What now for John Bercow? Some lessons from history

The former Commons speaker and Tory MP has joined the Labour party.

John Bercow is best known for his time as speaker of the House of Commons. UK Parliament via Parliament TV
John Bercow is best known for his time as speaker of the House of Commons.

So John Bercow, one-time member of the Monday Club – a group who believed in the repatriation of immigrants and who occasionally rallied to a cry of ‘Hang Mandela’ – has joined the Labour Party.

He was associated with the Tory right who evangelised Margaret Thatcher before becoming the excitable Speaker of the House of Commons in 2009 following the resignation of Michael Martin.

Watching his interview with Trevor Phillips on Sky News on Sunday, I did think more than once, ‘this is a good deal more lucid than we get from many members of the shadow cabinet’. Of course, he is no longer in parliament and with trademark guffaw and overly animated look of astonishment, he invoked the dictum of Willie Whitelaw at the prospect of being offered a peerage by Labour. He told Phillips: “I believe in crossing bridges when you come to them.”

It is unlikely that Bercow will play a central role in Labour’s campaigning efforts, although he may be wheeled out from time to time to appeal to voters not normally in the Labour fold. His conversion to “justice, equality and internationalism” seems genuine enough and those in parliament will have seen how he has drifted inexorably from previously held positions so much that he now describes his views as left of centre.

What does history tell us?

ADVERT

The history of defections tells us that individuals are eventually swamped by the party machine they rail against or groups of individuals who defect en masse are buried by a mixture of the electoral system and the sheer scale of trying to realign voters to their cause and against the established order.

Labour MP Dick Taverne won a famous by-election in Lincoln in 1973. He won as a Democratic Labour candidate against the official Labour standard bearer. Taverne was outraged at attempts to silence him for his pro-European views. He defeated the machine but lost at the subsequent general election to Margaret Jackson (later Beckett). Blyth Valley Labour MP Eddie Milne won against the machine on an anti-corruption ticket in February 1974, but he too lost at the subsequent general election later that year. Electors can rally to candidates of conscience but only for so long.

There are occasions, of course, when parties split and something more profound appears to be happening. The creation of the Social Democratic Party in 1981 led to 28 MPs leaving Labour to break the mould of British politics. In alliance with the Liberals it even looked as if they might. Three factors buried them. First, the Tories got a much-needed bounce after the Falklands War. Second, Labour’s electoral roots ran too deep to be uprooted, and, third, the electoral system gave them little return despite polling over a quarter of the popular vote in 1983.

The recent case of Change UK, also known as The Independent Group, is the most brutal example of perceived moral courage falling on the deafest of ears. Eleven MPs quit Labour and the Conservatives to campaign on a pro-EU ticket in 2019. They started to fall apart after a poor showing in the European elections and, by the time of the general election later that year, none of those who had defected were still in the Commons.

‘Depressed and angered’

ADVERT

Closer to home, the lessons appear to be much the same. Depressed and angered by what he saw as the inadequate plans for a Scottish assembly in 1976, the charismatic Labour MP for South Ayrshire Jim Sillars resigned and formed the Scottish Labour Party. It too was buried this time by a mix of internal squabbling and electoral indifference. At the 1979 general election, despite a heroic effort, Sillars narrowly lost to Labour’s George Foulkes.

Controversial is an over-used prefix when attached to politicians, but was apt in the case of Labour’s Ron Brown who represented Leith from 1979-1992. Expelled three times from the House of Commons, he was booted out his party in 1991. He contested the 1992 general election, but his voters appeared to judge him a man of childish impulses than a tribune of high principle. He was crushed by the people he had represented.

There is also the curious case of Dick Douglas who defected from Labour to the SNP in 1990 over his anger at a perceived lack of fight by Labour on the poll tax. I say curious for he chose not to take what looked like a principled stance to the electors he represented in parliament. Instead, he left Dunfermline to contest Donald Dewar in Glasgow in 1992 and was soundly defeated. Douglas was genial but sometimes contrarian and his last electoral outing seems to speak to that.

