Sunday, 15 March 2015

Healthy Choices

LANARKSHIRE has long been a byword for political backscratching, from Monklands to property deals, virtually all of it involving the Labour Party.
But today the boot is on the other foot, with Cabinet Secretary Alex Neil, the SNP MSP for Airdrie & Shotts, caught up in a cronyism row.
Last autumn, while serving as health secretary, he appointed the secretary of his local SNP branch to a £12,000 NHS post instead of a veteran social work professional.
Neil staunchly defends Phil Campbell as simply the best person for the job.
However voters might perceive it as all rather cosy.

Neil also seems to have left himself vulnerable to a complaint under the Scottish Ministerial Code. Section 5.9 of the Code says ministers "must" consult the First Minister before making "any appointment which is likely to have political significance".
Neil knew from the outset that there would be a political row about Campbell's appointment.
"Obviously, before I had decided to appoint him, I knew that the Labour party would try to cause a stink about it," he said yesterday.
Yet Neil didn't consult the First Minister (then Alex Salmond), as the Code commands.

Here's a longer version of the story in today's Sunday Herald.

Tom Gordon
Scottish Political Editor

ALEX NEIL is embroiled in a cronyism row after promoting an official from his local party to a £12,000-a-year post on an NHS board instead of a senior health professional.

In his previous cabinet role as Health Secretary, Neil appointed railway manager Phil Campbell as vice-chair of NHS Lanarkshire instead of respected social work expert Dr Avril Osborne.

Campbell, a full-time First Group worker, is secretary of the SNP in Neil’s Airdrie & Shotts seat.

Dr Osborne, the loser in the two-horse race, is a former inspector of social work at the Scottish Office with 40 years experience in her field and a Masters degree in management.

After the Orkney child abuse scandal in the early 1990s, when officials wrongly removed children from their families, she was sent in to fix the department as its new director.

One of the biggest issues currently facing Lanarkshire and other NHS boards is the integration of health and social work services.
Alex Neil

Neil, now Secretary for Social Justice, Communities and Pensioners’ Rights, personally made the decision to appoint Campbell over Osborne last November.

Labour said the appointment “stinks of cronyism”.

Neil first appointed Campbell, 40, to the board of NHS Lanarkshire in May 2013, on a four-year term paying £8008 a year for a commitment of eight hours a week.

After the previous vice chair stood down last summer, board chair Neena Mahal asked its non-executive members to apply for the position, and it came down to a straight fight between Campbell and Osborne.

At the end of October, Mahal put the pair forward to Neil for a decision, saying both were “strong nominees” but had “different skillsets and expertise”.

Mahal said that since 70-year-old Osborne joined the board in March 2014, she had made “a significant leadership contribution” and “quickly gained credibility and respect as a valued member of the Board... [and] is committed to an ethos of quality and improvement”.
Dr Avril Osborne

While Campbell brought “a fresh perspective from the corporate sector”, had demonstrated “a robust and rigorous approach to governance”, and “gained credibility as a Board member who endeavours to be fully involved... in spite of being in full-time employment”.

Mahal said she would welcome a chance to discuss both nominations with Neil “to determine the most suitable person”, however four days later Neil chose Campbell without further ado.

The promotion gave Campbell a £4004-a-year pay bump for four extra hours work per week. 

Section 5.9 of the Scottish Ministerial Code says ministers "must" consult the First Minister about “any appointment which is likely to have political significance”, but Neil did not do so, despite anticipating a row with Labour.

A fortnight after the decision, Neil was moved out the health brief in a reshuffle and is now the Secretary for Social Justice, Communities and Pensioners' Rights. 

Pamela Nash, Labour MP for Airdrie and Shotts, said: “Alex Neil picked a man who knocked doors and delivered leaflets for him, rather than a woman with senior management experience in social work.

From NHS Lanarkshire Annual Accounts 2013-14
“At a time when our NHS is under huge strain this stinks of cronyism and jobs for the boys.

“NHS Lanarkshire is facing huge challenges because the SNP Government aren’t giving our NHS the support it needs.

“People will find it very hard to believe that an SNP official was the best man to stand up for the NHS in Lanarkshire.”

Neil vigorously defended the appointment, saying Campbell was simply the best person for the job and it would have been wrong to reject him in case his SNP ties led to controversy.

