1st Report, 2016 (Session 5): Complaint against Sandra White MSP

SP Paper 10

Contents

Report

Decisions of the Committee
Conclusion

Annexe A – Extract from Minutes
Annexe B – Report from the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland

Remit and membership

Remit:

1. The remit of the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee is to consider and report on—

(a) the practice and procedures of the Parliament in relation to its business;

(b) whether a member’s conduct is in accordance with these Rules and any Code of Conduct for members, matters relating to members’ interests, and any other matters relating to the conduct of members in carrying out their Parliamentary duties;

(c) the adoption, amendment and application of any Code of Conduct for members; and

(d) matters relating to public appointments in Scotland.

2. Where the Committee considers it appropriate, it may by motion recommend that a member's rights and privileges be withdrawn to such extent and for such period as are specified in the motion.

(Standing Orders of the Scottish Parliament, Rule 6.4)

Membership:

Clare Adamson (Convener)
Patrick Harvie (Deputy Convener)
Tom Arthur
Clare Haughey
Daniel Johnson
John Scott
Alexander Stewart

Complaint against Sandra White MSP

Report

1. The Committee met on 8 and 22 September 2016 to consider a complaint from Mr Scott Simpson about Sandra White MSP. The complaint is that Sandra White re-tweeted a tweet containing a cartoon deemed to be offensive.

2. The Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland investigated Mr Scott’s complaint and found that Sandra White was not in breach of the Code of Conduct. The Commissioner’s full report is at annexe B.

3. The procedures followed by the Commissioner, and the Committee, in considering complaints are set out in full in volume 3, section 9 of the Code of Conduct.1

Decisions of the Committee

4. The Committee is unanimous in its decision reached on the complaint. It agrees with the findings in fact and conclusion of the Commissioner that Sandra White did not breach the Code of Conduct.

Conclusion

5. While the circumstances surrounding this complaint do not constitute a breach of the Code of Conduct, actions of this nature – whether intentional or not – may not reflect well on members and the Parliament. The Committee would like to take this opportunity to remind all MSPs that they alone are responsible for their public statements and the content of their social media channels.

Annexe A – Extract from Minutes

3rd Meeting, 2016 (Session 5), Thursday 8 September 2016

Decision on taking business in private: The Committee agreed to take item 4 in private.

Decision on taking business in private: The Committee agreed to take future consideration of reports from the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland, and its own draft reports on the complaints, in private at future meetings. The Committee also agreed to take future consideration of a draft report and draft Standing Order rule changes on mandatory committees' remits in private at future meetings.

Complaints (in private): The Committee considered reports from the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland.

5th Meeting, 2016 (Session 5), Thursday 22 September 2016

Complaints (in private): The Committee continued its consideration of reports from the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland.

Complaints: The Committee announced its decision at Stage 3 on reports from the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland.

Complaints (in private): The Committee agreed its draft reports.

Annexe B – Report from the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland

Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland

CONDUCT of MEMBERS of the SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT

Report by the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland

on complaint no. MSP/1846/15 – 16/20

Complainer:- Mr Scott Simpson Respondent:- Sandra White, MSP

21 March 2016 

Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland
Thistle House, 91 Haymarket Terrace, Edinburgh EH12 5HE
T: 0300 011 0550
E: [email protected]
W: http://www.ethicalstandards.org.uk

CONTENTS

1.0 Introduction

2.0 Complaint

3.0 Response

4.0 Admissibility and investigation

5.0 Findings in Fact

6.0 Conclusion

Appendix 1 The Complaint

Appendix 2 Extracts from The Jewish Chronicle Online dated November 12, 2015 and from BBC News online (Scotland Politics) dated 13 November 2015

Appendix 3 Letter to complainant dated 18 December 2015

Appendix 4 Letter to respondent dated 23 December 2015

Appendix 5 Letter dated 11th November 2015 issued by the respondent to The Scottish Council of Jewish Communities

CONDUCT of MEMBERS of the SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT Report on complaint no. MSP/1846/15 – 16/20 to the Scottish

 

Parliament Complainer: - Mr Scott Simpson Respondent: - Sandra White MSP 

1.0 Introduction

1.1 The Code of Conduct for Members of the Scottish Parliament (“the Code”) has been approved by the Scottish Parliament under its Standing Orders to provide a set of principles and standards for its Members.

