MSP keeps silent on welfare reform when faced with people affected by it

NORMALLY you can't get politicians to stop talking.

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To say they like the sound of their own voice is like saying the Tartan Army like a drink.

You only need to look at the list of topics debated at Holyrood to see they have opinions on everything and are keen to share them.

However there appears to be an exception to this rule - in specific circumstances.

This shy, retiring and reticent representative of the people is Alex Johnstone, Conservative MSP for North East Scotland.

Mr Johnstone is a member of the Scottish Parliament Welfare Reform Committee, which has been examining UK Government policy and the response from Holyrood.

Its most recent meeting asked food bank providers if there was a link between the welfare cuts and the growing demand for their help.

Answers on a postcard to Mr ID Smith, Westminster.

While the six other members wanted to know more about the services and especially about the people coming for food, asking many questions during a 90 minute meeting, Mr Johnston made one brief contribution.

Not a question but a statement when he said "there was a difference between policy and process" attempting to blame the DWP staff in local offices for the mess created by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith and Chancellor George Osborne.

Mr Johnstone has form in this respect. Whenever it is those affected by the cuts taking part in evidence sessions, he is mostly seen but not heard.

When the committee came to Glasgow City Halls to hear from people hit by the bedroom tax, some disabled, Mr Johnstone didn't turn up.

In the Welfare Reform Committee meetings Mr Johnstone's contributions, in comparison to his colleagues' have been rare, usually brief, and often seeking to put blame on local officials or councils.

MORE often than not it is to defend the policies of the Westminster Tories and rarely to elicit a greater understanding of how people are affected.

Mr Johnstone's preferred arena seems to be the debating chamber.

Only hours after keeping his counsel in the committee that was where he was to be found, up on his feet boldly describing the outrage at the bedroom tax as "hysteria".

However when face to face with tenants or benefit claimants, who have had their weekly benefit cut, unable to pay, unable to move, unable to work, telling of misery piled upon hardship, his language, when heard, is less confrontational.

In fact when the others ask about people's experiences and the help they receive Mr Johnstone is often silent.

If only Iain Duncan Smith had as little to say.

Local government

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