Grahame ‘obsessed’ with winning Borders seat, claims sacked aide

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THE sacked aide of local MSP Christine Grahame has alleged she was “obsessed” with winning the new Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale seat for the SNP at the May election.

And Mark Hirst, who lives in Eckford, believes that ambition may have led her to breach the rules of the Scottish Parliament during her successful campaign.

The former Viasystems shop steward claims that, while being paid by Holyrood’s apolitical corporate body, he was directed by Ms Grahame to carry out duties related to her electioneering in the Borders.

And he says he has gathered evidence, in the form of emails and video recordings, to support his allegation that Ms Grahame, 67, misused parliamentary resources.

Mr Hirst was suspended from his job on May 12, just a week after Ms Grahame, who had been a South of Scotland list MSP since 1999, swept to victory in the redrawn constituency, ousting sitting Lib Dem Jeremy Purvis with a majority of nearly 5,000.

And on September 13 Mr Hirst was dismissed for gross misconduct, a decision currently subject to a delayed appeals process at the parliament.

However, Mr Hirst believes his dismissal will be confirmed by that process and he and his union, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), are already preparing the case for an employment tribunal at which he will present the evidence he has gathered.

Mr Hirst says that in July 2010, he saw an email which indicated Ms Grahame intended replacing him and this, he claims, led to him gathering evidence which he could use at a future tribunal.

He said: “In the course of doing this, I became aware of questionable practices which I felt entitled to disclose under the protection of whistleblowing legislation [The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998], given that I had a reasonable belief of wrongdoing.”

Mr Hirst claims his suspension came shortly after he submitted a complaint to the Electoral Commission. That body has confirmed receipt of a complaint from Mr Hirst, but said last week it had still to decide whether or not to launch an investigation.

Complaints have also been lodged with the Scottish Parliament’s Standards Commissioner and the police. While the commissioner is not allowed to comment on investigations, a police spokeswoman said: “We did receive a complaint and we then had a number of discussions with the Electoral Commission and procurator fiscal, and established no crime had been committed and no further action is to be taken.”

Under the MSPs’ code of conduct, members are not allowed to comment on cases being considered by the Standards Commissioner, but a spokesman for Ms Grahame told us: “Mr Hirst is an ex-employee and was dismissed on the grounds of gross misconduct.”

Mr Hirst worked for Ms Grahame from 1999-2001 before taking over as head of communications with Orkney Islands Council and then heading up the press office of the Children’s Reporter. He resumed his working relationship with Ms Grahame in 2004.

Asked if he had been aware of any misuse of parliamentary resources at the 2007 election when Ms Grahame was defeated by Mr Purvis in Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale, Mr Hirst told us: “Ms Grahame believed she would win that seat and was shocked when she did not. I was living in Perthshire at the time, so there was no question of me getting involved in the campaign in the Borders.

“I believe the difference in 2011 was that Ms Grahame was obsessed with winning the seat and I was living in the Borders.”