By a Newsnet reporter
With rumours of a reshuffle in the Westminster cabinet next week following a freefall in Tory and LibDem poll ratings, there is growing speculation over whether Scotland Secretary Michael Moore will keep his job.
The Scotland Secretary’s recent speech, announcing that Westminster and Holyrood were “close to a deal” on the independence referendum, was dismissed as “pointless” by SNP MP Pete Wishart, who said the Scotland Secretary was “desperately trying to get noticed and save his job in the reshuffle”.
The Lib Dem cabinet minister has not impressed his Coalition colleagues, who are increasingly expressing concerns that “Scotland’s voice in the UK cabinet” is struggling to make himself heard in the independence referendum debate.
Earlier this month, the Lib Dem MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk was identified by influential Conservative commentator Tim Montgomery as “the obvious Lib Dem to drop” in September’s reshuffle, and in July the Scotsman reported that East Dunbartonshire MP Jo Swinson was being “widely touted” as Mr Moore’s replacement.
Conservative commentator Iain Dale has also tipped Mr Moore as a likely casualty of September’s reshuffle, but added: “The trouble for the LibDems is that they don’t have a huge wealth of talent on their backbenches.”
According to reports, Conservative members of the Coalition are eager to see the back of Mr Moore. In July last year Conservative politicians were quoted in the Scotsman newspaper saying that they believed Mr Moore was “out of his depth”, and accused him of making “inept” policy decisions. One Tory MSP told the newspaper:
“… there is serious disquiet amongst Conservatives about whether he has the credibility to remain in his job. I’m not sure he’s up to it.”
The Scotland Secretary presides over an office whose budget was sharply increased when an SNP Government was elected to Holyrood in 2005. Despite the fact that the Office has minimal responsibilities, annual payroll costs increased by 53% under the previous Labour Government. The funds to pay the costs of the Scotland Office are deducted by Westminster from the Scottish Parliament’s budget.
Between 2005 and 2010, payroll costs for the Scotland Office soared from £1,888,383 to £2,852,263. Yet according to information revealed by the Lib Dems in 2007, the Scotland Office was employing 20 policy officers with a responsibility for answering correspondence, despite receiving just 39 letters from MPs and Peers in the preceding year. Even so, the department still managed to spend almost £18,000 on stationery.
“Hospitality costs” also soared. In 2007 the Scotland Office had increased its spending on hospitality by 32% over the preceding year, spending over £23,000 in 2006-2007. This is almost twice the amount spent by the Wales Office.
In a 2007 press release, the Lib Dems themselves described the payroll costs of the Scotland Office as “indefensible”. Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael, who uncovered the figures, remarked:
“The Scotland Office appears to be more concerned with hosting soirées than communicating with Edinburgh.
“Employing twenty staff to write an average of two official letters each year is indefensible.
“The Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland Offices should merge to create a Department for Nations and Regions, with a full time seat at the Cabinet table.”
In 2009, the Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg unveiled plans to scrap the Scotland Office. However, after gaining power as part of the Conservative-led Coalition, the plans were quietly shelved.
For the SNP, Mr Wishart added said that the recent “pointless speeches” made by Mr Moore underscored that the Scotland Office was a waste of the £8 million it costs to run each year, which could be put to better use by the Scottish Government, whose budget it comes from. Mr Wishart criticised the purpose of the Scotland Office, saying that it was simply a means of diverting funds from the Scottish Government to use in a Tory-led “propaganda” campaign against Scottish independence.
Commenting Mr Wishart said:
“The only reason for Michael Moore’s speech is that he is desperately trying to get noticed and save his job in the reshuffle – it was pointless otherwise.
“Since devolution, the remit of the Scotland Office has virtually disappeared – and as a Lib Dem Michael Moore doesn’t even think the post of Scottish Secretary should continue to exist. It is just a ‘make-work’ post for Michael Moore – ‘the £8 million man’ – as part of the Tory-led anti-independence campaign.
“Since the election of the SNP in 2007, the Scotland Office’s salary budget has rocketed out of control. How can it have operated on a £1.9 million salary budget before the SNP came to office, at a time when there were no austerity cuts, but can now afford to operate on a £2.7 million salary budget?
“These cost increases show that the £8 million Scotland Office is simply a propaganda arm for Westminster to use in their Tory-led anti-independence campaign. It has no other role, and Michael Moore’s recent pronouncements are just indicative of an attention-seeking exercise with a UK Cabinet reshuffle in the offing.”
Last week Mr Moore created a new economic role for former Labour MP Brian Wilson. Described as a ‘Business Ambassador’, the former Scottish Labour politician, known for his hard line Unionist views, has been officially tasked with promoting Scottish business at home and abroad.
The appointment follows a UK Treasury advert for a position placed in July this year that sought an individual prepared to help deliver pro-anti-independence messages for Scottish consumption. The job description called on the postholder to produce “discrete” analysis in order to brief UK Ministers to help them deliver pro-Union economic messages to the Scottish electorate.
The successful applicant will also help establish and maintain “a comprehensive set of relationships with key Scottish stakeholders from business, academia and civic society, including helping to organise events.”
Interviews for the post were held last month.