"OH, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” Many years ago, in that single quote, Sir Walter Scott succinctly described the malaise that infects Westminster. The record shows sleaze at the heart of British politics is more persistent and longer lasting than any pandemic.

The recent Owen Paterson case is a classic case of endemic corruption. Let’s look at the facts. Between November 2016 and July 2018, he lobbied officials on behalf of Randox, a diagnostics company. For this he was rewarded by £100,000 a year to act as an “adviser”. He was also paid £12,000 a year by Lynn’s Country Foods.

The Commons standards watchdog found him guilty of an “egregious” breach of the lobbying rules and recommended his suspension. (This watchdog was set up following the “cash-for-questions” scandal in 1995. Investigations are carried out by an independent commissioner who submits their findings to the standards committee, a cross-party panel that decides whether to endorse the findings and what sanctions to impose.) Its recommendations are then put to a Commons vote.

READ MORE: Jacob Rees-Mogg told to step down after 'disastrous' Owen Paterson defence

So, what happened when his suspension was put to a vote? Tory MPs voted to approve sleaze in the workings of the House of Commons, and effectively ended the rule of law with regard to their affairs. Corruption is now officially approved. MPs may now be the hired hands of corporate lobbyists.

The vote was as follows. MPs voting to junk the rules: 250. MPs voting to retain the rules: 232. Result- a Government majority of 18. The message this sends to the entire world is simply this: Rules? They’re for other people. It will come as no surprise to learn that Scottish Tory MPs voted to abandon the rules.

In short, he took a bribe of £100,000. They let him off. And Tory MPs believe this is perfectly fine. Yet, let any poor person commit a crime to feed their family, then the very same MPs will be all over the media deploring such behaviour. But, when it’s one of their own, it’s OK.

As I pointed out in last week’s column, this conduct is deeply corrosive of standards across society. What adds fuel to the fire is the fact that MPs and ministers voted to let Paterson off without, in some cases, having the slightest clue why they were voting to do so.

The National: Nadhim Zahawi, Education Secretary

I give you Cabinet minister, Nadhim Zahawi (above). He told the BBC he “has not read’ the ethics report that condemned Paterson – but voted to overturn his suspension anyway, because Paterson claimed it was wrong.

Zahawi is not a Scottish Tory MP, but he deserves to be so, based on his utter lack of judgement.

Westminster sleaze runs very deep. Over the centuries it has prevailed over all attempts at reform. Why is this? Why cannot the British parliament reform itself? Well, fundamentally, it stems from the absence of a written codified constitution in a state where Parliament is deemed sovereign.

Since Parliament is sovereign it follows that whatever it decides is lawful. All the Government with a decent majority needs to do to get its way is to provide the necessary bribes or threats to bring their errant MPs into line. Since the latter are deeply institutionalised, most of them see no problem in toeing the party line even if their individual consciences may be deeply offended.

They are lobby fodder. Ever easy to manipulate with the promise of advancement, however small or remote. Turkeys do not vote for Christmas. And many Tory MPs resist change. Of course, they sometimes work for the public interest. But this is often through accident rather than design. For example, if a Tory MP wants tax breaks for his or her mates, sometimes it is convenient to include a few others as well.

But in “Global Britain” there is no need to wait for a budget to reward oneself or one’s pals. As the Paterson case shows, a nice consultancy can deliver the necessary loot, whatever the rules say. It is worth noting in this case that the civil service became complicit too. Paterson did not place the lucrative contracts. Officials did. As I have said in these Columns, the very institutions we all depend upon for our services are being debauched and ruined. Dodgy contracts, it seems, are placed in violation of civil service duties of integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality.

This happens because there is no way for civil servants to appeal to a higher authority. British civil servants are largely helpless against a powerful executive with no morals.

An independent Scotland will be even more dependent on robust institutions. Let’s protect them with a robust Constitution.

Don’t miss the TNT show on Wednesday when we will be joined by Julian Caldecott, an ecologist on a mission.