07 February 2008

No Score Draw

That is my assessment of the Electoral Commission's findings on Wendy Alexander's donations. I direct you to Kezia Dugdale, who graciously restrains herself to publishing the Commission's report verbatim, when she could have launched a cry of 'In Your Face!' at those among us (including myself), who had visions of Wendy wearing a rather fetching white suit with charming black arrows all over it.

However, things may not be quite over with yet: the law is vague, and just because the Electoral Commission won't be taking things forward, doesn't mean no one else will. Scott at Love and Garbage notes that while the Commission will take no further action, an offence has been committed, and the report effectively states that.

To sum up, the Electoral Commission is not reporting Wendy Alexander to the fiscal, but believes that although she did not set out intentionally to break the rules, she didn't set out intentionally not to break the rules either, and consequently, rules were broken. Further, it may or may not believe that there was an attempt to cover up what went on, but can't prove matters either way.

So this report doesn't really do anything either way. While opponents of Labour can point to the Commission's acknowledgement that an offence has been committed, the Electoral Commission considers further pursuit of this matter to be pointless. While Labour can say that their Leader avoids further difficulties on this front, any notion that the findings serve to prove Alexander's honesty and integrity are wide of the mark: she has not been exonerated and she does not come out of this without a stain on her character.

It is therefore 0-0, and the final whistle has been blown. However, this is a knockout game and must be played to a finish: extra time must begin and if necessary, will be followed by a penalty shootout. What can we expect?

Firstly, the fiscal does have a report on Wendy Alexander from the Standards Commissioner. What will come of that? My initial hunch is very little - even if the case were watertight, the PF may wish to avoid this one like the plague.

Secondly, Labour's political tactics are coming under the spotlight once again: a nation is bewildered by the party's handling of the SNP Government's Budget, and the Constitutional Commission has failed to impress anyone in Labour ranks, with the exception of MSPs. Of course, Alexander is Leader of the Labour Group in the Scottish Parliament rather than Leader of the Scottish Labour Party, so no one else matters in theory. But she can still drag the MPs and Councillors down if she performs poorly, and they realise this.

Thirdly, and most importantly, Charlie Gordon is still the wildcard. If he ends up being cleared, he resigned from the frontbench for no reason and will have an axe to grind against Wendy. If he's criticised but stays as an MSP, he's hanging around like a bad smell, still able to taint the rest of his party. If he's damned, and resigns his seat, he triggers a By-Election, and Wendy Alexander faces her first major electoral test. Whatever the outcome, therefore, Charlie Gordon will have a profound effect on Wendy Alexander's fortunes in the short to medium term.

As always, we wait.


Scott @ loveandgarbage said...

It is always an option for any private citizen to report a matter to the PF, as the institution best placed to determine the appropriateness of further action. Given that the Commission has acknowledged that an offence was committed, but expressed a unilateral view that in its opinion it is not in the public interest to prosecute, a private citizen could refer the matter to the fiscal based on the press release and ask for further investigations or a view from the PF service.

Best wishes


Bretwalda Edwin-Higham said...

although she did not set out intentionally to break the rules, she didn't set out intentionally not to break the rules either, and consequently, rules were broken.

What a semantic nicety. Wish I could have that as my epitaph - he didn't set out to break the rules.

Happy hebrideing.

Ted Harvey said...

'Dishonourable discharges all round' is a more appopriate verdict. In Scotland in the couple of weeks leading up to the Commission's verdict there was an odd, almost eerie, dawning (across the party divides)that 'something was not quite right' with the Commission.

The Commission's performance and motivations remain, at the very least, somewhat opaque and questionable.

Most of civic Scotland is utterly bemused by the Commission's findings. It would have been just untenable to have found Wendy Alexander innocent (and don't forget creepy Charlie Gordon in the undergrowth still). So, was it a case of just muddy the waters and come out with a curious verdict of 'well, OK she did it, but it wasn't really meant and wasn't really, really bad.' (and see todays Sunday Herald editorial if you are foolish enough to believe that the Commission's performance is acceptable).

As I've said elsewhere, it's all very reminiscent of the curious need that came over Gould whereby he felt the need to issue a 'clarification' of his report into Douglas Alexander's Scottish election farce The effect of the 'clarification' was to clear Westminster-based Douglas of any particular blame in the affair that he was primarly responsible for.

If there is a remaining sense of self-respect and for a need of renewal among civic Scotland at-large, surely all these iffy- smelling activities must push Scottish Labour out into the electoral wilderness for a significant period?