Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Saturday 30 May 2009

MSP expenses - and 'right and proper claims'

So far in the expenses 'crisis'/'witch-hunt', MPs have been in the firing line, whereas MEPs (subject to an election next week, curiously enough) and MSPs have been curiously immune from criticism.

As far as our MSPs are concerned, it's not because they are any 'better' or even that they are less 'venal' than MPs. No, it's nothing like that at all. Really it's because their own grubby expense-claim habits were brought under some kind of control a few years back, after some unsavoury episodes became public and were subsequently subjected to the disinfectant qualities of having sunlight shone upon their expenses by having them published in detail in the Scottish Parliament website.

So far, so good, but as teachers sometimes said to certain fellow-pupils in my youth - "don't take your books to the top of the class, because you'll soon be heading back to the bottom soon enough"! For there remains room, ample room it seems, for 'grubby' claims by MSPs whenever they think it will pass unnoticed. Such is the case for 15 MSPs who thought it was appropriate to claim as expenses the cost of wreaths they purchased to lay on behalf of the Scottish Parliament at Remembrance Day. Apparently these claims were 'within the rules' so legally they have done nothing wrong.

Why do I find their claims noisome though, and why, now that their claims have become public knowledge, have the 15 so readily 'caved' and agreed to pay back the money? For the latter it's no doubt at least partly because in the current 'witch-hunt' climate over expenses at Westminster a spotlight is being shone upon many who have done nothing, or very little, wrong. It's not the money in these cases that bothers me - for I assume the amounts involved are pretty minor. No, it's the very idea that these quite well-paid folks should consider it worth their while to claim back such minor sums, rather than simply consider it a privilege to be able to lay a wreath on such a solemn occasion. The MSPs claiming seem to think that their every move can be chargeable back to the tax-payer. They seem to have the jobsworth mentality that the State (i.e. the tax-payer) should pay for everything they do when, to be brutally frank about it, it is they as partisan politicians who gain the public 'kudos' of appearing on a solemn occasion. It is significant that it is MSPs from political parties which tend to believe that the State should play a greater, rather than a lesser, role in public life who are implicated in this particular 'grubbiness'.

Now I would consider it quite normal that certain wreaths laid genuinely on behalf of the public, or corporate bodies (public or private) should be paid for out of public or corporate funds. For example the wreath which our Head of State, Her Majesty the Queen, lays on behalf of the whole nation should certainly come out of public funds. So should those laid by the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Leaders of other political parties represented in Parliament. So far as Scotland is concerned I would consider it perfectly normal that the wreaths laid by the First Minister and the Leaders of the other political parties represented in the Scottish Parliament should similarly come out of public funds. Similar considerations should also apply to wreaths laid by the heads of local government around the country - Mayors, Provosts, Conveners and the like. But I see no reason why individual MPs, MSPs, Councillors and the like should consider it their right to claim back for such expenses - if they don't want to pay for their wreaths, and don't consider it a privilege and an honour enough to be permitted to lay them and again to be brutally frank that the 'political kudos' they gain as individuals is reward enough, then they really shouldn't bother laying them in the first place.

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