DISGRACED former Labour MSP and MP Lord Mike Watson has been allowed to rejoin the party despite serving a jail sentence for fire-raising.
The peer has been readmitted to Labour after the party’s ruling national executive committee opted not to block the former Glasgow politician’s application to rejoin.
Watson, who served as a tourism minister in the Scottish Government under Jack McConnell, was handed a 16-month jail term after he was convicted of setting fire to curtains at Edinburgh’s Prestonfield House Hotel during a political awards ceremony in 2004.
The blaze was reported to have caused £4,500 worth of damage.
He served eight months of the sentence and was expelled from the Labour Party, after which he sat as an independent or crossbench member of the House of Lords.
However, he has now been handed back the Labour whip in the Lords as well as being allowed to rejoin the party in London, where he now lives.
A Labour Party spokesman confirmed that Watson, who was appointed to the Lords in 1997 when his Westminster seat was abolished, “had not applied to join the Scottish Labour Party” but refused to comment on the former minister’s readmission in England.
Watson, who was elected as an MSP in the first round of Scottish Parliament elections in 1999, was allowed to reapply to join Labour five years after being expelled in line with party rules.
Senior Labour peer Lord George Foulkes said that he was “strongly in favour” of allowing Watson back into the party’s ranks and said that he had spoken on his behalf when the decision was taken to readmit him.
Lord Foulkes said: “I went to the national executive committee to speak on his behalf. He’s served his time and we have got to have some sense of forgiveness.
“He’s a very active member of the House of Lords and makes a lot of contributions to debates. He suffered by losing his job and going to prison, so he shouldn’t be punished forever.”
However, Watson, who was first elected as an MP in 1989 at the Glasgow Central by-election, was criticised by SNP MSP James Dornan for sitting in the Lords when he had been forced to leave the Scottish Parliament in 2005 because of his conviction.
He said: “The fact that Labour have quietly readmitted a convicted fire-raiser is an insult to all the people whose lives Mike Watson endangered, and shows how little regard Labour have for the electorate.
“Lord Watson rightly had to leave the Scottish Parliament because of what he did – yet he is still sitting, unelected, in the House of Lords making decisions for Scotland.
“This unbelievable contempt for democracy from Labour shows exactly why polls show so few Scots trust Westminster to act in Scotland’s best interests.”
Watson, who was unavailable for comment yesterday, was previously criticised for claiming taxpayers’ cash while he was freed on licence from jail.
The Labour peer claimed £15,000 under the Lords expenses scheme while on early release. He was also reported to have claimed £48,000 in expenses in a single year from the Lords, despite taking part in just five debates.