Readers may be aware that Wings Over Scotland is (fairly remarkably, really) the UK’s second-most-read politics blog, behind the hardcore right-wing “Guido Fawkes”.
Our “competitor” isn’t a site we look at a lot – the comments make the Daily Mail readership seem like enlightened and thoughtful moderates – but last week someone asked us about a smear piece they’d run on SNP MP Corri Wilson, and we only just remembered today to check it out. Our initial findings weren’t well received.
It seems that Mr Fawkes and his minions aren’t too keen on scrutiny themselves.
The pic above contains the entire article, so we may as well break it all down.
“Full troughing marks to SNP MP Corri Wilson, who has only been in Westminster for a year yet has managed to get both her son and daughter on the public payroll.”
That’s an interesting allegation, because it implies that Wilson is employing two of her children at the same time, an implication reinforced with what sounds like use of the present tense in the next line.
“She’s hired her wee bairns Kieran and Shannon as ‘personal assistants'”
Was it true? It didn’t seem to be. When we checked the most recent (20 September) published Register Of Interests Of Members’ Secretaries And Research Assistants on the UK Parliament website, which does what it says on the tin, Wilson’s son Kieran Donoghue was indeed listed, but there was no sign of Shannon.
However, when we tweeted about it we got a handy tip-off from Buzzfeed’s Jamie Ross about a newer update to the Register Of Members’ Financial Interests, dated 3 October, on which both names appeared:
The problem was that it showed only one of them had ever been employed at a time. Kieran worked up until the end of August, then Shannon took over a fortnight later.
This is all perfectly legal – scores of MPs employ family members, though the SNP do it proportionately far less than Labour or the Tories – and Fawkes didn’t say it wasn’t. The sneakily-worded piece didn’t actually explicitly say they were both on the books at once (which would be against the rules), though any reasonable person reading it would very likely have come away with that impression.
However, after that things get a lot murkier.
“…on taxpayer-funded salaries of up to £34,000 each. A handy top up to mum’s £75,000 salary, sending the Wilson household income from the taxpayer well into six figures.”
Now, readers who’ve learned anything from reading Wings Over Scotland in the last few years will have alert klaxons ringing loudly in their heads at the use of the weasel words “up to” there. As far as we can tell, there is no record yet published of how much Wilson paid either child, which would make the last line completely baseless speculation. Or as it’s sometimes known, a lie.
Guido’s response (see also above) didn’t exactly fill us with reassuring confidence.
Alex Wickham, the site’s “news editor”, flew straight off the deep end with a string of insults but oddly was unable to provide any evidence of how much Wilson had paid either child. (Given that Shannon Donoghue started less than a month ago, she may very well not have been paid a penny yet.)
The assertion that “the Wilson household income from the taxpayer [is] well into six figures”, then, appears to be completely unsupported. Even if Wilson had paid Kieran Donoghue the absolute maximum permitted under the rules – and even if she and her son and/or daughter were to be held to represent a single “household”, which seems questionable – their combined salary would only have just crept over the £100K figure.
Guido Fawkes appears, then, to have made a categorical assertion for something it can’t prove, which may or may not be true, and which even if true would be entirely legal and above board, in an attempt to create a misleading impression of wrongdoing.
If we were them, we suppose we’d be angry if someone drew attention to that too.