5 September 2013

How do you solve a problem like Bill Walker? Vol. III

Cheering news this afternoon. Earlier in the week, the media reported that the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body was actively considering the proposal to garnish MSP salaries where they are sentenced to a spell in prison. The other avenues for taking action against the shameless Bill Walker seeming forlorn, the Presiding Officer, Tricia Marwick, instructed officials to investigate whether Holyrood could change the parliament's salary scheme. 

Was it legal and doable? I thought so. Today, it transpires that officials and the Corporate Body agree, recommending that the salaries of any MSP sentenced to a prison term by cut by 90%.  Helpfully, the parliament has released the full text of the official paper that was placed before the Corporate Body. While making it clear that recall, changes to disqualification rules and disciplining Walker under the Code of Conduct are all inadmissible, the paper endorses the idea of amending the salary scheme.  Speaking to their proposals, Marwick sent the following letter to MSPs today. 

Dear Members

Proposed Amendment to Scottish Parliament Salary Scheme 

This morning I convened a meeting of the SPCB to look carefully at the powers available to this Parliament with regard to all MSPs who are unable to fulfil the full range of their parliamentary duties as a result of being imprisoned.

As you will see from the enclosed SPCB paper, which we have released for full clarity, officials have concluded that the Parliament can modify the current Salary Scheme to provide for a reduction in salary payable in these circumstances.

Such a modification could be made by resolution of the Parliament under section 81(1), as read with section 83(5) of the Scotland Act 1998. Following our consideration this morning, the SPCB is strongly persuaded by the proposition that any Member who is unable to carry out their full range of functions as a result of being imprisoned should not receive their full salary.

From reviewing the core functions of a Member as set out in the SPCB paper, we recommend that 90% of salary should be withheld for the duration of imprisonment.

I shall therefore be seeking the Parliamentary Bureau’s agreement to bring forward a resolution before Parliament next week to amend the Salary Scheme.

In recommending this course of action to Parliament, it should be made clear we do not seek to encroach upon the role of the courts. Our approach should in no way be interpreted as a punishment - that is for the courts.

In recommending this reduced salary provision to Parliament, the SPCB is mindful of the legal advice it has received, namely that our decision should be underpinned by the following principles and apply to all Members equally, including members of the Scottish Government and parliamentary officeholders:

The provision made should respect the principle that salary is payable in return for the performance of functions.

The provision must not be motivated by punishment, retribution or censure.

The provision should be proportionate, of general application, and consistent in its treatment of ordinary MSPs and those office holders and members of the Government who receive a salary supplement.

I should re-iterate that these provisions would apply across the board in all circumstances.

Having looked carefully at the powers available to this Parliament, the SPCB is clear that this is the right thing to do and hope Members will support this course of action.

Tricia Marwick 

A motion on these proposals will be voted on in Holyrood next week. Walker is due to be sentenced on the 20th. It is important to emphasise, the MSP still may not be sentenced to a prison term. It is gratifying, however, to see Holyrood, trying to do its bit to put pressure on this man, despite the legal impediments which hedge the parliament round.


  1. I expect abuse for my position, but I think it's wrong that an MSP should automatically lose his/her pay for going to jail.
    As I said on your previous post, what if the sentence was for a 'political' crime, and his/her constituents approved of the MSP's actions?
    Maybe the family of that MSP needed the salary to keep a roof over their heads?
    Any sanction on an MSP should be down to the folk that voted for them, and i'm wary of giving that power to the state.
    This is a knee-jerk reaction.
    Just because we can't legislate in time for this particular case, it doesn't mean that we have to be seen doing 'something.'

    1. Juteman,

      For obvious reasons, you wont be surprised to hear that I disagree. That said, I can understand the issue you raise, but have fewer anxieties than you do about it. Peacefully protesting MSPs are really very unlikely to be sentenced to serve even a single day in custody, never mind a few weeks or months, even if prosecuted for breach of the peace, or the like.

  2. He has resigned so lets leave him to reflect in peace.

    1. So I heard last night. A welcome development. Good riddance to bad rubbish.