Russell Findlay, who was elected to Holyrood via the Scottish Conservative list at last month’s election, criticised the “bad faith, back covering and secrecy” within Scotland’s justice institutions.

The West Scotland MSP has changed careers after 27 years as an investigative journalist, including stints at STV, the Scottish Sun and Sunday Mail.

Russell Findlay MSP Conservative has delivered his maiden speech in Holyrood.

Mr Findlay spent much of his career investigating organised crime. In 2015, he was the victim of an acid attack from a hitman hired to maim him.

It was this incident, he told the Scottish Parliament chamber, that inspired him to get involved in politics and move away from journalism.

In his maiden speech, closing for the Scottish Conservatives in a justice debate, Mr Findlay said that injustice was “rife” in Scotland, with legal regulation such as police complaints, judicial complaints, and parole boards “not fit for purpose”.

He said: “Injustice is rife in modern Scotland. It has a corrosive impact. Its effects are profound, often consuming lives or cutting them short.

“While injustices will always occur, they are compounded when there is no redress and no accountability.

“Too often, public bodies use unlimited funds to crush legitimate complaints, wage war on whistleblowers and use non-disclosure agreements to hide the ugly truth from the paying public.

“Bad faith, back covering and secrecy contaminate too many of our institutions.”

Mr Findlay also attacked the SNP and nationalism, stating that Holyrood “has the power” to fix the issues facing Scottish justice.

He said: “Elsewhere in our United Kingdom, many of these very same serious problems have been identified and reformed – to the benefit of the public.

“One of the most nauseating aspects of nationalism is the myth of self-righteous superiority and exceptionalism.

“The injustices I am speaking about are entirely made in Scotland. This Parliament has the power to fix them.

“But the SNP prefer to dupe our citizens with a relentless diet of manufactured grievance and dishonestly blaming all our ills on Westminster. Scotland deserves so much better.”

He added: “My personal experience of the criminal justice system confirmed everything I had seen as a journalist. It made me angry.

“It made me realise that unless people stand up and be counted, nothing will change.”

Mr Findlay’s maiden speech was delivered as Scotland’s new justice secretary Keith Brown said there was a “very strong case” for abolishing the nation’s controversial not proven verdict.

Mr Brown said there were “complex issues” involving the verdict – which is not used in other parts of the UK – and these needed to be carefully considered.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has previously said it is time to look at whether Scotland retains not proven, as part of efforts to tackle the “shamefully low” conviction rates for rape and sexual assault.

The SNP manifesto for May’s Holyrood election committed the party to consulting on its abolition.

Mr Brown said it was “fairly plain that amongst the various parties in this chamber there are different views” on the issue of not proven.

He said it was right that a proper consultation was carried out, adding there would be “implications for other parts of the justice system” if the verdict was scrapped.

The Scottish Government’s outlay on official cars has questioned after figures revealed it spent more than £1.2m on vehicle costs in the space of a year.

Figures, obtained by Labour, show the cash was spent on purchasing new vehicles and “additions” from February 2019 until January last year.

Nearly £100,000 of these costs (£96,480) was paid to Elon Musk ’s Tesla company, a company specialising in high-end electric cars and dogged by allegations of workers’ rights violations.

Labour questioned why spending on official vehicles was running at almost £100,000 a month during the period for which figures were shared.

The Scottish Government said the cars in question were pool vehicles, used only for official business, and were procured as part of its wider carbon reduction plans.

“To fritter nearly £100,000 on Tesla while thousands of Scots are struggling to make ends meet is a slap in the face to the people of Scotland.

“Of course, the government needs to spend money on vehicle costs, but the amount of money paid in such a short time does not just raise eyebrows, it raises alarm.

“We need answers from the government over this eye-watering wastage of public money, and we need them now.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We are committed to phasing out petrol and diesel cars from the public sector fleet by 2025 and replacing fossil-fuelled vehicles with plug-in or fully electric vehicles where appropriate.

