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Jamie Erskine, Earl of Mar and Kellie - Edinburgh meeting of 13 April 2010.

Gavin Boothd

Jamie Erskine, Earl of Mar and Kellie

© John Yellowlees, 2010

Clackmannan has been the historic stamping ground of the Erskines since 1360, and in 1715 the Earl of Mar supporeted the Old Pretender. Thus he was on the losing side and written out of history, which is the tale of the victors.

The eldest of four, Jamie Mar and Kellie followed in his father's footsteps by going to prep school and Eton and was thenb expected to join the Scots Guards but instead went to Moray House and became a social worker, spending time in the building industry.

He had always expected to go to the Lords, where Scots peers had from 1707 to 1964 elected sixteen of their number to sit, and on succeeding his father in 1994 became the last Earl of Mar and Kellie to sit in the House, leaving it in 1999 with the exclusion of hereditary peers other than those elected by their number, but was reincarnated in 2000 as a life peer with the title Lord Erskine of Alloa Tower, a title only used on being sworn in at the start of each Parliament. He had also differed from his father by taking the Liberal Democrat whip.

Not being salaried, peers are all volunteers, claiming expenses for attendance - £200 a day from October - overnight stays and travel. They cannot retire though may take leave of absence, and typically one fifth are too frail and elderly to participate. Were the House to be elected, one third might seek re-election every five years.

Peers spend their lives working away in obscurity, giving legislation formal scrutiny four times with no timed motions, unlike the Commons with its guillotines. As well as legislative scrutiny, there are debates and inquiries, a recent one into the Barnett formula having heard from Joel Barnett himself that it wasn't supposed to last and concluding that Wales and Northern Ireland deserved a greater share of resources in recognition of respectively the proportionately larger numbers of sick and young people - England used to be happy with keeping the Scots in their Empire, but now they thought we cost too much.

He had also taken part in a review of the law of blasphemy. The Parliament Act provided a safety valve and had last been used to get the ban on hunting into law. The recent washup to clear legislation before dissolution for the general election had been a messy process of all-night sittings which did not yield good scrutiny. The new Parliament would not convene until 18 May so as to provide for the possibility of no overall majority - a situation with which the Lords was well familiar.

Social work having been devolved, Jamie was made instead a transport spokesman under Lord Bradshaw because what else can you do with a railway enthusiast! He had always been a strong supporter of devolution, which had divided transport down the middle between devolved and reserved issues. However on rail the balance had since swung in favour of the former, while the Calman Commission had recommended that aspects of the Road Traffic Acts should be devolved.

Edinburgh trams had shown what happened when a minority government with an opportunity to govern, not change, found itself outvoted. The public had to decide whether it wanted MPs as legislators or as social workers - as recently as the 1980s, MPs used to handwrite letters to constituents in the Commons Library during the afternoons, but now they're heads down to their computers or dashing off to their constituencies.

The successful reopening of the Stirling-Alloa railway had yet again demonstrated that one should never believe official forecasts of ridership for new stations and services, which were inevitably exceeded as people took to the new opportunities - in this case notably mums with pushchairs - and he looked forward to extension of the passenger service eastward to Dunfermline and Edinburgh. The Borders railway unlike Alloa involved some demolition of homes but would be just as popular when people discovered that during their journey they could read, sleep or work on their computer.

The commitment that Clackmannanshire Council showed to the reopening had not been matched on the inquiry into the StrathClyde Tram, where Jamie found himself for the first time in his life chairing a committee which should have comprised two MPs and two peers, but no MP could be spared for the required 28 or more days. £1M had been spent in taking the scheme to inquiry, where the committee sat awaiting the evidence of an independent expert who, when he eventually turned up, fatally undermined the case for trams by declaring that they would add to congestion.

The Conservative abolition of Regional Councils had helped create the preconditions for a Scottish Parliament, which Labour wanted so they did not seek any sort of deal to save them. No federation anywhere had succeeded where one member had more than 30% of the population, so he favoured Scotland entering into a confederation with the other nations of these islands where each would agree to pool some of their sovereignty, helping loosen Whitehall's grip on the English regions.

Report and photograph by John Uellowlees.


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