1.2 Other relevant provisions relating to the conduct of MSPs include: the Scotland Act 1998 (“the 1998 Act”); the Scotland Act 2012 (“the 2012 Act”); the Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament Act 2006, (“the 2006 Act”) and the Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament (Amendment) Act 2016 (“the 2016 Act”).

1.3 For the purpose of considering this complaint, the relevant provisions are paragraphs 5.1.1 and 5.1.2 of Volume 2 of the Code. The relevant edition of the Code is edition 5 which was approved by the Parliament in April 2011.

1.4 Paragraphs 5.1.1 and 5.1.2 are in the following terms:-

Code of Conduct for MSPs Volume 2

5.1.1 A member should not, in relation to contact with any person or organisation who lobbies, do anything which contravenes this Code of Conduct or any other relevant rule of the Parliament or any statutory provision.

5.1.2 A member should not, in relation to contact with any person or organisation who lobbies, act in any way which could bring discredit upon the Parliament.

1.5 The investigation of the complaint has been undertaken in terms of the Scottish Parliamentary Standards Commissioner Act 2002 (“the 2002 Act”) and the Directions by the Standards Procedures and Public Appointments Committee dated 1 March 2012.

1.6 This Report falls to be submitted to the Parliament in terms of section 9 of the 2002 Act.

2.0 Complaint

2.1 The complainer is Mr Scott Simpson (“the complainer”) and his complaint is about Sandra White MSP (“the respondent”).

2.2 Ms White is the MSP for Glasgow Kelvin and is a member of the Scottish National Party.

2.3 The complaint relates to the respondent’s actions in re-tweeting a cartoon showing piglets suckling from a sow bearing the name “ROTHSCHILD” and a picture incorporating the Star of David symbol. The piglets are separately identified by: a union jack flag and “MI5”; “MOSSAD” and “ISIS”; “AL-QAEDA”; a stars and stripes flag and “CIA”; an Israeli flag; and “BOKO HARAM”.

2.4 The complaint was made on a complaint form dated 6 December 2015, which is attached as Appendix 1. The complainer also submitted screen shots of various tweets by Charles Edward Frith, including the one described in the preceding paragraph, and copies of press coverage of an apology made by the respondent in relation to the material which she had re-tweeted. Copies of the press articles are attached as Appendix 2.

2.5 The complaint referred to certain matters which are outside my jurisdiction, and to a section of the guidance set out in Volume 3 of the Code. It appeared to me, however, that the allegation might be relevant to paragraphs 5.1.1 and 5.1.2 of the Code. I so advised the complainer in my letter dated 18 December 2015, a copy of which is attached at Appendix 3.

3.0 Response

3.1 The respondent did not respond to my initial notification of the complaint by letter dated 23 December 2015, a copy of which is attached as Appendix 4.

4.0 Admissibility and investigation

4.1 Stage 1 of the investigation of a complaint requires an assessment of admissibility. In assessing admissibility, the key tests are whether the complaint is relevant, whether the complaint meets the requirements for form, content and execution and whether the complaint warrants further investigation if it appears after an initial investigation that the evidence is sufficient to suggest that the conduct complained about may have taken place.

4.2 The complaint clearly met the requirements of the second test of admissibility, as set out in section 6(5) of the 2002 Act. There was also sufficient evidence to suggest that the conduct complained about may have taken place, and therefore that the complaint satisfied the third test (2002 Act, section 6(6)). In relation to relevancy, which is the first test of admissibility, the complaint satisfied the first two elements, as set out in section 6(4) (a) and (b) and it appeared at first sight that the conduct complained about might amount to a breach of paragraphs 5.1.1 and 5.1.2 of the Code. I therefore advised the complainant, the respondent and the clerks to the Parliament’s Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee that I had determined that the complaint was admissible.

4.3 In writing to the respondent at that stage, I indicated my intention to arrange an interview. The interview took place on 17 March 2016.

