IS there any point in Prime Minister’s Questions?

When even BBC 5 Live listeners are posing that question, something is far wrong. Those folk are generally based south of the Border, generally accept Westminster’s legitimacy and are not already asking whether there’s any point in the United Kingdom.

But, something in PMQs this week bust even a Unionist gut.

Quite simply, it was Sir Lindsay Hoyle’s failure to let Diane Abbott speak during PMQs.

Even though Tory Party donor Frank Hester said she should be shot. Even though his racist, inflammatory words were raised by Sir Keir Starmer and Stephen Flynn – the latter so angry he broke with pussy-footing Westminster convention and called Hester “bloody dangerous”.

And even though MPs’ safety was the pretext used by Hoyle three short weeks ago, when he muscled the SNP’s Gaza motion off the order paper. You remember.

Starmer and his Labour posse are accused of “visiting” the Speaker – a former Labour MP – and suggesting he’d be dumped after a General Election victory unless he broke the rules and undermined the SNP’s motion.

In the shameful mess that happened afterwards, Hoyle desperately parroted Labour’s line – that he feared MPs would be subject to intimidation and attack unless they were seen voting for a Gaza ceasefire.

And they couldn’t back the SNP motion, because despite starvation and violence against hospital doctors, Starmer still denies Israel is inflicting “collective punishment” on Palestinians. So, he wanted his own weaker amendment voted on first. Hoyle obliged.

And that bad, biased call reverberated again yesterday with Hoyle’s mystifying decision to ignore Britain’s first black female MP despite her bouncing up 46 times to try to join a debate – about herself.

Why was she not called to speak? Was it really some ancient custom about lodging a question weeks earlier – or was it because Abbott’s suspension from the Labour Party made it kinda awkward for Sir Keir?

READ MORE: 'Unforgivable': Stephen Flynn tells Speaker to quit after Diane Abbott snub

After all, a powerful contribution would only ratchet up existing demands for her reinstatement after suspension for an article suggesting Jewish, Irish and Travelling people did not face racism – something she later apologised for.

Bad timing for a Labour leader busy claiming he has totally eradicated all trace of antisemitism from the party (again) after the Rochdale candidate debacle.

It was just easier for her not to speak.

Did the posse pay the Speaker another visit? Has Sir Lindsay so completely internalised Starmer’s preferences that direct contact isn’t necessary? Or is this conspiracy theory just hysterical nonsense?

After all, Starmer did use the first of his six questions at PMQs to demand that Rishi Sunak hands back Frank Hester’s squillions. But the next five were spent on his main target – the Tory Budget.

Flynn, by contrast, used BOTH his questions and ALL his considerable fury to advocate for Ms Abbott (below). But why the heck could she not speak for herself?

The National: Diane Abbott had the Labour whip suspended (Joe Giddens/PA)

If it was just one of those things and Starmer didn’t tell Hoyle to ignore her – will we ever know? That’s the problem for two politicians with serious form. They’ve already manipulated Commons debate. Now no-one – not even their own side – believes them when they cry wolf.

Together, they’ve destroyed faith in the Speaker among Yessers, Scots and members of the SNP. Still, few at “the Palace” care about that.

But playing the MPs’ safety card to avoid an awkward split on Gaza is having wider effects. It has enabled Sunak’s empty talk of extremists undermining British democracy and legitimised Michael Gove’s anti-extremism measures due to be announced in the Commons today.

And it has created an endless focus on the Speaker’s possible pro-Labour bias.

If Lindsay Hoyle meant what he said about being ready to bend (ie: break) the rules to protect MP safety then why THE HECK would he not cheerfully trash the rules for an MP faced with being shot?

Because the perp apologised ... for being rude?

Because the comment was made a wee while ago?

Because he didn’t really intend to shoot Ms Abbott himself?

There was no good reason to ignore her and some very bad consequences.

The whole population has been primed to regard Frank Hester’s appalling words as a storm in a teacup. Not naked incitement. And certainly not worth upsetting the sacred little conventions of the Commons to hear from his MP target.

Nor by extension does Hester’s donation matter – he gave the Conservatives £10m while his company has profited from £135m in contracts with the Department of Health and Social Care.

So the £10m donation was cheap at the price – financed by taxpayers.

READ MORE: Tory ministers 'afraid of Nicola Sturgeon during Covid', says Welsh First Minister

All of which Diane Abbott might have explored without fear at PMQs since parliamentary privilege protects her against defamation and libel – had she been able to speak.

So, is that it – over?

Not on your nelly.

For five delicious, seditious minutes on Radio 5 Live, presenter Naga Munchetty discussed a listener’s assertion that PMQs is totally pointless. Well, quite.

There never is a reply from the Prime Minister of the day. And now there’s not even the chance that interested MPs get to speak about threats to their own safety.

Of course, the SNP’s Flynn was once again excellent: “The gentleman in question apologised for being rude; he wasn’t rude, he was racist, he was odious and he was downright bloody dangerous.”

But even when he’s right on target, what’s the point?

The National: Rishi Sunak is under pressure over the remarks made by Tory donor Frank Hester (Daniel Leal/PA)

It’s a pointless dance. Flynn aims and hits. Sunak bullshits. But Starmer’s weaker words (not Flynn’s) hit the headlines because he’s (likely) the next Prime Minister. So, the whole malfunctioning excuse for democracy and transparency at Westminster trundles on.

Now I realise that SNP MPs were furious with depute leader Keith Brown for expressing doubts about their future at Westminster in the wake of the Hoyle/Gaza vote debacle.

MPs are in an election year and fear a position of not taking their seats would be a real vote loser – for the SNP and by extension for independence.

And it’s true that without the campaign on independence promised at the SNP’s November conference, that would indeed be a tough act to sell because it would fit into no obvious strategy about the party’s continuing purpose at Westminster.

Flynn is much admired and when he declares “abstentionism isn’t leadership”, many will agree. Grudgingly. But SNP elected members shouldn’t cushion themselves from the buzz on the streets. Unless some Commons strategy is forthcoming soon, activists themselves will openly doubt that the SNP can hold anyone’s feet to the fire.

That’s doubtless unfair. But the longer Hoyle hangs on despite 93 letters against him and the more “odd” judgements that seem to serve the interests of Keir Starmer, the more Scots will agree with Alyn Smith’s recent characterisation of the place – a sick pantomime.

SNP parliamentarians are elected to develop, articulate and prosecute a strategy for independence within the Commons.

Beyond well-delivered lines by Stephen Flynn at PMQs – what is it?