Thursday, 11 February 2010

Politically naive or worth a resignation?

I'll be honest - the first I heard of Nicola Sturgeon's, ahem, "troubles" was on Good Morning Scotland on my way to Stirling today, when the usual heid-bangers were arguing amongst themselves in the following fashion:

Heid-banger 1:  "It's all a media hatchet job set up by Labour - they've nae policies so they're just attacking the SNP."

Heid-banger 2:  "Awa' ye go - the guy's a thief!  Stole 80 grand!  Lock him up and throw away the key - its MY money he's got!"

Or something to that effect.  Anyway, it took me awhile to work out what the stushie was about, but I think I've got it now.  Mr Rauf committed fraud by claiming benefits of more than £80,000 which he was not entitled to, having previously been found guilty of a similar offence (apparently if you are not an MP, making unlawful claims is a crime punishable by prison time).  Mr Rauf wrote to his constituency MSP (who happens to be the DFM) to make representation on his behalf.  Nicola Sturgeon writes a letter to the court to that end, asking that a non-custodial sentence be considered.  His QC - uber-Unionist Donald Findlay - made this letter public (and where's the outcry on that score?!).  Cue much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

The case for the prosecution (of Ms Sturgeon, not Mr Rauf) goes something like this:  Gross error of judgement, the guy has form, gives signal to benefit thieves that it is a tolerable crime, actions not befitting of a government minister.

The case for the defence is that she was acting as a constituency MSP not as a government minister, that the code of conduct that stipulates:

8.1.1 Every constituent is represented by one constituency MSP and seven regional MSPs. It is expected that each member will take on a case when approached although it is recognised that there may be legitimate reasons for a member to decline a constituent's case in certain circumstances, for example, where a constituent requests an MSP to take inappropriate action, or if that case seeks action which would represent a conflict of interest with existing casework or is contrary to the member's political beliefs. If so, the member would ordinarily be expected to inform the constituent that the member is not taking up the case

and that in doing so Nicola Sturgeon's actions were well within her remit as an MSP (with thanks to DougtheDug for the relevant section).  Incidentally, I don't think MSPs always abide by that section of the code at all times, but that is beside the point.

So, who is right?  And what should the outcome be?

Well... I don't know is the honest answer.  Journalists are snooping around this story as I write, and if they find even the remotest whiff of a connection between Mr Rauf and the SNP, this will play as crony-ism - and as such will almost certainly require a resignation.  If not, and the situation remains as it is, then I think her job is safe, if only because it both sides of the case seem to have arrived at an impasse.  Yes, she abided by the code of conduct in taking up Mr Rauf's case and making representation on his behalf.  On the other hand, it would appear that, in doing so, she may have been guilty of gross political naivety in backing a convicted fraudster (albeit one who does have health difficulties - there's that compassionate element of the Scottish justice system again).

So while the rest of the blogosphere (Stuart Winton being the noble exception) lines up along party lines (Nats unsurprisingly providing the defence, everyone else making the case for the prosecution except Caron, who has the most balanced judgement of any "opposition" blog) I'll reserve judgement for the moment.  As I say though, I don't think the MSP for Glasgow Govan is guilty of anything more than naivety.

On a side note though, how refreshing it is to see a Scottish Labour MP get involved in a debate in Scotland.  I thought they were all retiring (or being made to retire) but apparently not.  Of course, this is a debate concerning a devolved matter (justice) therefore some might accuse said MP of sticking their nose in where it isn't required.  I mean, its not like they'd get remotely annoyed if, say, an SNP MSP strayed into a a debate on a reserved matter, is it..?


oldnat 11 February 2010 at 17:40  

Naive, I suspect - though on the whole I prefer politicians who do the "wrong" things for the right reasons, rather than do the "allowable" things (like flipping houses) for the wrong reasons.

More to the point, I had not realised that MPs/MSPs did write in mitigation to the courts.

On principle, it seems that this practice (like others inherited from Westminster) should end. It is important that courts should be seen to be free of intervention from politicians. The Standing Orders of the Parliament should be amended to bar the practice.

