Magazine article Public Finance

Publish and Not Be Damned

Magazine article Public Finance

Publish and Not Be Damned

Article excerpt

MSPs have been walking taller in the past few weeks as Westminster has sunk deeper into the mire of expenses scandals. Holyrood has not been caught in the Telegraph net because MSPs' expenses are already open to view.

Suddenly the Scots appear paragons of virtue. This is a novel experience for a Parliament that has had its share of scandals over the past ten years, such as the cost of the Holyrood building itself. It has had its financial scandals too, but they have tended to be of a bonsai nature compared with the show-stoppers in Westminster.

The leader of the Scottish Conservatives, David McLetchie, resigned in 2005 over his excessive use of taxis. The Labour leader, Wendy Alexander, resigned last year over campaign funding irregularities amounting to £950. Her predecessor as Labour leader, Henry McLeish, resigned from the office of first minister in 2001, after it emerged that he had been subletting his constituency offices in contravention of the rules in Westminster.

No1 that isn't a mistake. McLeish's offence related to his days as an MP in Westminster, before he entered the Scottish Parliament, when he came to an arrangement with the Fees Office over letting out his offices. He said it was a 'muddle, not a fiddle' and it was - but he had to resign anyway.

It's a measure of the rigour of the rules on expenses in the Scottish Parliament that MSPs can lose their jobs for transgressions in other Parliaments. Many MSPs have said, ruefully, that the Holyrood regime is too strict, too rule-bound, too unforgiving. They are not saying that now. Indeed they are congratulating themselves on their foresight. If only the Commons had adopted the Holyrood expenses regime, the recent scandal might never have happened.

It's simple. All you need to do is ensure that all expenses are declared openly and posted on the Parliament's website.

Go and have a look. MSPs don't claim for moat cleaning, duck houses, dry rot, trouser presses, hob nobs, dog food, toilet seats or fake Tudor beams. This is because it would be front page news the moment they posted it on the expenses website. With transparency, there is no story, just a lot of boring numbers - except when something odd arises, such as when 15 MSPs apparently claimed for poppy wreaths for Remembrance Day, money they will now pay back.

The one area on which MSPs might have been vulnerable, the use of parliamentary expenses to finance the purchase of second homes, was also tightened up just in time. From 2011, MSPs will have to rent or use hotels when attending Parliament. This reform was the result again of newspaper revelations about certain MSPs making large capital gains on selling houses bought with public money in the Edinburgh property market. …

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