Derek Mackay: John Swinney defends SNP’s handling of scandal involving former finance minister

The Scottish National Party has defended how they handled the breaking story around former Finance Minister Derek Mackay.

The graphic story containing his texts to a 16-year-old boy was released by the Sun newspaper yesterday.

In the wake of Mackay’s resignation, John Swinney released this statement defending the Government’s handling of the scandal:

“The government became aware of these allegations at about 6pm on Wednesday night, and we simply – because of the significance of what was being put to us – asked for information to give us the veracity and the substance of the points that were being put to us.”

“We saw nothing in writing until we saw the first edition of The Sun later on Wednesday evening, so we were simply asking for the detail that we would ask in any situation where allegations are being put to us so that we can be confident about the detail that is being asked.”

Mackay resigned from his position yesterday after the Sun released a report about him sending 270 messages to a schoolboy.

The messages include him calling the schoolboy “cute” and inviting him to dinner.

Now, more accusations of harassment have come out about the ex-minister.

An SNP activist, Shaun Cameron, has claimed that Mackay sent him messages for years during his time as an activist.

After the scandal broke, the other parties in Holyrood were quick to make statements about the recent resignation. Scottish Greens parliamentary co-leader Alison Johnstone said:

“Derek Mackay’s behaviour and conduct towards a 16-year old has been utterly unacceptable.”

“His persistent and unwanted approaches represent an abuse of power, and the impact on the family cannot be overstated.”

“It is therefore entirely correct that he is no longer in his position as finance secretary and suspended from his party. The individual and family must receive all the support that they need.”

Mackay resigned from his position after the scandal broke, just hours before the release of the new Holyrood budget.

Dugdale: Scottish Labour’s disappointment after joining ITV’s I’m a Celebrity… Get Me out of Here?

The decision to suspend Kezia Dugdale from Scottish Labour could be decided today when the party group hold their weekly meeting at Holyrood.

Last week it was announced that MSP Kezia Dugdale would be a contestant on the latest series of ITV’s I’m a Celebrity…Get Me out of Here with her first appearance expected to be broadcast later this week.

Dugdale in hot water over latest venture. Photograph: Herald Scotland.

The Labour MSP has confirmed that the salary she receives for being MSP will be given to charity while she is away filming in Australia but it is unconfirmed if she will also be donating the tens of thousands she is expected to receive from starring on the show.

Dugdale’s foray into the world of reality television just months after she stepped down as leader of Scottish Labour has split the party. It was revealed by the new Scottish party leader, Richard Leonard, that Dugdale failed to gain permission from party chiefs to join the show and that he was personally disappointed.

Former Labour leader, MSP Neil Findlay, also voiced his displeasure described her decision as “utterly ludicrous”.

Dugdale’s partner and Scottish National Party MSP, Jenny Gilruth accused the Labour party of bullying tweeting her opinions.

 

Tory MP, Nadine Dorris, who was previously suspended from her party after joining the same show in 2012 also took to twitter to show her support.

 

What is more important is how this will affect the residents of Lothian who are represented by Dugdale. Three weeks is a long time to leave your constituents and considering the reputation of the show voters may begin to look elsewhere for representation.


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Is it time to repeal the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act? [Update]

The Justice Committee is currently taking evidence on the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Repeal) (Scotland) Bill.

Various opponents of the law say it is written poorly and targets football fans. The repeal bill is in its first stage after it was introduced by James Kelly MSP on 21st June 2017. The Committee is currently taking evidence from two panels: Panel 1 will take evidence from groups with an interest inequalities & human rights. Panel 2 will consist of witnesses from faith groups. Although ministers argued that opponents of the law have not put forward any realistic alternatives to reducing sectarianism in football and that repealing the bill would send the wrong message on offensive behaviour.

Colin Macfarlane (Director of Stonewall Scotland) urged MSP’s, “Don’t repeal the Act until there is something in its place.” Although Stonewall Scotland supported the bill, they believe there are implementation issues. Macfarlane said that it is time to review what is working and what is not. In its’ evidence to the committee, Stonewall declared that the Scottish government should conduct a review, with a focus on how the law is being applied and if necessary renewed so that it is “consistently” used to challenge different prejudiced behaviours.

The charges reported to the Procurator Fiscal under the Act since 2013 show there are consistently increased numbers each year, with 206 in 2014-15, 286 in 2015-16 and 377 in 2016-17, however, these numbers are still worrying as Sacro’s Tom Haplin says the low level of prosecution and referral is a concern.

Mr Macfarlane expressed worry, saying, “If it goes and there is nothing in its place that is our big worry.”

Sandy Riach from the Scottish Disabled Supporters’ Association agreed with Macfarlane by saying there needs to be something in place but more work needs to be done on this issue.

However, Danny Boyle from BEMIS seemed to be pushing for the repeal by saying there is a shared aspiration to tackle hate crime across the board, but “this piece of legislation is not achieving that.”

