11 September 2011

Why the devil did the Law Society donate to Scottish Labour?

The Law Society of Scotland's stated aims are as follows:

"The Law Society of Scotland is the professional body for Scottish solicitors.  We were established in 1949 and are financed by our members without any funding from government. Not only do we regulate and represent all practicing solicitors in Scotland but we have an important duty towards the public interest.  All practicing solicitors are members of the Society and are required to meet our high standards. The Society has a ten year strategy which sits beneath our overall aim to lead and support a successful and respected Scottish legal profession."

You'll notice that nowhere in that prospectus for activity is pledged support of putting Iain Gray in Bute House and a Scottish Labour majority in Holyrood. The absence of political partisanship is hardly surprising. For those with ambitions to be solicitors, participation in the Society is unavoidable.  It is an old fashioned monopolistic regulator. As such, the Society represents a very large number of lawyers in this country. According to their 2010 Annual Report, on the 31st of October that year, the Law Society consisted of 10,380 members holding practising certificates and 428 without such certification. According to Holyrood's Register of Interests, a number of parliamentarians from across the chamber are members of the Society, including the SNP's Annabel Ewing and Darth Murdo Fraser of the Tories. In the past, I know that Liberal Democrat Robert Brown, ranked second on the Glasgow regional list in 2011, also held membership. I dare say that all three of these characters will be profoundly surprised to discover that the apparently politically catholic organisation of which they are part, and in which you are obliged to participate if you are a Scottish solicitor, seems to have taken upon itself to contribute to the coffers of the Scottish Labour Party.  

Plaudits to the Corbie, whose lancing burdz eye view picked out the following astonishing detail.  According to the Electoral Commission's register of donations received, the Law Society of Scotland "sponsored" Scottish Labour to the tune of £2,400. This sponsorship is recorded as having been received on the 3rd of May 2011.  A rummage through the rest of these records reveals that no other political party seems to have attracted this (admittedly relatively modest) contribution from the body which is supposed to be representing the whole body of Scottish solicitors.  I don't imagine Murdo or Annabelle - and the rest of the membership which is not thirled by conviction to the Labour Party - will be at all gratified to discover that the fees they are obliged to contribute to their Society appear to have ended up in the pocket of a partisan political outfit in the course of a national election campaign.

Just what the devil does the Law Society think it is doing?

UPDATE 19:35

Happily, the impropriety suggested by the superficial declaration of donations is not as it seems. I received the following clarification from the Law Society about the nature of the sponsorship received by Scottish Labour - and the SNP, Tories and Liberal Democrats. What is confusing is why the sponsorship received from the Society has not yet been declared by the other three political outfits.

"We held events at each of the four main party conferences earlier this year. This was the cost for the Labour event. We published a manifesto ahead of the May election. We used each conference event to promote this manifesto. We hope this info helps. The Law Society is an entirely nonpartisan organisation and works with all Scotland's main political parties."

Panic averted.


  1. Ian Smart, past President of the Society, has tweeted to the effect that all 4 main parties received funds from the Society.

    Perhaps other parties have not been as quick to register the payments?

  2. Thanks for that Paul. There may well be an innocent explanation for this - I do hope so. Prima facie, it looks pretty outrageous - but if a convincing explanation is forthcoming, I'll obviously be happy to post a clarification.

  3. We held events at each of the four main party conferences earlier this year. This was the cost for the Labour event.

    We published a manifesto ahead of the May election tinyurl.com/5sry5va

    We used each conference event to promote this manifesto.

    We hope this info helps. The Law Society is an entirely nonpartisan organisation and works with all Scotland's main political parties.

  4. Why the devil did Brian Souter and the Arch-Bishop donate to the Scottish Nationalist Party?

  5. To think I have heard the SNP dismissed in the past as disgruntled lawyers with no real representation in wider society.


    People vs organisations I suppose.

    Care to trade invested interests between the British labour party and the Scottish national Party?

    I'd love to compare and contrast!

  6. Re: "Clarification" and why the other parties have not "declared".
    If this was the cost of holding the event at the conferences... it isn't actually a donation as such... it's a payment of rent for space and time... so I'm assuming the other parties don't regard it as a donation either. Perhaps the Labour party (North Britain Branch) were being a wee bitty mischevious with reporting the facts. Not that they would want to stir a bucket of poop up...

