A fiddle or a muddle ? .. but when it comes to the Scottish Parliament, a muddle is always a fiddle .. and that’s how one person viewed Deputy First Minister Nichol Stephen’s claims for mortgage interest payments from the Parliament, as a member of the public has made a complaint to Lothian & Borders Police, asking for an investigation into the affair – reports the Sunday Herald newspaper.
Of course, it has taken a member of the public to ask for that step .. as it seems there are no MSPs able to ‘cast the first stone’ these days … with virtually everyone at Holyrood having some dark secret in their closet, and being too terrified of revelations on their own conduct coming out in tit for tat leaks – don’t worry – plenty more to come out, people !
I wonder how Lothian & Borders Police will handle the investigation ? Another whitewash perhaps ? Ultimately, they can only do what they are told to do … and the force being as politicised as it is now, I doubt we will end up with a situation where Stephen & a host of other MSPs who have fiddled their expenses & failed to declare income, interests & more, will be carted off in the Black Maria (YES!)
I don’t have particularly fond memories of the way Lothian & Borders Police handle investigations … I remember, for instance, one time when a major drugs investigation was underway in Jedburgh, using my own home as a base for surveillence, a tabloid journalist called me one day to ask the motives of a serving CID officer under the Detective Chief Inspector of CID in “G” Division at Hawick at the time, who was ratting out his own [married] boss for having an affair with a [married] victim of a burglary he had once ‘interviewed’. This, and a lot of other things I took note of at the time, including [still serving] senior Officers seemingly out to get their own PCs for making suggestions to the public, led me to believe the Force was fighting itself .. so much that it botched that particular drugs op and left Jedburgh awash with drugs .. to this day it seems. I have still to write about all this sometime …
There is also the not-so-good record of Lothian & Borders Police at the Scottish Parliament .. on everything from stolen laptops to allegedly stolen cellular phones (all inside jobs by Parliamentary Staff, apparently .. no one caught yet of course) . and then there is the well known cocaine den at Holyrood, where some staff seem to be in an almost permanent haze of the white stuff. Frightening, one would think .. but all allowed to go on right under everyone’s noses, as it were. or is it up everyone’s noses, I forget .. with all the leaks to leak these days.
Maybe we need to call in Taggart or Hamish MacBeth on this one … for a wee bit of impartiality ?
Anyway, not to be outdone by the LibDems – who really need chucking out of Scottish politics .. the Guardian & Observer (yes, ENGLISH newspapers) are reporting on the deeds of former & current SNP MSPs and a Green MSP, which it is only fair to report, because it shows there are a lot of the MSPs at it, at the Scottish Parliament.
Well, it will be interesting to see if the Police are allowed to do an investigation .. and even if Stephen is investigated – surely along with several other MSPs … how will the Crown Office react ? Will they receive political orders to drop the case as Stephen is a Minister in the Scottish Executive ? … same going for other MSPs who undoubtably should be investigated such as John Home Robertson … no prosecutions because they are members of the governing party ?
Only time will tell .. but of course, more revelations to come of course … and next time Mr Stephen .. instead of being kissy kissy with the likes of Tom McMorrow & ICAS, … please take note of what members of the public have warned you about. Resolving a few issues would save a lot of headlines, you know.
UPDATE 27 November : The Scotsman are covering the Stephen expenses story here : Deputy first minister faces police inquiry over expenses
Also, to answer questions on my interest in Nichol Stephen’s expenses fiddle, which came out of ICAS claims to the press, back in July, of getting the OK on amendments which run contrary to my campaign regarding regulation of legal complaints in the LPLA Bill, read this :
Scottish Accountants try to amend LPLA Bill for their own benefit – but refuse independent regulation safeguards for the consumer
Links from the Sunday Herald and Guardian to follow :
Stephen faces police probe on mortgage
By Paul Hutcheon
THE DEPUTY First Minister is facing a police probe into a breach of Holyrood expenses guidelines that resulted in him receiving around £50,000 in mortgage payments charged to the taxpayer.
Lothian and Borders police have been asked to investigate why Nicol Stephen, the Scottish Liberal Democrats leader, gave inaccurate information to parliament about a loan he took out on a property in Edinburgh.
Solidarity MSP Tommy Sheridan is also threatening to take the matter to Holyrood’s standards committee.
The row follows the Sunday Herald’s revelation last week that Stephen, who is also the Scottish Executive enterprise minister, is billing the taxpayer for mortgage interest payments on a house jointly owned with his wife. He has been charging the public almost £9000 a year through the Edinburgh accommodation allowance (EAA) to stay in a house in Morningside, despite rules blocking payments for joint mortgages.
Stephen failed to tell the parliament in 2003 that his mortgage was taken out with his wife and instead submitted a document which only had his name on it, thus entitling him to the payments.
The revelations prompted Stephen to inform officials about the false information he provided just hours after the Sunday Herald story came out.
