Page last updated at 12:45 GMT, Thursday, 27 November 2008

Which MSPs are employing family?

By Andrew Black
Political reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Scottish Parliament building
Holyrood bosses regurarly publish MSPs' expenses

It is a thorny subject - elected politicians who employ family members using taxpayers' cash.

The whole issue has been given added publicity in the wake of sundry events at Westminster, not least the furore over the Tory MP Derek Conway.

He paid his son more than 40,000 out of his staffing allowance for work as a parliamentary researcher, despite him being a full-time student in Newcastle.

In a bid to increase transparency, the Scottish Parliament has now published a list of MSPs who employ close family members - which makes for some interesting reading.

A total of 26 Holyrood members have declared giving jobs to sons, daughters, husbands, wives - even the odd in-law.

Scottish Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon employs her mum, Joan, as a constituency assistant in her Glasgow Govan seat, while Communities Minister Stewart Maxwell's wife, Mary Stevenson, works as his researcher.

Patricia Gibson, wife of Nationalist MSP Kenny Gibson, works for him as a "policy advisor".

Wide definition

Over in the Labour camp, it is a family affair for Hamilton North and Bellshill MSP Michael McMahon, who pays wife Margaret and daughter Siobhan as parliamentary assistant and researcher respectively.

And Dumfries MSP Elaine Murray gave her husband, Jeff Leaver, a job as a researcher in 2002 - but only after a "competitive interview with an independent interviewer".

A total of two Liberal Democrat MSPs and two Conservative MSPs employ family members.

Incidentally, that included Ross, Skye and Inverness West MSP John Farquhar Munro, whose name did not actually appear in the newly-published list.

The Lib Dem apparently forgot to tell the Holyrood authorities that his wife assists him with constituency casework.

A party spokeswoman blamed the oversight on an "administrative error".

MSPs now have an annual pot of 56,650 to employ however many staff they want, and of the 10 who employ spouses, that money, of course, goes back into the household.

Of course this is all totally above board, provided the said family members do the jobs they have been employed to do, and has been accepted practice since devolution.

And it is also worth pointing out that, in terms of MSP expenses, the Scottish Parliament, which publishes detailed claims on a regular basis, is streets ahead of the situation at Westminster.

MPs there recently abandoned a legal fight to keep secret the details of their expenses.

And, in the wake of the Conway debacle, proposals to stop members employing their children using taxpayers' money were floated - but would not apply to those who are already employed.

The Scottish Parliamentary family members register came about after an independent review and a parliamentary debate earlier this year at Holyrood.

It has defined close family members widely to take in spouses, civil partners or cohabiting partners of the member or a parent, child, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, uncle, aunt, nephew or niece of the member or of the spouse, civil partner or cohabiting partner.

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