Westminster bans word ‘separate’ after SNP complaints

PARLIAMENTARY ­authorities have banned the use of the word “separate” in Westminster ­debates on the independence referendum after protests by the Scottish National Party.

The decision by House of Commons clerks has prompted Labour to cancel a debate on the future of Royal Mail north of the Border in protest.

The debate, due to be held today, was tabled by Inverclyde Labour MP Ian McKenzie and originally called “The Royal Mail in a separate Scotland”.

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Clerks, who advise on how parliamentary business should be conducted, changed the title to “The Future of the Royal Mail in Scotland” without telling Mr McKenzie’s office.

The change took place after SNP Perth and North Perthshire MP Pete Wishart complained about the use of the word “separate” which ­Nationalists see as pejorative.

There has already been SNP anger that the heading of the Scottish affairs select committee’s inquiry into the referendum refers to “separation”.

Last night, Mr McKenzie said he was cancelling the debate, which was due to be held in Westminster Hall not the Commons main chamber, in protest because the decision meant MPs were not free to debate independence properly.

He said: “MPs need to be able to question the government about what Scotland leaving the UK would mean for our constituents. My debate on the Royal Mail was intended to put the question to government about what independence would mean for a service that is vital to people across Scotland.

“We need a fully-informed debate ahead of the referendum in 2014 and these are exactly the kind of questions people need answers to.”

A Labour spokesman added: “This is a blatant attempt by the Nationalists to shut down debate in the UK parliament.”

According to the spokesman, the clerks who work in the Table Office, where MPs table motions and questions, refused to change the title back because the use of separate is “leading” and ­“impartial”.

Last September, a debate on Scotland and the BBC, led by Glasgow Central Labour MP Anas Sarwar, went ahead in Westminster Hall despite ­including the word “separate” in its title.

Last night, a Commons spokeswoman said the change was made for procedural reasons, not because of complaints.

She said: “Westminster Hall debates must refer to something which ministers can ­answer to. Independence is only a ­hypothetical situation and is not one covered by ministerial responsibility. That is why it was changed.”

Mr Wishart accused Labour of “behaving like petulant school children”. He said there “is now a pattern of Labour MPs not turning up to their debates”, pointing out that Airdrie MP Pamela Nash’s debate on Scotland and the European Union was cancelled because she arrived late.

He said: “This is an immensely embarrassing ruling for the anti-independence parties in ­Westminster.

“The House of Commons ­authorities have ­effectively banned their favourite pejorative term from debate titles and questions and they are now going to have to find some other word to ­describe an independent ­Scotland.”

He went on: “The House of Commons have properly recognised that no-one is advocating ‘separation’ and that the use of the term is exclusively used by independence opponents to talk down the independence ­campaign.”