Letter from Westminster

Many and varied are the things that you get asked to do when you are a parliamentarian. Over the last nine years I have written thousands of letters and made hundreds of telephone calls about people’s problems with child support, tax credit, benefits, heating bills etc. I have also scrubbed pots after OAP lunches, painted walls for CLAN, eaten beans for Children in Need and even given away a bride on her wedding day. All these, and more, are things I have been asked to do and all because I am an elected Member of Parliament.

As you can see I am not proud and I do not rely on the “dignity” of the office I hold to turn invitations down!

There are, however, some things that I do not do.

I cannot demand that someone wanting a house from the council should get one just because I say so. The council (and the Hjaltland) have their fixed rules and procedures which should be fair and which should ensure that everyone is treated in the same way. I can make sure that proper account is taken of any relevant factors such as health or disability but that can only be done within the rules.

It is never easy for an elected politician to say no. Sometimes, however, it has to be done.

Unlike Nicola Sturgeon I have never been asked by a constituent to provide a letter to be produced in court when they are due to be sentenced for a crime. I won’t say that I would never do it but if I did I would certainly take rather more care than she did in what I might write.

Having made my living for many years from trying to persuade sheriffs not to send clients to jail I know that you can only tell things you know to be true. If it is something that you have been told but have not checked for yourself then you should say so. So Ms Sturgeon should not have said that her constituent was “active in the community” when she did not know that to be true for herself. Intervening in the legal process is bad enough – doing so with wrong or misleading information is even worse.

The point at which she crossed an unforgivable line was in suggesting to the court what sentence should be imposed. For a government minister to seek to influence a court in that way crosses a line that is there for a very good reason. Courts are independent of politics for good reasons that are all to do with protecting us all. If we allow courts to be influenced by politicians then what right do we have to criticise other countries like Burma for doing the same thing in a more brutal and sinister way?

There is no evidence currently available that leads me to conclude that Nicola Sturgeon was corrupt in what she did. She was, however, naïve to the point of stupidity. When you are Scotland’s second most senior government minister that can be almost as bad.

Alastair Carmichael


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