Labour war on Scottish sleaze

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The Independent Online
Labour plans to introduce a "new breed" of politician for the devolved Scottish parliament in a bid to stamp out sleaze north of the border.

Party leaders will use the model of their existing by-election panel, which rigorously excludes "unsuitable" candidates, for choosing would- be MSPs.

The aim is to root out any Labour hopefuls for the pounds 40,000-a-year jobs who have been caught up in the party's on-going scandals in Scotland or who have an inappropriate past.

A panel of top officials from Labour's London HQ will vet the records of all aspiring MSPs before they will be allowed to stand in Scotland's first one-citizen, one-vote election for its own parliament, probably in May 1999. "This is going to be squeaky clean," said a senior party insider.

Labour will look for candidates who have not necessarily been in politics before, but who have a wide range of experience. Time-serving local councillors - known as "numptys" - will be quietly discouraged. It will be a case of 'Not under my party, thank you', said a party source. The Scottish Secretary, Donald Dewar, wants to broaden the base of political life, an aim shared by the other main parties.

The disclosure that English party bosses will decide who is to sit in a Scottish parliament is bound to draw criticism and spark nationalist taunts that Labour cannot trust the Scots. But Tony Blair has decreed that Labour cannot take any chances after the string of political scandals in Scotland.

There will be 129 members in the new parliament, which will begin sitting in the year 2000. Seventy-three will be directly elected in the existing 72 Westminster constituencies, with an extra seat formed by the division of Orkney and Shetland into two constituencies. A further 56 members will be chosen by proportional representation from a list supplied by the parties.

There is unlikely to be a shortage of candidates. The rewards will be roughly on a par with Westminster - about pounds 40,000 a year plus the office, research and housing allowances that bring the package close to pounds 100,000.They will enjoy free travel, post and telephones and get mileage payments for using the car.

But MSPs will not have sit in formal session as often as their southern colleagues. The parliament will meet for no more than 26 weeks a year. The Government argues that more time can then be devoted to pre-legislative scrutiny of parliamentary bills, doing away with the need for a second, revising chamber.

Mr Dewar, who is widely tipped to become Scotland's First Minister as well as retaining his existing Cabinet post, will head a Scottish executive of between 10 and 20, modelled on the UK Cabinet. The parliament will have full powers over the pounds 14bn annual government expenditure in Scotland, and the power to raise income tax by up to 3p in the pound. Labour has said it will not use the power during the lifetime of the current Westminster Parliament but proportional representation could deprive the party of an overall majority in the new parliament.

The handsome margin of victory in Scotland has raised ministerial hopes that the referendum in Wales on Thursday will also return a "yes" vote.

Focus, pages 16-17