The examples of Dennis Canavan and Margo MacDonald, who both got elected to Holyrood as independents, in a sense run against the established order. In Canavan’s case, he was greatly helped by the sheer incompetence of his former party who decided to make a martyr of him. The electors of Falkirk West agreed, preferring him to the official Labour candidate in 1999 and 2003.

MacDonald was helped by the fact that when she stood against her former party (SNP) she was an established figure who used the modest threshold on the Holyrood list system to continue her tenure as an MSP.

‘Difficult to break through’

Despite the fact the Holyrood electoral system does indeed afford more opportunity to get a toe-hold in the national legislature, the dominance of the current party of government can make a breakthrough difficult.

The strength and discipline of the SNP machine buried Alex Salmond’s Alba Party last month. The most significant figure in the history of the SNP was unable, in conjunction with the help of several defecting MPs to make any electoral progress despite fashioning a strategy that was designed to exploit what Margo MacDonald had done on several occasions. Even in the gentler waters of Scottish politics, upsetting the status quo can be difficult.

Alba Party
Alex Salmond set up a new party ahead of the Scottish election.
ADVERT

The lessons of history appear clear. Recasting an established order is extremely difficult, if not ultimately near impossible. Mr Bercow would be well advised not to return to his previous patch as a Labour standard bearer. Given his profile, pugnacity and guile the more interesting question would appear to be just how Labour will use him in the years ahead.


Police can now issue warnings for the possession of Class A drugs

Lord Advocate says a recorded police warning for possession offences is 'appropriate' for all classes of drugs.

wombatzaa via IStock

People found in possession of Class A drugs for personal use can now be issued with a recorded police warning instead of facing automatic prosecution, following a review of guidance by the Lord Advocate.

Dorothy Bain QC, who was appointed Scotland’s most senior law officer in June, told MSPs on Wednesday that she had decided to implement an extension of recorded police warning guidelines following a review.

She said the move does not amount to decriminalisation for the possession of Class A drugs, which include crack cocaine, cocaine, ecstasy (MDMA), heroin, LSD, magic mushrooms, methadone and methamphetamine (crystal meth).

The recorded police warning scheme enables officers to deal with a wide range of low level offences by issuing a warning on the spot or retrospectively, in the form of a notice.

ADVERT

The guidelines previously permitted the police to issue such warnings for possession of Class B and C drugs.

But the guidance has changed following a review ordered by previous lord advocate James Wolffe QC.

Bain said: “I have considered the review and I have decided that an extension of the recorded police warning guidelines to include possession offences for Class A drugs is appropriate.

“Police officers may therefore choose to issue a recorded police warning for simple possession offences for all classes of drugs.”

ADVERT

Bain said the scheme extends to drug possession offences only, and not supply. She also said the warnings do not amount to the decriminalisation of an offence.

Officers will retain the ability to report appropriate cases to the procurator fiscal. Accused persons retain the right to reject the offer of a warning.

The announcement comes after drug deaths hit a record high in Scotland during the coronavirus pandemic.

Figures published by the National Records of Scotland (NRS) in July revealed 1339 drug-related deaths in 2020 – a 5% increase on the previous year’s statistics and the largest number since records began in 1996.

It also meant it was the seventh year in a row that drug-related deaths had hit record levels.

Scotland continues to have the worst drug death rate in Europe, with 21.2 deaths per 1000 of the population, more than three-and-a-half times higher than the rest of the UK.

Bain said that a warning or fine may be an “appropriate, proportionate response” for some people caught in supply of Class A drugs.

ADVERT

She said approximately two thirds of people reported to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, where the only offence reported is possession of drugs, are dealt with by alternatives to prosecution – mainly by being offered a financial penalty.

She said: “Any alternative to prosecution: warnings, fines or diversion, are offers only. An accused person always has the right to reject such an offer and there will be cases where prosecution is the appropriate response in the public interest.

“Where an accused person is subsequently found guilty the courts, in turn, have a range of sentencing disposals appropriate to the individual accused and offence.

“The range of options available to police, prosecutors and courts reflects the fact that in Scotland there is no one size fits all response to an individual found in possession of a controlled substance or an individual dependent on drugs.”

