Holyrood needs recall system to give voters ‘ultimate sanction’

Derek Mackay resigned after it emerged he had repeatedly messaged a 16-year-old boy. Picture: John Devlin
Derek Mackay resigned after it emerged he had repeatedly messaged a 16-year-old boy. Picture: John Devlin
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Voters must be allowed to get rid of “unacceptable” MSPs without having to wait for a Holyrood election, the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats has said in the wake of the Derek Mackay scandal.

Willie Rennie has urged Holyrood’s Standards Committee to create a recall mechanism to allow electors to trigger by-elections when “serious and harmful behaviour” by MSPs has occurred.

He said the Scottish Parliament should introduce powers similar to those in Westminster to sanction MSPs guilty of “unacceptable conduct” and that the people of Renfrewshire North and West have now been left “helpless”, with no way of getting rid of their disgraced MSP.

Mr Rennie’s call comes a day after his colleague Alex Cole-Hamilton said MSPs should be subject to PVG (Protecting Vulnerable Groups) checks as they often had unsupervised access to children, young people, and vulnerable adults.

He has asked that the forthcoming Disclosure Scotland Act be amended to cover elected representatives at all levels.

Shamed former finance secretary Mr Mackay resigned from the Scottish Government last week on the eve of delivering the budget. He was also suspended by the SNP after it emerged he had repeatedly messaged a 16-year-old boy in a manner described as “predatory” by opposition MSPs.

Pressure is also growing on Mr Mackay to resign his seat, with SNP deputy leader Keith Brown yesterday saying it was “very difficult to see how he can continue”.

Yesterday Mr Rennie said Holyrood’s Standard’s Committee should reconsider introducing measures to allow constituents to recall MSPs. “I want MSPs to know that serious and harmful behaviour could lead to the ultimate sanction of them losing their job,” he said. “At the moment voters are helpless when faced with unacceptable conduct such as Derek Mackay using the offer of parliamentary receptions to try to befriend a teenager.”

In 2015, the UK Parliament passed legislation to trigger a by-election if more than 10 per cent of constituents sign a recall petition. Although the idea was considered by the Scottish Parliament in 2018 – following the resignation of SNP childcare minister Mark McDonald for inappropriate behaviour towards three women – it was rejected by MSPs.

“I was disappointed the proposal I made for recall was rejected by the Standards Committee,” Mr Rennie said. “There is merit in looking at this again. It is an ongoing issue and we shouldn’t let it drop.”