To: Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser
The article in this weeks Advertiser about MSP’s expenses in this weeks Advertiser was a timely one. As one who regularly criticised our former Labour MSP Karen Whitefield for her expenses claims, I thought it only right to check out Alex Neil’s expenses as a comparison. A common criticism I made of Ms Whitefield was that living less than an hour from Edinburgh she had a habit of making overnight stays in Edinburgh when a taxi home would have been far cheaper. As the people of Airdrie have elected an MSP from outside the constituency it stands to reason that Mr Neil’s claims will be higher, and as anyone can see if they go on to the parliamentary website the majority of Mr Neil’s claims are travel and accommodation based. It’s also worth noting that his claims for a hotel are on average £20 per night less than his Coatbridge counterpart. Living less than an hour from Edinburgh, surely she could get a train or taxi home for far less than £115?
This should also apply to MP’s. During the recent referendum campaign I finally met our local MP, Labour’s Pamela Nash. When I complained about her expenses her reply was that perhaps I should “spend less time online looking at her expenses.” This is a bit rich coming from a woman who voted in Parliament to support the security services being given more powers to snoop on our private emails and retain electronic information about us. Prior to writing this I checked her expenses again, just to get my facts right. It seems our MSP’s claims in Monklands, Labour and SNP alike, pale into insignificance when compared to Ms Nash’s. £1516 a month for the rental of a house in Lambeth, council tax, gas, electricity. That’s over £19,600 a year! Coatbridge’s MP Tom Clarke may be living the high life in a hotel at around £150 a night, but he still manages to come in at around £3600 a year less than Ms Nash. Taxis to Edinburgh airport are another stand out on Ms Nash’s list, with claims made due to there being “no direct public transport available.” Here’s a thought, get the train to Haymarket and catch the airport bus or take the tram, like normal people have to.
What really makes this all the more galling is that as Scottish MP’s they have far less responsibility than MP’s from the rest of the UK. Health, education, sport, transport, housing, agriculture and more are devolved. Scottish MP’s are virtually part time. They should be on half a salary, never mind the full salary, and they certainly don’t need to employ more staff to do work they should be doing themselves. More powers are supposedly going to be devolved, but here’s the problem. The “more powers” we are promised are now tied to limiting Scottish MP’s ability to vote on English only matters, and these powers are now being put at risk by Labour who as usual are putting their party first. The SNP do not vote on matters which have been devolved. Curiously the Blue Tories, one of the main complainants in this matter allow their one MP to vote on English only issues. Anyone outside of Labour would see it as right and proper that if a power has been devolved that Scottish MP’s do not vote on it, yet Labour who are putting forward a weaker “Devo Max” package than even the Tories are willing to scupper these powers simply to retain power in England. It looks as though this very thing may have forced the resignation of Johann Lamont who now complains that her party in Scotland is having to dance to London’s tune.
In this time of greater austerity we should be looking at cutting the costs generated by Parliament, and I think it should be uppermost in all MP’s and MSP’s minds that their allowances should always be thought of as other peoples money, and that when claiming for rail travel, meals and hotels and hiring staff that they should be out to get the best value that they can find for the taxpayer. When they believe that they are entitled as a right to first class travel and 5 start hotels then they have lost the right to represent us. They are not finding a solution, they are simply part of the problem.