“This is demonstrated by our increased investment in ultra-low emitting electric vehicles, which now make up 51% of the overall current fleet (and 100% of the current Government Car Service fleet).”

THE SNP is facing internal turmoil after its treasurer and independence taskforce chief both quit in the same week.

Douglas Chapman MP and former Scottish Government minister Marco Biagi both resigned from their roles, with police continuing to assess a report of fraud within the party.

Transparency concerns at the top of the SNP and allegations of fraud have rocked Scotland’s ruling party, but what is at the heart of the issue?

There have been two high profile resignations in the past few days within the national executive committee (NEC) of the SNP.

In late 2020, a swathe of new additions were elected to the NEC, including Joanna Cherry, the firebrand Edinburgh MP.

The SNP is embroiled in allegations around £600,000 donated to the party has gone missing from its accounts.

This was viewed by some within the party as a “warning shot” to the Sturgeonite leadership, but a renewed mandate on stronger terms than in 2016 and post the chastening Alex Salmond inquiry has strengthened the SNP leader’s position.

On Saturday night, Douglas Chapman, one of the newly elected NEC members, resigned from the position of party treasurer, citing concerns around transparency.

This was backed up by Ms Cherry’s resignation on Monday, with the public explanation being similar transparency and accountability concerns.

These resignations follow similar moves pre-election by three members of the party’s finance committee.

Frank Ross, Edinburgh’s Lord Provost, Allison Graham, and Cynthia Guthrie all resigned from the committee in April over the lack of access to accounts.

Ms Guthrie later stood as a candidate for the Alba Party in the Holyrood elections. Mr Chapman and Ms Cherry were widely believed to be likely defectors to the new pro-independence party.

The row centres around just under £600,000 of crowdfunded cash donated to the SNP by supporters to help fund the next referendum campaign.

In an email to donors, the former SNP treasurer Colin Beattie insisted the money remained ringfenced and was “woven through” the accounts.

He states the figure available to the SNP was £593,501.

However, many independence activists allege this money has ‘disappeared’ from the SNP accounts, with Police Scotland assessing a complaint made to them about the cash.

No investigation is underway as yet, with both the Electoral Commission and the SNP claiming they have no knowledge of any investigation.

The party have also claimed the accusations the money has disappeared is part of a wider “dirty tricks” campaign directed against the leadership.

The issue of the ‘missing money’ comes down to a fundamental mistrust between parts of the pro-independence movement and the current SNP leadership.

Many believe the SNP are not serious about independence and would argue, as Mr Salmond does, that Nicola Sturgeon has done nothing to advance the cause since she became leader in 2014.

Whether the ‘Referendum Appeal Fund’ has been fraudulently removed from the SNP accounts or not will be decided by the police if they investigate and is, in reality, a sideshow to the power struggle ongoing within the party.

Transparency is at the heart of the complaints from those in disagreement with the leadership, as well as the hope – almost in desperation – there remains some dirt to be exposed on the First Minister.

Those championing it are those most likely to have a political axe to grind, and Ms Cherry, previously viewed as a potential challenger to Ms Sturgeon, is viewed by moderate SNP sources as having now thrown in the towel.

The more puzzling resignation is that of Marco Biagi. A party moderate, his decision to quit as head of the party’s independence taskforce speaks of a deeper malaise within SNP ranks.

Scotland may never get the chance to have a second referendum if the issue of independence is allowed to “slip off the political agenda”, Alba Party leader Alex Salmond has warned.

The former first minister, whose new party failed to win any seats in this month’s Scottish election, said politicians at Holyrood should be “forcing the issue”.

With the new Scottish Parliament having a majority of MSPs who support independence, he insisted the country had “never been stronger in political terms”.

In contrast, he said the position at Westminster had “never been weaker”.

His comments came in a message to Alba’s 5,500-plus members – with the party claiming new recruits have increased by 10% since the May 6 election.

