Gloom descended on Holyrood last week as MSPs realised the significance of the new rules on expenses. No longer would they be allowed to buy second homes at public expense using their £11,000 a year accommodation allowances ? a practice that has allowed many to make a fortune in the Edinburgh property market. . MSPs will now be reduced to owning only one home – mere doorstep away from homelessness.
Concerned individuals in the Garden Lobby were considering some sort of charitable trust to help MSPs through this difficult period. Property Relief, or Make Property History, or perhaps a concert organised by Bob Geldoff. It is a desperate thought that so many of our political classes, through no fault of their own, will have to use boarding houses, hotels or even rented flats.
Mind you, following the example set by MPs in Westminster, Holyrood members may be looking at imaginative schemes for continuing the gravy train just a little longer. Perhaps buying properties with their own money and then renting them back to themselves. The Speaker, Michael Martin, used to rent back his Glasgow home as his constituency office even though it wasn?t actually in his constituency.
MSPs received a sweetener in the form of an increase in their expenses from £46,000 to £52,000, on top of their £54,000 salaries. Now, I can?t be alone in thinking that it is just a little odd to put a figure on the expenses BEFORE MSPs have actually claimed them. Are they perhaps hoping that, as in Westminster, they will be given the cash as a lump sum to spend without having to supply proper expense accounts and receipts?
No way. In a transparent legislature like Holryood, the facts will out, one way or another. MSPs know they are better being up front rather than on the front page after Paul Hutcheon has been through their finances.
MSPs do feel sore about all this. They say, with cause, that they are not corrupt and that all this attention on their expenses is bad for democracy. However, the reality is that everyone is subject to audit nowadays ? even journalists. When I started in the sordid trade, expenses were regarded by many hacks as part of their salary. Not any more. Journalists don?t want to give their editors any easy excuses for firing them.
It?s the same everywhere in credit crunch Britain. As for MSPs? property portfolios – well, what better time to be selling up, just when the property market is about to crash. They can cash in now and lock their capital gains in the bank. After all, renting isn?t so bad, especially if you don?t have to pay.