Wednesday, 22 October 2014

The only way is ethics

I reported in July in the Sunday Herald that Roseanna Cunningham had failed to declare a shareholding in a small publishing company in her parliamentary register of interests.

As the shares represented more than 1% of the firm concerned, that suggested a breach of not only MSP rules, but the law, as it is technically an offence to participate in parliamentary business while failing to declare a registrable financial interest.

Not too clever looking for the minister for legal affairs.

To her credit, Ms Cunningham promptly held up her hand, and admitted she should have registered the shares, and got rid of them sharpish.

However the matter is not yet at an end, I can reveal.

Following a complaint from a member of the public, the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland has become involved.

Here's the story:

Tom Gordon

ROSEANNA Cunningham, the SNP minister for legal affairs, is being investigated by the country’s ethics watchdog over an undisclosed shareholding exposed by the Sunday Herald.

Bill Thomson, the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland, recently confirmed he had started inquiries in response to a complaint from a member of the public.

It is understood Mr Thomson ruled the complaint into the secret shares was “admissible” and said he would “continue consideration of the matter”.

He also informed Ms Cunningham of his decision.

The Sunday Herald first revealed in July that Ms Cunningham, who is also minister for community safety, failed to declare shares she had held since 2000 in a left-wing publishing company.
The holding was 50 of the 750 issued shares in Left Review Scotland Ltd, which publishes the Scottish Left Review magazine six times a year.
Since 2006, MSPs have been obliged to declare any shareholding greater than 1% in a company.
However Ms Cunningham failed to declare her 6.7% stake in Holyrood’s register of interests.
Roseanna Cunningham
Although nominally worth £1 each, Scottish Left Review’s 2013 accounts valued the shareholders’ funds at more than £13,000, suggesting Ms Cunningham’s stake was worth almost £900.
Under Section 39 of the 1998 Scotland Act failure to register such a financial interest and then take part in parliamentary proceedings is a criminal offence, punishable on summary conviction to a fine of up to £5000.
The new probe is a blow to the Perthshire MSP as a minister with a legal portfolio, especially given she was an advocate in her past career.
When the Sunday Herald first revealed the share holding, Ms Cunningham, 64, said she had “no recollection” of the shares, but has since admitted she should have registered them.
She has now recorded them in her register of interests saying she bought them for £1 each in 2000 but was “not been actively involved in the company for over 12 years”.
However “on realising these shares constituted a registrable interest I provided the necessary information to the [parliamentary] Clerk”. 
Paul Martin, Labour’s business manager at Holyrood, said: “It is clear that this is viewed as a serious matter. Government ministers need to be held to the highest possible standard and it is correct that this is properly investigated and acted on if there is wrongdoing.
“It would not be good for this government if the minister in charge of legal affairs had failed on basic compliance.”
Ms Cunningham founded Left Review Scotland Ltd with a group of fellow left-wingers including ex-Labour treasurer Bob Thomson and Clydeside trade unionist Jimmy Reid.
Its aim was “to promote and reflect the principles and values of democratic socialism within the Scottish nation through the publishing of a magazine and organisation of discussion groups”.
A spokesman for Ms Cunningham said she had replied to the Commissioner and her letter “set out the circumstances of the situation and the fact that as she did not recall she owned these shares, they went unregistered with Parliament.
“Once they were brought to her attention and she realised they should have been registered, she immediately notified the relevant bodies.
“She has since divested herself of the £50 in shares for nil consideration.”
The office of the Commissioner for Ethical Standards said: “We have received a complaint against Roseanna Cunningham.
“We cannot comment further on this matter as the Commissioner is legally obliged (Section 16 of the Scottish Parliamentary Standards Commissioner Act 2002) not to disclose information about the terms of the complaint.”