Scottish Parliament at night

Holyrood at its most breathtaking

If I was being sceptical, I would comment on the timing of the release of the Register of Interests for MSPs.  Every year, it is published on 9 July 2011 and this year, it wasn’t even press-released.  But I am not, so I won’t. After all, some things speak for themselves.

The Register is a fascinating document for many reasons.  Because memberships are listed, you can glean a better understanding of what floats some MSPs’ boats.  There are few eyebrow-raising entries – they are a dull lot really, just like the rest of us, which is reassuring in lots of respects.

What is of interest is the number of dual mandate MSPs we now have – 25 I reckon are also elected members of councils until 2012 at least.  This means not only do they receive their MSP salary of £56k but also councillor’s salary/remuneration of between £15 and £20k.

Nice work if you can get it?  Well, no actually.  There are many things I might wish to be when I grow up, but an MSP AND a councillor at the same time ain’t it.  Apparently the full time position is that of MSP, while being a councillor is supposed to be a part time role.  Register entries declare earnestly that time spent on being an elected member is approximately 20 hours a week.  I suspect they know that is an optimistic estimate – councillors especially in small towns and rural areas are literally on call all the time and some will end up spending more time than that on council business.  In a like for like of value for money in terms of time spent versus salary, councillors would beat MSPs hands down every time.

What is interesting is how many dual mandate MSPs are at pains to reassure us that they will not be taking this additional salary.

Six are waiving it altogether – Colin Beattie, Neil Findlay, John Finnie, Mark Griffin, Alison Johnstone and John Pentland.  Two are honest enough to state that while foregoing the salary, they will still claim expenses for costs incurred – Clare Adamson and Richard Lyle.

Nine though are keeping their councillors’ salary on top of their MSPs, meaning they will be earning an eye-popping £70k plus.  Or at least they are silent on what they will do with their councillor salary.  I suspect this might change shortly…. but step forward Willie Coffey, Jim Hume (both of whom are in their second Holyrood term of carrying a dual mandate and presumably, dual salaries), Mary Fee, Hanzala Malik, Margaret McCulloch, Anne McTaggart, David Torrance, Jean Urquhart and Bill Walker.

Eight remaining dual mandate MSPs intend to donate their councillor salary to good causes and charity in their constituencies and/or wards.  George Adam, Neil Bibby, James Dornan, Colin Keir, Angus Macdonald, Derek MacKay, Mark McDonald and Kevin Stewart all intend to do this and at first sight, it seems a very good move indeed.  What small community group or charity could not do with some extra funding right now?

But given that all but one of the generous MSPs are SNP ones I wonder if they have totally thought this through?  Given that this will be their second salary, it will be subject to the highest tax rate and most of it will end up back in HM Treasury’s coffers.  That’s right, SNP MSPs voluntarily giving money back to Westminster. Who’d a thunk it?  The dreaded London masters will benefit from their largesse just as much as good causes.

It’s an understandable gesture that on one level makes perfect sense.  But any dual mandate MSP wishing to benefit local activity would be better served foregoing the salary entirely and haggling with their local council to ensure their salary does not disappear into central expenditure but is divvied up in grants to local good causes.  Another potential solution for councils with a number of dual mandate MSPs might be to establish a trust or make a grant to existing Common Good funds – not the greatest guarantee of community focused expenditure but better than nothing.  This would mean that the taxable benefit could be maximised rather than minimised.

I’m sure SNP MSPs might feel more comfortable with a solution that keeps as much of their councillor salary in Scotland than sending it back to Westminster.



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