Let’s make corruption a real election issue (From HeraldScotland)


SCOTLAND’S partisans love to talk about corruption. That is, they love to accuse their opponents of it. 

In our tiresomely tribalistic politics, sleaze is just another kind of mud for slinging across the constitutional divide. It’s no longer enough just to disagree with our fellow Scots. We have to debase them too. 

So Labour councils are always “corrupt”, Tories are “really” working for their friends in big business and SNP MPs are inevitably “on the make”, at least according to social media. Such are the hopelessly stupid sweeping generalisations polluting our public life. 

As we brace ourselves for both Brexit itself and a General Election about Brexit, this empty political banter might just be getting in the way of a serious conversation about Scotland and Britain’s role in global corruption.

There is a lot to talk about. The UK wing of international anti-corruption movement Transparency wants Scots to write to their Westminster candidates demanding what they intend to do about issues like Britain’s booming industry in brass plate shell firms.

This includes Scottish limited partnerships, or SLPs – the tax haven firms exposed in scandal after scandal in this newspaper for two years and described by Transparency as “fast becoming a home-grown secrecy vehicle”.

The group’s manifesto, illustrated by men in business suits with their heads buried up to their necks in sand, calls for a shake-up of laws allowing such offshore firms and a tougher, more focused regime to tackle money-laundering.

This is timely. Britain somehow has an image as both having the rule of law and enabling chaos, crime and corruption elsewhere.

Take London’s house market. Transparency last year found more than 40,000 property titles were held by overseas corporations. Of these, 90-odd per cent were registered in a tax haven. 

Roberto Galullo of Milan’s Il Sole 24 Ore, Italy’s best financial newspaper, last month described London as an “enormous washing machine for dirty money around, the world, including the Italian mafia”.

Mr Galullo and his colleague Angelo Mancuzzi were speaking after completing an investigation into SLPs, which are increasingly marketed in Italy. Mr Mancuzzi, listing Italian crime groups, said: “There are so many investigations into the mafia, the Camorra and the ‘Ndrangheta that end in Scotland and other territories of the UK.” 

Right now Scotland and the UK are in the EU. That makes our loose company and property laws attractive in the safe haven of the world’s richest trading bloc. But what happens when we leave? Some think the dirty money might go elsewhere. Mr Galullo and Mr Mancuzzi are not so sure. They see Brexit posing a danger as Britain becomes an offshore island of Europe in more senses than one.

Me? I think our politicians need to get wise to this. There will be people who wish to influence them in to keeping soft-touch regulation as Brexit becomes a reality. Those of us who want to fight corruption should get in first. Why not drop your next MP an email?

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