Sunday, 11 January 2015

Because he's worth it, part 2

IN his last week as SNP leader, Alex Salmond was treated by his party to a stay at the five-star Gleneagles hotel.
In today’s Sunday Herald, I reveal the latest example of the SNP’s touching generosity to the now backbench MSP:  a chauffeur-driven private hire.
I am told “security” is an issue.
One party source told me Mr Salmond is finding it “hard” giving up the trappings of power.
Here is a fuller version of the article.

By Paul Hutcheon

THE SNP has been criticised after agreeing to fund a chauffeur-driven car for its former leader Alex Salmond.

Party bosses approved the perk, but Scottish Tory deputy leader Jackson Carlaw said SNP membership subscriptions were being used to pay for the ex-First Minister’s “imperial” lifestyle.

All First Ministers, from Donald Dewar to Nicola Sturgeon, have been entitled to a car for government business.

However, it is unprecedented for a political party to continue to pick up the tab for a motor vehicle after a leader quits.

Holyrood has provided a chauffeur-driven car for group leaders when in post, but political parties have never continued the practice.

Scottish Labour did not put on a car for Jack McConnell, Iain Gray or Johann Lamont after they resigned, while the same was true for the Tories’ Annabel Goldie and the Liberal Democrats’ Tavish Scott.

At Westminster, parties do not pay for a car for former leaders, but the UK Government provides police protection for ex-Ministers who held security-sensitive posts.

An SNP source said the car was intended to take the former First Minister from “a to b” and would save the public purse money through a reduced expenses bill.

A private hire firm is being used.

It was reported last month that the former SNP leader had been using public transport for his journeys
“I love public transport but it takes me some time to get around at the moment," the backbench MSP said.

However, it is understood his journeys are split between trains and the party-funded car.

The SNP also paid for a car to ferry Salmond about during his two spells as leader.

In 2008, the party paid a firm £2,888 to ferry Salmond around during the Glasgow East by election.

The same driver received £9,484 for a chauffeur service during the 2011 Holyrood election campaign.

Carlaw said: "Considering Alex Salmond seems determined on a new career as the SNP's backseat driver, it's perhaps no surprise the SNP is splashing out on a chauffeur driven limousine to ferry him around.

"I wonder how thrilled new SNP members will be to learn that their subscriptions are being squandered on keeping Alex Salmond in the lifestyle he has clearly come to regard as his imperial right."

Scottish Labour MP Anne McGuire said: "Alex Salmond stood down months ago but he's still acting like he is First Minister. Whether it's being chauffeured about, or announcing SNP policy instead of Nicola Sturgeon, the former First Minister isn't just a back seat driver - he's clearly itching to get back behind the wheel of the SNP."

An SNP spokesperson said: "Security assessments for the former First Minister are a matter for Police Scotland, not the SNP.

"The former First Minister has no access to the government car service, in contrast to former Prime Ministers and a number of other UK government ministers.

"Therefore, his transportation, including to party events, has no impact at all on the public purse."