MSP complaints investigated in Scotland during period of ‘serious concern’ unlikely to be reopened

The Commissioner for Ethical Standards in public life was subject to a scathing report from the Auditor General in Scotland about failings in the way the body investigated complaints about the behavior of MSPs and councilors during a near two-year period to early 2021.

The acting ethical standards commissioner, Ian Bruce, said his office found itself in a “challenging” and “difficult” place when he took up the role in March last year, replacing Caroline Anderson who has been on extended leave.

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Concerns around the Ethical Standards Commissioner’s office were raised by the Auditor General.

Audit Scotland said there were a “disturbing” number of failings, with too many complaints submitted to the office dismissed, adding every probe run since August 2020 should be independently reviewed.

However, speaking in front of Holyrood’s standards committee on Thursday, Mr Bruce told MSPs there were no plans to reopen any complaints made against members of Parliament at this stage.

He said: “The recommendation relates directly to the directions that were issued by the Standards Commission for Scotland and that relates to complaints about board members and councillors.

“We haven’t had a recommendation in that [MSP complaints] area. If the committee feels that those investigations should be independently re-examined, it would be open to the committee to issue directions to make that effect.

“You are asking me for a view whether or not the recommendations I was making to the commissioner at that point in time should be re-examined.

“Clearly I am going to say I don’t think so because I was doing my best to make the appropriate recommendations in terms of assessment at that time.

“But ultimately yes, the decisions whether to proceed or not to proceed were the commissioner’s, and so there’s been a recommendation in relation to councilor and member complaints and whether they should be re-investigated.

“I suppose the answer, if I were to shorten it, is that it would be for the committee to take a view on whether or not it feels assurance in that area would be helpful.”

The acting commissioner said despite a high number of complaints about MSPs, most linked to one single case around the Alex Salmond inquiry, there was no backlog around investigations.

Herald reported a total of 730 complaints, out of 763 official complaints about MSPs, were linked to the Salmond inquiry, something Mr Bruce labeled a “super-complaint”.

He told MSPs: “There is the very large complaint, super complaint we call it in the office, and I can’t talk about it, but the numbers are there. That is still under investigation and it is very complex and there are an awful lot of moving parts

“But if we set that aside, and we have had quite a few SNP complaints in this financial year, additional ones, so again the trend there does look to be those are on the rise. We have worked our way through all of those to December 15, so basically there is no backlog in relation to those.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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