DougtheDug 11 February 2010 at 19:08  

His QC - uber-Unionist Donald Findlay - made this letter public (and where's the outcry on that score?!)

If this is correct and it was Donald Findlay who made the letter public then it doesn't say much for Donald Findlay.

As the defender of Mr Rauf he had a duty to ensure that Mr Rauf was acquitted or that his sentence was the minimum obtainable.

Nicola Sturgeon wrote to the court to ask for leniency for Mr Rauf and you would expect that she and Donald Findlay would be on the same side but if Donald Findlay took that letter as an opportunity to shaft both Ms. Sturgeon's political career and the SNP then it doesn't say much about his integrity or his morals.

Malc 11 February 2010 at 19:19  

Going by Findlay's past form - flute playing & "Simply the Best", ahem, adlibbing, I'd say we already know quite a bit about his morals and integrity.

On the flip side, I can't say for sure whether he made it public or not. That was the impression I got from the GMS show this morning. If that is not the case, I am happy to retract the statement.

Bill 11 February 2010 at 20:36  

Leaving aside the question of Donald Findlay's alleged role in revealing this letter, I tend to think that Nicola Sturgeon acted just as one would expect a constituency representative to do.

If Mr Rauf has already been convicted of the latest offence and what is awiated is merely the sentencing, then I think that just possibly she may have been naïve in getting involved, but personally I think that she deserves a break in this case. If the latest trial continues and the man has not yet been convicted then it seems to me she has acted entirely correctly.

The only thing that would sully Sturgeon, in my view is if it emerges that Mr Rauf is a major donor of the SNP and her letter could be ocnstrued as some kind of quid pro quo.

Of course I am hardly an SNP-supporter (lol), nor of course do I support Labour. I would hope we can keep people's politics, whatever they happen to be, out of the justice system. On the face of it I do not think Nicola Sturgeon has breached any kind of code; I imagine lots of constituency MPs/MSPs have constituents who are not 'angels'. I don't think she was interfering in the Justice system - no doubt the court will decide what sentence is appropriate. I may criticise her for lots of things, being a proponent of breaking up the UK would be a good place to start in my view ;) , but not for writing a letter to plead the case of a constituent.

Donald Findlay does seem to be the 'Rumpole of the Bailey' of Scots Law, though! He seems to be a colourful character who courts publicity and he seems also to be a successful QC so no doubt his services are sought after. I imagine if he has broken some rules the law will eventually catch up - fat chance, realistically, though. I expect he is much too wily an operator if past experience is a guide.

Indy 11 February 2010 at 21:52  

Why shouldn't an MSP be able to write to the court? It's clear that Nicola Sturgeon has been representing this guy since 2008 so presumably she knows all the background and circumstances - which we don't.

Bill - there was no trial as such because he pled guilty. It's clear from the letter that she is simply asking the court to consider alternatives to custody in view of Rauf's state of health and family situation.

I do not see how it is possible for Mr Rauf to be a donor to the SNP given that he has no money and any money he can realise from selling his property is owed to the DWP.

Malc 11 February 2010 at 22:17  


Nice to see that this doesn't just go to partisan levels. Though I'd never accuse you of that. On the issue itself, I think your view is very similar to mine. She did what she was supposed to do - represent her constituent.


With regards the donor issue. No one is saying he is a donor to the SNP - but even if he wasn't a donor and just an activist, a member of Scots Asians for Independence or something similar, its going to look fishy. Again, I agree with Bill - if it turns out the guy has ANY link to the SNP, resignation may be required. But we're not there yet.

ayewecan 12 February 2010 at 00:58  

I dont think nicola is remotely naive.

Is there a link between Mr Rauf the SNP and/or local Govan power structures? I aint yet read of any, but the moment we learn of a credible one Nicola will be Ministerial toast.

I'm keeping an open mind on this one

The Jaggy Thistle 12 February 2010 at 08:56

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