The move, which remains dependent on the discretion of individual officers and could still see those in possession of drugs prosecuted, has been called “de facto de-criminalisation” by the Scottish Tories.

Scottish Tory MSP Jamie Greene said it would not help to address the needs of drug users.

“Scotland’s drug deaths crisis is our national shame, but surely the way to tackle it is by improving access to treatment and rehabilitation,” he said.

“Not to dilute how seriously we treat the possession of Class A drugs, deadly drugs, like heroin, crystal meth and crack cocaine – the scourges of our streets and the scourges of our society.

“The answer to our drug deaths crisis is treatment, not de facto de-criminalisation by the back door, as is the case today.”

Labour MSP Clare Baker welcomed the change, and asked if the announcement would help with the establishment of safe consumption rooms – which would allow drug users a place to go to take drugs and potentially even supply them with substances.

The Lord Advocate said the change to the guidance was “entirely different” to the proposed safe consumption rooms, which would require a waiver from the UK Government to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 to ensure users and staff were not criminalised.

Assistant chief constable Gary Ritchie, head of drug strategy at Police Scotland, said the Lord Advocate’s decision “gives officers another tool to support those at risk of becoming vulnerable in our communities”.

He said: “A Recorded Police Warning is still a criminal justice disposal which remains on a person’s criminal record. They are used to address low level offending. Issuing such a warning is not the only option available to officers dealing with people in these circumstances and officers can use their discretion to determine the best course of action.”

Ritchie said recorded police warnings would be “inappropriate for persistent or serious offenders”, adding they will still be reported to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.

He said: “Alongside our focus on improving the safety and wellbeing of Scotland’s people, places and communities through our harm reduction work, we remain steadfastly committed to tackling those who bring misery to our communities by dealing drugs and taking advantage of people who are at their most vulnerable.

“We continue to work alongside UK partners to make Scotland a hostile environment for serious and organised crime.

“Police Scotland is already engaged in further innovations to address the country’s drug death figures, including the Naloxone test of change. We continue to explore further new approaches with our partners in order to improve the safety and wellbeing of Scotland’s people, places and communities.”

‘Hospital murdered my child’, mum tells inquiry

Kimberly Darroch’s daughter died at a children’s cancer ward after contracting stenotrophomonas.

Family handout via Email
Queen Elizabeth University Hospital: Kimberly Darroch’s daughter died after contracting stenotrophomonas.

A mother whose daughter died at a children’s cancer ward after contracting an infection has described her child’s death as “murder”.

Kimberly Darroch told the Scottish Hospitals Inquiry she wants the children and adult hospitals at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH) campus in Glasgow to close.

She believes NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board should be punished after she claims staff covered up the true cause of her daughter’s death, which she found out about two years later in the media.

The inquiry began hearing evidence on Monday into problems at two flagship hospitals that contributed to the deaths of two children.

ADVERT

It is investigating the construction of the QEUH campus in Glasgow and the Royal Hospital for Children and Young People and Department of Clinical Neurosciences in Edinburgh.

In a statement read out at the inquiry on Wednesday, Ms Darroch said she was never given details of an infection that her daughter contracted when she died, which she later discovered contributed towards her death.

Ms Darroch also claimed hospital reports about her meeting with doctors to discuss the infection were false.

Her statement said: “My view is that the hospital should be closed. I don’t think it’s safe.

ADVERT

“I feel like the health board need to be punished for all of this. In my eyes, what happened to my daughter is murder.

“She should still be here and I am trying to come to terms with that, after coming to terms with losing her initially.

“I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to. I would never go back to the hospital, never.”

Ms Darroch’s daughter, ten-year-old Milly Main, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in 2012.

She died in 2017 after contracting stenotrophomonas – an infection found in water, the inquiry heard.

Ms Darroch and her family claim they were unaware of this infection which contributed to her daughter’s death until after she died.

Christine Horne, Ms Darroch’s mother, also had her statement read out at the inquiry on Wednesday.

ADVERT

She said: “We were never told what it was and there was never any indication that it was related to the water in the hospital.

“Nobody said anything about what had caused the infection.”

