Tory MPs say they support civil partnerships - but did they vote for them?

Conservative MPs use the existence of civil partnerships as an argument against gay marriage but a significant number voted against them in 2004.

One of the arguments commonly deployed by opponents of equal marriage is that the existence of civil partnerships for same-sex couples means its introduction is unnecessary. Conservative MP Edward Leigh, for instance, has argued: "Same-sex couples already have all the rights of marriage in the form of civil partnership. Why must they also have the language of marriage?" Former Tory defence minister Gerald Howarth has commented: "some of my best friends are in civil partnerships, which is fine, but I think it would be a step too far to suggest that this is marriage", while Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, who is expected to vote against equal marriage today, has said that the government is "rightly committed to advancing equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and has already taken action to do so by allowing those religious premises that wish to carry out civil partnerships to do so".

But what none of these three will tell you is that they all voted against civil partnerships when Labour introduced them in 2004. MPs are, of course, free to change their minds and we should praise them when they do. But it's hard not to see their new-found support for civil partnerships as a cynical attempt to prevent the equalisation of marriage. Gay couples might already have a means of formalising their relationships but they wouldn't if Paterson, Leigh and Howarth had had their way in 2004. So, for the record, here are the 38 Conservative MPs who voted against civil partnerships, including two serving cabinet ministers (Paterson and Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin) and the two Labour MPs who did. Seventeen have since resigned or lost their seats.

Conservative MPs who voted against civil partnerships

David Amess (Southend West)

James Arbuthnot (North East Hampshire)

Paul Beresford (Mole Valley)

Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

Christopher Chope (Christchurch)

Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire. Stood down in 2010)

Quentin Davis (Grantham and Stamford. Defected to Labour in 2007 and stood down in 2010)

Adrian Flook (Taunton. Stood down in 2010)

Mark Francois (Rayleigh and Wickford)

Roger Gale (North Thanet)

John Gummer (Suffolk Coastal. Stood down in 2010)

Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath. Stood down in 2005)

John Hayes (Current energy minister and MP for South Holland the Deepings)

Mark Hoban (Current employment minister and MP for Fareham)

Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

Greg Knight (East Yorkshire)

Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden)

Brian Mawhinney (North West Cambridgeshire. Stood down in 2005)

Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

Patrick McLoughlin (Current Transport Secretary and MP for Derbyshire Dales)

Owen Paterson (Current Environment Secretary and MP for North Shropshire)

Andrew Robathan (Current armed forces minister and MP for South Leicestershire)

Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury)

Andrew Rosindell (Romford)

Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire. Stood down in 2010)

Bob Spink (Castle Point. Defected to UKIP in 2008 and lost his seat in 2010)

Desmond Swayne (New Forest West)

John Taylor (Solihull. Lost his seat in 2005)

Michael Trend (Windsor. Stood down in 2005)

Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight)

Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne. Lost his seat in 2010)

Angela Watkinson (Upminster)

Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald. Stood down in 2010)

John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood. Stood down in 2005)

David Wilshire (Spelthorne. Stood down in 2010)

Ann Winterton (Congleton. Stood down in 2010)

Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield. Stood down in 2010)

Labour MPs who voted against civil partnerships

Denzil Davies (Llanelli. Stood down in 2005)

Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton)

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, who opposes gay marriage, voted against civil partnerships in 2004. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Nicola Sturgeon. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Nicola Sturgeon's half-hearted "reset" is not enough to win back voters to the SNP

Election campaigners report that the doorstep feedback suggests the First Minister is now seen as aloof, with little interest in the average voter’s concerns.

In Scots law, under a charge of robbery, theft, breach of trust, embezzlement, falsehood, fraud or wilful imposition, the accused may be convicted of "reset". It’s not clear which of these particular terms Nicola Sturgeon had in mind this week when she used that word to describe her reformed plans for a second independence referendum. Fraud seems a little too strong. Breach of trust or wilful imposition are perhaps closer to the mark.

It’s been many, many years since the SNP has seemed this unsure of its footing. Fair enough: who in politics isn’t, these days? But the slow-motion car crash that is Scotland’s governing party deserves a prime-time slot all of its own. "The SNP has squandered what was an extraordinarily strong position," says a thoughtful observer from the opposition benches.

