Douglas Ross has furious row with SNP MP over 'inept' chairing of Commons committee

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Leader of the Scottish Conservative Party Douglas Ross - AFP
Leader of the Scottish Conservative Party Douglas Ross - AFP

Douglas Ross has accused a senior SNP of "inept and poor chairing" of the powerful Commons Scottish affairs committee after he focused on a second independence referendum rather than the Covid crisis.

The Scottish Tory leader lashed out at Pete Wishart during the committee's session yesterday after the Nationalist spent the first 20 minutes quizzing Alister Jack, the Scottish Secretary, about another separation vote.

Mr Wishart, the Perth and North Pertshire MP, questioned Mr Jack over last week's Holyrood election results and whether they gave the SNP a mandate for a referendum.

He interrupted the Scottish Secretary repeatedly as he claimed that the SNP increasing its seat tally by one last week, but falling short of a majority, meant the UK Government must now transfer the powers to Nicola Sturgeon for another vote.

Mr Jack confirmed that the Advocate General for Scotland, the UK Government's most senior advisor on Scots law, would give his opinion on whether any Independence Referendum Bill passed by Holyrood was within the parliament's powers.

Called to ask a question via video link, Mr Ross said: "I have to say at the outset, how disappointed people must have been to watch the quite frankly inept and poor chairing of this committee so far by Mr Wishart."

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Mr Wishart protested against the criticism, saying: "I've been elected by the House to chair this committee." However, an unrepentant Mr Ross replied: "When you're so poor at your job I will personally attack you, because you have talked over witnesses repeatedly today."

An increasingly irate Mr Wishart said: "This is just absolutely pathetic. Will you please just get on with your questions without making any sort of erroneous attacks on the chair."

Mr Ross, the Moray MP, retorted: "Well, it's not erroneous if you are poor and inept." A furious Mr Wishart responded: "Will you get on with your poor and inept questions, please, so we can get on with this session?"

The Scottish Tory leader replied: "So our impartial chair has already decided that my questions will not be as good as his, and I think people will see yet again the SNP don't like to be criticised."

He later added: "Hopefully you can calm down now, chair, as I address my questions to the Secretary of State and the minister."

The row continued as Mr Wishart handed over to SNP MP Mhairi Black to ask a question, saying the committee could expect "much more civility" from her.

Mr Ross again criticised Mr Wishart's "extremely poor performance as a convener and chair of this committee".

Mr Wishart responded: "I think we’re just absolutely and utterly tired of these feeble and pathetic little casting of aspersions on the chairing of this committee. It really is embarrassing for you Mr Ross."

The chairman was also upbraided earlier by John Lamont, the Tory MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, who said: "I just think it's extraordinary, and people watching this at home will find it extraordinary, that the SNP chairman of this committee spent over 20 minutes talking about another independence referendum when there's so many other things that are pressing for my constituents and people across Scotland."

He listed the Covid pandemic, the UK's vaccine roll-out and the plan for economic recovery before concluding: "I think the time in the last 20 minutes could have been much better spent."