Paint job for MSP’s office as former aide demands review of ethics

Christine Grahame MSP.'' S.N.P. office  building, Bank Street, Galashiels, Scottish Borders.
Christine Grahame MSP.'' S.N.P. office building, Bank Street, Galashiels, Scottish Borders.

LOCAL MSP Christine Grahame has this week finally complied with rules which ban the display of party political logos on the signage of constituency offices.

A September 1 deadline for her premises in Bank Street, Galashiels, to be repainted, with all vestiges of her SNP affiliation deleted, had been set by former Presiding Officer Alex Fergusson – even before Ms Grahame, a South of Scotland list MSP since the Scottish Parliament’s inception, was elected to represent Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale in May.

A complaint about the fascia, which was painted in the party’s yellow and contained a large SNP logo, along with two smaller ones, was lodged with Mr Fergusson by a member of the public in February.

The complainer contrasted Ms Grahame’s frontage to the combined offices of Liberal Democrats Michael Moore MP and (former) MSP Jeremy Purvis in Island Street, Galashiels, and the Hawick nerve centre of Tory MSP John Lamont, which displayed no party logos or colours.

In his reply, Mr Fergusson confirmed: “The Scottish Parliament Corporate Body’s policy in relation to the signage of constituency regional offices has changed and now does not allow for the display of party logos.

“The SPCB does, however, appreciate that this is a change of policy and has determined that all offices must comply with the decision to not display political party logos/affiliation by September 1, 2011. All members will be reminded of this change and the requirement to comply after the election.”

But the election came and went and five weeks after the September 1 deadline the same complainer wrote to Tracia Marwick – Mr Fergusson’s successor as Presiding Officer and head of the SPCB – demanding action. “I have to ask when you intend enforcing these regulations?” he added.

Ms Marwick replied on October 25, telling him: “I understand that Ms Grahame has now made arrangements to comply with the guidance on office signage.”

But last week, the complainer, who lives in Selkirk, tipped off the national media that the fascia was still unchanged, eliciting the following comment from a spokesman for Ms Grahame: “The parliamentary authorities are aware of the arrangements she has made to have the office repaired and repainted.”

And within two days the yellow livery had been replaced with dark blue lettering against a white background, with the SNP logos replaced by those of the Scottish Parliament.

Last month, we reported how the SPCB had concluded that Ms Grahame, 67, had misused parliamentary resources for her own electoral ends and conveyed its “strong disapproval”. It did so after investigating three emails which had been presented as evidence by the MSP’s former parliamentary aide, Mark Hirst, whom she sacked in September for alleged “gross misconduct”.

Mr Hirst, who lives in Eckford, said this week he was “disappointed” the evidence he had presented had resulted in no more than a mild reprimand from the corporate body.

Neither he nor Ms Grahame are able to comment further on the specific allegations until the Crown Office reviews information it has received from both the police and the Electoral Commission. This process, TheSouthern understands, is expected to take four weeks.

But Mr Hirst, who is contesting his dismissal through the employment tribunal process, told TheSouthern that regardless of any further sanctions being taken against Ms Grahame, he intends raising, as a private citizen, a petition within the next few weeks calling on the Scottish Parliament to “review its ethical standards”.

“We need to ensure our MSPs maintain proper standards of conduct,” he told us. “It seems that at present, MSPs, via the corporate body, are policing themselves and imposing token sanctions on their colleagues, so much more needs to be done to ensure public confidence in the workings of the parliament and its MSPs is maintained.

“The time is right for a root-and-branch review of the ethical standards of MSPs.”