Leader comment: Time to show MPs’ relatives the door

Ian Blackford, the SNP's Westminster leader, has promoted his stepson at the Commons.
Ian Blackford, the SNP's Westminster leader, has promoted his stepson at the Commons.
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MPs employing their relatives has been a age-old and accepted practice which has only become frowned upon in recent years on the back of the expenses scandal.

It is now being phased out, with Parliamentarians to be banned from paying members of their families.

In that context, news that the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford not only has his stepson on his books but has promoted him to a role which comes with a £7,500 payrise is eye-catching.

The public might feel the Ross, Skye and Cromarty MP is indeed, as has been suggested, looking after his own. But in fact, MPs have been employing members of their own families for decades, whether that be at Westminster or in constituency offices.

MPs from all parties – in some cases, very senior figures – have for many years hired their nearest and dearest to assist them. In some cases, it might have been said who else would put up with them.

John O’Leary has received his salary boost not on some extravagant whim from his step-father, but in recognition of his promotion from caseworker to senior caseworker.

There must at least be the possibility that in a more senior and responsible post, he merits the increase.

But the issue here is the inference of nepotism. While Ian Blackford may be within his rights to promote his relative and thus improve his wages, the practice of hiring relations has to come to an end because it does nothing to dissuade a distrusting public that MPs – post expenses scandal – only ever look out for themselves.

The rules have changed to prevent this practice happening in the future, but this does not cover existing employees, so the situation remains unsatisfactory.

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority announced in March that MPs would be banned from employing family members from the next general election. But last month’s snap election muddied the waters over the timing.

Since there could be five years to go until the next election – especially with voters’ reluctance to go to the polls again anytime soon – the employment of relations, new or existing, should be phased out during the term of this parliament.

That would mean it was gone completely by the time the UK next goes to the polls. A common system in place for new and existing MPs alike can only be good for boosting public confidence in our representatives.