HAVE the SNP become the official opposition in the Commons? It certainly looks that way. This week while Scottish Tory MPs missed late night Brexit debates (past their bedtime) and the Labour leader opted NOT to tackle Theresa May after her unprecedented triple defeat in the Commons, the SNP rolled up their sleeves, made common cause with fellow travellers and did the democratic donkey-work Labour just shirks.

Let’s be clear. The role of Her Majesty’s loyal opposition is “to question and challenge the Government and call it to account for its actions”.

The SNP have been doing that in every conceivable political arena this week – in Europe, Holyrood and Westminster. Can the Labour Party say the same?

The SNP started to score points for extra effort last week, when SNP MP Philippa Whitford called on the Prime Minister to apologise for her “thoughtless and insulting comments” about queue-jumping by EU citizens.

The breast surgeon and Central Ayrshire MP looked as furious as the three million European citizens working here since Theresa May’s attempt to scapegoat them and curry favour with the hard right of her own party. But her genuine anger about EU citizens like her own German husband – a GP here for 30 years – forced an unexpected about-turn from Theresa May.

Of course it wasn’t a heartfelt apology. The woman who has presided over Windrush, Universal Credit, the Bedroom Tax and all the other horrors of the UK benefits system doesn’t really do remorse. But Philippa’s intervention drew a line under immigrant blaming – for now anyway – and put people back into this dry and abstract argument about trade treaties.

Next came the legal case brought before the European Court in Luxembourg by a group of six Scottish politicians, arguing that Article 50 can be reversed or delayed by a vote of MPs – without the approval of the EU. The final decision hasn’t been made, but a preliminary comment confirms what the Scottish Six already believed. Brexit is not irreversible – even though the UK Government wasted taxpayers’ cash on a desperate and childish attempt to block their legal action.

Ironically, the main instigators were Green MSP Andy Wightman and SNP MP Joanna Cherry – both of whom are doughty campaigners for Scottish independence. Yet they went the extra mile, crowdfunded the cash and took risky unilateral action to hand real power back to the Commons. Selfless is too small a word.

And rather than make the effort solo, Andy and Joanna realised it was important to engage like-minded politicians from other parties. Rather than hog the action and the credit, their natural instinct was to collaborate with erstwhile party political opponents, and they’ve been at pains to stress the collegiate nature of their legal bid. That’s classy.

The same day in London, SNP MPs stayed till the wee small hours to contribute to the Commons Brexit debate. Westminster leader Ian Blackford made an impressive speech at the start and SNP MPs Tommy Sheppard and Philippa Whitford were finally called at 1am. Not a single Scottish Labour MP spoke and no Scottish Tories bothered to stay. Their official excuse? Tory MSP Dean Lockhart tweeted: “There are of course five days of debate and not every MP expected to attend every second. Nobody was there when Ian Blackford made his contribution because what’s the point if we have heard it all before?”

Jings. If other MPs applied that rule to Prime Minister’s Questions, the chamber would have been empty since 2016 as Theresa May’s autopilot has droned on and on.

But no matter. Even if Ruth Davidson’s half-hearted 13 were off doing their expenses, ordinary voters from both sides of the Border were tuning in and feeling impressed by the quality of debate.

Welshman Lloyd Morgan tweeted; “Ian Blackford continues a tradition of SNP Commons leaders being excellent orators. Putting both TM and JC to shame with his impassioned speech this evening. It’s getting harder and harder to foresee Scotland remaining a part of the UK. And can you blame them?”

A UNIONIST, who is “not a fan of the SNP” observed, “the fire evacuation level of exodus as Ian Blackford stood to speak by both Labour and Tories was insulting. The SNP are now talking to a virtually empty chamber. This was meant to be a debate. An important debate.”

Well quite.

But maybe that stoked up Ian Blackford for that marvellous moment in Prime Minister’s Questions when he asked what Jeremy Corbyn dared not. Changing his position on Brexit almost daily, the Labour leader astonished all onlookers by failing to mention the Commons defeats experienced by the Prime Minister the night before and asking some worthy questions about poverty instead.

Now, of course that’s a vitally important issue. But not most important the day after the Government was in contempt of Parliament for concealing legal advice on Brexit. It was Jeremy Corbyn’s job as leader of the opposition to harry, confront and basically expose the Government’s weakness. That’s what Labour are PAID extra cash as the official opposition to do. Instead, Corbyn avoided holding the PM to account lest that expose Labour’s own weak Brexit strategy and obscure the cause much closer to Jeremy Corbyn’s heart – forcing a General Election.

But never mind. There’s a new leader of the Opposition siting along from the Labour leader, and Ian Blackford rarely misses the target in Prime Minister’s Questions.

Yesterday he asked what everyone’s been thinking since Theresa May caved in and published the Government’s legal advice on her Brexit deal – how come you lied? Now of course, such direct language isn’t possible in the Commons but even Ian Blackford’s conciliatory language fell foul of the Speaker. Still, millions of British viewers saw the SNP Westminster leader go where Jeremy Corbyn fears to tread – on the offensive over Brexit. And they rather liked it.

Corbyn supporter Dylan Strain said on Twitter: “Good on SNP’s Ian Blackford for not backing down over his use of the word ‘inadvertently’ to describe May lies on the Brexit backstop.”

A Liverpudlian prompted a flurry of “C’mon up responses” when she tweeted: “Fantastic speech Ian Blackford. Reminds me of John Smith/Harold Wilson with the strength of conviction coming through. If the SNP go for independence can I move there?”

That prospect may be all the more appealing for progressive EU-loving English folk after yesterday’s outbreak of purposeful peace at Holyrood where another SNP initiative prompted progressive parties to join forces and reject no deal and Theresa May’s deal. Scots seems to find it easy to make common cause while Westminster parties find it impossible.

And the proof of that was in yesterday’s headlines. Ian Blackford’s challenge to Theresa May topped all the news bulletins on TV and radio, in Scotland and London. No mean feat – and testimony to endless months of unrecognised effort by the SNP 35, many of whom had no involvement in formal politics until the independence referendum. Few SNP MPs have spent long years within the numbing political process, so they’re as hard-working and diligent as the day they entered Westminster and as hacked off, angry and impatient as the “mere” voters they recently were.

So even though broadcasters have excluded the SNP from Brexit debate planning and nightly bulletins, the news is getting out.

Labour are playing games in the hope of avoiding scrutiny of their own unworkable Brexit plans before a General Election. But mercifully some adults are willing to shoulder the responsibility of opposition in the Commons – playing by rules they don’t necessarily respect in an institution they want to leave, but winning over sceptics north and south of the Border with each passing, extraordinary day.