Kenny MacAskill: Don’t throw the book at Ruth over extra work

Ruth Davidson has brought colour to a Parliament that is no stranger to grey and beige. Picture: John Devlin
Ruth Davidson has brought colour to a Parliament that is no stranger to grey and beige. Picture: John Devlin
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The declaration by Ruth Davidson that she’s been paid to appear on the TV Show Have I Got News For You and received a fee to write a book on successful women caused a political stooshie. But, why should it? It’s something that not just other politicians, but party leaders, have done before.

After all, prior to 2007 and becoming First Minster, Alex Salmond wrote columns for newspapers and appeared on the same TV show. If she’s willing to do the work that’ll be required for the book, good luck to her. Moreover, if she’s happy to take the ribbing that goes with appearing on the show, she’s entitled to it; though to be fair she seems able to handle it with aplomb.

I know from experience that it’s likely to eat into her personal free time. If it begins to encroach into that of her job, whether as leader or representative, then colleagues and the electorate will soon tell her. Indeed, it’s a good thing showing another side to her and giving a hinterland than many politicians lack. So, the criticism is misplaced.

It isn’t another career that can conflict with her primary responsibility as an elected member of parliament. That’s another thing entirely and something to be deprecated. Being an MP or MSP is a full-time job. It’s an honour and a privilege and requires to be treated with the respect it deserves, given the trust that has been placed in you. It cannot be a part time enterprise or an indulgence built around or alongside another occupation. Ms Davidson’s colleague Professor Adam Tomkins would do well to take note, given he seems to think he can be both a part-time lecturer and an MSP for Glasgow. It’s neither fair to his students nor appropriate for his constituents.

The days of when being a Member of Parliament was an indulgence that was often built around a career at the Bar or as a stockbroker are long gone. It’s disrespectful and shows a lack of professionalism for a post that requires full time commitment. Changes made at Westminster have ended the late starts to allow work to be conducted before the political pastime was entered into. The ability to run that parallel career has ended. Holyrood never suffered from such abuse though it’s so-called family friendly constraints can be a hindrance, when vital issues need appropriate time for debate.

It’s now a full-time job and should be treated as such. Seeking to do consultancy, lecturing or whatever is an abuse. For sure, the remuneration isn’t the highest but it’s hardly penury. Both at Westminster and at Holyrood a reasonable salary is paid that many would be grateful for, and expenses are there to cover outlays. It involves, though, long hours and eats into free and family time.

Moreover, for many professionals being elected can result in a significant loss of earnings. Both Dr Philippa Whitford as a surgeon and the late David McLetchie as a city lawyer discovered that. It’s to their immense credit that they chose to put public service before their professional salary.

Parliaments should try and reflect the nations they represent as much as is possible. That means people of both genders and all races, bringing a variety of skills and talents. Significant progress has been made on gender though a journey still needs to be travelled. On race, no party comes out well and work needs done. It should also try and reflect all ages and walks of life. Some very young members like the Green MSP Ross Greer in Holyrood can bring a fresh perspective, and wisdom can be added by many a silver haired representative, as Westminster has shown over the years.

Our elected representatives should also come from a variety of walks of life. There has always been a preponderance of lawyers, and I was one, but having others from both the professions and other jobs is important. It is after all meant to reflect the nation, not the Bar Common Room. Moreover, people are rightly suspicious of the growing trend for almost identikit politicians who have been researchers who then succeed to being the elected representative themselves. They seem invariably to have dressed in black suits and red ties if Labour, blue suits and blue ties if Tories and yellow dresses or blouses for SNP. To be fair some make an outstanding contribution when elected. But, it does breed suspicion in the public of a political elite across all the parties. My own advice to those who worked for me and aspired to become elected representatives was to go and work elsewhere before seeking nomination.

It’s for that reason that having a hinterland is a good thing. There are some politicians who i doubt have read a book, let alone could write one. It has to be balanced of course. Ms Davidson’s colleague Douglas Ross MSP has been criticised for missing meetings to pursue his indulgence as a football referee. That’s not a career and his contribution to an area of the national game that’s much maligned is to be applauded. However, he’ll need to limit his European games or it will encroach upon his parliamentary obligations, which would be unacceptable. That is a shame for him in many ways, but all elected representatives have to make sacrifices.

Equally Ms Davidson’s Aberdeenshire colleague Alexander Burnett has been taken to task over his business interests. He’s a wealthy and successful man. Much of that is no doubt to his credit. However, it cannot be allowed to interfere with his parliamentary duties. He’s elected for the benefit of his constituents not his business. It is no doubt difficult to re-assess commitments quickly but he must do so and ensure that there’s no conflict of interest. Just because Donald Trump does it, doesn’t mean Scotland should import it.

So, good luck to Ruth Davidson in her chosen interests, they’re not a parallel career but can improve her both as a person and as a representative.