14 June 2008

More Dual Mandate Double Standards

While browsing the Official Report to assess how great my workload will be for the Whip tomorrow, I came across this gem of a Point of Order on Wednesday, at the tail end of Decision Time from Michael McMahon, the Labour Business Manager and MSP for Hamilton North and Bellshill:

Although we understand that members occasionally have business outside Parliament that requires them not to be here to take part in votes, the First Minister is not here today because he has chosen to take up his role as an MP at Westminster. I ask you to reflect on the fact that the First Minister, who should be accountable to this place, has chosen not to be here because he would prefer to take up another of his three jobs and go to Westminster rather than participate in the business that he was elected to be here for. That is an entirely different matter from a member being away from here on business that relates to the Scottish Parliament.

Now, as it happens, this is a very rare event, that the FM is at Westminster with his MP for Banff & Buchan hat on, rather than at Holyrood with his MSP for Gordon hat on. And yet here's the thing: there have been no public complaints to the Chamber from any MSP when Baron Foulkes of Cumnock has gone to vote or speak in the House of Lords rather than represent the Lothians.

So when Alex Salmond goes down to Westminster, to attend his other popular mandate, he's the Spawn of Satan. But when George Foulkes goes down to vote as a member of the un-elected House of Lords, nothing gets said.

Michael McMahon, MSP, Labour Chief Whip, and Hypocrite of the Week.


Matt's Mic said...

Dearest friend

I couldn't help but notice your article on George Foulkes was deeply unfair for several reasons.

Firstly, the House of Lords in which George sits, does not deal with constituents, which is in sharp contrast to the House of Commons. When George sits in that House, he speaks on behalf of himself and his own views, which takes up considerably less of his time than one who would have to represent a group of people, and represent them accurately.

Secondly, George has not missed Parliament due to his duties in the House of Lords. He has always been at both respective houses for important votes and debates. You can see this in the Official Report, and it is evident in the amount of constituency work he does, especially because he is the only Labour representative for thousands of people across the Lothians.

Thirdly, and this may sound more obvious, but he is not First Minister. The work he does in the Lords is unpaid, where as Salmond gets over £61 000 for being an MP, despite the fact he does nothing. (Even when he was JUST an MP, he didn't bother to vote on the national minimum wage.) This is also on top of the FM's salary of £130 000.

In total, George earns just over £53 000, while Salmond earns over £191 000.

Their situations are VERY different.

Will said...

Matt, this is not an attack on George Foulkes. George Foulkes is a dual mandate parliamentarian and takes his mandates seriously - I can't criticise that as it's entirely right and 100% proper. Alex Salmond is also a dual-mandate parliamentarian and in this case he felt his role in Westminster was more pressing, with a tight vote expected and the potential that his presence could end up making the difference. He gets slated, while Foulkes does not. I'm posting in favour of consistency: either you attack both - and ignore the fact that they both have the potential to play important roles in two parliaments - or attack neither - and let them both do the jobs that they have.

Further, Matt, you are in factual error: Foulkes has indeed missed Holyrood proceedings in order to attend the House of Lords. This has happened only on very rare occasions, but it is still possible to cross-reference the Holyrood Official Report, find no trace of his presence, then dip into Hansard for the same day and find his contribution to a debate. The fact is there are times when both George Foulkes and Alex Salmond have to choose which Parliament they visit. 99 times out of 100, they both realise it's more productive to be at Holyrood. Occasionally, however, Westminster has a more pressing matter. That's understandable - for both politicians, not just George Foulkes.

And Alex Salmond being First Minister doesn't change the fact that he is paid to be the Member of Parliament for Banff and Buchan, and it makes sense that he should discharge a duty for which he is being paid, particularly in a situation where his presence (or absence) could be crucial.

I would also suggest that you ask the voters of Banff & Buchan whether or not he does nothing as their MP. I would argue that they would have been unwilling to re-elect him in 1992, 1997, 2001 and 2005 were he inactive or ineffectual.

You're right to flag up that Alex Salmond is paid to be an MP - all the more baffling then that he should be criticised by Michael McMahon for doing precisely the job that you and I are paying him for.

I also ask: is Alex Salmond's position different to that of the late Donald Dewar, or of Henry McLeish or Jim Wallace before 2001? Or Sam Galbraith? Malcolm Chisholm? Did Michael McMahon raise points of order to criticise them if and when they found themselves at Westminster?

That is my argument: Michael McMahon's beef with Alex Salmond isn't that he's an MP and the FM, but that he's an MP, the FM AND in the SNP. If he were Labour, McMahon would be quite sanguine at the use of his dual mandate.