Westminster Governance and the role and responsibilities of MP’s
Representation of local constituency interests has always been central to the Westminster system of government and created strong bonds between elected representatives and their constituents.
In the course of the twentieth century the widening of the franchise, changes to the party system and the growth of the welfare state contributed to these relationships changing and indeed increasing in important ways. But the constituency role was of meaningful importance in Scotland.
A Westminster study completed in 1970 categorised MPs into four types depending on how they prioritised their roles. Namely:
Constituency members: Who concentrated first and foremost on serving the needs of their local areas.
Scottish MP’s allocated around 15 hours each week which was the highest concentration of such members.
The support of other activities eg. meeting local interest groups, attending local community and party meetings and promoting local business and public spending increased the total number of hours to 25 weekly.
The categories were not mutually exclusive since many MPs carried out both to some extent. And this local role was further split into two sub-categories:
The “self promoter” (current day selfie queen/king) who promoted a high visibility profile for themselves and their constituency with a view to improving their economic wellbeing and status by encouraging local investment and facilitating the activities of local businesses and other interest groups.
The “welfare officer” who supported the cases of individual constituents primarily through the provision of negotiating services such as housing and health provided by the welfare state, or dealing with government departments over benefit matters or immigration.
Welfare support expanded rapidly from the late 1950’s and led to the establishment of constituency welfare officers and or casebook workers and local office support within the constituencies. e higher allowances available to pay MPs’ staff – the ‘welfare officer’ or ‘casework’ role had grown in importance.
MP’s were provided with an annual financial allocation to meet the costs of providing these new services.
Policy Advocates: Who consistently advanced and argued for for particular causes.
Ministerial Aspirants: Party leader favourites who quickly gained front bench status
Parliamentarians: Back benchers, who wielded power in groups and focussed their attention on participating in committees benefitting from additional financial allowances.
The impact of devolution
The establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 raised important questions about the future of these local representative roles.
The Scottish Parliament took over responsibility for many of the issues that individual constituents were likely to raise with their elected members, as well as important strategic matters such as economic development, transport and health which were central to the role previously remitted to MP’s.
Members of the Scottish Parliament MSPs assumed the duties of local representative and spend many hours each week fulfilling them. Their contact with interest groups and work with local community groups and party members is also more frequent. MSPs spent more time on these activities than did Scottish MPs previously
The traditional local role of the MP in Scotland, which was highly rated and significant in terms of commitment of time, has been given up to members of the Scottish Parliament.
But some MPs are determined to hold onto the past and the resulting duplication of roles can be the cause of an amount of confusion amongst constituents depending in part on whether co-operation exists between the two local members. A problem when the local MSP is a list member from another political party.
Benefits and Allowances
Gross Salary & Pension: £120-£140k
Staffing: Constituency based. Assistance with casework, correspondence, surgeries, visits, meetings, organising events, and outreach activities. Mainly covers payroll costs but can also be used for pooled staffing services and incidental expenses for volunteers. It is paid directly to the employee. Annual charge £150-180k.
Office costs: Covers rent, stationery, telephone, broadband, and other costs attributed to running a constituency office. Annual charge £14-£20k
Accommodation: To meet costs incurred as a result of working from two permanent locations. Unless there are exceptional circumstances, it is usually only possible to claim for accommodation and associated costs in either Scotland or London, not both. Annual Charge £25-£40k.
Travel and Subsistence Allowance: Is for travel between Scotland and Westminster, within the constituency, and elsewhere on parliamentary business. MPs can only travel First Class if the fare is demonstrably cheaper than a standard class ticket. Annual cost £12-£18k
MPs may only claim for the cost of food and non-alcoholic drinks where they have stayed overnight either outside the London area or Scotland. This is limited to £25 for each night of a stay but can be for purchases made in the day.
Summary: The role and responsibilities of Scottish MP’s at Westminster is greatly diminished following devolution.
And yet MPs still enjoy the same benefits, privileges and allowances as English MP’s who’s role has remained unchanged.
The admitted number of hours freed up for other duties at Westminster is around 25 weekly and the absence of any tangible promotion of the cause of Scottish independence and claims of MPs promoting LBGTQ agendas, wild partying, alcohol consumption, extra marital sex affairs and harassment both physical and sexual within the group is embarrassing and of concern to constituents.
Something needs to be done to ensure the Scottish taxpayer is provided with value for money. We are not getting it from the present group of SNP MPs.