Lets Bring Politics Home


Posted by in May's Magazine

Deidre Brock MP for Edinburgh North and Leith

Holyrood will be twenty this year. Some of the longer-toothed amongst us remember the days, earlier in this century, when Labour’s Henry McLeish was First Minister of Scotland (if you don’t remember, Google it!). It didn’t end well as he was forced to stand down for sub-letting part of his constituency office without declaring the income. 

This was something he described at the time as “a muddle, not a fiddle” – this may well be true but it fell below the standards we expect from a public servant so it was right for him to go. I don’t look back fondly on this era, we’ve achieved an awful lot more in Scotland since the current government got their hands on the Holyrood tiller, but it does make me remember a simpler time when this was what you called a scandal.

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Since then we’ve witnessed so much jaw-dropping skulduggery at Westminster that McLeish’s impropriety almost pales into insignificance. There has been cash-for-honours, cash-for-questions, cash-for-influence, cash-for-duck houses and cash for second homes. A whole culture of secrecy and abuse of public money amongst MPs was revealed to the rightful fury of the public. 

Stringent changes to the rules were brought in, but you can still feel the resentment and resistance from many of the privileged members that stalk these corridors. Modern notions like transparency are not a natural part of their DNA; even the walls seem resistant to change.

The expenses scandals did, at least, bring reforms, however reluctantly they were received. But nowadays we see the scandal of dark money influencing democracy and almost nothing being done to clean it up. Political groups who shield the sources of their cash from public view are aggressively pushing their own agendas. 

We now know that the EU referendum was won on the back of widespread cheating – why there is not greater outrage about this is beyond me. The Leave campaign illegally overspent using money channelled from anonymous sources. They misused people’s data with help from disgraced company Cambridge Analytica. Whose people were spotted visiting No 10 Downing Street for reasons still unknown to you and I, as it was not included in their transparency data. (Trust me, I’ll keep at this!) Those who broke the rules got little more than a slap on the wrist. Meanwhile, the result they helped shape is bringing the UK to its knees.

Wherever there are human beings and there is power, there is always a risk of corruption – no party or parliament or major organisation is immune. The difference is how things are scrutinised and when a scandal breaks, how it is handled. If the instinct is to cover-up, sweep it under the carpet, find ways around the rules or ignore it then things will fester until you end up with democracy itself in disrepute. 

Enric Miralles and RMJM’s beautiful hemicycle debating chamber at the Scottish Parliament offers a nice European-style horseshoe shaped chamber for more collegiate debate than the Commons bear pit 

I think that is where we are at in Westminster, where politics has started to eat itself. Looking at the current bourach in British politics, you have to ask, what would it take to bring down a government these days? 

We have an absolute rabble of a cabinet. Ministers come and go in storms of indignation so often that we can barely remember who’s who. Others like the Scottish Secretary threaten to resign then just stay in their jobs, looking out for their careers instead of doing what’s best for the people they serve. The situation oscillates between a tragedy and a farce, but the one thing that is certain is that it’s a constitutional crisis and one that should, I hope, spur Scotland into grabbing the reins for itself.

We’ve reached an all-time low at Westminster and I can’t see a way out except via the East Coast line to Edinburgh. Our modern parliament at Holyrood was designed with transparency in its processes, proportional representation in its voting and a nice European-style horseshoe shaped chamber for more collegiate debate than the Commons bear pit. 

The place is easy to access, involvement from the public is welcomed rather than discouraged, and the walls of meeting rooms are made of glass to make sure you can see what they are up to! This could not stand in greater contrast to the dark rabbit warren of Westminster – built, it would seem, for secrets. At Holyrood there aren’t lots of shady private bars in which to hide from public scrutiny – MSPs are closer to home and they will soon get telt if and when they step out of line.

It’s time we trusted our politicians in Scotland to get on with the job of running Scotland. There’s a lot to be done and we are done wasting time just to go backwards with Brexit. There is poverty to tackle, jobs to create, international relations to foster, climate change to fight and a culture of equality, respect and dignity for all to support. Let’s bring politics home.

Twitter: @deidrebrock

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