It has already pledged to stand candidates in the 2022 council elections in Scotland, with the former SNP leader saying: “Local government is an area that we are going to be concentrating a great deal of attention.”

However, he claimed that just two weeks on from the Holyrood vote, the “constitutional issue is already gradually slipping off the political agenda”.

Mr Salmond insisted: “Independence should be right up there, first and foremost, in terms of dealing with the pandemic, in terms of recovery and economic recovery from it.

“We should be talking about the constitutional question in Scotland, we should be forcing the issue because London has never been weaker and Scotland has never been stronger in political terms.

“But if we allow it to slip off the political agenda to allow the (Boris) Johnson Government to regain its political balance, then the chance may be missed, and may never come again.

“An absolute majority of the Scottish electorate, two weeks ago in the Scottish elections, voted for parties committed to Scottish independence, a mandate that is unarguable but one that has to be used because mandates that are not used can sometimes be lost.”

Thousands of elderly patients were discharged from hospitals to care homes in the early months of the pandemic to free up hospital beds in a move the Scottish Government later admitted was a “mistake”

In a report, Authority to Discharge, the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland has analysed around 10 per cent of these moves – 457 patients – and found 20 were unlawful.

The “disappointing” findings expose “endemic examples of poor practice”, the commission said, some of which pre-dates the pandemic.

A lack of understanding of the law, power of attorney and good practice mean many more than 20 patients are likely to have been moved unlawfully, said Julie Paterson, chief executive of the commission.

Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour health spokesperson, called the moves “scandalous”.

Scottish Care, which is a representative body for independent social care, said the report made for “disturbing reading”.

A previous report from Public Health Scotland found that it “could not rule out” a link between hospital discharges and later Covid-19 outbreaks in care homes. Thousands of patients were moved without Covid-19 tests and some were moved even after testing positive.

It comes as a rise in Covid cases was reported in Glasgow and East Renfrewshire, as door-to-door PCR testing commenced in Pollokshields.

Case rates have fallen in Midlothian and the situation in Moray continues to improve.

Scotland recorded its highest daily case total in almost a month on Wednesday, at 394. However, test positivity is still relatively low at 1.6 per cent.

Unlawful moves from hospitals to care homes were made across 11 different Health and Social Care Partnerships (HSCPs) around the country, the report found, although the specific locations were not listed in the document.

Practice was not consistent across HSCPs, or in some cases within the same HSCP.

In some cases vulnerable patients were moved under new legislation drawn up during the Covid-19 pandemic, which had not actually been activated.

In other cases laws around power of attorney or guardianship had not been correctly followed.

Ms Paterson said: “People who lack mental capacity and who are being cared for and treated in care homes and hospitals are among the most vulnerable in our society.

“The focus of this report was to examine the detail of a sample number of hospital to care home moves of people from across Scotland, to check that those moves were done in accordance with the law during the early stages of the pandemic.

“Some of our concerns relate specifically to the significant pressures of the pandemic.

“But worryingly, the report also finds more endemic examples of poor practice. Lack of understanding of the law, lack of understanding of good practice, confusion over the nature of placements, misunderstanding over power of attorney.

“These findings are very disappointing and may mean that many more moves were made without valid legal authority.

“This report also finds a lack of uniformity from one HSCP to another, with different approaches to national legislation and guidance adopted in different areas.”

The commission has made eight recommendations for HSCPs, including asking each to conduct a full training needs analysis and programme for staff to ensure they understand the law, capacity and assessment.

There are two recommendations for the Care Inspectorate, including taking account of this report in their inspection activity, and one for the Scottish Government, that it monitors delivery of the recommendations and ensures consistency across HSCPs.

A spokesperson for Scottish Care said the report exposed “very real knowledge and skills’ gaps in discharge practice from hospital to care homes and the community”.

