Scotland scunnered with rule by House of so-called “Lords”

A proposal that Scotland’s Secretary of State Alister Jack should postpone taking up his controversial peerage until the next general election in order to avoid a by-election in his marginal seat of Dumfries and Galloway is being condemned as an attempt to play the system, in a new scandal for the UK’s unelected Upper House.

Disgraced former PM Boris Johnson is handing out 20 more places in the “Lords”, which will take the number of sitting members above 800 (830 total). The House of  so-called “Lords”, the second-largest legislative chamber in the world behind the Chinese National People's Congress, is so undemocratic that it could potentially bar the UK from rejoining the EU in the future.

Johnson used his “resignation honours” list to nominate the former cabinet ministers Nadine Dorries, Nigel Adams and Alok Sharma, and Alister Jack, the Scotland secretary, to the “Lords” but arranged for them to defer taking their peerages until after the next election. The SNP.s Mhairi Black spoke for many Scots when she told Jack in a recent Commons debate “I won’t take lessons on democracy from a soon-to-be-unelected ‘Baron’.” A tweeted video of her comment went viral and was listed on Trendsmap as a top global tweet. 

Experts have warned that Jack and the other Ministers’ by-election avoidance plan could have wide-ranging constitutional implications. The Times reported that “Lord” Cormack, a Tory peer, said it showed a “cavalier disregard for the constitution”.

The new list includes former editor of the Daily Mail Paul Dacre, despite Dacre being blocked by the House of “Lords” Appointment Commission on a previous list, and David Ross, the multi-millionaire Carphone Warehouse founder who was forced to quit as a City Hall aide over a share-selling scandal.

Scotland diverges from House of so-called “Lords”

Scottish political life has diverged from the House of “Lords” in recent decades - not one single peer supports Scottish independence, for example. Scottish MPs from the SNP do not sit in the “Lords” - unlike those from the Unionist parties. There are 27 members of the Scottish Labour group in the unelected Upper House.

Members don’t get a salary but they claim an allowance of £323 plus expenses for each day they attend - about the same as Universal Credit pays per month for a single person. Last year the House of “Lords” cost almost £120 million - a population share of which is charged to Scotland’s accounts and fattens Scotland’s notional “deficit”.

“Lords” does not meet the “Copenhagen Criteria” for EU membership

In 2010, the then Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg described the House of “Lords” as a “democratic aberration” and said it could prevent the UK from joining the EU. Back then there were only 700 members.

Clegg said “It’s totally preposterous that we have a second chamber which is basically a plaything for political patronage – if that existed in other countries that were applying to the European Union, we would be saying ‘sorry you can’t have that because it doesn’t conform to European standards of democracy'”.

The criteria for countries joining the EU today are set out in the “Copenhagen criteria” and it is hard to see how a country ruled by the House of “Lords” could meet the bar. It states that:

“Functional democratic governance requires that all citizens of the country should be able to participate, on an equal basis, in the political decision making at every single governing level, from local municipalities up to the highest, national, level. This also requires free elections with a secret ballot.”

The half-reformed House of “Lords” put shadowy patronage in place of heredity

The House of so–called “Lords” has never been democratic but in recent years it has become more and more subject to the PM’s personal patronage, with little in the way of checks and balances. Since the 1999 Reform Act, when the Labour Party under Tony Blair abolished the rights of 600 hereditary peers to sit in the Upper House, new peers have been entirely appointed, largely by the head of the ruling party. (What was touted as a democratic reform was seen by some as a Labour power grab, as hereditary peers tended not to support Labour.) 

The advice of the appointments committee has been overruled by Boris Johnson more than once. He ennobled Evgeny Lebedev, who is bankrolled by his Russian oligarch father, Alexander; and Peter Cruddas who the “Lords” appointment committee said was not fit for office. Tory donor Malcolm Offord  was made a peer and appointed to the Scottish Office after failing to win an election in Scotland.  

The Labour Party’s plans to reform the House of so-called “Lords” are already facing push-back. Labour peer “Lord” Mandelson objected to them on the BBC’s flagship “the World this Weekend” and the current issue of Labour magazine Prospect carries an article by influential think-tank member Meg Russell arguing that tiny-footstep small-scale changes would be more realistic. 

An independent Scotland could get out from under the weight of the House of “Lords”

The Labour Party’s attempt to reform the House of “Lords” in 1999 actually left it worse than before - Boris Johnson has demonstrated how the leader of the ruling party can appoint peers without any democratic oversight. 

Members of the House of so-called “Lords” have the constitutional right to debate and amend laws affecting Scotland. The Scottish government does not. That is not fair, it is not democratic and it is also an expensive waste of taxpayers’ money. 

There will be no unelected second house in an independent Scotland. 

By Jackie Kemp