If Sturgeon’s authority hasn’t gone – and she continues to rule Scotland’s most popular mainstream party, both at Holyrood and Westminster – it has undeniably taken a shellacking. The aura of invincibility that surrounded the First Minister’s early years in power is no more, both within and without the SNP. "What struck me as she announced her 'reset' was that a woman who was often listened to in respectful silence in the past found herself being shouted at by Labour, the Lib Dems and the Tories," says a source. "There was giggling and mockery, which is new. She seemed diminished."

My own judgement is that the reset proposal, which amounts to little more than extending the deadline for a second indyref by six months to a year, will do almost nothing to woo back the half-million voters who deserted the Nats between the 2015 and 2017 general elections. In my experience, these people don’t want the referendum delayed for six months, they want it off the table. They also want the SNP to shut up about it, and they want to see the public services and the economy given full attention. That is the challenge they have set the First Minister in the four years left of this Holyrood parliament. In an enlightening article in the Guardian this week, Severin Carrell quotes voters from the "Tartan Tory" areas that recently unseated Alex Salmond and Angus Robertson. "Fed up with the SNP, simple as."

Fed up. Sturgeon’s greatest error – a charge levelled by internal critics – was to force and win a vote at Holyrood on the holding of another referendum, after the Brexit decision but before Article 50 was triggered. In the minds of voters already worried about leaving the EU and looking for what we might call strong and stable leadership, this merely confirmed the SNP’s monomania: that it saw literally everything as a pretext for independence. The step looked cynical, it looked rushed, it looked, well, desperate.

To be fair to the First Minister, she was playing a double game. Obviously, she supports breaking up the UK and needs to continually feed the beast that is the separatist movement, but she also hoped the looming threat of another referendum would give her leverage as the UK negotiated Brexit, perhaps to secure a distinct deal of some kind for Scotland. She was wrong. "Theresa May would show up for meetings with the various leaders of the UK’s nations, read from a script and then refuse to take questions," says an SNP insider. "The whole thing has been a shambles. The British government just isn’t interested."

This deliberate mutual misunderstanding is a problem not just for the SNP, but for the smooth running of the UK. Pre-devolution, a deal such as that struck with the DUP would have been discussed in Cabinet where powerful Scottish and Welsh secretaries would demand and usually emerge with some goodies for back home. Now, each nation is run by a different tribe, the relationships are oppositional and antagonistic, and no side wants to make things easier for the other. Britain has stopped talking to itself, and stopped trading with itself. We have spiralled off into our own mini-cultures, which often bear little resemblance to each other.

Ultimately, though, Sturgeon looks like the author of her own misfortune. Her tone in Holyrood as she announced the ‘reset’ was unapologetic and belligerent. There was no real humility or admission of error, and no sense that an indyref was in any way off the table. Election campaigners report that the doorstep feedback suggests she is now seen as aloof, with little interest in the average voter’s day-to-day concerns or in listening to them. Her team seem unable or unwilling to absorb this. "They’re still pushing far too hard," says one Tory source. "The only way I can make sense of it is that they’re playing it like a poker hand. They’ve come too far and feel they have no choice but to go all-in. But it’s a losing hand."

There are only two routes I can see that might, perhaps, make something of a difference. The first is a comprehensive reshuffle that brings some of the smarter, younger MSPs into the government. Many of them, as newcomers to the cause, speak differently about independence and their reasons for joining the SNP than do the generation of Sturgeon, Salmond, John Swinney and Mike Russell.

The second is to return to the debate about devo max or federalism. Again, in conversation with the new generation of Nats you are more likely to discuss these options. A number of them are technocrats who have a view of the way Scotland should be governed. They might see independence as the best way to achieve this, but they are also open to a looser relationship within the UK, one that might involve greater powers around taxation, spending and borrowing. With every UK region outside London running a chunky deficit, Scotland could set its own deficit-reduction target and develop a plan to get there. Not only would that be good for the UK economy, it would also allow the SNP to demonstrate that a separate state could work - and indeed, would work.

In short, the SNP will not whine its way to independence. Its best option now is to do what the Scottish people are asking it to do: make a better job of running the place, and stop talking about independence for a while. First, though, that requires the party to listen.

Chris Deerin is the New Statesman's contributing editor (Scotland). 

0800 7318496