There’s a convicted wife beater in my Parliament and he won’t resign…

It’s now 10 days since Bill Walker, MSP for Dunfermline, was convicted of 23 offences of violence against 3 wives and a stepdaughter over a 28 year period. So far, his only public comment has been to state to the Courier:

I never had any plans to vacate my seat and that’s it. I will just leave it at that.

That’s not good enough for many MSPs. Willie Rennie has put down a motion (like an Early Day Motion at Westminster) calling on him to resign. That has so far been signed by over 80 of his parliamentary colleagues. Willie has been clear from the start that Walker had to go:

What sort of message would it send to victims of domestic abuse if Bill Walker was allowed to keep his seat in Parliament despite his conviction?

He has to go and he has to go now.

Our justice spokesperson Alison McInnes has also questioned the decision for his trial to be held before a Sheriff alone. That decision has effectively given Walker the decision as to whether he goes or not. The maximum custodial sentence he can get is one year, yet the rules say he can only be disqualified from the Parliament if he is sentenced to more than one year. You have to wonder why such serious offences should not be tried by jury. Alison said:

We are talking about serious violent offences here. It is important that we do what we can to ensure that those found guilty of domestic abuse receive an appropriate sentence. In the case of Bill Walker, clearly there are questions to be answered on why the Crown Office felt a summary trial was appropriate. Ministers need to tell us how our court system typically deals with allegations of domestic abuse and what steps are being taken to ensure that the punishment in these cases fits the crime.

A clear prosecution framework is crucial to ensuring ease of understanding amongst the public and maintaining confidence in the law.

It was reported yesterday that Holyrood Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick is examining whether Walker’s salary could be stopped during any custodial sentence.

A petition calling for a recall law for MSPs to be introduced has been set up.

There will be a demonstration outside Holyrood on Tuesday led by the campaign group Zero Tolerance.

It’s clear to me that two things need to happen. The first is that we need to look again at the rules on disqualification. Is the more than a year limit too lenient? Should we be looking at the nature of the offence when setting the criteria for someone to be thrown out of the Parliament.

The second thing is that we need to get on with the recall law. I think that it is perfectly reasonable for a politician who has been shown to be a violent offender to be asked to face the electorate again or stand down. You’d obviously have to have the support of a substantial chunk of the electorate to do that. In a Scottish Parliament seat, you’d be looking at around 8,000 people. That’s certainly enough to make sure that people aren’t targeted for political motives.

I feel very uncomfortable that a convicted wife beater could be eligible for over £175.000 of public money in salary and a £30,000 resettlement grant if he sticks it out until 2016. He could potentially vote on matters relating to domestic abuse. It’s time for Scottish MPs to meet Nick Clegg and work together on a recall law and  a review of the rules on disqualification.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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10 Comments

  • Russel McPhate 1st Sep '13 - 1:22pm

    While I have to be careful in my comments one thing has struck me about this whole debate on the decision to prosecute Bill Walker summarily. Of course, as has correctly been pointed out, the choice of forum has a significant impact on the sentencing powers available to the Court. However, (based on statistics & not in any way a comment on the particular Court or Sheriff involved) it also has a significant impact on the chances of acquittal. In fact, tried before a jury the odds of Bill Walker being acquitted would have risen by AT LEAST 60% and we may not have been engaged in this debate at all. Maybe that influenced the decision of the Crown as to where to prosecute?

  • Has not the Scottish Parliament the right to expel one of its own members that the House deems unworthy to sit?

  • Bring back the stocks but just for shameless elected politicians.

  • I believe that the Sheriff could send the case to the high Court for sentence if he feels his powers are insufficient in the case. Anyone like to have a quiet word…

  • The “one year” rule is far too lenient. How many people in the “real world” outside parliament would have their jobs kept open while they were dong a “stretch”?
    Recall is not the answer though. The punishment should be rule-based, not dependent on the popularity of the MP.

  • David White 3rd Sep '13 - 2:50pm

    Yes, dear Caron, the monstrous Walker should resign.

    But when will the frightful Cameron and Osborne resign, following their unwarranted assaults on powerless poor people?

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