked Commons clerks for advice. Picture: BBC

The Perthshire MP could not contain himself. “I’d be watching #PMQs if I were you”, he posted, right before the barrage. But the operation was not betrayed, and when Blackford intoned that “I have no option but to ask that this House now sit in private”, a stunned hush descended. “I am not hearing that,” Speaker John Bercow pleaded, consulting the Commons clerks for advice.

READ MORE: SNP prepares for ‘guerrilla’ war on Brexit after MPs’ walkout

Caught in the trap, he first asked Blackford if he wanted an immediate vote on clearing the Commons galleries, switching off the live TV feed and trashing the day’s business in the middle of PMQs.

“I beg to move” was of course the reply, producing a roar from MPs and sending the chief whip scuttling for a whispered conference with the black-robed clerks.

SNP MPs walk out of the House of Commons during Prime Minister's Questions. Picture: PA Wire

SNP MPs walk out of the House of Commons during Prime Minister's Questions. Picture: PA Wire

“This has not happened before,” Bercow laughed nervously. “It is better for the vote to be conducted at the conclusion of questions” – but it was too late to call off the assault.

“NOW!” bellowed SNP MP David Linden. “Resume your seat!” shouted Bercow at Blackford, before realising that the only way to win back the battlefield was to get rid of the general.

To shouts of “kick him out” from the Tory benches, the standing orders for suspension of an MP – laminated for easy and repeated use – were passed up to the Speaker’s chair. Given his marching orders, Blackford strode purposely from the chamber – but his troops enjoyed the procession, stopping to wave at Labour and Tory MPs.

They cheered and beamed behind their leader in the Central Lobby. No SNP MP has ever looked happier than Mhairi Black marching out of Westminster. Back in the Commons, the stunt was denounced and Labour MPs reclaimed the benches they lost in 2015.

What did it achieve? Beyond the shock and awe, not a lot, but government whips quickly circulated a note to Tory MPs. “We must guard against any procedural ambushes,” it warned.

Fear and uncertainty: the byproduct of the best guerrilla campaigns.