9 July 2011

Which MSP has the X-Factor?

A new Scottish Parliament, and a new raft of declarable interests. The Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament Act 2006 regulates the financial data our tribunes are required to declare. Maintained by the clerk of the parliament, the proposition enshrined in the legislation is that we should be able to discern major financial interests likely to prey on our politicians' judgement.  While their family homes are exempted, through the register you can identify the parliament's land barons with fiefs and flats across the country; gifts, hospitality, foreign jaunts received; whether they've the odd job on the side; whether they speculate on the stock-market - and such associations and memberships as they are minded voluntarily to declare for the benefit of the rubbernecking public.  Actually, the declarations are not exhaustive. For example, under the 2006 Act, gifts need only be declared if they are 1 per cent of a member's salary (at present, £570) and that gift meets the "prejudice" test, namely...

... if, after taking into account all the circumstances, that interest is reasonably considered to prejudice, or to give the appearance of prejudicing, the ability of the member to participate in a disinterested manner in any proceedings of the Parliament. [2006 Act, section 3(2)].

Gifts of a lesser value need not be declared, but many parliamentarians do so. Similarly, share ownership need only be registered if...

(a) the nominal value of the shares at the relevant date is, or was, greater than 1% of the total nominal value of the issued share capital of the company or other body; or (b) the market value of the shares at the relevant date exceeds, or exceeded, 50 per cent of a member's salary on that date (rounded down to the nearest £10).

Some of you may be suspicious of the number of parliamentarians who ostensibly owned no heritable property. Surely they couldn't all be freeborn travellers, sleeping in the saddle - or alley-snoozers or ditch-blanketed souls couped under the sleet and the stars? Those of leery mien will be more disposed to guess some family jiggerypokery to conceal the true extent of MSPs heritable assets. In point of fact, the explanation is less nefarious, and more quotidian. It is not that most MSPs have no heritable property, but rather, that they've got none to declare under the 2006 Act. The legislation provides that residential properties need not be declared if "used as a residential home by the member or the member's spouse, civil partner or cohabitant" [2006 Act, Schedule §8(4)(a)]. More generally, for heritable property which the member does not "use as a residential home", it need only be declared if its market value exceeds 50% of the Member's salary (which means heritable property of a value greater than £28,760.50) or affords annual income - such as rent - over a given threshold, determined by Holyrood.

Those preliminary caveats aside, the interest of the new Register is partly the insight it affords into the hinterland of our MSPs - particularly given the number of new faces amongst the serried ranks of new Nationalist members and the tendency voluntarily to disclose their connections. More frivolously, and therefore much more satisfyingly, in places the information pokes fun at the (sometimes wildly implausible) baubles and bangles which certain members of parliament attracted. While many members had been on paid-for jaunts to China, different parts of Europe, Russia, Africa, the Middle East and America - grub, hotel and travel included - I was particularly tickled by the most miserable junket of the lot. Labour's Elaine Murray rejoiced in this luxuriant trip to um ... the South East of England. But at least she had something wildly exciting to inspect? Er, not really...

"On 19 June 2006 I attended a fact-finding visit to the National Grid at Wokingham. The cost of the return flight to Heathrow (value £364.70), minibus transfer and subsistence (approximate value £35) was met by the National Grid..."

Seven parliamentarians are members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, six SNP members and one Labourite: Dr Alasdair Allan, Jamie Hepburn, Bill Kidd, Derek Mackay, Elaine Smith, Dave Thompson, John Wilson. Amnesty International also attracts a number of tribunes. Dr Alasdair Allan, Roderick Campbell, John Finnie, Patrick Harvie, Jamie Hepburn, Johann Lamont and Jenny Marra all give themselves as members. The SNP's Derek Mackay lists himself as being "a family member of Amnesty", which I assume refers to the convictions of his significant other. Alas, the Campaign for Real Ale only boasts one member of parliament, in the slurpy shape of Patrick Harvie. Penny-eyed nosy parkers will be curious to discover how much the Johnston Press fork over to their columnists, Joan McAlpine confirming that she gets £270 a pop for her articles for the Scotsman.  Oh, and that she has kipped in chez Sean Connery, having been flown across the seas on the SNP's shilling, to interview him before the Holyrood election. Interestingly, the parliament also includes two clearly declared members of the Masonic Lodge. The SNP MSP for Falkirk East, Angus MacDonald voluntarily informs us that he is member of "Lodge Zetland No.391", while Mike Russell reveals (and presumably has revealed previously, but I didn't notice) that...

"On election in 2007 I resigned from active membership of Lodge 1120, Kyles of Bute, to which I had been admitted in December 2004."