Earlier on Wednesday, the inquiry heard from Lynn Kearns who criticised a children’s hospital ward at the QEUH campus for having no running water while her young son received treatment for a rare disease in the building’s “prison-like” conditions.

She said her son was unable to shower for about two weeks while being treated in the hospital despite vomiting on his own face during treatment.

Mrs Kearns’ son was 11 when he was diagnosed with a rare and life-threatening blood disorder in December 2017.

He was treated in the Royal Hospital for Children at the QEUH campus between December 2017 and March 2018.

Mrs Kearns said she understood the water supply was cut off due to a certain type of bacteria being found in the system.

She said water supply issues at the hospital ward remain a problem today.

After taking her son into the same hospital on Monday, she said she spoke to two maintenance workers who are still changing filters on the sink taps every two months, the inquiry heard.

The inquiry in Edinburgh, chaired by Lord Brodie, will continue on Thursday.

Police name third man killed in M8 crash that injured five

David Paton, Manveer Benning and Mark Downie were all pronounced dead at the scene of the crash on Sunday.

Police Scotland / Police Scotland
David Paton (left) and Manveer Benning died in M8 crash.

Police have named three men who died when their car left the M8 motorway and crashed early on Sunday morning.

David Paton and Manveer Benning, both 27, died along with Mark Downie, 31, after their blue Audi Q7 left the road on the M8 westbound near to junction 31 in Renfrewshire.

All three men were pronounced dead at the scene.

Five others were taken to hospital for treatment of serious but non-life threatening injuries.

ADVERT

A 35-year-old man has been arrested in connection with the incident.


Nightclub bosses launch legal challenge over vaccine passports

The NTIA has hit out over a lack of consultation over the scheme.

MikePanic via IStock
The vaccine certification scheme will come into effect from 5am on Friday, October 1.

An industry body representing bar and nightclub bosses has launched a legal challenge over the Scottish Government’s Covid passport scheme.

The NTIA (Night Time Industries Association) said it was ‘disappointed’ that the scheme will go ahead.

It means that proof of a Covid-19 vaccination will be required when seeking to enter a nightclub or adult entertainment venue, or to attend large-scale events.

The vaccine certification scheme will come into effect from 5am on Friday, October 1.

ADVERT

But, the NTIA, has hit out at a lack of consultation with the Scottish Government over the scheme, which was approved by MSPs at Holyrood earlier this month.

In a statement, the industry body said: “The NTIA is disappointed to note that the First minister has now confirmed that vaccine passports are proceeding.

“The NTIA have, along with the other sectoral trade bodies, been engaged in dialogue with government over the last three weeks, and whilst unfortunately that dialogue has not in any way resembled a meaningful consultation between government and the sector, we remain ready to work with Scottish Government should they choose to take on board the sector’s concerns and work collaboratively to find a better and more deliverable solution.  

“This vaccine passport scheme as currently proposed raises serious issues with definition, market distortion, discrimination, resource allocation and economic impact amongst others, and had Scottish Government been prepared to work with sectoral experts in the earliest stages of policy formulation some of these deep rooted problems may have been avoidable.”

Concerns have been raised previously over the scheme.
ADVERT

The NTIA announced it has instructed its legal team to commence proceedings against the government.

They said: “It is also clear to us that the policy as currently proposed is neither proportionate, nor represents the lowest level of intervention possible to achieve the public health imperative, and it is therefore likely to be unlawful. 

“Regrettably then, and given the serious flaws in the policy as proposed, we have now instructed our legal team to commence proceedings against the Scottish Government with a legal challenge to vaccination passports.”

The body however said that it remains “willing” to work with the Scottish Government on a policy.

They wrote: “We had hoped that the recent evidence of rapidly falling cases might provide government with the incentive to look again and take the sector’s concerns into account.

“And to engage in meaningful consultation where government and businesses could work together and design solutions that both address our shared goal of reducing the harms from Covid and are also deliverable. 

“Unfortunately, this has not happened, however we remain willing to work with Scottish Government on any policy which both achieves our shared goals and also allows businesses to remain economically viable.”

ADVERT

Speaking on a visit to a new research and development centre near Prestwick Airport, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that the scheme is a “proportionate measure” to help stem transmission of the virus.

