From Dodos to Phoenix – The fall and rise of Wendy and Charlie

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    Labour’s comeback kids {jcomments on}

    They resigned their positions in disgrace in 2008 after the illegal donation scandal shook the Holyrood Labour group. But Labour’s latter day dodos were anything but extinct, emerging phoenix-like from the ashes of political disgrace Wendy Alexander and Charlie Gordon have resurfaced and have become prominent figures once again.

    Wendy resigned her position as leader of Holyrood’s Labour group after it emerged her leadership campaign had accepted a donation from an illegal source and Charlie stood down when it emerged that it was he who had solicited the illegal cash gift.

    Ms Alexander returns to the political front line as head of the Holyrood committee that will scrutinise the Scotland Bill, the UK coalition’s interpretation of the Calman proposals. One of Ms Alexander’s first acts was to appoint one Jim Gallagher as ‘independent’ advisor to the committee.

    Mr Gallagher had acted as secretary to the Unionist dominated Calman Commission before adapting its findings into the ConDem Coalition’s Scotland Bill published on St Andrew’s Day. He had been appointed Director General for Devolution by Ms Alexander’s former boss, the then PM Gordon Brown. Quite how Mr Gallagher can be expected to provide ‘neutral’ advice on the document that he himself helped draft has not been explained.

    Charlie Gordon’s unexpected return to the limelight came about as a result of the severe weather that hit Scotland on Monday 6th December. The disruption to travel in the central belt led to Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson tendering his resignation the following Saturday. ‘White Monday’ also led to what can best be described as an unfortunate performance from Mr Gordon days later in a specially arranged sitting of the Transport Committee.

    Here is a flavour of Mr Gordon’s contribution to the aforementioned committee, two clips have been spliced together to form one mp3 file, the exasperated voice is that of committee convenor Patrick Harvey MSP:

    The irony of course is that when Mr Gordon resigned in 2008 when the scandal of Wendy Alexander’s illegal donation emerged, he did so from the role of ………….. Transport Spokesman.

    And it is just this donations scandal that leads us to the subject of this introductory article.

    Readers of Newsnet Scotland will be aware that the illegal donation resulted in an investigation being carried out by the Electoral Commission. Part of the Commission’s investigation was the fact that official documents submitted to them had falsely attributed the source of the illegal donation to a Glasgow company called Combined Property Services, an act that rendered the donation apparently legal.

    The Commission had the power to refer the matter to the prosecution service for further investigation if it deemed it appropriate. However, in a move that surprised few people the Commission decided not to take the matter further and headlines duly proclaimed that Ms Alexander had been ‘cleared’.

    The matter wasn’t over though and a Freedom of Information (FoI) request was lodged by a member of the public. That FoI request resulted in a very unsavoury incident that has yet to be reported anywhere in the UK media – a smear attempt by an official advisor to Labour MP and former Secretary of State for Scotland, Jim Murphy.

    The FoI request led to the Electoral Commission recently being forced by an English High Court judge to reveal information it tried to withhold from the public. The information revealed that one or more members of Wendy Alexander’s campaign team, when giving evidence to the commission, had admitted to altering the name of the donation from actual source Paul Green to Combined Property Services, an act that rendered the donation ‘legal’.

    Three years after the original FoI request was launched the man who lodged it, David Ferguson, had achieved partial success. The three year saga is one of stonewalling and obfuscation, of a reluctance to reveal information and to protect those under suspicion.

    Today we present the first in a four part series of articles in Mr Ferguson’s own words that take a look back at his quest for information and present a picture of an Electoral Commission seemingly more intent on shielding those involved in the falsifying of the source of the donation than of restoring public trust in the democratic institutions and processes that it is charged with policing.

    Wendygate and the Staunch Guardians of the Public Weal – Part 1 of 4: The Commission Stonewalls