Can Ian Davidson stay as chair after neo fascist jibe?
- 23 June 2011
- From the section UK Politics
Anyone who voted for Labour MP Ian Davidson to chair the Scottish Affairs Select Committee because he was a group-hugging, feel-your-pain, consensus politician, has misread their man. He is a fairly classic example of that recognised Westminster sub-species, the Scottish Labour bruiser. So the row which erupted on Tuesday, during the closing minutes of the debate on the Scotland Bill should not have surprised anyone.
Faced with constant heckling from the SNP benches, as he claimed their mandate from the Scottish parliament elections was not quite as imposing as it appeared, Mr Davidson retorted: "I notice the way in which efforts have been made to shout me down. That's what's happened traditionally in Scotland when people challenge the nationalists. Those of us who want to challenge the narrow, neo-fascism of the nationalists..."
And after the SNP's Stuart Hosie rose to complain on a point of order, he repeated the term "neo fascist", again. Incidentally the Point of Order generated a minor classic for connoisseurs of Bercowisms - the observation that the Speaker's powers did not extend "to the refutation of nonsense".
The SNP were furious - Mr Davidson's choice of words was raised at Scottish Questions on Wednesday and again in a point of order to the Speaker.
The SNP want him to resign as chair of his select committee - but have discovered to their chagrin that the rules require that any no-confidence motion put in the Committee would have to be signed by at least two members of the largest party on the Committee - ie Labour members.
That was all written into the rulebook in the last parliament by the Wright Committee, which designed the new system of elected committee chairs, with the aim of preventing party political attacks on them. But it kiboshes the SNP. Their Westminster leader, Angus Robertson, continues to argue that Mr Davidson's position is "untenable", having insulted the governing party of Scotland, for which 45 per cent of those who took part in elections in May voted. Hmmm.
"In Germany he'd have been out within ten minutes," he told me.
It was difficult yesterday to find Labour MPs to defend Mr Davidson - at least on his choice of words. But there seems to be little willingness to ditch a party colleague because of words spoken in the heat of debate. The expectation is that he will in due course regret his choice of words, and the waters will close over the whole issue - at least until his committee has occasion to summon a witness from the Scottish Government.
The Scottish Affairs Committee has looked a much more lively affair since Mr Davidson took over the Chair - he wasn't around to answer the complaints against him yesterday, because committee business had taken him to the Orkneys.
His opposite number in the Welsh Affairs Committee, David T C Davies (not to be confused with the former Tory leadership contender) is another Chair with a backstory as a party streetfighter who has emerged as an effective leader of his committee. The question for Mr Davidson is whether he has permanently dented his ability to be - and be seen to be - an impartial chair.