A Garbage Can Explanation for Salmond vs Sturgeon

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By Alasdair Galloway

Conspiracy, proper conspiracy, emergent conspiracy and garbage cans.

A few days ago Peter Bell published an interesting article – “Alex Salmond: A fly bugger” (https://peterabell.scot/2021/02/23/alex-salmond-a-fly-bugger) in which he asserts that when Alex Salmond’s refers, as he does in his evidence to the Holyrood Committee to “a deliberate, prolonged, malicious and concerted effort amongst a range of individuals” he is not quite describing a ‘proper’ conspiracy.”

But what is a “proper conspiracy”?  In law a conspiracy is when “A person who agrees with another or others to act in a way which would  involve  the  commission  of  an  offence  by  any  party  to  the  agreement is guilty of conspiracy to commit the offence”


One problem in using “conspiracy” for the current imbroglio of Salmond and Sturgeon is that to the best of my knowledge, no offence in law has been committed, by either side. Powers have perhaps been abused, the Ministerial Code broken, but I don’t see anyone being in the poky as a result.

Thus, is conspiracy an appropriate concept to help us to understand what has been going on, or is it just clickbait to attract online readers, or increase dead tree sales – ie just lazy journalism. I am pretty certain that Levy and McCrae as well as the others in Team Salmond are being well rewarded for their efforts and could easily employ “conspiracy”, emergent or otherwise, if it suited their purpose.

Perhaps, another, more insightful explanation can be derived from the “Garbage Can Model of Decision-Making” (Michael D. Cohen, James G. March, and Johan P. Olsen). Any rational theory of decision-making puts the various stages of decision-making in a logical sequential order – for instance that problem identification will always precede the development of a solution. This is not necessary for the garbage can model.

This model operates in what the authors describe as an “organized anarchy” of problematic preferences, unclear technology, and fluid participation. Public institutions, they say, often satisfy what they describe as “organized anarchy”. So do Universities!

The core idea is that that are four variables or “streams” circulating in a fixed decision space, that decision space being the garbage can; those four variables are: problems, decision participants, choice opportunities, and solutions.

Solutions can be in search of problems to attach themselves to. For instance, holograms existed for many years without any kind of widespread use, till financial institutions realised they could be used to foil counterfeiters. The expertise of participants can determine which problems to address – accountants for instance will tend to drift toward problems that are financial in nature; the choice opportunities that exist can determine which solutions are selected.

Let’s apply that to the present situation. For instance, fired up by the Weinstein case and the #metoo movement, the First Minister decides that there must be a procedure to deal with misdemeanours of even previous and no longer serving Ministers, so that sexual predators can be found out even years later just as Weinstein was. Let’s presume that the First Minister was telling the truth in 2017 that she had heard at an earlier stage, reports about Alex Salmond’s behaviour toward some women What to do about it? Could it be reviewed in the same way that the behaviour of Harvey Weinstein and Rolf Harris had been.

At the same time, two Civil Servants come forward with complaints about the previous conduct of the former First Minister, while in office. Thus, we have the problem, but we also have the solution in place – a process is to be developed to address this very problem.

The decision participants are in place – Judith McKinnon and Lesley Evans, and the choice opportunity when the First Minister signs of the procedure.

Bit too pat for you? How likely is it that two Civil Servants would come forward at/about the same time a procedure is being implemented to address this very situation? Undeniably convenient?

James Kelly too has published a similar sort of argument to Bell – maybe there wasn’t a conspiracy (he doesn’t bother to try to define “conspiracy”) but “having overreached themselves with a tainted process for what they might well have thought was the best of motives, they may have then panicked about the political damage that would be done to them as a result of a legal defeat.”, so they plough on and the case is heard at the High Court resulting in … Salmond being cleared on all charges. As David Hooks tweeted, “what a bloody shambles”!