She said: “Everything we’re trying to do right now is about keeping the virus under control, so stemming transmission while keeping society and the economy open and operational.

“Nobody wants to go back to lockdown restrictions if we can possibly avoid it.

“That’s why we’re introducing a Covid certification scheme, not something anybody wants to do, but a proportionate measure that will help stem transmission while keeping businesses like nightclubs and big events operational.”

“Scottish businesses can no longer afford to take the SNP’s punishing policies lying down.”

Murdo Fraser, Scottish Conservative MSP

Scottish Conservative Covid recovery spokesman, Murdo Fraser urged the SNP to drop its plans for the scheme.

“The Night Time Industries Association’s legal challenge to vaccine passports is a justified response to what is an extreme, damaging and profoundly unfair scheme,” he said.

“The NTIA has had no choice but to take the SNP Government to court, after their concerns have been repeatedly and deliberately ignored by the Government. 

“The hospitality industry has been warning of the devastating effects of the SNP’s plans for weeks. They have done everything in their power to have their concerns heard and yet the SNP has failed to engage in any kind of meaningful consultation with Scottish businesses.”

Fraser continued: “Scottish businesses can no longer afford to take the SNP’s punishing policies lying down.  

“This legal action is testament to the fact that many businesses will be disproportionately and unjustifiably harmed by the SNP’s current schemes. 

“I urge the SNP Government to drop these plans now, before Scotland’s economic recovery is damaged even further.” 

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton also urged the Government to “cut their losses” and ditch the “wasteful scheme”.

He said: “Rather than recognise that Covid ID cards are not an effective or proportionate solution, the Scottish Government have expanded the scope of the policy sucking in a host of venues who did not expect to be included.

“No wonder the night time industry is in uproar. They’re being treated as disposable by the Government.

“It’s a shame that the willingness of the industry to work on jointly acceptable solutions is not matched by SNP ministers. Hopefully this legal action will turn out to be last orders for this illiberal Covid ID card scheme.”

The Lib Dem MSP added: “The Scottish Government should cut their losses and plough the resources that are going into this wasteful scheme into fixing our testing and tracing operation and ringing all of those who have yet to have two doses of the vaccine to encourage them to book an appointment.”

Scottish Labour’s finance and economy spokesperson Daniel Johnson said: “This plunges the SNP’s misguided vaccine passport scheme into yet more chaos. 

“SNP ministers have provided no impact assessment, no details on what business will need to do or even how the criteria will apply with only days before these measures will be brought in.

“It is no wonder trade bodies feel forced to challenge the government in the courts.


Rapist attacked pregnant partner during 18-year campaign of abuse

The domestic abuser subjected two women to repeated violent and sexual attacks from 2002 until 2020.

© Google Maps 2020
Court: Rapist and domestic abuser facing a decade behind bars.

A rapist who subjected two women to repeated violent and sexual attacks during an 18-year campaign of domestic abuse has been jailed for ten years.

William Jackson attacked one partner while she was pregnant and sexually and physically abused another between 2002 and 2020.

He also offered money on social media to “anyone who would assault” one of his ex-girlfriends.

The 37-year-old, from Glasgow, was convicted of raping both of the women and eight other charges following a trial last month.

ADVERT

He was also found guilty of inciting violence against one of the victims.

The former concierge returned to the High Court in Glasgow on Wednesday to be sentenced for the crimes, which all occurred at a number of addresses in the east end of the city.

Judge Tom Hughes praised the victims for bravely testifying against Jackson, who had denied the accusations.

He said: “It is quite clear you have caused them considerable problems in their life.

ADVERT

“It must come as comfort that the jury believed them and preferred their evidence.”

Jackson has also been put on the Sex Offenders’ Register and will also be supervised for a further three years on his release.

Non-harassment orders banning him from contacting the women were further imposed.


Covid: 3598 new cases and 31 deaths recorded overnight

The latest figures also revealed that 82 people are currently in intensive care.

BlackJack3D via IStock
Coronavirus: 31 new deaths in Scotland.

Scotland has recorded 3598 new cases of Covid-19 and 31 deaths linked to the virus in the last 24 hours.

