9 December 2013

Money Grubbing Bastards Vol. II

Blessed sanity! "Holyrood set to cut pay link after planned 11% rise for MPs" reports the Herald this morning, and a damn good thing too. 

As I set out here back in July, when these pay proposals first emerged from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, there's no reason whatever why Holyrood should follow suit, adding flipping great wadges of cash to MSPs' already substantial piles.

While I welcome the statement of principle, Robbie Dinwoodie's Herald piece contains this curious passage.

"It is understood Holyrood's cross-party housekeeping committee, the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body (SPCB), is looking at how to break the link laid down in the Scotland Act 1998. It set the salary of an MSP, currently £58,097, at 87.5% of that of an MP.  It is not clear if Holyrood would have to change the act to break this link or if it could be achieved by a legislative consent motion at Westminster." 

"A Scottish Parliament spokeswoman said: "It would be wrong to assume any pay rise will automatically apply at Holyrood. The SPCB is aware of the IPSA consultation and has considered the most appropriate arrangements for determining MSPs' pay. The SPCB will be announcing its proposals shortly."

Reading this, you'd get the impression that cutting the link between MSPs' and MPs' salaries is liable to be technically tricky, perhaps requiring Westminster legislation to effect. But this is nonsense, and Dinwoodie - or whoever he is taking his cues from - has seriously garbled his legals here. A quick look at the parliamentary record, or the 1998 Act itself, or recent events around the Bill Walker case, makes it absolutely clear that (a) it is easy for Holyrood to diverge from Westminster's salary schemes (b) that no fancy legal measures are required and (c) that almost all of Dinwoodie's legal analysis is not just wrong, but obviously wrong.

Let's clear away the fog. Firstly, Holyrood passes legislative consent motions when Westminster legislates in devolved areas. It can never be the other way around, since Holyrood can't legislate about reserved matters. Westminster recognises no such thing as a legislative consent motion.

Secondly, Holyrood can't change the Scotland Act on its own motion.  If further devolution is required to enforce a more moderate pay scale for legislators, Westminster would have to adopt subordinate legislation through an Orders in Council under section 30 of the Scotland Act, as we observed in the referendum debate - not a legislative consent motion as the Herald reports. But if changing MSPs' rates of pay relied on amending Holyrood's founding statute, Schedule 4 makes it is crystal clear that this would be outwith Holyrood's current powers. 

But is it? I think not. If you undertake a cursory examination of the Scotland Act 1998, you'll find no reference to any 87.5% rule governing MSPs' pay whatever. None of this is buried deep in the legal prose. It's all nicely set out under the heading "Remuneration of Members of Parliament and the Executive". 

The basic points: it is for the Scottish Parliament to determine the salaries of its members. Such provision may be made (a) by an Act of parliament or (b) by a motion conferring functions on its Corporate Body.  If we delve back into Holyrood's early history, we'd discover that MSPs took the latter, more flexible course and that it was the Corporate Body, not Westminster, who adopted the policy of pegging MSPs' wages to 87.5% of that paid to their brethren serving in the London parliament.

No queer legal measures are indicated or necessary to detach that peg. The Corporate Body may do so on its own authority, though I imagine they might choose to lay any changes before MSPs in a motion to be validated.  

We had a recent - very visible - example of this authority at work in the Bill Walker case. On this legal basis, Tricia Marwick was able speedily to act to change the salary scheme to cut the reluctant parliamentarian's wages by 90% during any such time as he would spend in the clink. That wouldn't have been possible, if complex constitutional tinkering was necessary.

Contra Dinwoodie, there are no legal impediments or complexities around severing the salary link. We should be able to expect similar decisiveness from Holyrood, in rejecting these disgusting and impolitic proposals.


  1. "........their brethren and cistern......"

    The Queen's is not my mother tongue, but I do know the meaning(s) of that word. Unless you are inferring, poetic like, that 'receptacles for fluids' are duly elected by the oiks in Blighty, I think you probably meant 'sistren' - the female equivalent of 'brethren'.
    I am all for neologisms, malapropisms and fanciful wordsmithy, but I do believe y'all are gonna have to provide a lexicon for me.

    And what in Hades is, was or ought to be, a 'Hessises"? This is irking me to no end!

  2. ".......not Westminster, who adopted the policy of pegging MSPs' wages to 87.5% of that paid to their brethren serving in the London parliament......"

    Where's the 'cistern'?

    Fi sir!
    I demand satisfaction to restore my honour!
    Consider the gauntlet dispensed earthward - with vigour!
    No deloping and 'à l'outrance', of course!

    My Second will be in touch.

  3. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

    I confess! In an act of whimsy, I stuck cistern in there as an arcane gag - but conscious of its meaningless, in an act of cowardice and clarity - I activated the memory hole.

    Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

    1. Okay, but true forgiveness, Judeo-Christian quality forgiveness, will be withheld until you advise me on the meaning of 'hessises'.
      I gots ta know!

      And cistern wasn't meaningless! Did I not give it life and meaning for you?

    2. Oh dear, 'arcane gag'? I now understand.
      If truth be revealed, as it is often, but not always, wont to do, it is I who should be contrite. I've the stench of the sin of hubris for thinking you erred - AND - I've committed the maximal culpa of not knowing that 'Brethren and Cistern' is a recognised - albeit arcane and probably also misogynist - phrase.
      Meus culpae!

    3. Ah surely the cistern is corrupt.

      Agree all the way LPW. There are arguments for the 11%, but in politics as in life perception is very important - too much when we are all cutting back.

    4. And great was the LAMENTATION all round ~ Twenty-second verse of the second Book of Mark the Imposter, Grandson of Deuteronomy of Gath.

    5. As to this mysterious "hessises", I haven't the nearest foggiest.

    6. It's your word!
      You used it when you described the efficacy of the Antonine Wall!
      "The antecedent Scots spearing deer and murdering Hessises in the heather according to their own laws and customs" or some such twaddle.


      It cannot come too soon, I reckon!