The alternative is however that otherwise we need to be able to show conspiracy, emergent or otherwise. According to Peter Bell “All that is required for the appearance of conspiracy to emerge is that there should be a sufficient number of people; with a sufficient amount of influence; and a sufficient commonality of interest.” That though is not quite true, for we need to show those with the influence and commonality of interest shared a common mens rea “the intention or knowledge of wrongdoing that constitutes part of a crime, as opposed to the action or conduct of the accused.”. We also need to show that they planned to, and did indeed, act in concert.

Kelly suggests that this was because of a belief that Salmond intended to return to Parliamentary politics, when in fact it was widely known at the time that he intended to become chairman of Johnson Press, owners ot the Scotsman, and was putting it about he was finished with front line politics. Maybe, particularly bearing in mind that Salmond and Sturgeon must have known each other a good length of time and were old comrades (or so it seemed), she might have asked?

But in any event, what do we know the state of mind of those involved? What, for instance, was the motive of the First Minister? Was it to ‘do in’ her former mentor and if so why? Or was it to ensure that the complainants were not “let down”? We might have opinions, but DO we know? It’s all very well to assert that anything that waddles and quacks must be a duck, but we would do well to consider the origin of the saying, which concerned a mechanical duck that did waddle and did quack but was not a real duck (https://www.mirror.co.uk/usvsth3m/you-know-phrase-if-looks-5235884).  

There is, therefore, a good deal still to go before Bell’s claim that Salmond has left two verdicts for the Committee of Inquiry – that there was a conspiracy, or there was “a deliberate, prolonged, malicious and concerted effort amongst a range of individuals” would stand up.

Moreover, let’s not forget just what is being claimed by at least some of Salmond’s supporters, that not only is the First Minister corrupt, but so must be her Deputy, John Swinnie and her Lord Advocate (a former Faculty Dean) as well as a good part of the Crown Office. Then there is the Chief Executive of the SNP (the First Minister’s husband) its Chief Operating Officer, as well as sundry Party Officials. Oh, yes and Police Scotland too.

I accept that the Garbage Can explanation can seem a bit too convenient, but is the alternative not just a bit extreme? Bell himself reflects a conclusion not inconsistent with the Garbage Can Model of what happened – “As far as she [the First Minister] and her people are concerned everybody was just doing their job. Perhaps ‘mistakes were made’. Maybe things were done that shouldn’t have been done or done in a way that could have been better. But no actual conspiracy.”

The First Minister wants us to focus on the facts. Well, we know that sexual harassment was and remains a serious problem for the First Minister – there was a problem. We know a process was devised to investigate such claims. Its difficulty was that it offended the law in so many ways that the Scottish Government had to abandon it in the Court of Session just prior to Alex Salmond’s Judicial Review.

We know there were participants – the First Minister, her Principal Secretary, as well as others in the Civil Service and in the SNP. We know there were a variety of decision opportunities within this organized anarchy.

In short, we need to ask ourselves whether there was a conspiracy, or even ““a deliberate, prolonged, malicious and concerted effort amongst a range of individuals”. Either way, the problem is that motive is crucial since Salmond himself is asserting that it was “deliberate” and “concerted” – not something that just happened. What is the evidence for this? How much evidence that it was malicious rather than incompetent or misconceived? How much evidence that it was directed at addressing the wrongs the complainants had claimed?


