For Argyll recently breathed a public sigh of relief that Alan Reid, sitting Westminster MP for the constituency of Argyll and Bute, had not embarrassed Argyll by milking the MPs expenses system ‘ within the rules’.
Our information has proved less than absolutely correct and we apologise for the misdirection. The Telegraph online has published an article specifically detailing Mr Reid’s expenses and you may read the details for yourself from the Telegraph online news service.
One aspect of the Telegraph piece we consider distasteful is the prurient suggestiveness around a night on such a Tour when Mr Reid perforce stayed for one night in the same B&B as his female assistant- although they had separate rooms and he did not claim for hers. What century are we living in? Are reputations to be slurred so trivially?
While Mr Reid’s expenses are not extreme they contain oddities, some of which have been wrongly questioned and some of which remain inadequately explained. There is something odd in his having a second home within his constituency. The second home allowance is designed to allow MPs either to have somewhere to stay in London if their constituency is elsewhere or vice versa. What does Mr Reid do when he is in London? Does he still charge for overnights there in connection with his Westminster job – while claiming an allowance for his second home in Cardross? This is unclear.
The nub of the Telegraph article is about disputed claims and equally disputed rejections, all related to Mr Reid submitting claims for B&Bs in his Argyll and Bute constituency while Parliament was in recess.
When his fellow Lib Dem, George Lyon from Bute, represented Argyll and Bute in Holyrood, it was his and Mr Reid’s practice to conduct a Liberal Democrat Summer Tour. They travelled in convoy in identical up-market 4x4s and stayed in B&Bs in the stops on their itinerary. It is more than likely that Mr Reid’s accommodation claims within his constituency relate to these overnighters.
Mr Reid was perfectly right to dispute the rejection of these claims. Argyll and Bute is an impossible constituency to travel quickly and to get back to the mainland at nights. Some islands, such as Tiree and Colonsay, for example, do not have a daily ferry service either. The Lib Dem Summer Tour was eminently practical in that its itinerary moved from one place to the next within the constituency rather than wastefully attempting to return to the representatives’ home bases each night.
What may be at issue is that these Summer Tours were at least as focused on the promotion of the Liberal Democrat Party as on constituency matters. It is not known whether or not the party made any contribution to the costs of the inevitable promotional element of the tour. Up to and including the present, the taxpayer does not fund political parties.
In some media interviews, Mr Reid has seen fit to call other MPs behaviour into question. It does not behove him to do so nor is it tactically intelligent. He is by no means clear of criticism in his claims.
- The spectrum of total expenses claimed runs from £187,334 to £47,737 and Mr Reid’s total of £133,927 can hardly be said to be overly modest in this context. (By comparison, the famously proper Dennis Skinner’s total is £66,933.)
- Mr Reid’s spend on communications is 34th in the list of 646 MPs.
- Having two houses in his constituency – his main residence in Dunoon and his second home in Cardross – and none in London, is unusual to say the least.
- If any element of his expenses is in fact being used in pursuit of party promotion as opposed to constitutional duties, it would be embarrassing.
So our advice to Mr Reid would be to avoid boastfulness about his ‘modest’ expenses because this will not survive forensic scrutiny.
In the wider picture of the moment, it is profoundly shaming for a proud nation that a witty and popular press diarist like Quentin Letts now uses the expression, Clan McTrough, to refer to Scottish MPs at Westminster, many of whom head the list of most expensive MPs. Yes, some are from remote constituencies and have high travel costs (although these do not account for the differences in totals claimed) but some are nested comfortably in the central belt.
Of the top 5 highest claiming MPs, four are Scots – the top three and the fifth. The top two are Labour MPs from the Central Belt: Eric Joyce at No 1 represents Falkirk; Michael Connarty at No 2 represents Linlithgow and Falkirk East. No 3 is the Lib Dem’s Alistair Carmichael representing Orkney and Shetland; and at No 5 is Labour’s Mohammad Sarwar from Glasgow Central.
A curiosity is the fact that Falkirk’s Eric Joyce claims virtually the same for travel as Alistair Carmichael from Orkney and Shetland when, as well as far more expensive costs from his island fastness to London, Mr Carmichael will have complex inter-island travel within his constituency.
There will have to be a reckoning on this business and business it was. The next election will the time to sum up and it would seem to be the mood of the people that this is when they will make their judgment known.