First Minister

Part of Contract Research Staff – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:47 pm on 22nd November 2001.

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Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative 2:47 pm, 22nd November 2001

The written answer that I received earlier this week confirmed that, since Labour came to power, more than 60 per cent of those who have been appointed to public bodies and have declared a political affiliation are Labour supporters. Things are getting worse, not better. Since January 2000, three quarters of such appointees were Labour supporters.

Mr McConnell has said that, as First Minister, he will dismantle the whole culture of cronyism. He claims that he is committed to open and accountable government. How will he achieve that? The simplistic answer, which we will no doubt hear from the SNP and the Liberal Democrats many times in the coming weeks, is that we should introduce proportional representation for councils, but that would be to make the mistake of attacking the symptoms of the problem rather than the underlying problem itself.

The Labour party certainly wields a considerable amount of political power in Scotland, but what needs to be tackled is the concentration of power in the hands of politicians, not merely who controls it. PR might change the political balance on our councils, but it would simply introduce a system of proportional cronyism in which other parties would get a chance to share political patronage. Proportional cronyism is exactly what has happened since PR gave the Liberal Democrats a share of power in the Scottish Executive: all of a sudden, their supporters have started to be appointed to public bodies. What a surprise. [Interruption.]

Apart from a measure of quiet in the chamber, we need politicians who will initiate a fundamental shift in power. Power needs to shift from politicians and the institutions of the state back to the independent and autonomous institutions of civil society: to individuals, families, local communities, co-operatives and voluntary organisations. Proportional representation will not bring that about; it will simply entrench the power of the state by giving more political parties a vested interest in maintaining that power. [Interruption.] If we do not have politicians at national and local level who are committed to that real devolution of power and who are willing to put it into practice, the potential for the abuse of power will continue. [Interruption.]