29 thoughts on “A Garbage Can Explanation for Salmond vs Sturgeon

  1. A conspiracy theory is when the reasons for:
    1. “I have a plan so that we can remain anonymous but see strong repercussions” (Woman H)
    2. ‘We have lost the battle but we will win the war’ (Leslie Evans)
    3. messages showing Murrell and Ruddick expected complainant to firm
    up her commitment to giving evidence against Alex Salmond, and to discuss progress on bringing in others to make complaints. They expressed dissatisfaction at McCann for his performance in achieving these objectives and expressed doubt as to his commitment to the cause
    4. messages from Ruddick to Murrell telling Murrell that progress on the case was being delayed by Police Scotland and/or the COPFS’s saying there was insufficient evidence and if the police/Crown would specify the precise evidence needed, she would get it for them
    5. message from Murrell to Ruddick ‘TBH the more fronts he is having to firefront on the better for all complainers. So CPS action would be a good thing.’
    6. message from Murrell to Ruddick ‘Totally agree folk should be asking the police questions. Report now with the PF on charges which leaves the police twiddling their thumbs. So good time to be pressuring them. Would be good to know Met looking at events in London.’
    7. Previous denial that these messages existed by Lindsey Miller, deputy Crown Agent. Numerous examples of hiding evidence in AS appearance.
    8. Ruddick fishing expeditions for complainers as in defence witness Ann Harvie statements
    9. Scottish Government documents produced as part of the Judicial Review hearings which support Mr Ronnie Clancy QC assertion of conduct on the part of Scottish Government officials “bordering on encouragement”.
    10. Messages in the WhatsApp group of SNP Special Advisers, particularly one saying that they would “destroy” Alex Salmond and one referring to Scotland’s ‘Harvey Weinstein moment’, employing the #MeToo hashtag
    11. Daily Mail leak hours before injunction from someone very very very close to a complainer and very very close to NS)
    12. Woman H’s lies to frame AS
    13. A senior adviser to Nicola Sturgeon said criminal charges would ultimately “get” Alex Salmond when the Scottish government admitted its own investigation had been unlawful, according to a witness statement.
    14. The denial and out right lies under oath that some of the above happened until evidence was produced and then the change of story
    15 the suppression of evidence
    16. The police interviewing 400 women and only finding the original complainers from NS inner circle
    17. The police high profile investigation into McAskill leak but next to none into Daily Mail leak.
    18. an on and on and on
    all of these are innocent co-incidences. That is one hell of a conspiracy theory.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The Inquiry was botched because the investigation procedures were not followed. Not because of any of the rest of the irrelevance. All the rest is heresy.

      Their was no independent investigators The women had prior contact with the investigator.

      All the text messages had no relevance. To the final judgement. The proceeding of procedures had not been followed. That created bias. The reaction to the women’s complaints were not investigated by an independent investigating official. As per established proceedings. The new set of rules introduced.

      The women and the Police did not want it to go ahead. The unelected unionist list officials push for it to go forward. Lesley Evans and the Lord Advocate. Although now seeming to be denying knowledge of the case. The buck stops there. Unelected Officials appointed by Westminster with allegiance to Westminster. The Scottish Gov cannot even chose their own officials.without Westminster colossal interference.

      The text message are irrelevant. People obviously believed women had been molested, without knowing the evidence. It was up to the Police to try and gather it. If Nicola had stopped the proceeding. She would have been held up as being biased. To complaints against a close colleague. AS. She would have been accused of bias and acting illegally. Damned if they do. Damned if they don’t.

      The Court decided Alex Salmond innocence. There was no sexual intent in any of the incidents. Totally exaggerated. SNP women were the complainants. SNP women acted to support the Defence. That is why Alex Salmond was found not guilty,


      1. ‘All the text messages had no relevance. To the final judgement. ‘
        I see you put a full stop there.
        “No relevance” tell that to Alex Salmond.

        Of course they had no effect on the final judgement, he was found to be innocent without them. That doesn’t mean a conspiracy to frame him didn’t happen. This was no technical error. Woman H and the leaker of the Daily Record were deliberate criminal acts.


  2. I think the most concerning fact about all this is the quite astounding fact that David Harvie, the Crown Agent, was an MI5 asset. At least according to Craig Murray. Is he still an MI5 asset?

    The Crown Agent is responsible for the day to day running of the independent public prosecution service for Scotland. To me the fact that Scotland’s independent legal system could be being run by a previous intelligence agent from another country is an absolute scandal. Why is this not headline news? When the Scottish Government is told to redact evidence, who is actually doing the asking? Is this driven by the finer points of Scottish Law or is it just MI5 making the Scottish Government look bad.

    If the Scottish Law Lords want the people to have confidence in the Scottish legal system, I think it would help if they took action to remove the suspicion of MI5 influence at its very heart.

