Bill passed to cut jailed MSPs’ salaries

JAILED MSPs will be stripped of 90 per cent of their pay under new measures passed at Holyrood last night – despite warnings that it was a “second-best solution”.

The amendment was launched following Bill Walker's guilty verdict. Picture: Neil Hanna
The amendment was launched following Bill Walker's guilty verdict. Picture: Neil Hanna

The changes to the rules were passed after wife-beating MSP Bill Walker was poised to claim his full salary if jailed for a string of assaults on three of his former spouses.

The new move will not now affect the disgraced ex-Dunfermline MSP, as he resigned from his seat at the weekend – and MSPs at Holyrood last night said the need to act had eased.

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“The urgency is no longer faced,” Green co-leader Patrick Harvie said. “When serious offences are committed, there should be a serious consequence.

“My concern is that if we pass this without proper thought, without looking at the alternatives, we’ll open up the possibility that a member in future who commits serious offences is given a trivial response.”

Mr Harvie also called the proposal a “second-best solution.”

Scottish Secretary Michael Moore is seeking legal advice on ways to to tackle Holyrood’s inability to eject Walker after the criminal charges against him were proven.

The former independent MSP faces up to 12 months in prison – but, as it stands, MSPs must be sentenced to more than a year in jail before they lose their seat.

These rules are under Westminster’s control and any change would need to be backed by the coalition government.

SNP back-bencher Christine Grahame was among a number of Nationalists who broke the party whip and either voted against the salary changes or

abstained. “This is not the way to do it,” she told MSPs. “We should all be allergic to on-the-hoof

legislation.”

Ms Grahame, who convenes Holyrood’s justice committee, said she “fully understood” why the measures had been rushed through, but the urgency had gone with Walker’s departure.

The former lawyer warned the measures contain no discretion over the length of the sentence and added that they included any MSP being held on remand – before their case had been heard and guilt established.

“Remand is innocent – many people on remand are very innocent. What happened until innocent until proven guilty?” she added.

Parliament should not back the plans without “considered debate”, she added, amid concerns that the change is happening so that MSPs were seen to be acting. “This is wrong – this is just wrong,” she added.

Walker, of Alloa, Clackmannanshire, was convicted of a string of domestic abuse offences against his ex-wives in a summary trial at Edinburgh Sheriff Court, which only has power to imprison him for up to a year for his crimes when he is sentenced on 20 September. That would have given him the option of continuing as an MSP.

Walker, 71, initially rejected a motion, signed by the vast majority of MSPs, to quit. He relented on Saturday only after proposals to dock imprisoned MSPs’ pay were presented by the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body (SPCB), which oversees the running of Holyrood.

The amendment to the Scottish Parliament salaries scheme was backed by 105 MSPs, with seven voting against and four abstaining.

Tory MSP Mary Scanlon, who sits on the SPCB, defended the salary cut. “We have considered all of the relevant issues and taken all of the appropriate legal advice and have not reached the decision to bring this motion before parliament lightly,” she said.