Leader comment: Law to oust errant MSPs carries serious risks

Newly elected MSP for Aberdeen Donside Mark McDonald and Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon celebrate an SNP victory in happier times for the former
Newly elected MSP for Aberdeen Donside Mark McDonald and Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon celebrate an SNP victory in happier times for the former
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THE continued presence of Mark McDonald MSP in the Scottish Parliament raises serious concerns.

Elected under the SNP banner before allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards a number of women forced his resignation from the party, Mr McDonald now sits as an independent; while he accepts his actions necessitated his departure from the party he once represented, he clearly feels they should not prevent him from remaining an MSP (and collecting the £60,000-plus salary that comes with the role).

That means those who complained about him must continue to share a workplace with him. If Mr McDonald had worked in the private sector, the findings of the investigation into allegations levelled against him would have almost certainly triggered his dismissal. MSPs, however, cannot be sacked.

With all of this in mind, it is understandable that a number of politicians have called for the introduction of a new power of recall that would allow constituents to force out MSPs whose behaviour falls below the standard we might expect.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie plans to turn that widespread desire into something tangible. He will bring forward a private member’s bill which would allow voters - once an agreed threshold of support is reached - to force a by-election in their constituency. This would mirror a procedure introduced at Westminster in 2015.

There is already cross-party support for Mr Rennie’s plan; it looks inevitable that legislation will made its way into the statute books. What form that legislation might take is not yet clear.

This is clearly an area which demands the attention of politicians but the way ahead is littered with pitfalls. A mechanism which would force by-elections by petition would be open to abuse. We should be very wary of inadvertently creating an easy way to take down democratically-elected members of parliament. There is the question, too, of what degree of inappropriate behaviour should be considered enough for a recall mechanism to kick in.

We continue to hope Mr McDonald will do the right thing and step down, but, if he does not, we’re not sure the answer lies in legislation that might make all elected members vulnerable to partisan campaigns.