The annual figures for Holyrood allowances were published last week, with the total costs soaring ahead of the rate of inflation to reach a record £16.8million. MSPs who represent constituencies surrounding Edinburgh – as far afield as Dundee, Stirling, Paisley and the Borders – are entitled to reclaim £168 per night for staying in the capital. Those with even longer journeys can rent accommodation. However, the figures show a startling disparity in the amount claimed for hotels, evening meals and refreshments by MSPs.
The largest claim was for £13,691 by Angus MacDonald, the SNP MSP for Falkirk East – just 25 miles outside Edinburgh and easily accessible by train until midnight. Yet Michael Matheson, the SNP MSP for neighbouring Falkirk West, claimed just £312 for hotels.
And Jamie Hepburn, the SNP MSP for nearby Cumbernauld and Kilsyth, claimed a mere £218.
Other Central Scotland MSPs who frequently stayed in hotels included Richard Lyle, the SNP MSP for Uddingston and Bellshill, who claimed £11,682; Clare Adamson, the SNP MSP for Motherwell and Wishaw, who claimed £11,360; and Monica Lennon, the Labour list MSP, who claimed £10,563.
Yet Mark Griffin and Margaret Mitchell, who represent Labour and the Tories respectively from the regional list, claimed nothing at all, while Labour leader Richard Leonard spent only £226 on overnight stays after working late in Edinburgh.
In total, 11 MSPs claimed more than £10,000 on hotels in the capital – including Greens Mark Ruskell, who lives in the Stirling area and represents Mid Scotland and Fife, and West Scotland’s Ross Greer, who lives in Bearsden.
By contrast, 12 MSPs – including First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, who has a grace and favour residence at Bute House – did not spend anything at all on Edinburgh hotels.
They included Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie, who represents North East Fife; SNP backbencher Jenny Gilruth, who represents Mid Fife and Glenrothes; and Conservative firebrand Murdo Fraser, who represents Mid Scotland and Fife and lives in Perth.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney, who represents far-flung Perthshire North, claimed only £124 on hotels, although, like other ministers, he has access to a chaffeur-driven car to take him home until late in the evening.
Nevertheless, SNP public health minister and MSP for Dundee West Joe Fitzpatrick claimed £9,961 on hotels while fellow Nationalist Shona Robison, who represents Dundee East, claimed only £97.
There was further disparity among Glasgow MSPs, with Bill Kidd, the SNP MSP for Anniesland, spending £10,555, while Bob Doris, who represents neighbouring Springburn and Maryhill for the SNP, claimed £2,135.
John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “Taxpayers will be baffled as to why some MSPs rack up big hotel bills, while others manage with much less.
“Families keep being told that the cost of politics should come down, but in reality they are facing bigger bills than last year.
“Transparency is the catalyst for accountability, so taxpayers will be keen to see how their MSP ranks against others.”
The Scottish Parliament rules state that MSPs are perfectly entitled to be reimbursed for staying in Edinburgh as long as it was “in connection with the performance of parliamentary duties”.
This year’s figures were up by £644,000 – a rise of almost four per cent and higher than the rate of inflation. MSPs spent nearly three time as much on car travel as on public transport.