Tory sleaze, downplayed by BBC, has corroded the UK's civic institutions. Another reason to back Scottish independence – Kenny MacAskill

There’s a stench of sleaze wafting from Westminster. Firstly, there was Lady Mone and the PPE scandal. She’s ducked for cover and the Tories appear to have simply disowned her, but it’s not gone away and is hanging around as all bad smells do.

But now from the House of Commons, comes the whiff of something unpleasant involving Boris Johnson and the BBC chair and, most pungent of all, Nadhim Zahawi and his taxes.

These are only the latest scandals from the House of Sleaze. The expenses furore have been and gone, with duck ponds funded by the taxpayer and even Zahawi’s stables being heated, although thankfully no more. But corporate lobbying remains and a large number of MPs still have outside jobs with huge salaries, raising questions about impartiality.

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There’s questions over senior Labour figures and their funding from private health care but, overwhelmingly, this is a Tory aroma. The sins of others, which do occur, are blown away by what’s become endemic within a party which sees itself as entitled to do as it wishes. And one where political principle has been supplanted by enrichment of their wealthy backers, with a cut of it for themselves as a thank you.

Nadhim Zahawi shouldn't have remained an MP after his part in the expenses scandal (Picture: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)Nadhim Zahawi shouldn't have remained an MP after his part in the expenses scandal (Picture: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)
Nadhim Zahawi shouldn't have remained an MP after his part in the expenses scandal (Picture: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

There’s much criticism of Holyrood and disparaging comparisons made with Westminster but on sleaze Holyrood’s a fragrant oasis. I was in that institution when Henry McLeish resigned. He’s a good man and a friend. His legacy in free personal care stands to this day and his work on prisons and other aspects of civic life is exemplary.

He committed no crime nor gained any benefit and was simply a victim of the political atmosphere at the time. It was a “muddle not a fiddle” yet the hounding by media and opposition was relentless and I’m still ashamed by my silence at the time.

But neither then nor now would what passes as daily business in London be acceptable. The BBC has long since lost its standing for me in terms of any sense of impartiality. For information on Ukraine, I’ll look to other sources whether foreign news outlets or websites. Worse still has been their involvement in the manipulation of Brexit and that’s matched by the downplaying of Tory sleaze. But when the BBC chair fails to disclose his role in financially propping up Boris Johnson, what can we expect? They see it as their right.

Zahawi’s even worse and confirms that it’s the poor that pay the taxes yet get the blame whilst the rich get all the gravy. Whether this was simply avoidance that’s legal but debatably ethical or a mistake, I don’t know. But paying lawyers to seek to suppress the story and being disingenuous in explaining what happened is simply unacceptable for high public office. How he’s still an MP, let alone in government, after the expenses scandal also defeats me.

It stinks but it’s part of the fabric of the institution and it’s not changing anytime soon. It’s why, for all the criticism of “nodding donkeys” in Holyrood (and I share the concerns on that front), at least the culture’s untainted. The Tories have corroded British civic institutions and even their removal from office won’t change them. It’s another reason why an independent Scotland could do so much better.

Kenny MacAskill is Alba Party MP for East Lothian



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