Another SNP member, Stuart McMillan, reveals a secret choo-choo fetish in his voluntary disclosures, with his "lifetime honorary member of the Greenock and District Model Railway Club". Labour member for Lothian, Neil Findlay, takes an interest in affairs across the Atlantic, a member of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign which opposes "the illegal US blockade of Cuba and for the defence of its peoples' right to self-determination and national sovereignty."

I also noted with interest the backgrounds of the new Labour members, who found themselves largely unexpectedly elected to parliament off the back of their colleagues' series of defeats in Holyrood constituencies. Many of the young turks are former parliamentary moscas, assistants and researchers. Lapsing bloggette Kezia Dugdale worked for flyter Foulkesy during the last session. Mark Griffin was a researcher in the constituency office of unlamented and unelected Cathie Craigie while Drew Smith was "Senior Parliamentary Assistant / Office Manager to Ann McKechin MP at the House of Commons". But soft, they aren't all suspect West Wing watchers and grasping juveniles. Before her election in May, in addition to her duties as a Councillor in Renfrewshire, Labour's Mary Fee worked two days a week as a customer assistant in Tesco.

For cheerful implausibility, however, my overall favourite declaration of them all has to be from John Lamont, tender Tory tyro and MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire.  Cosily tucked away inside his freebie cashmere sweater (estimated value £200), in 2009, this disco solicitor makes the following startling admission...

"On 12 to 13 December 2009 I was a guest of ITV at the final of the X Factor. I estimate the value of this gift as no more than £100."

Although I struggle to picture this rather stiff young man wiggling about in the X-Factor final crowd - songstresses warbling, dancers gyrating, strobe lights illuminating - who am I to judge? After all, as we saw in 2009 with a lushed-up Baillie Bill Aitken trying to get into a "Cheesy Pop" night at Glasgow student Union, even the most straightened Tory can have hidden, surprisingly humane, shallows...


  1. "hidden shallows" - beautiful!!!

  2. hector mcglashan9 July 2011 at 17:55

    May I draw your attention to the interests declared by the former speaker, Old Etonian Alex Fergusson?

    It seems he has farmland valued at between £200K-250K and has rental income for a windfarm of £40K-45K pa (I recall that in previous years the figure was £50K). Assuming the windfarm is located on the farmland then that is a remarkable rate of return, for, in effect, doing nothing.

    I suppose that's one of the benefits of a good education.

  3. Am increasingly coming to the conclusion that the "Gandhi Solution" will not work vis a vis Caledonian-Albion relations (the increasing additions to the hump of the midden, since the "Union", not helping any residual, "psychologically" indoctrinated, knee-jerk pap inculcated into me and my peers throughout mine and their formative years - parents, schools and variants on the Kirk as well as assorted apparatuses of the "British 'State'" as wannabe world player, ad infinitum, included in the collective 'gob-shite' of their weasel words repeatedly found against as aggressions by international, judicial forums - the devolved "parliament" in Alba being one recent, parochial example of the self-same, collusionalist elites being forced into international compliance - the UN and Council of Europe -in "granting" us, the people of Scotland our own gerry-mandered "democratic" edificial outlet to vent steam in a substitute steamie).

    A unilateral Jacobin solution accompanied by our ain Sans Cullottes seems to be increasingly the more realistic, speedy and morally attractive option in the face of the Fabius Cunctator delaying ploys of of the decaying vestiges of the "'British' State" and its Jock comprador, Anglo-Pale elements - a root and branch pollarding of all dead wood in the Commonweal (including Scots Law and the "upper"-echelons of our educational system (et al)) to re-configure us not only compliant to internationally encoded standards of decency, but to carve out new vistas in the essential spirit of the Scottish Enlightenment mak't good for the world today and its multi-various peoples, ethnicities, nations and aspirant, and languages and cultures.

    The legacies of Paine and Robespierre and Gandhi and MacLean and Connelly and Joe Slovo and Mandela and Lygate and Martin Luther King still abide along with Burns and countless others in their sacrifices for human progress, mutual tolerance/embracement and enlightenment.

    Enough of this guff and let educators and lawyers step upto the plate.


  4. God forgive me, I omitted Fletcher of Saltoun, the Scots avocat, and the 1820 martyrs with Ian Hamilton QC, Airlie and Reid and unsung others - Sinn Fheinn and United Scotsmen and many, many others along with the Landleaguers and Scottish Gaucho and MacDiarmid - and multitudinous others including the Scottish Brigade in the anti-Francoist, Spanish Civil War(s).

    The list goes on...