Thursday, February 11, 2010

It's the thought that counts

"What on earth was Nicola Sturgeon thinking of?" spluttered an incredulous Gordon Brewer repeatedly on Newsnight Scotland earlier tonight. Well, whether people agree with her actions or not, I don't actually think there's a lot of mystery about what she was thinking of. She was taking her responsibilities as a constituency representative seriously, and was trying to act in the best interests of her constituents - constituents plural, let's not forget, because the welfare of Abdul Rauf's children was also uppermost in her mind. Brewer (and Richard Baker) continually pointed out that Sturgeon had no duty to act and had complete discretion over whether to do so - and, again, there's no sign that she lost sight of that at any stage. My guess is that she took into account that Rauf's offence was non-violent (however serious), and when taking that fact in conjunction with his apparent health problems and the welfare of his children, felt that the balance of arguments fell in favour of making a representation on his behalf. Other reasonable people may weigh up those circumstances and conclude she reached the wrong judgement, but the suggestion that she lost sight of the proper boundaries of an MSP's role - and more particularly Brewer's bizarre proposition that she would have acted in the same way even if the offender concerned had been a serial killer - is patently absurd.

But what's really dangerous about the cynical calls for Sturgeon's resignation is that it could mean in future that ministers will feel considerably less able to fearlessly represent individual constituents' best interests, which is a vital part of their job. Why should constituencies that happen to be represented by a minister receive a lesser service than those represented by backbenchers? In my view Sturgeon should be applauded for this clear evidence that she hasn't lost sight of her basic duties as a humble constituency MSP - surely the one thing no-one can credibly dispute is that there was no conceivable personal gain for her here.


  1. What a very good piece James. It's often said that constituencies represented by Ministers get a better deal because Ministers can make things happen when other MSPs cannot. On the other hand people complain that Ministers have less time to involve themselves with the problems of their constituents. Whichever of these is true, if either is, we must ensure that idiotic political point scoring by the opposition and the BBC (much the same thing) does not discourage Ministers from doing their first and possibly more important job.

  2. No doubt our intrepid media will be seeking out whether Mr Rauf or any of his family members are SNP members or donors, is he a friend of Osama, was he a friend of Bashir etcetera.

    My tuppence is that his conviction was 14 years old, he'd already begun to pay back that which he was caught for, and in an effort to do more than twice your average Labour MSP's workload, Ms Sturgeon reacted when she should have considered.

  3. Ezio Auditore da FirenzeFebruary 12, 2010 at 12:30 AM

    Something I, and as you probably know by now James I am omnipotent, haven't seen picked up on is that Iain 'LOL' Gray kept referring to the constituent in question as a criminal, because he had been convicted of a crime in the past.

    Is Iain 'LOL' Gray suggesting that anybody who has been convicted of a crime before should not be able to rely on the help of their MSP? Maybe this is why Iain so LOLably lost his seat in 2003?

  4. Mark, judging from the way that Alex Salmond kept repeating at FMQs that he knew of no link between Rauf and the SNP, presumably (and hopefully!) that means he knows he's on reasonably safe ground. Although I wouldn't put it past the Daily Record to produce the smoking gun that Rauf's sister's husband's nephew's girlfriend's gran had briefly possessed an SNP membership card in Billy Wolfe's day.

    Ezio, Gray kept asking the question 'what kind of crime would be serious enough that you wouldn't have written the letter?' It occurred to me that someone should ask him 'what kind of criminal would you point-blank refuse to represent? Road traffic offenders? TV licence fee evaders?'

  5. Maybe Labour see voting SNP is a crime. I think we should visit the lost property office and see if anyone has found Labour's policies yet?