With all members of the board giving evidence agreeing there needs to be more work done to reduce hate crime in football, there is some friction with regards to whether the bill should be repealed and if there needs to be further legislation in place.

Updated at 13:47

As the Justice Committee continues to take evidence, Danny Boyle from Bemis revealed he used to work for the Irish Heritage Foundation and being a Roman Catholic, he says this makes him one of the most probable to be a victim under the Act. He goes on to say the Irish Heritage Foundation did not support the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Behaviour Act. He also states that education has a very important role to play in challenging hate crime but also states there is less hate crime in football than there is elsewhere.

Sandy Riach, from the Scottish Disabled Supporters’ Association, somewhat disagreed by saying a lot of people who go to football matches are scared, whether it be noise, chanting or foul language but agreed that education plays a vital role. He also said that disabled groups feel more protected because of the Act.

Tory MSP, Liam Kerr asked if sectarianism is a significant issue throughout Scottish football or if it is restricted to two clubs (Rangers and Celtic). Tom Haplin, from Safeguard Communities – Reducing Offending said that the referrals are not limited to two clubs, he goes on to say,

This is a Scottish societal issue.

Mr Boyle agreed with this by saying there is a fallacy that sectarianism is the responsibility of two clubs, and that only 12% of charges under the football act have been related to Old Firm matches.

In terms of online abuse, Mr Kelly, the member behind the repeal bill, says that there is a vast majority of cases that are not going through the Offensive Behaviour At Football and Threatening Behaviour Act but rather The Communications Act 2003.

With Danny Boyle citing various cases showing the inconsistencies in the interpretation of the term sectarianism making the Act incompatible with the Human Rights Act, there is agreement across the board that more work needs to be done. However, there is still differing opinions on plans to go forward in the future. The evidence given shows disagreement in terms of repealing the bill and the plans for making positive changes regarding hate crime in football reduction.

Scottish Electoral Board inquiry begins

A Holyrood inquiry has been launched following concerns regarding bonuses for Chief Executives during election periods.

For a number of years Election Chiefs have received extra payment for running elections, a task which many believe should be included in their annual salary. Public concern has caused local government to assess if a reform is needed.

The Scottish Parliament’s local government committee convener, Bob Doris stated:

“The committee’s heard that in the last couple of years alone, £1m of additional payments has been made.

“So we’ll need to get additional information why those payments have been made, whether they’re justified, what work’s entailed to justify those payments and to dig beneath it and find out if they’re appropriate for future elections or not.”

Concern has been growing since May after it was released that chief executives could earn a bonus of up to half a million pounds, with £165,000 for the Edinburgh top official role and £160,000 for Glasgow.The UK Cabinet reassured the public that fees were kept under review and “statutorily independent from their normal employment”.

The Chief Executive for Glasgow, received a bonus of £33,238 for the Scottish 2016 election and £21,111 for the EU Referendum.

Chairwoman of the Electoral Management Board for Scotland, Mary Pitcaithly, stated:

“It would be wholly inconsistent with practice elsewhere if duties of the scale and the degree of responsibility and the civic importance of the returning officer role were to be not remunerated at all.”

polling_station_in_haverhill_2007

A spokesperson for the Electoral Reform Society will give evidence to the committee.

The society’s Scottish director Willie Sullivan said:

“I think there’s a root and branch look needed at why this system is throwing up these morbid symptoms of inequality in rewarding some people huge amounts more than what ordinary people get paid.”

The committee will consider all evidence before deciding if a reform is the next step forward for the Scottish government.

 

Yousaf to defend ScotRail services

MSPs are to question Scotland’s transport minister Humza Yousaf later today over ScotRail performance issues.

first_scotrail_class_170

After Dutch firm Abellio took over the ScotRail franchise last year the company has suffered numerous complaints from the public about delayed, over-crowded and cancelled trains.

Yousaf however shocked many by claiming the ScotRail service is; “not poor”, supported by the latest performance data, showing that 86% of ScotRail trains were on time or less than five minutes late between 16 October and 12 November.

However, Abellio’s contract to run the ScotRail franchise requires 91.3% of trains to arrive within five minutes of schedule, with Scottish government capable of cancelling the contract if performance drops to 84.3% for three consecutive months.

Yousaf warned that failure to improve services by 2020 could result in Abellio’s contract being replaced with a public sector franchise bid.

Issues have continued throughout the past week, with ScotRail cancellations on major lines and over running repair jobs creating delays for commuters across the country, Yousaf released an emergency statement and will face questions from opposition parties later today.

Yousaf said: “I am committed to delivering the best possible rail service for passengers in Scotland.

“Over this year and next, we will deliver £16m of additional infrastructure improvements and an ambitious refurbishment programme across 90% of our existing trains, providing valuable work for plants in Kilmarnock and Glasgow. This will help towards services improvements in the short term, and our £5bn of investment in track upgrades, new carriages, seats and services will bring long term transformation.”

The parliamentary update later today will clarify whether the SNP MSPs ambitious plans are enough to satisfy Hollyrood and enough for the public.

 

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