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Holyrood needs power to remove MSPs, says Salmond

The First Minister has written to UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg urging action. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

The First Minister has written to UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg urging action. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Holyrood should be given power over the disqualification of MSPs “without delay”, Alex Salmond has demanded.

The First Minister called for the Scottish Parliament to be given responsibility for this, as well as whether MSPs should be recalled, in the wake of the case of disgraced MSP Bill Walker.

Mr Salmond - who has already called on Walker to resign his Holyrood seat - has now written to UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg urging action.

The First Minister believes that power over disqualification and the recall of MSPs could be devolved relatively quickly, by means of a statutory instrument at Westminster.

He told Mr Clegg there was “an unanswerable case that these are matters that the Scottish Parliament should be in a position to address on its own account rather than relying on Westminster”.

Walker, a former SNP politician who now sits as an independent MSP, is due to be sentenced later this month after being found guilty of a string of domestic abuse convictions spanning almost three decades.

If he is jailed he could have 90% of his salary docked, with MSPs due to vote on proposals to reduce the salary of any member who is given a prison sentence.

Disqualification of MSPs is determined by UK legislation, with the law stating that an elected member who is jailed for more than a year will be disqualified.

But the maximum sentence the court can impose on Walker is one year, as the case was tried at summary level in the sheriff court, allowing him to remain as the MSP for Dunfermline even if he is jailed.

In a letter to the Deputy Prime Minister Mr Salmond said: “You will be aware that a Member of the Scottish Parliament was recently found guilty of domestic abuse and breach of the peace.

“Sentence is due to be handed down on 20 September but it is already clear that as the sentence in this case cannot exceed one year it will not trigger automatic disqualification of the Member from the Scottish Parliament.”

Mr Salmond and other politicians have already demanded Walker quit, with an overwhelming majority of MSPs having signed a motion submitted by Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie urging him to step down

“I have publicly called for the MSP to resign voluntarily,” Mr Salmond told Mr Clegg, the UK Liberal Democrat leader.

“Willie Rennie has lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament calling for the member to stand aside, which has received support across the Parliament.

“However, the fact is that the existing devolution settlement means that the Scottish Parliament does not have the necessary competence to legislate in this area.

“It is my clear view that the Scottish Parliament should have the ability to decide for itself the arrangements for the disqualification of its own Members.

“I would therefore urge that, without delay, you put in hand the necessary steps to provide the Scottish Parliament with legislative competence over parliamentary disqualification and the recall of MSPs.”

At the moment the UK Parliament has no power of recall for MPs, but the coalition agreement between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats states they will bring forward legislation to “introduce a power of recall, allowing voters to force a by-election where an MP is found to have engaged in serious wrongdoing and having had a petition calling for a by-election signed by 10% of his or her constituents”.

Mr Salmond said if power in this area was transferred to Scotland, how this would be applied “would need to be carefully considered on a cross-party basis within the Scottish Parliament, in close consultation with the Presiding Officer”.

But he stressed: “I believe that there is an unanswerable case that these are matters that the Scottish Parliament should be in a position to address on its own account rather than relying on Westminster.”

 

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