Monday, February 11, 2008

Scottish Snouts in the Trough

In March 2006 I wrote about the Runaway Gravy Train, prompted by George Reid, the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament calling for a radical overhaul of MSPs allowances. I said it was good news, but would anything happen; I thought it doubtful. At the time Jack McConnell thought it was a good idea and since then Alex Salmond has thought it a good idea. Still nothing happens.

The big money fiddle is in the amounts that MSPs can claim for accommodation in Edinburgh. Mr Reid chose to save the taxpayer money by staying in a hotel; many choose to buy second homes in the city. In 2005/6 three MSPs have shown how much money is to be made and how easy it is to do it. John Home Robertson, since retired, who lives in the Scottish Borders, where many people commute from, and represents East Lothian, which is right next to Edinburgh, pays rent on a flat in the city that is 'owned' by his teenage son - shades of Mr. Conway.

Tavish Scott, the Transport Minister and Lib Dem, is another that’s leapt aboard the gravy train. He first of all lived in his sister's Edinburgh flat, bought it and then sold it for a profit of over £30,000 Mr. Scott now has a mortgage on a 'substantial' Morningside property that he apparently shares with a BBC journalist. When questioned Mr Scott has used the 'no comment' defence, probably hoping that things will blow over. Why should they? Why should he operate within the letter of the code but clearly sit outside the standards of behaviour that we expect from our MSP's. We have so far paid over £50,000 towards Mr Scott's properties, he's pocketed a decent sum of money, is potentially in line to make more and he can't even be bothered to say anything other than, "I'm not going to comment on anything to do with this." Even Mr. Home Robertson managed to say. “There is no question of any financial advantage to anybody,” concerning his own rental arrangements at the flat his son owns.

Then there's the case of sanctimonious Nicol Stephens, the Deputy First Minister, and another Lib Dem. Mr Stephens saying he acted "in good faith and with no financial gain". Does that mean he will give back the profit on the sale of his Morningside residence if and when he comes to sell it? If this situation were not so serious it would be laughable. He claimed thousands of pounds on a house jointly owned with his wife; the rules state the MSP must be the sole owner. Of course without his wife's salary in the mix he wouldn't have been able to buy such a home.

It's not about whether or not MSPs have followed the rules, it runs much deeper than that; it shows contempt for the electorate. It's no longer good enough for MSPs to say, it’s a new parliament and it takes time to work through these situations. Surely Mr Stephens checked his expense claims to ensure that he was absolutely clean on this? The unstoppable gravy train that ordinary people perceive as running rampant amongst MSPs is a depressing comment on the state of our parliamentary democracy.

So Alex, what's going to happen then?

1 comment:

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Scandalous and well done for highlighting the issue. "Contempt for the electorate" is exactly what it is.