Mhairi Black, the twenty-year-old SNP MP, has followed up her much-vaunted maiden speech to the Commons by posing the House a false choice.
In an interview with The Times (£) (reported here by the BBC), she claims that Westminster has “to choose between being a museum or a functional parliament”. But this is the very opposite of the truth.
The theatre and pomp of our Parliament provide us with a living connexion to eight hundred years of democratic history. They are a reminder to each generation of MPs that they are merely the custodians, for some short while, of something far older than themselves.
Neat, tidy and uber-rational constitutions are the consolation prizes of countries unfortunate enough not to have been democracies very long.
Of course, there are those who dislike that humbling reminder. There are in each political generation those, especially the young, who dream of sweeping away all that is old and rebuilding from the ground up.
The results of this self-centred and short-sighted impulse are seldom impressive. When it was the driving spirit of civic planning it gifted us the post-war architectural dark age; when it underpinned Tony Blair’s approach to the constitution it produced the tangled, unstable mess we still grapple with today.
Mark Wallace has previously taken Chuka Umunna to task on this count, when the Labour rising star demanded that Parliament abandon Westminster for some soulless horseshoe of smoked glass and Swedish pine.
He was right to diagnose the arrogance at the heart of the MP for Streatham’s proposals. But Black’s contribution has an additional dimension which the editorialists at the Times, who yesterday hopped aboard her faddish bandwagon with an editorial entitled ‘Chamber of Anachronisms’, should bear in mind.
In her interview, she openly admits that she would call a second Scottish independence referendum ‘tomorrow’, despite the ten-point rejection of that prospect handed down by her own countrymen just last year. For all her disingenuous attempts to downplay her nationalism, Black is a determined foe of the United Kingdom.
It makes sense therefore that she harbour no love for the united Parliament or its traditions. But her antipathy should remind us to cherish them, not abandon them.
Parliament’s customs cost us little, and enrich us greatly as a living, daily connexion to and reminder of our democratic history. They are part of a broader tapestry of history and tradition that puts the flesh of nationhood on the bones of a constitution.
If there is one lesson we must have learned from the underwhelming ‘No’ campaign in the Scottish referendum, it is that if you spend your political life concurring with the SNP’s every anti-British critique, you are left with only a poor and rather mercenary case for the Union.
And let’s not forget that as popular as it might be to tut about Prime Minister’s Questions, it’s also by far the most-watched Parliamentary event in these islands. If there is some great hunger out there for a quieter, more forgettable Parliament, it hides itself well.
It may be that Black has a long career in the Commons ahead of her. Indeed in one sense, as it would suggest the continued presence of Scottish MPs, I hope she does. If so perhaps the idiosyncrasies of the Commons will grow on her in time. They certainly seem to have grown on Alex Salmond.