Letters on MSPs and dissolution; and an appeal to help trace old documents
MSPs win, citizens lose

The Scottish Parliament is normally dissolved six weeks in advance of an election, but in view of a possible recall to endorse further measures during the pandemic, it continued in existence under a “campaign recess”. The Parliament’s website said that “Instead of dissolution, from 25 March the Parliament will be in recess until [5 May 2021]... Having a recess instead of dissolution means... MSPs continue in their role”. 

No one could apparently misunderstand that. However, when I asked my MSP to query the legality of the Scottish Government’s directions for closure of caravan sites between 2 and 26 April I was amazed to be told that all parliamentary questions had been suspended until 7 May – by which time the damage was done. When I asked the Parliament’s Public Information & Resources office which of these two conflicting accounts was accurate, I was even more amazed to be told that “both versions you have quoted are correct... as your MSP... explained, no written questions can be lodged”. 

The reality is therefore that MSPs voted themselves six extra weeks on full pay for doing no work, but the Parliament’s website covered this up. 

Did anyone anticipate, when powers were devolved to the Scottish Parliament in 1998, that these would include the right to put the whole population under house arrest? This is primarily the responsibility of the UK Parliament, which blindly gave additional powers to the Scottish Parliament beyond the original scope of devolution (see “Coronavirus legislation and the devolution settlement”, Fred Mackintosh QC, Scottish Legal News, 8 June 2020). The courts are still available to those with the energy and the money, the latest success being the overturning of the imposed closure of churches (Philip v Scottish Ministers [2021] CSOH 32), but the two Governments between them have totally betrayed direct democratic accountability. 

David Pedley, Port William, Dumfries & Galloway

Appeal over a paper trail

My name is Al Ross. I’m a postgraduate student with the University of the Highlands & Islands. My Masters dissertation is going to be based around the Letter Books of Bailie John Steuart, a merchant in Inverness from 1715 to 1752.

I have for the last 15 months been trying to track them down, and discovered a portion in the Highland Archive covering the period 1735 to 1752. However I’m still looking for the first 20 years.

From a retired solicitor in Haddington, and via their local archive, there is a familial connection with a family called the Hay-Newtons who were based in East Lothian. His firm passed that connection to another firm in Edinburgh but he was unable to recall their name.

My reason in contacting your goodselves is to ask if a request could go out to your members to see if one of them might know the whereabouts of the remaining Letter Books. I acknowledge it’s a rather unusual request, but I’m trying to run down every possibility.

Al Ross, Edgemoor Cottage, 55 Upper Bayble, Isle of Lewis HS2 0QG (e: 11005108@uhi.ac.uk)

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