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..?