I'm watching a PMQs which has been dominated by the issue of Nicola Sturgeon's letter asking for a non custodial sentence for benefits fraudster Abdul Rauf.
As I understand it, she asked the Court not to jail him because he suffered ill health and had 2 young children. I don't see how this can be seen as condoning the crime in any way. She was not asking for him to get off, but for the Court to take certain circumstances into consideration when deciding how Mr Rauf should be punished.
The crime of which he was convicted was a serious one. It enrages me that somebody could omit to tell the DWP that they had a £200,000 property when applying for Income Support. And that he'd done it before. It makes my blood boil when I think of people who really do have nothing being turned down for Social Fund loans and Community Care grants while people like Rouf basically take money that should go to people genuinely in need.
Should he have been locked up? Maybe. If pregnant mothers can be locked up for not paying their tv licence fees, or pensioners locked up for not paying their Council Tax, then why should Mr Rouf, whose crime was so much worse be any different? By the way, I don't condone locking poor people up for debt, so I don't think either of those women should have been sent to jail.
However, that's not the issue here. What's at the heart of this is to what lengths an elected parliamentarian is obliged to go for their constituents. I tend to take the view that everyone who comes to their MP or MSP or Councillor for help is entitled to as much effort as that person can give them. Everyone is entitled to some degree of advocacy.
Instinctively, I think what Nicola Sturgeon did is just what you'd do. Remember she's trained as a solicitor so she's also had the cab rank principle drilled into her - that everybody, no matter what you think of them personally, is entitled to representation. I also have a huge amount of respect for someone who used their qualifications not to earn vast amounts of money in some swanky legal practice, but at work in the Drumchapel Law Centre, giving people who would otherwise not be able to afford it access to the law.
All my political life, I've heard people on doorsteps tell me how useless their councillor/MSP/MP has been when they've gone to them, and how they haven't lifted a finger to help them and have at times been downright rude in turning them down. Most often the offending representatives have been from the Labour Party, so you can kind of understand where their reputation for neglect and arrogance comes from. If someone was going to err, then I'd probably rather that they erred in their constituents' favour rather than turn them away.
Now, I'd be first in the queue to call for Nicola Sturgeon's resignation if this person was in any way going to be a danger to the public, but there's no evidence of that. I am concerned, though, at how a piece of constituency casework appears to have become a political football. I don't want to see a situation develop where Parliamentarians are scared to take up a controversial case for fear of villification in the press.
On this one, I'm prepared to say that I would probably have done something similar to Nicola Sturgeon if faced with the same scenario. I may have used a slightly different form of wording, but I wouldn't have been that far apart from her.
I don't think she deserves to lose her job on this and I hope that when the pantomime atmosphere at Holyrood calms down a bit, this story will become tomorrow's chip wrappings.