Low-wattage Labour list MSP Neil Findlay (rejected by the electorate of Almond Valley by a thumping 8,393 votes in May) puffed himself up to maximum socialism this week and attacked the SNP’s rather more popular Paisley MP Mhairi Black over a Scottish Daily Express story about travel expenses.
It might have been an idea if he’d read the piece all the way to the end.
Because while the Express is prone to deranged hysterical misrepresentation and even flat-out fabrication, when it comes to reporting hard facts and figures it’s still obliged to bury the truth somewhere near the bottom of articles.
The paper claimed:
The increase is almost entirely down to the new intake of SNP politicians eschewing economy fares in favour of the more expensive fully flexible tickets, recorded as business-class by the parliamentary watchdog, between London and Scotland.”
Alert readers will have had alarm bells clanging everywhere at those weasel words in the second paragraph, “RECORDED AS business-class”. The Express has written it that way because of the inconvenient fact that there are no business-class flights in existence between either Edinburgh or Glasgow and London.
The only airline that flies from either airport to Heathrow is British Airways, and it only offers Economy-class seats. The budget carriers Ryanair and Easyjet have flights to Stansted (twice as far away, at 30 miles), but neither offers business class.
So the Express’ headline about “luxury” flights and its stock-photo picture of a plush business-class seat from an intercontinental A380 Airbus are both complete fictions.
(And for some reason the paper’s also chosen as its other illustration a picture of the Holyrood chamber, despite the story being solely about Westminster MPs.)
The article also features this highly-misleading paragraph:
It may well do, but it’s entirely irrelevant to the story as domestic flights within the UK are NOT part of the Club Europe service. On internal flights you get the exact same seats, space, food and drink service regardless of your ticket price.
The Express, however, knows that that line gives the false impression that MPs are living the privileged high life, without the paragraph technically containing a lie. The next paragraph repeats the trick:
“According to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) rules, MPs can claim for business-class travel only if the ticket costs no more than the most expensive flexible economy fare available at the time of booking.”
Anyone reading that will almost certainly come away with the idea that the SNP MPs named in the article have broken the rules. But since what they’ve all booked ARE actually “flexible economy fare” tickets – because we now know that business class doesn’t exist on the routes – no rules have been broken, all of which the Express then grudgingly notes after it’s planted the misleading falsehood:
He added: ‘These fares are booked through an appointed agent in Westminster. They are not business-class flights but fully flexible fares which IPSA records as business-class. It does not mean MPs are upgrading from economy class.'”
But the killer fact is still to come. Early in the article the Express says:
But right at the very end – when, as alert viewers will of course know, most people have stopped reading – it finally discloses the truth about the “huge increase”:
Because in the year since the 2015 election when SNP MPs replaced almost all of the Scottish Labour and Lib Dems ones, the total expenses bill for flights has come DOWN by £9,000 and down by almost £42,000 from the year before that.
(And the 2014/15 figures mostly comprise flights whose type is “not specified”, which presumably means they could have been the flexible type, which would mean the Express’ comparison figure of £60,000 was really anything up to £503,000.)
So what the Express and Neil Findlay have portrayed as SNP MPs living high on the hog on luxurious champagne travel is in fact a story of them SAVING the taxpayer money and sitting in the exact same seats with the exact same service as anyone else, only with tickets allowing for the uncertain schedule of Parliamentary business.
(The alternative would be to waste money on economy tickets which weren’t used, requiring them to buy expensive new tickets at short notice, or to get the train, where a standard-class walk-up single between Glasgow and London costs £134.10 with no guarantee of getting a seat.)
There is, of course, a way of guaranteeing that Scottish MPs never have to travel to Westminster. We look forward to Neil Findlay endorsing it.