Transcript of speech given by Bill Bonnar of the Scottish Socialist Party on 30/4/2015. A recording can be found by following the link below. Any mistakes contained in this transcript will probably be due to me rather than Bill.
“This poses a very simple question: Why is every MP in Britain rich? The average intake of the House of Commons is rich people, mostly Tories, and they then use their position as MP’s to get richer. Or they start with relatively modest backgrounds, a lot of Labour MPs, and then they become rich after they enter parliament and again use their parliamentary position to become richer and richer. Let me illustrate it with the example of a west of Scotland MP who now sits in the House of Lords, he retired as an MP at the last election. I’ll not use names because I want to use it as an example, a typical example. He entered parliament in the 1990’s. What was his social-economic status the week before he entered parliament? He was an unemployed former factory worker living in a council house. When he retired as an MP he was a millionaire. How does that work? When your only job is to be an MP, how do you turn being an MP into being a millionaire?
The way you do it, and the way every MP does it the length and breadth of Britain, is you turn being an MP into a family business; you turn it into a business. What he did was quite simple. Of course he’s got his basic salary of almost £70,000 per year, he can also claim his expenses of almost £70,000 per year because he can pay for an office and he can pay for staff and other expenses. So what does he do? And I’m using this as a typical example; he decided he needed an office manager. So he hired his wife to be his office manager. Two problems there. One; his wife, no disrespect to the woman, had no qualifications to work as an office manager. Her job prior to him becoming an MP was she worked on the checkout at Sainsbury’s. And also he didn’t have an office. He then employed his various sons to be political researchers. Now there’s nothing wrong with being a political researcher, but the standard qualification to work as a political researcher would be at least an honours degree. I’ve met some of his sons and they didn’t have two standard grades to rub together. In reality they weren’t researchers; all of that money simply went into his household. And then of course there were all the other expenses he claimed. He claimed his flat in London, his transport back and forward, his food allowance was enormous. Basically if you could claim it he claimed it. He was very good at it, so he basically doubled his income. And then of course having all this spare income he then put it to good use, he went round his constituency and he built up a property portfolio. He bought flats, he bought buildings, and he bought pubs. So that when he retired, he retired a millionaire with a nice little nest egg and now he sits in the House of Lords.
Now I used that not as an extreme example, but as atypical example. A typical example not of Tories, because if that was a description of a Tory MP I think people would just shrug and say “well they’re Tories”. I’m talking about typical West of Scotland Labour MPs who are a million times worse than the Tories. I’ll give you another example, and I will name this one because he’s dead now. Former Labour MP Jimmy Wray who died 2 or 3 years ago, came from a similar background to the first character. His wealth became public knowledge because his family started falling out about who would get the estate. His estate was worth £1.5 million. How does a Labour MP from a working class background in Glasgow end up with £1.5 million when all he’s ever been is a Labour MP?
If you look at that situation and translate it throughout Britain that is what all MPs do. They turn being MPs into businesses. And the other thing they do in particular is they use their position as MPs to go and get other bits of work, so they then become directors of companies, they become consultants. Now leaving aside an obvious point, if you look at the job description of an MP, to be honest to them, it’s immensely demanding. It’s actually two full time jobs written into one. There’s a constituency MP and a parliamentary MP: and if they happen to be junior government minister then it’s a lot more again. So how can they then have a situation where they turn this lucrative MPs job into part time work as they go chasing all the other directorships and consultancies? And that’s how they become wealthy, so that when they leave they’re well looked after. The Scottish Socialist Party has always argued that any elected representative should be elected on a worker’s wage. When we had MSPs in parliament they all took the wage of a skilled worker. Why did we argue for that position? It wasn’t that we were being noble. There are actually sound reasons why we do this. If you remember the expenses scandal two or three years ago, MPs were flipping houses all over the place, it was like a property speculation boom in London as MPs used tax payer’s money to buy and sell houses. Those few MPs who raised their heads above the parapet and tried to justify it were saying things like “well actually it highlights a problem that MPs aren’t paid enough”, “Mps don’t get enough money, that’s why they’re fiddling their expenses, if they were paid properly, a proper rate for the job, not the paltry £70,000 but real wages they wouldn’t have to fiddle the expenses and it would attract precisely the calibre of MP that we need”.
We argue the polar opposite of that, the more money you pay an MP attracts precisely the wrong type of people, because at the end of the day an MP is an elected public servant paid for by the tax payer. His or her job is to represent the public, represent the electors. If you lowered the salary of what MPs get to that of a skilled worker, and if you apply a rigorous transparent expenses system, and if you absolutely rigorously ban this idea that MPs should have paid contracts outside being an MP (which incidentally is banned in most other areas of employment) so that they have one job and there is no conflict of interests: we argue that actually that would attract precisely the kind of MP that you want, someone who is not in it for the money, someone who has got a genuine interest in public service. And get rid of all these people who seeing being an MP as a business, who see it as a way of making money, who see it as a way of building a network of rich contacts. The Tories we know do this all the time. The Labour Party are worse because the Labour Party claim to be the party of the working class, they claim to be the party of social justice, they claim to be the party that will stand up for fairness and the poor while their MPs are enriching themselves at tax payer’s expense. So we need a different type of MP, in exactly the same way we need a different type of MSP.
That proposal about wages is about reforming Westminster, alongside abolishing the House of Lords and abolishing the monarchy and bringing a whole series of reforms. But the cynic amongst us might say “they’ve been trying to do that for 100 years”. What I’ve been suggesting was first suggested at the end of the First World War. Westminster has had no serious reforms in that century, and that’s because it takes the form of a kind of private members club where they all have a commonality of interests to defend. It’s a club of vested interests. Why on earth would they reform that? But we do need to reform it, and the best contribution we can make in Scotland to reforming it is to break away from it. To end it and to build a different political system here in Scotland.
Now to be fair we do have something that is better. The Scottish parliament is better than Westminster (although frankly that wouldn’t be difficult). It is better; it’s much more transparent and much more open. But it’s got its limitations. The campaign for independence isn’t just for independence by itself; it’s a campaign for building a different better Scotland. The Scottish Socialist Party argues that means Scotland should become a republic. What do we mean by that? Do we simply mean an absence of monarchy? Well let’s end the monarchy, let’s end this nonsense of us being subjects of the crown. But that’s the easy bit, that’s straightforward, that’s common sense. It also means radically rethinking our political system in an independent Scotland to make it much more democratic, much more transparent, and much more representative. It’s about extending democracy into every aspect of life, including the workplace. It’s about having a written constitution that entrenches civil rights into that constitution, outlining the rights and responsibilities of citizens. It’s about having a parliament in Scotland that reflects the people who voted for it, reflects it in terms of the diversity, in terms of women’s representation, and in terms of income. Because you can’t have a situation where a parliament claims to reflect the people it represents when they earn two three or four times what their average electors earn. So we would argue that MSPs also need to be on a workers wage because that way they will actually reflect the realities of the people who elect them. So you have two choices, we can continue with the corrupt nest of vipers or we can actually build something which is bigger and better in Scotland in terms of a democratic system. That’s what we argue for as the Scottish Socialist Party, as do others such as SLP. It’s the alternative vision for Scotland.”