Cameron to put an end to double jobbing – shock!

In a very significant speech in Perth last night, David Cameron made a firm pledge to end the dual mandate of elected representatives if he comes to power. I’ve some personal doubts about the wisdom of a total ban which I’ll explain at the end. Although he was talking of Scotland and made no reference to NI double jobbery, it must follow that Cameron will make up the NI parties’ minds for them on that score. And if Cameron leads, can Brown be far behind? Immediately, the burning question for the local parties is this: do they make a last Westminster stand in next year’s general election and risk the scorn of the likely next Prime Minister? Or do Messrs Robinson, Adams, Durkan and the rest bow to the inevitable and opt to stay out of Westminster? There are very tricky calls to make here, requiring perhaps, different calculations by different parties. A second string list of Westminster candidates risks high profile defeat or at the very least, damaging reverse in the first-past-the-post election. A second eleven of Stormont ministers downgrades the forum where the effective use of local power can be demonstrated to voters. Reporting what Cameron had to say, the UK national media concentrated more on the theme of MP’s expenses. So I’m obliged to STV for printing the lot. From the fall-out from the expenses saga, Cameron gave a melodramatic warning of “the Union at risk” and mounted a fierce attack on Alex Salmond. He said the SNP would look upon the scandal with glee and use it for its separatist agenda, even though its MPs “are not themselves squeaky clean”. He added: “The Union between our two countries is in danger. This moment is dangerous yet vital.” Speech extracts and more comment below the fold.

Cameron quotes:

“What has happened isn’t just bad news for our democracy. It’s bad news for the Union between our two countries. You can imagine the glee these stories were met with in the SNP headquarters. Each expense claim marked down as ammunition for Alex Salmond’s separatist agenda, even though his own MPs are not squeaky clean. The greater the impression of a Westminster mired in corruption, the greater the impression that Alex Salmond’s call for independence is credible.

And while we’re on the First Minister, I’d like to say this to him:

Before you talk about MPs fiddling the system, let’s look at your record.
You say you’re Scotland’s voice in Westminster – well, I haven’t heard it.
You take the salary but what do your constituents get?
An attendance record in the House of Commons a and a voting record that is amongst the worst of all Scottish MPs. You sit in two legislatures – Holyrood and Westminster.You draw two salaries. But you haven’t got a leg to stand on.

My position on the question of the dual mandate is this: one politician should not try to serve two masters, so they should only sit in one legislature.I know the problems. Promises are made to serve a full term. In parts of our United Kingdom the practice of dual mandates has grown up and become established. But this needs to change. That’s why any Conservative who is elected to a second legislature will give up the other seat at the first available electoral opportunity.

And to the Scottish people, I say this: I know you’re angry with politicians in London.

But a vote for the SNP puts our Union at risk.And don’t put our Union at risk because remember what it has done for us, is doing for us, and will do for us in the future”.

As I’ve said before, I believe there’s a case for a small number of senior figures – the leaders or senior deputies – serving in Westminster as well as in the devolved institutions to act as ambassadors and create an influential presence to speak on matter of common interest – like public money. Junior MPs are called to speak less often and have much less influence. In Parliaments to come with fewer MPs from the devolved areas, the three of them, Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland, will need all the parliamentary weight they can muster. However, this highminded argument is swept away by harsh politics.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London