He told the Sunday Herald: “The reason I picked Phil Campbell, number one, he was the most experienced member of the NHS Lanarkshire board.

“Obviously, before I had decided to appoint him, I knew that the Labour party would try to cause a stink about it.
Neil's PS tells health officials he has appointed Campbell

“It’s a bit of a cheek from Pamela Nash and the Labour Party to accuse anyone else of cronyism  when Lanarkshire Labour and the Mafia that runs it have lived off cronyism for 50 years.

“This was not cronyism, this was me picking the person who was the best person for the job and who had been nominated by the chair of the board.

“I don’t think there’s anything unreasonable about that whatsoever, and he is a first class vice chair in NHS Lanarkshire, and he got it on merit, almost despite the fact he was politically active, because I knew it would be controversial because the Labour Party would kick up a stink.”

Neil said of Campbell: “He’s a very senior guy in the railway industry and it’s another reason why I picked him, because of his experience in business.

“I think we need, in terms of improving procedures and processes in the Health Service, we need outside business expertise and Phil can provide that as well.

“So he ticked every box that was conceivable in terms of competence and capability.

“I adhered entirely to the code of practice in all of these things.

Scottish Ministerial Code
“Labour’s looking for a scandal where there isn’t one.

“What Pamela Nash knows about the health service you could write on the back of a postage stamp.”

Campbell did not respond to email requests for comment.

NHS Lanarkshire said: “We are delighted with the appointment of Phil Campbell to the role of vice-chair and with the skill and expertise he brings to the Board.”

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Prosecutors consider Wings over Scotland's referendum spending

Tom Gordon

ONE of the loudest and most controversial Yes supporters in the referendum could be charged with a criminal offence over missing financial papers, the Electoral Commission has said.

The watchdog said that, alongside prosecutors, it was now considering whether to take enforcement action against the Wings Over Scotland website run from Bath by Scots-born Stuart Campbell.

It emerged last month that Wings Over Scotland and four smaller campaigners had failed to report their spending during the referendum.

Using Freedom of Information law, the Sunday Herald asked the Commission for the material it held on Wings Over Scotland and another high-profile campaigner, Labour for Independence (LFI), not filing spending returns.

In both instances, the Commission refused to release its files in case it prejudiced “the prevention or detection of crime” and “the apprehension or prosecution of offenders”.

With respect to Wings over Scotland, it said: “The Commission has commenced its inquiries and is currently considering, in conjunction with the Crown Office, what, if any, action is appropriate in relation to this organisation’s failure to deliver a campaign expenditure return with the required timescale.

“In this case it is necessary to consider the failure to comply in order to reach a decision whether a person or person should be charged with a criminal offence.”

The Commission used the same form of words about LFI, but added that in regard to Wings Over Scotland it might also consider civil breaches.

Both Wings over Scotland and LFI are being probed in relation to Paragraph 21 of Schedule 4 of the Scottish Independence Referendum Act 2013.

This states that official campaigners - those who registered with the Commission as permitted participants as they expected to spend more than £10,000 - must file a return detailing all their payments, loans, receipts and invoices.

The responsible person commits an offence punishable by a fine of up to £5000 if they fail to comply with the law on filing a return.

A person who “knowingly or recklessly makes a false declaration” commits an offence punishable by up to a year in prison.

Stuart Campbell
The responsible person for Wings Over Scotland is Campbell, 47, a former computer games journalist who styles himself as a Reverend but refuses to say for which church or faith. 

For LFI it is Deborah Waters, 42, from Barrhead, the wife of East Renfrewshire SNP councillor Vincent Waters.

Campbell said Wings Over Scotland spent around £75,000 during the referendum on campaigning, including production of the popular Wee Blue Book, but was unable to complete the spending return form as it does not have full invoices and receipts.

Asked about a possible criminal charge, he said: “We've heard nothing from the Electoral Commission since they published details of participants' spending.

“We did everything in our power, both before and after the deadline, to communicate with them and provide evidence to back up the full account of our spending that we submitted, and we continue to do so.

“All of our expenditure is fully verifiable, and we remain willing to verify it to the Commission by any means possible within the laws of science."

Waters could not be contacted.

Some MPs are more equal than others

NICOLA Sturgeon has been talking a lot about "equality and fairness" recently.

