Following the surprise resignation of Tory leader in Scotland, Jackson Carlaw MSP after a shockingly inept six months, his replacement Douglas Ross MP was unopposed, despite a history of clashes with his own party which saw him kicked out when a member of Moray Council only six years ago. Desperate times for the Tories and a chronic lack of credible leaders brought Mr Ross to the fore. Former leader Ruth Davidson takes his place at First Minister’s Questions, given he is not an MSP and deputy Leader Annie Wells MSP is not considered up to the job.
Ms Davidson was recently ‘ennobled’ in Boris Johnson’s honours list and ‘elevated’ to the House of Lords where she joins other failed politicians and cronies in that retirement home. As a constituency MSP who has held only one surgery for constituents in four years, she will feel at home in a position of influence without the burden of democratic accountability.
It is appalling that any modern country retains such overt patronage which symbolises the archaic nature of UK democracy and neither the Tories nor Labour, which promised abolition for over a century, have delivered meaningful reform of this outdated institution. Self-proclaimed ‘radical socialist’ Katy Clark, my predecessor as MP for North Ayrshire and Arran, accepted a peerage for services to Jeremy Corbyn, who, despite repeated efforts, was unable to persuade constituencies in England and Wales to let her be parachuted into a safe seat.
Other ‘elevations’ include the Prime Minister’s brother, the husband of former Prime Minister Theresa May and Russian media mogul Evgeny Lebedev. The 36 new Lords and Ladies prompted calls for the Lords to be scrapped, which the SNP has always supported, refusing to nominate SNP peers.
The UK alone in Europe has a completely unelected second chamber. With over 800 members it’s the world’s second largest, behind Communist China and one of two, the other being in that beacon of democracy Iran where clerics deliberate over legislation, as 26 Church of England bishops sit on the Lords’ red benches.
One well-travelled route is simply to buy your way in, with big donors to UK political parties having their generosity rewarded, while 92 hereditary peers occupy seats merely because they were born into the right family. For centuries, the landed gentry has held power through the Lords.
This bizarre mix of failed politicians, cronies, donors, bishops and aristocrats make this utterly unrepresentative of the people affected by their shaping, pontificating and voting on legislation. It is a taxpayer-funded private member’s club for life. Lords are entitled to £323 tax-free daily attendance allowance, even if they don’t contribute to a debate. The Electoral Reform Society found that in 2016/17, 115 peers failed to speak once, yet claimed £1.3 million between them. The Lords last year cost £117.4 million.
The most important aspect of a democracy is accountability; the ability to remove people from positions of power, yet voters cannot remove peers, pick its members or influence its decisions. There is no place for such an institution. It must be abolished.