MPs and MSPs should focus on representing their constituents, not second jobs – Laura Waddell

Douglas Ross, leader of the Scottish Conservatives and an assistant referee, isn’t the only MP with another source of employment, writes Laura Waddell

Assistant referee and leader of the Scottish Conservative Party Douglas Ross warms up prior to the Rangers vs St Mirren game earlier this month (Picture: Willie Vass/Pool via Getty Images)
Assistant referee and leader of the Scottish Conservative Party Douglas Ross warms up prior to the Rangers vs St Mirren game earlier this month (Picture: Willie Vass/Pool via Getty Images)

Every time I see Douglas Ross, the new leader of the Scottish Conservatives, I anticipate that at any moment he’s going to glance into the distance and sprint off brandishing a red card, a bit like a dog running after a tennis ball. Sharing a hobby can pay off for a politician, given their mind-expanding and humanising properties – but a second job takes voters for mugs.

Try explaining this situation to someone who doesn’t follow politics very closely and see whether they laugh when you get to “part-time assistant referee” or hold off for “he’s actually on the pitch at Ibrox this weekend”. This running around is a sign of how insincere the Tories’ intentions are about Scotland’s devolved political culture.

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Returning to Holyrood to fight Douglas Ross’s battles for him, Ruth Davidson put up a rocky performance at First Minister’s Questions. Imagine leaving a job that demanded too much, then being tasked with doing the grunt work anyway, for an absentee boss. But perhaps Davidson’s new peerage has made the scenario a sweeter pill to swallow.

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What is with the recent rash of MSPs and MPs flaunting their second jobs? They have unusually all-encompassing roles and are renumerated by the taxpayer as such. MSPs receive £64,000 and MPs almost £82,000. How can any of them possibly justify juggling other projects?

It’s not unusual for a politician to retire to well-paid consultancy or lobbying gigs, jumping up the pay ladder even further. It’s deeply distasteful to see the likes of, say, Nick Clegg join Facebook as VP for global affairs and communications, given all we are learning about the big tech firm’s impact on international politics. George Osborne’s stint as editor of the Evening Standard (now editor in chief) was depressing for both our politics and our press, and Tony Blair’s countenance has grown grimmer the bigger his earnings. Many politicians make money from their well-connected status, although it’s not an easy path. But some are jumping the gun.

Investment bank hires MP

Just this week Sajid Javid was hired by JP Morgan as a senior advisor. He’s no longer the UK Government’s finance minister but still MP for Bromsgrove. We’re no longer talking time pressures and absenteeism but conflict of interest. What do his constituents feel about it? Well, considering he has been in his seat for a decade, perhaps little. But it should be a national scandal that an investment bank can hire a sitting British politician, with strong influence on the party of government.

Closer to home is the stooshie over the SNP’s National Executive Committee which last week voted for the condition that candidates who desire to sit in Holyrood should first resign their positions at Westminster. Constituents surely deserve their MPs to be dissuaded from chopping and changing their roles at a whim, or spending weeks distracted by campaigning. Why should citizens vote for a representative – and why should party activists spend so much time and energy chapping doors for them – only for their side of the deal to be shrugged off, midway through term?

The move is being interpreted by some as hostile to Joanna Cherry in particular, who has been an MP for just over five years, elected amidst the post indyref wave of first-time SNP MPs. In 2015, when the party’s representation was so strongly bolstered, the prospect of individuals straddling both parliaments seemed like a throwback, particularly as the Scottish Parliament was maturing into a new decade and there was renewed public interest in what it did and just how it operated differently from Westminster. Salmond, the last to hold a dual mandate, lost his Westminster seat for Gordon in 2017. Nowadays, the prospect of a candidate chancing their arm at a second seat, even if they intend to drop their first one, harks back to an era when the SNP had fewer candidates to do the rounds, with a touch of spotlight-hogging individualism to boot.

Cherry can still run for a Holyrood candidacy, if she’s committed enough to the idea to really go for it. Indeed, refusing to undergo vetting would have been a bigger barrier. But she isn’t the only one thinking of making the switch in advance of the spring 2021 Holyrood elections. The problem is that, to voters, too many MPs popping up to say they’re thinking of abandoning post mid-term appears flaky.

SNP divisions are bizarre

I am sympathetic to Scottish MPs who would like to work closer to home. Sitting in Holyrood must be particularly appealing to many SNP candidates who’ve worked towards independence for a long time, and who now see it within reach, anticipating full parliamentary process to one day come into play at Holyrood.

But while under Sturgeon, the SNP has grown both support for independence and party goodwill to their highest-ever levels – an astonishing achievement – others in the party have spent the pandemic quibbling publicly while relative newcomers demand to hop between parliamentary jobs that the party took decades to gain. To outsiders, it looks bizarre. If independence is the goal, why are they doing this? Personal ambition and interpersonal grievances seems the only plausible answer.

The fury stoked online might generate headlines, even about dry internal party mechanisms (and no doubt the discontent faction will be on to another issue in a fortnight), but a poll by the Times last week undermined the noisy Salmondite camp. “When asked to compare the two, only five per cent of voters backed Mr Salmond compared with 60 per cent who said Ms Sturgeon had been better”, the paper reported, with figures widenining yet further when only SNP members were polled. Empty barrels make most noise.

This year, months down the line of coronavirus, there is new understanding of what essential workers go through, the supermarket staffers, teachers, and doctors and nurses who put themselves at risk to care for the public. It has been a tough, tough year. Many might wonder why politicians distracted by opportunities of additional power and money can’t just concentrate on their actual, taxpayer-funded jobs.

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