  7. I was going to say they probably sponsored a fringe meeting or an event at Labour's Conference but then you got that clarified.

    I wouldn't really think that does count as a donation. They are essentially paying or a service and the fees paid by organistions and exhibitors at party conferences helps pay for the cost of holding the conferences.

  8. Such a payment for an event at a conference is regarded by the Electoral Commission as sponsorship and should be registered.

    The SNP won't be obliged to declare because it is (I think) below the threshold for a national party. Scottish Labour will have declared because Scottish Labour is only registered as an accounting unit of the UK Labour party. Dunno about the other two.

  9. Police to investigate ex-MSP’s allowances

    Paul Hutcheon and Tom Gordon EXCLUSIVE

    17 Sep 2011

    POLICE are investigating alleged financial irregularities in the Holyrood allowances of former Glasgow Labour MSP Frank McAveety after receiving information from a one-time member of his staff.

    Andy Muir, a Glasgow city councillor, was interviewed on Thursday after contacting the police about the use of public money in Mr McAveety’s Shettleston constituency office. The SNP last night urged the police to conduct a “thorough” investigation.

    A former Glasgow City Council leader and culture minister, Mr McAveety was a Labour MSP for 12 years until he lost the seat to the SNP in May. He employed several staff to help him with his Scottish Parliament duties, including Mr Muir and another Labour city councillor, Alex Glass.

    Mr McAveety said the allegations made against him were “totally without foundation” and said Mr Muir’s contract was terminated after he failed to fulfil the duties expected of him.

    It is understood Mr Muir, 31, who worked for Mr McAveety from 2008 to 2010, approached the police earlier this week.

    He gave a taped statement to CID officers at Glasgow’s Stewart Street police station.

    According to the Scottish Parliament’s allowances database, Mr McAveety claimed £15,486 in 2010-11, £34,192 in 2009-10, and £37,404.31 in 2008-09, for travel, hotels, mileage and office costs. The figures do not include staff costs, which are not made available by the Parliament.

    Mr McAveety’s role as culture minister was marred by a row over his late arrival to the chamber, which he said was due to his attendance at a Scottish Arts Council book awards. He was later forced to apologise to Parliament after it was revealed he had actually been in the canteen eating pie and beans.

    He lost his job after former First Minister Jack McConnell reshuffled his team.

    Although Mr McAveety resurfaced as convener of the Parliament’s petitions committee, he resigned last year after being caught on microphone referring to a young female member of the audience as “dark and dusky” and likening her to a figure from a Gauguin painting. Mr McAveety is tipped for a return in next May’s council elections.

    Mr Muir, a Baillieston councillor for Labour since 2008, is a member of Strathclyde Police Authority and vice-chairman of Glasgow’s licensing board. He was recently rejected by Labour in a ruthless sift of candidates for the local elections in Glasgow.

    Around 20 other Labour councillors also face deselection as a result of a cull aimed at bringing fresh talent to the City Chambers.

    Last night, Mr Muir confirmed his attendance at the police station, saying: “I’m helping the police with their investigations.”

    A spokeswoman for Strathclyde Police said: “We can confirm we’ve received a complaint regarding alleged financial irregularities. We are at an early stage of our inquiries and it would be inappropriate for us to comment any further.”

    James Dornan, the SNP MSP for Glasgow Cathcart, said: “This is a worrying development and I hope the police will thoroughly investigate any evidence. Labour must ensure that if there is evidence of financial irregularities no-one involved is able to stand in the coming council elections.”

    Mr McAveety said last night: “These allegations are totally without foundation. Andy Muir was employed to work in my constituency office but as time went by it became clear he was not fulfilling the duties expected of him. To assist him, we reduced his hours, but eventually we had to terminate his contract.

    “I am disappointed in the claims this ex-employee has made because we gave him every opportunity to meet the requirements of his post.”

    A spokesman for Scottish Labour said: “These are matters between individual MSPs and parliamentary authorities so political parties have no locus in them and to suggest otherwise is quite false.”