Nicola Sturgeon’s cabinet reshuffle is an object lesson in making a very limited talent pool go a long way. John Swinney, who has been education secretary since 2016, has been shifted into a new brief in charge of the Covid recovery. Swinney’s tenure at education won’t be fondly remembered, presiding as he did over the SNP’s fundamentally flawed Curriculum for Excellence, a stubborn attainment gap between the richest and poorest pupils, a long-running teacher shortage and the 2020 exams fiasco.

Any other minister in any other government would have been sent on his merry way long ago but Swinney is too valuable an ally for Sturgeon, having proved his political worth most recently in the Holyrood inquiry into the Sturgeon-Salmond affair. He remains deputy first minister and minister for Scotland Tonight, the Holyrood equivalent of minister for Newsnight. Swinney is not a terribly adept minister but he is a skilled tactician with a gift for verbal thuggishness that comes in handy with the Scottish parliament’s easily cowed opposition parties.

The education brief goes to Shirley-Anne Somerville, hitherto in charge of Sturgeon’s stalled plans to gut the Gender Recognition Act in favour of the self-declaration model that removes medical experts from the process and is favoured by trans activists. Meanwhile, Humza Yousaf has been moved from justice, where he spearheaded the authoritarian Hate Crime Bill which will soon see Scots at risk of prosecution for remarks uttered in the privacy of their own homes. Yousaf has solid patter but might be a more accomplished minister if he spent more time with his briefing papers and less with his Twitter account. His appointment to the health brief is unlikely to further his leadership ambitions.

Sturgeon is the only health minister since devolution to become First Minister and only then because she got out in time. Yousaf will be responsible for the reopening of the NHS post-Covid; a forthcoming public inquiry on the handling of the pandemic; tackling the worst drugs-deaths rate in Europe; rolling out the proposed National Care Service and abolition of dental fees; addressing shortages of GPs, doctors and nurses; and meeting long-missed waiting times targets. If Yousaf has any sense, he’ll get out in time, too.

Replacing him at justice is Keith Brown, the SNP’s deputy leader. A former Royal Marine who served in the Falklands War, Brown is a political bruiser who previously held ministerial roles on the economy, infrastructure, transport and skills. Popular among the party’s grassroots for his unapologetic nationalism, Brown’s return to the fold suggests Sturgeon is mindful of the need to keep her impatient activists on side even if she can’t give them the second independence referendum she’s been promising for almost seven years. Brown’s new title is cabinet secretary for justice but his more important role will be as Nicola Sturgeon’s ambassador to her party’s membership.

Another political resurrection is that of Shona Robison, a personal friend of Sturgeon who was forced to resign in 2018 amid near-universal criticism of her management of the health brief. She takes on the social justice, housing and local government portfolio. If she fails again, it’s unlikely Sturgeon will be so forgiving a second time, even if she is a mate. Transport minister Michael Matheson remains in post, though his title has been rejigged to ‘net zero, energy and transport’. He will take forward the SNP’s plans to nationalise the ScotRail train franchise, address the ongoing island ferries row and achieve net-zero emissions by 2045. Matheson is the invisible man of the cabinet and, though having no discernible achievements to his name, has survived so long by being blandly forgettable. It’s hard to get the sack when even the First Minister would struggle to remember your name and what you do.

Kate Forbes stays on as finance minister and assumes the economy role too, a sign of Sturgeon’s confidence in the 31-year-old. Forbes has proved a safe pair of hands in the job but discontent is growing in the business sector over the SNP’s prioritising of a second referendum, delays in passing on Treasury Covid cash to small firms, and a general lack of economic direction. While the bulk of fiscal and economic policy failings either pre-date Forbes’ tenure or should more properly be laid at her boss’s door, it falls to the Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP to rekindle business confidence and encourage the economy in a pro-growth direction.

