By Martin Kelly
The latest Westminster expenses scandal has escalated with the news that more Scottish MPs have been letting out their privately owned homes whilst claiming rent for staying in other accommodation.
Amongst Scottish MPs thus far alleged to be involved are Labour MPs Jim Murphy and his party colleagues Iain MacKenzie and Ian Davidson. They were joined by Lib Dem Charles Kennedy and Conservative MP Liam Fox. Also included in the 27 MPs is the SNP’s Angus Robertson.
Mr Robertson moved quickly to answer criticism of his own involvement by insisting he did not profit from the situation.
The SNP politician had promised to sell his London flat and hand back payment he had received from the taxpayer prior to rules on mortgage interest claims being changed. However the collapse of the London property market has meant that the flat is now worth less than Mr Robertson paid for it.
At the time of writing, neither Murphy, Davidson, Fox or Kennedy has commented publicly on the latest controversy.
Attention is now turning towards those MPs who have rented privately owned properties from party colleagues. Media reports suggest there are currently four MPs who are subletting their properties to other MPs.
According to the Telegraph newspaper, Labour MP Kevin Barron, who is the chairman of the standards and privileges committee, claimed £1,500 a month to rent a home belonging to fellow Labour MP Jon Trickett.
Barron made a profit of half a million pounds after selling his own taxpayer funded apartment following the original expenses scandal. He started renting from Trickett shortly after the sale.
Trickett, who once served as a parliamentary aide to Gordon Brown, is the shadow Cabinet Office minister responsible for highlighting government sleaze. Mr Trickett put his £600,000 property on the market after being warned that the arrangement was about to be exposed.
Greenock MP Iain Mackenzie, who rents from fellow Labour MP Linda Riordan, has claimed not to have known his colleague owned the flat he rented for £18,720 per year.
Ms Riordan, who employs her partner as a research assistant at a taxpayer funded salary of £42,500 a year, is believed to make around £1000 profit a month on the deal.
Speaking to the Daily Record, Mr Mackenzie said: “When I signed the lease for my London accommodation, I was not aware that I was renting a property owned by a fellow MP.
“When I subsequently found out the property was owned by Linda Riordan, I immediately checked with IPSA who said there was nothing to stop MPs renting out their flats.”
Mr MacKenzie’s colleagues, Jim Murphy and Ian Davidson, have found themselves in the expenses spotlight before.
When Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr Murphy was found to have ‘flipped’ his designated first home from London to East Renfrewshire allowing the Labour MP to benefit from the lucrative second home allowance.
In 2009, Ian Davidson, chair of a controversial Commons Select Committee which regularly attacks Scottish independence, was found to have claimed £5,500 after a ‘family friend’ renovated his London flat. The Scottish Labour MP also claimed £1500 for furniture delivered to his Glasgow home whilst claiming the Common’s allowance for the London flat.
Davidson claimed the delivery was made to his Glasgow property because there was a better chance of someone being in and his London flat had double red lines outside.