The parliament’s corporate body, which runs Holyrood, ruled on Thursday that Stephen had “failed to follow the guidelines” on allowances and slapped the MSP on the wrist. But Holyrood stopped short of calling on Stephen to pay back the near £50,000, as members ruled he had not intended to break the guidelines.
Stephen accepted his error but claimed he had not benefited financially. The deputy First Minister said he would transfer the property into his name, a move that will entitle him to keep claiming the payments.
However, a member of the public has urged police to investigate the Minister’s role in providing false information to the parliament. The letter of complaint calls on officers in Lothian and Borders police to examine whether an “error” was committed and why the LibDem leader declined to inform parliament he had a joint mortgage.
And Tommy Sheridan said: “I am going to write to the presiding officer, George Reid, because I think it is wrong that people who receive the allowance judge whether another member who received the EAA broke the rules. If he doesn’t do anything about it I will refer it to the standards committee.”
A Scottish Liberal Democrats spokesman said last night: “There is no question of gain to Mr Stephen or his wife and no cost to the parliament. The parliamentary authorities have made it clear that there has been no improper use of allowances.”
and now the Guardian website reports on msps property transactions ...
MSPs buy and sell houses – and taxpayer pays
Politicians defend profitable Holyrood perk after Nationalist makes nearly £40,000 on flat
Lorna Martin, Scotland editor
Sunday November 26, 2006
The Observer http://www.observer.co.uk
Calls to scrap the accommodation allowance for MSPs were stepped up last night after it emerged that members of the Scottish Parliament were buying and selling taxpayer-funded properties to each other and keeping the profits.
The Observer has learned that Andrew Wilson, the former Nationalist MSP, made nearly £40,000 when he sold his Edinburgh flat to Nationalist MSP Rob Gibson and his partner, the Green MSP Eleanor Scott, after losing his seat in the 2003 elections. All three have billed the public for mortgage interest payments on the same property.
Wilson bought the flat in May 2000 for £92,000 and sold it more than three years later for £130,000. He qualified for the housing perk because he lived too far away to commute daily to Edinburgh. Land registry documents show that when he was an MSP, Wilson was registered as living in Milngavie, Glasgow, at a property owned by the parents of his friend Duncan Hamilton, another former Nationalist MSP.
When Wilson sold his Edinburgh flat to Gibson and Scott, they started to claim mortgage interest payments on the property. It will now be worth significantly more than the £130,000 they paid.
While there is no suggestion the politicians have broken any rules, it highlights the money-making potential of the housing allowances for MSPs.
Last night Gibson said Scots were getting their MSPs ‘dirt-cheap’. He said he would welcome an independent review but insisted the current system was effective and efficient.
‘If you add up the costs of those who rent or those who stay in hotels, buying is by far the cheapest option,’ he said. ‘When Andrew [Wilson] was selling his place the market was very buoyant, but who knows what it might be like in four years?
Gibson added: ‘What has also not been mentioned are the capital costs, such as furniture, we are required to make for a second home. I would welcome an independent review as it would reveal the comments of Tommy Sheridan and the tabloid suggestion that this is a money-making scheme to be inaccurate.’ Dr Scott accepted that there was a public perception issue regarding the allowance. ‘It is important that MSPs are not making rules to suit themselves,’ she said. ‘That is why the Greens have tabled a motion asking for a completely independent review of all MSPs’ expenses and allowances. I’d be happy to adhere to whatever they come up with.’
Modelled on the Westminster system, Holyrood’s accommodation allowance permits MSPs to claim rent or mortgage interest payments on a property in Edinburgh, or to stay in a hotel. Annual payments through the allowance are capped at about £11,000. The scheme also permits recipients to claim for council tax, as well as for a television licence and bills.
On Friday, it emerged that Deputy First Minister Nicol Stephen had broken Holyrood guidelines after claiming thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money to buy a home in Edinburgh, on which he had a joint mortgage in place. The Scottish Parliamentary Body said the rules stated that MSPs were only entitled to reimbursement of mortgages in their own name after 2001. However, it accepted that Stephen had made no financial gain and that the claim had been made in error.
At least 48 MSPs have profited from the mortgage interest scheme, which has cost the taxpayer about £2m since 1999. The main complaint about the perk is that it allows MSPs to buy properties with public cash and then keep the profits when a flat is sold.
Also controversial is the practice of renting from relatives. Labour MSP John Home Robertson has been billing the public £600 a month to stay in his son’s flat while Transport Minister Tavish Scott admitted billing the taxpayer to stay at his sister’s flat.
Scott used taxpayer’s money to help buy a £100,000 flat, made a £36,000 profit, and then used that to help buy a £300,000 family home. He now bills the taxpayer £1,000 a month for that.
Tommy Sheridan, the Solidarity MSP and a long-time critic of the scheme, called for all MSPs who have financially gained to repay any profits.
In a statement on his website, he said: ‘There should be no profit made on expenses from the taxpayer and anyone who has made a profit, or is about to, should do the decent thing and give it back.’
Earlier this month, the parliament’s presiding officer said the scheme would be reviewed after attracting heavy criticism.