Has his latest transgression made the position of Bill Walker MSP untenable?
Those readers who do not take an active interest in Scottish political life will most likely be unaware of the recent revelations surrounding one of our more ‘lively’ MSPs, Mr Bill Walker. While the gist of the story will be a familiar one, the events are worthy of reiteration. Mr Walker is, for now, a Scottish National Party-turned-Independent MSP for Dunfermline – although the Scottish branches of Ladbrokes might be well advised to start taking bets as to how long he will be in that position.
Mr Walker is a convicted perpetrator of multiple instances of domestic abuse against a multitude of victims, and was recently given a one-year prison term for his crimes. This has resulted in demands from across the Scottish political spectrum for Bill Walker’s resignation, given that the Scottish Parliamentary procedure provides that it is only when an MSP is given a sentence of longer than one year that he must vacate his seat. Mr Walker recently told The Courier that he has no intention of giving up his seat. There is a clash between principle and procedure which will, in the opinion of this commentator, be the acid test of the Scottish Parliament’s disciplinary methods. It has to pass.
Mr Walker must give up his seat. The Scottish public are no fans of impropriety in their politicians, even when there is no criminal activity involved, and this is perhaps what Henry McLeish ought to remember so as to keep his current bouts of verbal incontinence in check. Scots have very high standards for their public officials. What one might get away with at Westminster would cause the ire of the Scottish electorate to be brought down about the head of whomsoever is deserving of it. Being a convicted wife-beater is too serious an offence to be swept under the carpet and Mr Walker does not have a big enough broom; the one he does have has too few bristles for his needs. His ignominy is a wasted effort, and Mr Walker’s bunker mentality will only bring further shame to his blemished record, to his constituency and to the Parliament.
At time of writing, more than half of our 129 MSPs have backed a motion penned by Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie, and including Ruth Davidson, Jackson Carlaw and Johan Lamont, for Bill Walker to resign. We in Scotland ought to be proud of our politicians for their standing shoulder to shoulder with Walker’s victims, and this commentator hopes for more of the same should any similar incident occur. Perhaps we might even see a re-examination of the rules governing poor conduct and criminality on the part of our politicians. It seems unlikely but such an incident makes it all the more likely.
Mr Rennie in particular has raised an interesting point. He asks what message would be sent to the Scottish people if Mr Walker were to remain an MSP? Surely not a good one. If a serial wife-beater were able to emerge from prison and walk straight through the front door of Holyrood as if nothing had happened, then such heinous activities would be one more step towards it being legitimised. Detractors from this point might argue that it is unfair to hold public officials to a higher standard than the public. They miss the point; public officials DO have to keep themselves to a higher standard than the public. They are supposed to be the example for the public to follow; such is the life of a public figure.
Mr Walker’s status as an independent MSP, unaffiliated to any party, will not work in his favour. If he had a party machine complete with a fully trained press staff then he might have been able either to survive by the grace of his Chief Press Officer or leave with his dignity intact. However, the lot of an independent MSP is that of accepting political freedom at the expense of support and resources; he does not have enough of the latter to resist the pressure.
We have hopefully seen the end of Mr Walker’s political career in Scotland. He may well cling on for a short time or even until the next election, but until he does the right thing his existence in Parliament will not be a positive one. It seems unlikely that the established parties will be inclined to work with him on any initiative he wishes to pursue for fear of being tarred with his now near-toxic reputation. He will find himself without a friend in the chamber and even fewer in the press who have decided that ‘Bill Walker’ and ‘Wife-beater’ are synonymous. If he had any dignity left or felt any remorse, he would give up his position; Parliament, his constituency, his victims and the Scottish people deserve at least that much.