Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Family matters

I revealed in yesterday’s Herald that Holyrood was gearing up to revise its ban on MSPs hiring their relatives at public expense. It’s a story requiring more explanation.
Following widespread public criticism of the practice, a 2009 review of Holyrood expenses by Sir Neil McIntosh backed the prohibition. MSPs, around two dozen of whom were employing family members, held their noses and approved the recommendation.
Twelve MSPs still employ relatives, according to the publicly-available register, including Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick.
In practice, the ban meant no new hires and, crucially, existing relatives would have to find new employment by the middle of the next year.
Simple? Not quite. MSPs picked mid-2015 as it fell after the next Holyrood election. The thinking was that the number of MSPs employing relatives would fall substantially and the prospect of a feared legal challenge by a staff member would diminish.
However, the UK and Scottish Parliaments then agreed to put back the Holyrood poll to May 2016.
This had led to “informal discussions” inside the corridors of power at Holyrood - in other words, the Corporate Body – about delaying the ban until 2016. Formal consideration will take place later this year.
At face value, such a review may simply give the existing relatives a year’s grace. However, other sources worry that a review could be a Trojan horse for re-thinking the entire ban.
MPs can still employ a maximum of one family member, while the Welsh Assembly backed away from a ban. A cynic should not struggle to imagine the arguments some MSPs might make.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Back to the future

DAVID Cameron’s future as Prime Minister following a No vote has understandably generated a bit of chatter.
According to Benedict Brogan at the Telegraph, Cameron would have to quit if Scotland votes Yes in September. If the PM loses part of his Kingdom, the argument runs, he must also lose his job.
The future of the First Minister hasn’t generated the same amount of speculation, despite challenging poll numbers suggesting this may be an issue in just over three months.
I had a chat with a Scottish Government source - an individual who knows Alex Salmond’s mind well - who outlined two scenarios.
My insider thought defeat on September 18th would result in the FM’s speedy departure, with the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles six days after the referendum probably being his last official engagement. Given the FM’s love of this particular event, this could be a sore one for the taxpayer.
The more intriguing scuttlebutt is what could happen in the event of a Yes vote. I’m told the FM is unlikely to lead the SNP into the 2016 Holyrood election – a role earmarked for Nicola Sturgeon.
The source said Salmond could hand over the baton of leadership months after the plebiscite and front the post-referendum negotiations with Westminster, perhaps as a big-beast Minister for the Constitution.
It’s a straw in the wind, but worth noting that such possibilities are being discussed.
Who would Labour’s First Ministerial candidate be in the 2016 election? Perhaps that’s one for another blog.