Today is Mark McDonald’s first day back after nearly 130 days away from the Scottish Parliament, his place of work. He left it as the SNP’s Childcare Minister and returns as a disgraced independent MSP for Aberdeen Donside.
Mr McDonald told the BBC’s Gary Robertson yesterday, in a tough radio interview, that he was morally justified in returning to work. That he deserved the chance to prove that he’d changed. But it’s hard to see just how he can make any impact as an independent MSP.
The Parliament sits from Tuesday to Thursday. Most MSPs spend their mornings in committees and their afternoons debating in the chamber. The membership of each committee is divided proportionately based on the last election result.
Believe it or not, the author of the formula that divvies it up, Mr D’Hondt, wasn’t really banking on having to consider the needs of deviant MSPs, so he won’t sit on a parliamentary committee. The same formula is used to determine speaking time in the chamber. The waves of the North Sea could pour into Pittodrie, and Mr McDonald could only debate it in Parliament after everyone else has had their say and only if there was time.
It will even impact on his ability to ask questions. If he wants to ask a tricky question of a minister, not something he’s ever done before of course, he’ll be at the back of the queue behind the frontbenchers of each party, then the committee members with an interest in the topic.
This is why political parties matter and why so few independents get elected or re-elected to Parliament. The one exception to the rule was another MacDonald: Margo. She managed to make a success of her time as an independent largely through sheer force of her personality. She commanded respect. She had worked hard on a few issues and only spoke when she could make impact. She used the leverage of her vote at budget time to get results for her Lothian constituents. She was feared and revered in equal measure. Mark has none of these qualities.
The realities of life as independent MSP will be known to Mark and he clearly doesn’t care. When asked yesterday if he had considered how the women who had complained about his behaviour might feel about his return, he said he had no intention of seeking them out. But the workers of the Parliament share a canteen, a coffee shop, they walk the same corridors and get in the same lifts. This isn’t right and it’s no wonder that the SNP’s James Dornan has called on the Parliament’s authorities to take their own action.
Mark isn’t returning to diligently represent Donside. He’s coming back to pick up a paycheque of £62,000 a year for the next three years. He plans to brazen it out because he has a family to support and there isn’t a huge demand from alternative employers to take on someone who had to deny being a sex pest on national radio yesterday.
If he gets to continue to work alongside the women who reported him, then it only goes to prove how unequal our world is and how little we’ve learned.