It will be at the heart of the SNP's economic plan, for instance.
There is also the First Minister's ongoing effort to bring gender equality to the boardroom.
But there is a glaring example of inequality taking place under her nose which even some in her own party are now finding hard to bear.

Later this month, the SNP conference will be asked to vote on new rules for its MPs designed to bring extra discipline to the Westminster group.
This is essential for life in a hung parliament, when the whips need to track every single vote.
It's also vital to any power sharing deal with Labour.
If the SNP have, say, 40 MPs their allies need to know that means 40 votes, not 30 votes and some rebels and abstentions.

So all SNP MPs elected in May must "treat the position as a full-time commitment".
All MPs except one, that is.
Not for the first time, it seems different rules will apply to Alex Salmond.
If all goes to plan, on May 8 he will both an MP and an MSP, not to mention a newspaper columnist and author.
Besides being a presentational problem, it's also an arithmetical one.
As he'll have to be in Westminster far more, it leaves the SNP outnumbered at Holyrood for the first time since they won their majority in 2011.
And as last week's vote on the NHS super-database showed, things can get pretty squeaky in  such situations.

Here's the full story:

Tom Gordon

ALEX Salmond is under pressure to stand down as an MSP if elected to Westminster in light of new SNP rules and comments by senior members of the party.

The former First Minister, currently MSP for Aberdeenshire East, is standing in the LibDem-held seat of Gordon in May’s election.

If he wins he is expected to play a major role in the SNP group at Westminster, possibly as its leader or a key negotiator in power-sharing talks with Labour.

However a motion to the SNP’s conference later this month says incoming SNP MPs must “treat the position as a full-time commitment with an attendance and work rate commensurate with that status”, an obvious problem for Salmond if he has two jobs.

The rule has been proposed by Westminster leader Angus Robertson and MP Pete Wishart.

In a Commons debate last month on MPs with two jobs, Wishart also said being MP was “a full-time job”, adding: “No SNP Member has a second job, a directorship or a place on a company. Our responsibilities here are our sole concern and our only responsibility.”
Pete Wishart on Commons duties being the "sole concern" for SNP MPs

Besides bringing Salmond into conflict with SNP rules, a second job would mean him missing votes in Holyrood and Westminster, as he could not vote in both parliaments at once.

Although Salmond has been both an MP and MSP before, it was during a Labour majority at Westminster, when his vote carried little weight in the parliamentary arithmetic.

After he was elected First Minister in 2007, he had one of the worst attendance records of any MP – voting in the Commons on just 16 days in his last three years there.

However with polls predicting a hung parliament, SNP votes would carry more weight, and Salmond would have to be in Westminster far more often.

The “pairing” system which lets government and opposition MPs miss votes in equal numbers also tends to break down in hung parliaments and is not used in votes of confidence.

Salmond’s need to be at Westminster could also cause the SNP trouble at Holyrood, as his absence would leave the party outnumbered for the first time since 2011 - by 64 votes to 63.

In addition, although Gordon partially overlaps Aberdeenshire East, representing both would mean Salmond’s potential workload would grow from 58,000 constituents to over 80,000.

One senior party insider said: “There would be a twin-track problem.
“We might not be able to rely on his [Salmond’s] vote in the Scottish Parliament, and we couldn’t rely on it at Westminster. Why doesn’t he just retire gracefully?”
Alex Salmond: looking to wear two hats

Christine Jardine, LibDem candidate in Gordon, said: “The people of Gordon will take into account that the last time Alex Salmond was both an MP and MSP, his attendance record at Westminster was atrocious. 
"It’s not possible to represent people in two places at once .
“It’s underlines that for him this is not about representing people, it’s about what he wants.”

A Scottish Labour spokesman added: “Once again, Mr Salmond finds himself in the enviable position of looking at two jobs, two salaries and two ways to fill his time.
“But his bluff has been called by his own party and he will have to make up his mind whether to be a full-time MP and part-time columnist, author and MSP, or do what people pay him for.”

A spokesperson for Salmond said: “Alex has always fulfilled any election period for which he has been voted and will continue to do so.
“We are not generally in a position of knife edge votes at Holyrood, and of course don't know what the position will be at Westminster, but any situation will be easily addressed.
"He is and will remain a full time parliamentarian if elected in Gordon in May, and the full time commitment refers to parliamentary duties.
"He would only benefit from one parliamentary salary, donating the other to support youth causes in North East Scotland.”