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.