Thursday, February 11, 2010

Nicola Sturgeon - should she resign?

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.


Misssy M said...

I agree with her judgement on this- a custodial sentence for someone who has committed fraud but has shown willingness to repay their debt is ridiculous- and only costs the tax payer more money.

Especially in a climate where so many bankers seems to have got away with fraud but relatively nothing is being done to penalise them.

David Fagan said...

A number of blogs have mentioned the fact that he will be paying back part of the money he stole through the selling of his property as if this is an argument in favour of him not being imprisoned. This is plainly ludicrous and inherently unfair. The logical conclusion of this argument is that if someone has stolen money but has no way to pay ir back then they are more deserving of a custodial sentence than someone who has I'll-gotten assets. Whether he can or can't repay the money he has stolen is irrelevant.

Anonymous said...

This is going to rebound big style on Iain Gray.

Despite all the protestations the only thing in the code of conduct that would have resonably prevented Ms Sturgeon from acting in the way she did is if it was 'inappropriate' to do so.

And there is the rub. Unless you have complete knowledge of the facts of the case you cannot possibly make that judgement.

And, given the client confidentiality that exists between an MSP and their constituent, nobody other than Ms Sturgeon and her constituent can possibly have that knowledge.

Mr Gray should prepare himself for a very large slice of humble pie and he should probably start thinking about the implications of using another MSPs casework to attack a government minister.

What about due legal process and the rights of Ms Sturgeon's constituent?

These matters are clearly secondary to Iain Gray in his bloodlust for advantage over the SNP.

In my view, he is the one that has acted unethically and, in this case, his actions must put him very close to being in contempt of court.

Anonymous said...

A well reasoned post Caron

Anonymous said...

Don't you think it is strange that you, Jeff and Dean at New Right have all published my comment at 10:17 but Yousuf hasn't.

I wonder why?

mmmm said...

first time ever i ve blogged; i ll make an exception in this case, as groucho said. all comment ( except the gracious caron) is very polarised. second, the official snp site has nothing on this at all. that seems to me to be a further misjudgment. i shall be listening out for a mea culpa in holyrood tomorrow, it seems to me the only way to limit the damage.


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