By Alasdair Galloway:
It seems probable that the First Minister will appear before the Holyrood Inquiry some time, maybe, into her government’s handling of the procedure with regard to Alex Salmond. At FMQs this week she called for us all to wait till we hear what she has to say then and not prejudge the issue. I am going to try to accommodate her in this reasonable request , but at the same time to point to some of the questions I hope she will be asked, whenever she appears, and to give some background why they seem important to me to be asked.
My first question concerns why or how, someone with an LLB from the University of Glasgow and experience as a solicitor allowed THAT procedure to be used in respect of Alex Salmond. Or indeed anyone at all! I could leave it at pointing out that the whole thing was laughed out of the Court of Session. Indeed, the Scottish Government conceded Salmond’s case. More than this though, the concession was only at the insistence of the government’s own QC who threated to withdraw if they didn’t withdraw. Why would a senior QC do this?
Well, first of all Salmond was never told about the inquiry until it was almost over, meaning he was not allowed to put his side of the story (stories) to the inquiry. Nor, Salmond claims, was he allowed access to his Ministerial diary (from the time he was First Minister) or other Ministerial papers. But even worse, the inquiry was led by a Civil Servant who had encouraged, assisted and supported at least two of the women who made the allegations against Salmond. These are all fundamental breaches of Natural Justice. The person being accused must be told of what it is alleged they have done in order that they can reply to the charges. They must have access to the evidence they require, and no one may be a judge in his own cause: “nemo debet esse judex in propria causa. …” no matter how small. These are all fundamental failings, which I would expect a first-year student to be aware of and appreciate, never mind a graduate who went on practice and in due course became First Minister of her country. Nor does it speak well of the legal advice she took – assuming she took it.
So my first question would be “how was this allowed to happen in such an incompetent manner?”
Secondly, a procedure against a former employee always appears odd. What can the employer do? If there is criminality, then all they can do is report the former employee to the Police – for instance if there has been theft. I believe no other government in the world has the kind of procedure that Scotland has. Given this, added to all of the above, what did the Head of the UK Civil Service make of Lesley Evans’ involvement in an utterly incompetent shambles like this? It is often said that Evans’ boss is Nicola Sturgeon, but this is only partly true. Evans is an employee of the UK Civil Service, and as such another hierarchical superior is the Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Home Civil Service, formerly Mark Sedwill and now Simon Case. Indeed, if Sturgeon was so unhappy with Evans, she could not just sack her. She would have to report Evans to Sedwill/ Case to discuss them removing her (though I suspect, if the relationship had broken down to this degree, they probably would. To some extent this is what happened with John Elvidge, Salmond’s first Permanent Secretary prior to the appointment of Peter Housden).
Moreover, the door in Number 10 Downing Street reads “First Lord of the Treasury and Minister for the Civil Service”. One might assume that the Civil Service would be anxious to do things properly – but then that was perhaps the Civil Service of “Yes Minister”. Is the UK Civil Service now the Civil Service of “The Thick of It”?
So, my second question would be, how did the UK Civil Service react to this? Did they issue any warnings? Any indications of “disquiet?” Yes, Civil Servants have a duty to follow the instructions of their political masters, but was their involvement appropriate in this case?
Thirdly, as a committed Feminist, one might expect that the First Minister would want to see process unwind against Mr Salmond. Particularly given Harvey Weinstein that she would want to see the accusations made against Salmond investigated. But surely, investigated properly? It is very difficult, without referring to hypothetical conspiracies to be sure of this, but two things at least seem clear. First, that in a criminal trial in front of a jury of 15 of his peers (9 of them being women), Alex Salmond was charged with 14 cases of varying severity of sexual assault. However, we also know that he was found Not Guilty of 13 of them and Not Proven in 1. This does not mean nothing happened – it means no more than if something did happen it did not cross the bar of criminality. It is accepted in Employment Law that it is not reasonable to expect an employer’s investigation to be as forensic as “beyond reasonable doubt”, but Salmond’s case was investigated by the Police to investigate and secure evidence over a number of months and at no little cost. One might have thought there was sufficient evidence to make conviction seems a reasonable expectation, yet, 14 charges later, all rejected by the High Court, the case is in tatters, suggesting a rather flaky investigation by the Police as well
Secondly we know that there is evidence that in at least one case the allegations could not be true for the person in question was not present. Likewise, SNP Chief Operating Officer, Sue Ruddick claimed that Salmond assaulted her during the Glenrothes by-election. To quote Anne Harvey, the Principal Assistant to the Chief Whip, SNP Westminster Group, Ms Ruddick
“suggested an act of physical aggression by Mr Salmond. I know that to be wrong since I was the only witness to this supposed event.
She is referring to an incident in the Glenrothes by-election in which we campaigned together. We were ‘door-knocking’ and leafletting in a block of flats during a media event. Alex walked past Sue in the stairwell of a close. He brushed past her on the stairwell as he was heading to leave the close. I saw and heard nothing which caused me any alarm or concern. I was only yards away.
This is the incident she is referring to, but I can categorically confirm that there was no physical aggression on the part of Mr Salmond. Any contact at all between him and her that day was absolutely inadvertent and in no way deliberate or aggressive.” (https://yoursforscotlandcom.wordpress.com/2021/02/08/following-a-statement-by-sue-riddick-to-the-media-the-plot-continues-and-flops-again/)
This might be said to be an example of what Ann Fortier draws our attention to, “those who control the present can rewrite the past.” Certainly though, it does seem to be the case that the investigation into Salmond’s alleged wrong-doing, were less than adequate.
Even more interestingly, and perhaps tellingly, Ms Harvey refers specifically to a request by SNP HQ which she describes as “improper”, and “seeking to damage Mr Salmond”, which has led her to believe “for some time that there was what I described in writing on 28August 2018 as a ‘witch-hunt’ against [Alex Salmond]”.
So, my third question would be – following on from the first – whether the First Minister is satisfied with the work done to validate the evidence used against Alex Salmond?
Fourthly, and lastly, given the unfolding disaster of these events, why has she allowed it to go on for so long? When your own QC – the very person who should be going into Court to argue your case – threatens to withdraw rather than do this, is it not a sign that not only is something wrong, but very, very wrong? When the evidence is collapsing around your ears how much sense does it make to plough on? Is it even politic – let’s ignore morality for now – to use the force of law to persecute individuals such as Mark Hirst and Craig Murray for using social media to make statements which appear to contradict your own threadbare case? Perhaps Ms Sturgeon should remember that her own core policy – independence for Scotland – is not what the Westminster government wants to hear, but that Oriel Junqueras languishes in a Spanish jail for making this case for Catalonia. Acting against the government is a well-established political activity which, as long as it avoids criminality, is regarded as legitimate. Is it criminal to say in a video blog that the women making the allegations “would reap the whirlwind” as Mark Hirst did (and was not only found Not Guilty, but that he had no case to answer) or to issue via social media daily reports on Salmond’s trial as Craig Murray did? Apparently so, but then as Oriel Junqueras forgot – it’s the government that write the law. Is Scotland not better than to employ the legal system to silence its critics?
Thus my final question would be whether she considers the use of prosecution against her critics, and the use of law (and threats of prosecution) to manage the information made public, to have been proportionate?
However, as David Hooks (@politicsscot) tweeted “If the whole Nicola Sturgeon/Alex Salmond thing is a conspiracy to get him and a cover up, and I’m not saying it is, but if it is, it’s the most cack handed, badly planned, poorly executed, incompetent and amateur conspiracy and cover up conceived. What a bloody shambles.” (https://twitter.com/PoliticsScot/status/1359905488582963200)