Saturday, 13 July 2013

He Who Pays The Piper (Part 2 - Outside Interests)

You can find part 1 here: Party Donations

One of the main reasons for supporting independence is the lack of any prospect of meaningful reform within the UK.  Regardless of which side gets in, there are certain aspects of Westminster governance that simply will not change.  As this blog could conceivably become the longest on this site we’re going to split it into three bite sized parts: donations, outside interests and honours.

Outside Interests
Politicians at Westminster have a tremendous amount of power, from the ability to create and influence our laws and gear them to favour certain practices and individuals, to ordering our troops to go to war regardless of public opinion.  It is important that their focus is to act in the interests of their constituents, and the best way to do that is to remove any potentially corrupting outside influences.

 "Why change?  We've got the best democracy money can buy!" Westminster MPs

Unfortunately we don’t get this protection.  Private interests are rife with 295 MPs receiving some form of income from outside work, totalling a staggering £7 million.  To many this will seem unbelievable but to the British ruling classes this is business as usual.

So why do they do it?  For some it is greed.  MPs at Westminster receive a basic salary of £65,738 per annum.  This compares to £27,000 for registered nurses in Scotland, between £21,428 and £34,200 for secondary school teachers and £31,032 for a police constable.  Compared to most public servants, they do pretty well.  Arguments that they will fall into poverty if they don't receive more are embarrassing and wrong.  If they can’t cope with £65,738, a fantastic pension and numerous other perks then should they be in charge of Scotland’s finances?

But immediate financial gain isn’t the only example of greed.  Social Investigations, a group which looks into political connections to healthcare companies, revealed that many of our MPs stand to make a big profit if the NHS continues to privatise.  The numbers are even starker for House of Lords members (

"Don't be so selfish, think about me!" anonymous Westminster MP (whilst claiming for expenses)

To see why this issue is so important, let’s look at one very famous example: Former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Being Prime Minister meant that he commanded a very generous salary however it was nowhere near enough to match the lifestyle he enjoyed whilst in office.  Don’t worry too much about the precarious nature of Mr Blair’s finances, after leaving office he found numerous sources of income and a string of companies who for some reason wanted to pay him:

£5m as an advance for writing memoirs.
£2m a year for part-time advice to JP Morgan bank.
£1.2m a year in estimated (minimum) earnings from the global lecture circuit.
£117,500 a year from Combined Prime Ministerial and MP's pension.
£90,000 a year in Public Service Allowance for the costs a former Prime Minister incurs from running an office.
£2m in expected (minimum) income from other private advisory roles.
Total £10.4m

Tony Blair left office on the 27th of June 2007.  By January of the following year it was announced that he would be working part-time for JP Morgan.  Since then, stories in the mainstream media have highlighted the possible conflict of interest that this arrangement created (Telegraph - Tony Blair 'visited Libya to lobby for JP Morgan'). 

The simple conclusion is this – politicians shouldn’t have any other jobs whilst being an MP, and should have a long gardening leave afterwards to prevent corruption.  It seems simple to us and we have a chance of making this policy with independence but the culture at Westminster means that change won’t come from there.

Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour Party who, according to opinion polls, is unlikely to ever have the opportunity to enact any of his policies, is only proposing a cap on payments from outside interests, not a ban (  Ironically one of the MPs who would lose out under this set up is former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, whose £1.37 million pound earnings for tax year 2012/13 would have to reduce.

The alternative for Mr Brown would be to resign as an MP, but then the people of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath would need to find someone to take part in 1 debate, ask 8 questions and vote 14% of the time for a mere £65,738.  Is there anyone willing to match this commitment?

Part 3 here

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