Writer and academic Siobhan Tolland says the SNP’s position on MPs’ wage rises is not nearly strong enough given the party’s 56 new MPs were elected on an anti-austerity platform
DOES anyone know Jose ‘Pepe’ Mujica? He is the ex-president of Uruguay. Now that was a politician. This man gave 90 per cent of his wages to charity, so that he could earn only the average wage. He also lived in his wife’s farm house and drove an old clapped-out Volkswagen Beetle, forgoing the presidential house and cars. A simple life-style with no need or desire for great riches.
I wish we had a little more of this genuine empathy from our MPs, especially when it comes to the proposed pay rise. Particular disappointment is held for the SNP in this issue.
The SNP’s George Kerevan MP has stuck to his promise to accept the average wage of PS27,000. In these austerity-laden times, he deserves our utmost respect. But when asked about the SNP policy on a coming 10 per cent pay rise, its policy officer noted that there was nothing the SNP could do about it and it was up to the individual MP.
Despite the bravado back in 2013 when this was first discussed, when the SNP was saying how disgraceful this wage rise was, there is now a distinct lack of noise about it.
When I contacted all 56 SNP MPs I received four responses: two telling me to contact the press office, one from George Kerevan informing me that he is taking the average wage and will not accept the pay rise (another round of applause for this man by the way).
Another, very disappointingly, came from Philippa Whitford, who stated that the SNP was against the rise but can’t stop it, and many will give to charity. She did not explicitly include herself in that ‘many’, and when I clarified I did not receive a response.
I can’t tell you how disappointing that was. Despite the bravado back in 2013 when this was first discussed, when the SNP was saying how disgraceful this wage rise was, there is now a distinct lack of noise about it.
The decision is left to the individual and not as a collective party decision. We are being told that they can’t refuse the pay rise. As if this huge terrible thing is being forced upon them and there is just nothing they can do about it.
A bit like the pay cuts and pay freezes most of us average Joes are having forced upon us, except not quite…
The fact is that the SNP can have a collective policy on this issue, as it did in 2013 within the Scottish Parliament context. The Scottish Socialist Party had this policy when it had MSPs. And all political parties agreed in 2013 that the MSPs would not receive the same type of pay hike as their Westminster counterparts.
We are being told that they can’t refuse the pay rise. As if this huge terrible thing is being forced upon them and there is just nothing they can do about it.
So a political party can make a decision regarding the pay of electoral representatives. And electoral representatives can decide collectively.
In terms of not being able to overrule the independent body’s decision? Well actually this is not true either. A government minister talked only last week about how the prime minister should bring in legislation to prevent this: suggesting, of course, that parliament does have the power to stop it.
In addition to this, the government has already overruled an independent NHS Pay Review Body that recommended an extra one per cent pay rise on all spinal points of pay for nurses. It seems that independent bodies’ recommendations can be rejected.
There is nothing to stop parliament tabling a motion to introduce a new law to overrule this pay rise. Parliament decides the laws, does it not? Or is the independent body Ipsa enshrined forever and untouchable from a democratically elected body?
I would have hoped the SNP would have led this. The motion may not work, but it would clarify who exactly wants to stop the wage rise and establish itself as being a party that is genuinely fighting against this.
Nearly 400,000 people have signed a petition demanding this wage rise be stopped. MPs should not receive a pay rise of any kind during austerity, the petition notes, and it demands that MPs should “refuse a pay rise or bonus to show that we’re truly ‘in this together'”.
Now the SNP is getting the brunt here, and perhaps unfairly so. But the SNP is different. Not just because it practically has all the seats in Scotland, but because it campaigned on an anti-austerity platform.
Budding MPs told the electorate they would fight austerity, and the poverty and the inequality. But when MPs have a pay rise which increases the income gap between them and the average Joe, it does make me wonder where the rhetoric has gone.
The SNP is getting the brunt here, and perhaps unfairly so. But the SNP is different – it campaigned on an anti-austerity platform.
Why can’t the SNP create a strategic approach to prevent this? Why won’t they?
Since 2008 there has been a significant drop in the average wage. There are caps on benefits, pushing the poorest further into poverty and there is about to be a freeze on tax credits pushing working parents deeper into poverty also.
All around us, those on the low side of average income are facing the prospect of less and less money and the cost of living shoots up. It is these people who don’t have a choice, have no power to stop it. And it was these people who put their faith the SNP.
Against that backdrop, of course, MPs’ wages have not fallen. Far from it. If the 10 per cent rise is approved and we are being told that it pretty much will be, then there will have been a 14.5 per cent pay rise since 2008.
MPs will have nearly PS11,000 more than they did in 2008. That’s about PS900 per month more. And it puts them at PS46,500 more than the average wage. Sing along MPs, “It’s a hard-knock life for us”.
And so, as Westminster-initiated austerity grips, hundreds of thousands are plunging people into poverty and the gap between the rich and the poor becomes wider and wider. We are now the most unequal society in Europe. But MPs are becoming richer as we become poorer. And, as a result, they are becoming further and further removed from us.
So what happened to shaking the Westminster establishment up? What happened to shifting the “balance of power from the corridors of Westminster to the streets and communities of Scotland”? How can we trust that this hoard of SNP MPs, who promised to fight on our behalf, will fight on our behalf when the party won’t make any co-ordinated effort to stop them become richer as we become poorer?
MPs will have nearly PS11,000 more than they did in 2008. It puts them at PS46,500 more than the average wage. Sing along MPs, “It’s a hard-knock life for us”.
I was happy to see Philippa Whitford at a recent anti-Austerity demo, but I wondered how she squared this against the wage rise. Mhairi Black MP was very clear that she would give it to charity and admitted the contradiction of any MP accepting the pay rise when they were voted on an anti-austerity platform.
It’s time to end the honeymoon for the SNP. Any politician who thinks it is ethically fine to take such a massive pay rise when the poor are becoming more desperately poor because of Westminster needs taken to task.
The SNP fought on an anti-austerity platform. Its lack of formal support beyond “it isn’t right but our hands are tied” is not good enough. It is time to make the SNP accountable and remind MPs that they are public servants.
Accepting this ridiculous pay rise is not shaking Westminster, it is accepting the goodies that comes with the membership.
Four hundred thousand people are telling our politicians that this is a very important issue, and this controversy seems to be initiating discontent among SNP membership also.
The SNP fought on an anti-austerity platform. Its lack of formal support beyond “it isn’t right but our hands are tied” is not good enough.
Asked about the SNP policy officer’s comment that accepting the pay rise was up to the individual, Kirsteen Fraser from the SNP Trade Union Group noted that this was now an internal party matter initiated by “significant discontent” among the membership.
This suggests that there may be a change in direction on this issue, pushed by SNP members themselves. How the party deals with this issue, though, will be a test regarding SNP political commitment as public servants in Westminster.
For the moment, it doesn’t feel like they have fallen at the first hurdle, but stood and refused to jump over.