According to the latest figures released on Wednesday 49,597 tests had recorded results with 7.8% of those coming back positive.

It was also revealed that 1076 people are currently in hospital after recently testing positive for coronavirus and 82 of those are in intensive care.

The death toll under the daily measure – of people who first tested positive for the virus within the previous 28 days – is now 8427.

ADVERT

Over 10,000 deaths have been registered in Scotland with Covid-19 mentioned on the death certificate since the start of the pandemic.

So far, 4,163,235 people have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccination and 3,815,907 have received their second dose.


Anti-vaccination protesters cause M8 tailbacks near jab centre

The demonstration targeted the motorway near the Pyramids Business Park by Bathgate in West Lothian on Wednesday morning.

Traffic Scotland via Twitter / © Google Maps 2020
There is a mass immunisation centre at the Pyramids Business Park.

A group of demonstrators protesting against the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine for children aged 12 and up have caused huge tailbacks on the M8.

The anti-vaccination protest targeted the motorway near the Pyramids Business Park, by Bathgate in West Lothian, on Wednesday morning.

Police officers attended and “engaged” with those involved shortly after being alerted at around 7.50am.

Police Scotland said the demonstrators dispersed not long after 9am.

ADVERT

Traffic Scotland said there was slow traffic on the M8 eastbound between Junction 5 and Junction 3A due to the demonstration.

From Monday, those aged 12-years-old and older who qualify for the coronavirus vaccine were able to attend a mass immunisation centre at the Pyramids Business Park.

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “We were made aware of a demonstration by the M8 near the Pyramids Business Park by Bathgate around 7.50am on Wednesday, 22 September 22.

“Officers attended and engaged with the group who dispersed shortly after 9pm.”


Irn-Bru Carnival set to return to Glasgow’s SEC this Christmas

The event was cancelled in 2020 after the Scottish Events Campus (SEC) was transformed into the NHS Louisa Jordan.

Irn-Bru Carnival via Website
Irn-Bru Carnival: The popular event is returning this Christmas.

The Irn-Bru Carnival is set to return to Glasgow this Christmas.

The popular event was cancelled in 2020 after the Scottish Events Campus (SEC) was transformed into the NHS Louisa Jordan hospital in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

On Wednesday, organisers announced its return.

Posting on Facebook, a spokesperson said: “It’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for… The Irn-Bru Carnival is back.”

ADVERT

As well as dozens of stalls and rides, there will also be an inflatable play area for younger children.

The event will run from December 22 to January 16, aside from Christmas Day, and tickets will go on sale at 10am on Thursday. Autism-friendly sessions will be held on Friday, December 31 and Tuesday, January 11.

Covid guidelines will be put in place with visitors urged to comply with the measures.

The spokesperson added: “We’ve made a few small changes this year – but don’t worry, you’ll still have an awesome day out.

ADVERT

“We can’t wait to see you all again.”

For more information, click here.

Man charged with fatal hit-and-run ‘while being chased by police’

Shaun Rimmer, 28, has been charged with a string of road traffic offences, including causing death by dangerous driving.

Stephen Barnes via IStock
Shaun Rimmer, 28, appeared at Aberdeen Sheriff Court on Tuesday.

A man has appeared in court charged with causing death by dangerous driving after a car allegedly being pursued by police struck a pedestrian who later died.

The crash on Monday August 16 saw the vehicle, first spotted in the Northfield area of Aberdeen, involved in a collision with the pedestrian on the city’s Great Northern Road.

The pedestrian, a 48-year-old man, was taken to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary with serious injuries but died in hospital on September 11.

Shaun Rimmer, 28, appeared at Aberdeen Sheriff Court on Tuesday charged with a string of road traffic offences, including causing death by dangerous driving.

ADVERT

He is also charged with driving a stolen vehicle, driving while banned and without insurance and failing to stop at the request of police.

Rimmer, whose address was given to the court as being of no fixed abode, made no plea and was remanded in custody pending a further court appearance.

Police Scotland said the matter has been referred to the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner with respect to any prior police involvement.


You're up to date

You've read today's top stories. Where would you like to go next?