Let's use google for good, then!

OK, so there’s the continuing rumbling rows about politicians expenses. Let’s have some fun seeing what we can find by looking online.

First things first – what data can we get, well there’s a bit on MPs at Westminster, but it’s not very detailed.

Instead, let’s look at MSPs and see what we can find there. We should look at the current financial year (2007-2008), then an expense that might be interesting, so how about Website Costs, which obviously I know something about. We get a total of £15,906.88 accross all MSPs, Charlie Gordon MSP has claimed £10,014.39 of that, now £35.40 of that was for Queen’s Park FC (?) and the remaining £9,978.99 was paid to GMG Solutions.

Hmm. What could make his website so much more expensive than everyone elses? Though admittedly only 20 MSPs claim for this expense anyway. For extra credit you might do a whois search, because then you find it lists a Gavin Gordon as the Administrative Contact. I wonder if he has an M for a middle initial and that GMG Solutions is his company. I’m not seeing anything illegal here, but it does seem odd, does it not, that one MSP claims about 62.9% of all expenses for all MSPs for this year for this type of expense. Maybe he should talk to his colleague George Foulkes who is a marvellous example of restraint in comparison with a single cost of £800 funding a website which includes a blog which even encourages Federalism (but without an rss feed, alas).

Should there not be something similar to the John Lewis list of reasonable prices as used in but not disclosed by Westminster to be used in assessing the costs all representatives charge the taxpayer for all expenses? Maybe Westminster does have something to teach Holyrood? Is it possible that other MSPs are listing their expenses for websites as a different type of expense, and if so are these figures not helpful when examined at this level?

But here’s the question I really want to know the answer to: if all this is public knowledge and freely searchable, why has no-one else picked up on it? After all Charlie Gordon was the subject of some considerable press coverage recently in the Wendy Alexander donations saga. Is it because it’s actually all hidden in so poor an interface as to make only random interrogation a useful method for finding things out? I’d dare say yes – time to try and write a site scraper, or see if anyone at the Scottish Parliament would be willing to provide a data feed.