Liberal Democrat Conference 2011: Holyrood Lib Dems Impartial Figures Political Attack

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ALEX SALMOND
PA

Two top Liberal Democrats have launched politicised attacks on senior impartial figures of government and parliament.

Former Scottish Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott accused Permanent Secretary Peter Housden, Scotland's top civil servant, of allowing his Government press team to issue party political statements.

Meanwhile, Scottish Lib Dem president Malcolm Bruce accused Holyrood Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick of lacking "the will or gumption to intervene" in First Minister's Questions.

Sir Peter was appointed by UK Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell, with the agreement of First Minister Alex Salmond, last year.

Permanent Secretaries have a duty to be impartial to allow them to serve successive parties in Government regardless of their political persuasion. Presiding Officers relinquish their party memberships upon adopting the role in order to chair debates without giving favour to any one party.

However, in a wide-ranging attack on the Scottish Government in The Scotsman newspaper on Monday, Mr Scott wrote: "A note in passing to Scotland's Permanent Secretary: The political content of statements issued by the Scottish Government has crossed the line into party politics. It's time you dusted down your Yes Minister DVD collection and reminded the civil service press team what is political and what is Government."

Yes Minister was a 1980s BBC sitcom satirising the ongoing battles with a UK government minister, and later Prime Minister, and his apolitical and often self-serving Permanent Secretary.

In a similarly broad attack on the Scottish Government in the Daily Telegraph, Mr Bruce said Holyrood lacks the "safeguards" of Westminster to restrain the SNP administration, such as second revising chamber like the House of Lords.

Mr Bruce, whose Westminster constituency of Gordon overlaps Mr Salmond's Holyrood seat, said the Scottish Parliament's first MSPs did not envisage a situation where "one party would control the chamber and provide the Presiding Officer".

He added: "The results are clear to see every Thursday at First Minister's Questions. As (last) week illustrated, Alex Salmond seems disinclined to answer the questions put to him. Yet, the Presiding Officer from his party does not appear to have the will or gumption to intervene. Concern is rising at the potential for central ministerial controls with the accretion of powers to date."