ON November 30, Ian Blackford MP, the parliamentary leader of the SNP at Westminster, introduced a motion of censure against the Prime Minister.

A motion of censure is a parliamentary mechanism for formally ­criticising a minister of specific misconduct, misbehaviour, or serious failings in office.

The process is political, not legal. A debate on a motion of censure is not a forum for the ­forensic examination of evidence, but an ­opportunity to test the Government’s political strength. If passed, a motion of censure normally counts as a vote of no-confidence in the Government, so if the Government’s majority were to be ­whittled away (by resignations, by-election losses, or a major backbench rebellion) a censure motion could force either the Government’s resignation or a dissolution of Parliament.

However, as long as the Government ­maintains the support of a well-whipped ­majority, the ­effect is mainly symbolic. This was, after all, an SNP “Opposition Day” debate, falling on St Andrews’ day, and the aim was ­simply to draw public attention to the shoddy state of the UK Government.

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The motion was, predictably, defeated by 320 to 214: the Prime Minister escaped ­unscathed. Even so, the result is not without ­interest. A great many Labour and the LibDems ­members ­supported the SNP motion, while 40 ­Conservative MPs did not, for one reason or another, leap to the defence of their own Prime Minister.

The list of Blackford’s complaints against the Prime Minister included, “frequently ­violating the sixth Principle of Public Life” (Honesty), “seeking to undermine the recommendations of the Standards Committee”, “regularly ­ignoring independent advice on matters such as ­international treaties and breaches of the ­Ministerial Code by his ministers”, “putting forward proposals to diminish the powers of the Electoral Commission”, and “ignoring ­independent advice concerning the granting of peerages to Conservative party donors and nominations to public bodies such as Ofcom”.

This hardly scratches the surface of the ­current UK Government’s miscreant ­behaviours, but it does reveal something of the tone of them: a fatal combination of incompetence, corruption and authoritarianism.

The National: SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford pointing at Prime Minister Boris Johnson during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London on Wednesday December 8, 2021.

One point where these three vices meet is in appointments to certain public offices which ought – according to unwritten convention and decent norms of parliamentary democracy – to be independent, neutral and non-partisan.

The great scholar of the 20th ­century ­Westminster system, SA de Smith, ­distinguished between: (a) the legislative and executive ­institutions, which are the arena of ­policy-making and partisan politics, and (b) the permanent, impartial “neutral guardians” that are supposed to uphold the integrity of the ­political system as a whole. The latter include the civil service, judiciary, police, Electoral Commission, Boundaries Commissions and so forth.

In the absence of a written constitution ­embedding and protecting these principles, and transforming them from general notions into enforceable rules, these “neutral guardian” ­institutions can become dangerously politicised.

Blackford’s motion cites appointments to ­Ofcom, but there are other causes for alarm too.

On December 7 the new Chief of the Defence Staff, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, gave a speech to the Royal United Services Institute in which he riffed on the themes of “Global Britain”, “Levelling Up” and “Strengthening the Union”. These blatantly partisan slogans and catchphrases are now evidently driving the UK’s ­defence policy. It is almost as if the Armed Forces have become the military wing of the Tory party. That is deeply hazardous in a ­country that still claims to be a democracy.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister’s nominee for First Commissioner of the Civil Service Commission is the prominent Vote Leave activist Baroness Gisela Stuart. She is, apparently, “committed to maintaining the excellence and impartiality of our civil service”. So that’s reassuring …

It is not my intention to criticise any of these people personally. The fault is a constitutional one. One of the functions of a constitution is to preserve the distinction between the State and the Government of the day. It ensures that the Government, although it can set policy, can do so only within certain institutional rules. Without a constitution, that distinction is blurred.

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Appointments placing loyalists in key ­institutions have to be seen in the context of ­other Government policies: attacks on the ­Human Rights Act and on the judiciary, ­restrictions on the right to protest, a terrifying power to strip people of citizenship. All these things would, if only we had a halfway decent constitution, be unconstitutional. Together, they point to the consolidation not just of a Tory Government, but a Tory State: a Tory Regime.

It is too late to speak of mere constitutional reform. We must now speak of constitutional “refoundation” – salvaging what we can, and building up a new constitution. That seems impossible in the United Kingdom. It might be possible in ­Scotland and Wales (and perhaps, one day, after a great change, in England too).

The TNT show is taking a short break. Normal service restarts on January 5. Have a great Christmas and New Year