In 2009, the expenses scandal confirmed the worst suspicions about a corruption at the heart of British politics.
Public scepticism about politicians and their motives is a natural, and necessary, part of the political process. It is less healthy for this scepticism to turn into cynicism – and it is entirely the fault of politicians that this has happened.
I’m both an optimist and a realist when it comes to the ability of parliamentary politics to be a force for good. I believe that government, with vision and integrity, can transform peoples lives. I’m also a realist in recognising that for government to be at its best, there needs to be a culture of accountability. That comes from widespread public participation, a vibrant press and strong groups, such as trade unions, able to hold vested power, whether in government or beyond, to account.
In Scotland, public engagement with politics is far from dead. But we must also recognise that cynicism about politics, and about politicians, is still widespread. And those of us who are involved in party and electoral politics have to be willing to challenge that cynicism, otherwise it will further corrode any belief that involvement and faith in politics is a worthwhile endeavour.
I am one of the potential SNP candidates for the Edinburgh North & Leith Westminster seat. When I was considering whether to put my name forward, the last thing on my mind was the fat salary offered. But should I become the party’s nominee, and then go on to win the election, I will suddenly find myself earning a salary several times my current income and well beyond the reach of the vast bulk of my constituents.
There are 400,000 workers in Scotland who earn less than the living wage. That’s an extraordinary number of people who, even when employed, are not earning enough to live.
Earlier this year, I wrote for Bella Caledonia on the need to devolve the power to set the minimum wage, and to use that power to establish a universal living wage in Scotland.
The Smith Commission, perhaps predictably, failed to devolve that power. It is one of the most glaring failures of the Commission to produce a devolution settlement ‘near federalism’ or to give Holyrood the powers to tackle inequality. It will be the job of of the SNP MPs elected in May to push for a devolution settlement worth the name.
If I am elected, my priorities will include campaigning against poverty pay, against the sickening use of benefit sanctions and for secure and fair work for all who’re able to do it. I would personally feel uncomfortable doing so while earning many times what most working people do.
Which is why my pledge, if selected as the SNP nominee for Edinburgh North & Leith, will be to live on the average wage for a Scottish full-time worker. I will take home the equivalent of the after-tax median wage, and donate the rest of my salary, after party levies, to charities working in Edinburgh.
This is a personal pledge, and one I would not expect other candidates to make. I am in a position without dependants where I can make this commitment, and as I currently earn less than the average wage it is no particular hardship. But I believe it would be an important statement about my beliefs and intentions, and would, in its own small way, help to build trust in politics and in the SNP.