4.4 At interview, the respondent accepted that she had re-tweeted the cartoon, but explained that she had done so accidentally, on a weekend evening, when in fact she was attempting to delete it from her twitter account. Ms White demonstrated how she thought this had occurred, using her iPhone. She had been unaware that the cartoon was still on her twitter account until she was notified of a complaint made by the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities to the SNP headquarters on the following Monday. The respondent explained that, at that point, she had arranged for one of her staff to remove the cartoon from her twitter account, and had submitted an apology. Following further correspondence with the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, the respondent issued a second apology by letter. A copy of the letter of apology dated 11 November 2015 is attached at Appendix 5).

4.5 Ms White indicated in the course of the interview that she did not know the originator of the cartoon and had had no contact with him except as a recipient of the tweet which she then re-tweeted as described. She explained that she had attempted to delete the cartoon because she considered it to be “vile”.

4.6 The respondent advised that the re-tweet had been made on a personal twitter account which she had had since around the time of the parliamentary election in 2011: records show that it was in fact March 2011. She is identified on the account as “Sandra White @SandraWhiteMSP”. Ahead of the interview, it appeared that the respondent had in excess of 6800 followers and was a follower of some 630 others. The originator of the cartoon was not amongst those whom the respondent followed.

4.7 There is no record of any further tweets from the originator of the cartoon appearing on the respondent’s twitter account during the period between my decision in December 2015 to proceed with a Stage 2 investigation and the interview held earlier this month.

4.8 The cartoon to which the complaint relates is clearly offensive, in the sense of being anti-Semitic. It appears that the originator regularly posts material on social media. However, I have no information to suggest that this material is targeted towards specific policy makers. It is therefore unclear whether he is to be regarded as a “person who lobbies” - a phrase which is not further defined in the Code.

5.0 Findings in Fact

5.1 I have made the following findings in fact:

  • On the evening of Friday, 6 November 2015, the respondent retweeted a cartoon as described in paragraph 2.3 of this report.
  • The cartoon contained offensive, anti-Semitic material.
  • The respondent was attempting to delete the cartoon from her iPhone and re-tweeted it by mistake.
  • Following a complaint made by the Scottish Council for Jewish Communities to the SNP headquarters in the following week, the respondent instructed the deletion of the cartoon from her twitter account and issued an apology for her mistake.
  • The respondent issued a further apology by letter to the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities on 11 November, as shown in Appendix 5.
  • The respondent did not initiate contact with the originator of the cartoon.
  • Any “contact” between the respondent and the originator of the cartoon was, therefore, indirect and unsolicited, and there is no evidence of any subsequent contact between them.

5.2 I have been unable to determine whether the originator of the cartoon is to be regarded as a person who lobbies, in terms of paragraphs 5.1.1 and 5.1.2 of the Code.

6.0 Conclusion

6.1 I have concluded that the respondent has not breached paragraphs 5.1.1 or 5.1.2 of the Code. Although the cartoon which she re-tweeted was offensive and could in other circumstances have been regarded as bringing discredit upon the Parliament, I am satisfied that (a) the respondent did not intend to re-tweet the cartoon, the content of which she decried (b) the respondent issued a full apology as soon as she was made aware of her error in re-tweeting the cartoon, (c) there is insufficient information to support a conclusion that the originator of the cartoon can or should be regarded as “any person … who lobbies”, and (d) there is no evidence of anything which might properly be regarded as contact between the respondent and the originator of the cartoon.

Bill Thomson
Commissioner

21 March 2016

Appendix 1 — The Complaint (1.08MB)

Appendix 2 — Extracts from The Jewish Chronicle Online dated November 12, 2015 and from BBC News online (Scotland Politics) dated 13 November 2015 (918KB)

Appendix 3 — Letter to complainant dated 18 December 2015 (498KB)

Appendix 4 — Letter to respondent dated 23 December 2015 (491KB)

Appendix 5— Letter dated 11th November 2015 issued by the respondent to The Scottish Council of Jewish Communities (1MB)


Any links to external websites in this report were working correctly at the time of publication. However, the Scottish Parliament cannot accept responsibility for content on external websites.

Footnotes:

1 Code of Conduct of the Scottish Parliament. Volume 3, Section 9. Available at: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/msps/42841.aspx

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