A fellow member of the 2016 intake, Mairi Gougeon, is bumped up from public health minister to cabinet secretary for rural affairs and the islands. Gougeon has largely kept her head down and put the work in, particularly in her earlier posting as a junior rural affairs minister, and her promotion should be seen as a reward for living up to the faith Sturgeon showed in her in 2018, when she found herself a minister after just two years at Holyrood. It is telling, perhaps, that the two ministers who have shown the most capability each have only five years as MSPs.

The generation who became involved in politics at a time when the phrase ‘SNP government’ was barely computable have a decidedly mixed record in ministerial office. The generation for whom government by any party other than the SNP is just as unfathomable so far look more impressive. Successful parties typically attract more capable politicians (plus a tonne of dreck, careerists and chancers) and it will help sustain the SNP longer in power if that trend holds up.

Rounding off Sturgeon’s gender-balanced cabinet (because of course) is Angus Robertson, the former Westminster leader of the Nationalists who lost his Moray seat in 2017 to Douglas Ross, who is now the Scottish Tory leader. On May 6, Robertson got into Holyrood by winning Edinburgh Central, which had previously been held by Ruth Davidson, who is no longer the Scottish Tory leader. Robertson will be constitution, external affairs and culture secretary, even though the first two of those are reserved powers. The way devolution works is that Holyrood unilaterally makes policy on Westminster matters and when Westminster eventually notices and objects, Holyrood accuses it of a ‘power grab’.

Robertson’s role will come into play when Sturgeon decides to fire up the independence juggernaut again but until then expect more of the routine undermining of the Union, including internationally, which the Scottish government doesn’t even bother to do quietly anymore.

Among those getting the boot are rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing, a right-winger (in SNP terms) accused of, though denies, bullying civil servants, and Fiona Hyslop, the Nicola Murray-esque economy, fair work and culture secretary who has been a cabinet minister for 14 straight, inexplicable, years. Noticeably unpromoted are Europe and international development minister Jenny Gilruth and public finance and migration minister Ben Macpherson, neither of whom has caused any headaches deserving of a snub.

Overall, this is less a reshuffle than a meh-shuffle. Even though major portfolios are changing hands and big-ticket policies are in the offing — a National Care Service, rail nationalisation — there just isn’t enough talent at cabinet level to get excited about. Plus, few if any of these ministers are likely to be judged on any failure to deliver. The SNP has a death-grip on the 40 or 45 per cent of Scots who want independence and are willing to look the other way on health, education and economic outcomes until they get it. There is no incentive for improvement when, in all likelihood, you’ve already won the next election anyway. Sturgeon’s new cabinet is a B-level team for a B-level government, but B-level is what the public keeps voting for.

An independent Scotland would have to implement a more stringent form of “austerity” than the vision outlined in the SNP’s Growth Commission because of the pandemic, according to a leading economist.

David Phillips, associate director at the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), warned that the country would be left “with a relatively high budget deficit, substantially higher than the rest of the UK” in the event of a “yes” vote.

Mr Ross commented while on the campaign trail in Moray, and ahead of his visit to Edinburgh on Monday – in the run-up to the Holyrood election on May 6.

Analysis from the Financial Times published today has determined that a major deterioration in Scotland’s fiscal position since the independence referendum in 2014 suggests it will face a persistent deficit of nearly 10 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) if it leaves the UK by the middle of this decade.

The newspaper added that the nation has seen its budget deficit widened by lower-than-expected tax revenues, Brexit and the coronavirus crisis – and reducing its GDP deficit from about 10 per cent to a “manageable” 3 per cent would require raising taxes or slashing public spending annually by the equivalent of £1,765 per person in the period after exiting the UK.

Alba party officials have been left red-faced after the Scottish version of its domain name was hijacked within hours of Alex Salmond firing the starting gun on its Holyrood election bid.

While the official Albaparty.org address has been promoted as the party’s website, the version using a ‘.Scot’ domain has been commandeered on behalf of another party.

© Scotland Matters