    David Harvie’s line manager was Leslie Evans. If David Harvie is MI5, is seems very possible that his boss Leslie Evans, the Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government, was also MI5. Surely she would need to be? And why not?

    Then we have Judith McKinnon. The “Head of People Advice” in the Scottish Government. Appointed out of the blue in this highly paid newly created role in 2017, she did nothing in her role but investigate Alex Salmond. Judith McKinnon was previously a very senior police officer, Head of Human Resource Governance at Police Scotland. I know a few police officers. There’s a couple in my own family. Good people, but all are against Scottish Independence. They take an oath. In her very senior role dealing with personnel, it seems highly probable she had contact with British Security and Intelligence Services. It would be part her job. Is she also MI5?

    These three are key players in the “plot” to bring down Alex Salmond. Their career reporting lines end in the Tory cabinet.

    7 out of 9 of Alex Salmond’s accusers are British civil servants working for the Scottish Government. They also have career reporting lines that end in the Tory cabinet. The British Civil Service hand out awards to civil servants who are biased against Scottish Independence.

    The alleged “setup” of Alex Salmond is a very serious crime. Why is it not being investigated by Police Scotland?

    Well if this was an “M15 plot”, would a prosecution service run day to day by an ex MI5 asset take any action?

    Also, even if it did, from memory 12 out of 14 of Police Scotland’s Divisional heads are ex Met. Only 4 are actually Scottish. All of them will have contact with British Security and Intelligence Services. MI5 influence here too? Could we expect a proper investigation?

    When the Scottish Government bungled the investigation into Alex Salmond, this was largely the work of senior British Civil Servants in the Scottish Government, who had some known prior links to British SIS. Did they botch things on purpose to discredit the Scottish Government? Or was correct procedure a secondary consideration in their “plot” to get Salmond?

    Obviously, some of this is fact and some is speculation. Nicola Sturgeon had no motive to destroy Alex Salmond. A U.K. government motivated to destroy the SNP and close the Scottish Parliament had a lot of motivation. What is the balance of probability here?

    It seems to me that disgraceful and appalling talk of cabals, corrupt regimes, and racist jibes about banana republics without the bananas are being directed in precisely the wrong direction.

    craig Post author
    February 5, 2021 at 05:50
    Yes, Harvie was in the FCO at the same time as me and I can confirm he was formerly full time MI5.


    Liked by 6 people

      1. So Craig Murry and Stuart Campbell share similar aims to MI5? Does being an SNP ultra require a minimum level of naivety and credulity?

        I note that the vote for Brexit is still being described elsewhere, as a democratic mandate. This is hard to justify, despite the apparently democratic process ascribed to the event. The level of political corruption and media spin involved in securing the vote to leave, means the vote can hardly claim to have been the expression of democratic choice. IMHO, it should more accurately be described as the manufacturing of consent, from an electorate who had been primed through the trauma of austerity, to articulate welfare chauvinism and xenophobia. Which does not bode well for the future of liberal democracy in Brexitania.



  3. The women, the Police did not want to proceed. Two unelected list personnel appointed. 3rd raters with allegiance to Westminster. Pushed it forward against all reason or advice. Vast salaries and privilege. More than they deserve. They are not accountable or elected. The shambles were a result. Beyond reason. People are sick fed up of it. Westminster colossal interference.

    Get the ‘Inquiry’ over with, so people can get on with their lives in peace. Everyone has an opinion. At the Court of public opinion, people will be held to account.


  4. It is sometimes the case that two people can be telling the truth and yet those truths conflict. In the absence of detail supposition supported by assumption generally comes to the fore. I hope that this is the situation in this case, that both Alex and Nicola are telling the truth. I cannot pretend though that there has been so much obfuscation and obstruction on the side of the government that Alex looks the ‘better man’.

    However, we seem to be looking for a motive – but do we need a complex one? Children often behave badly against each other without a complex motive. Perhaps the motive could be that those involved simply did not like him.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. These people are senior professionals. If their “dislike” of AS led to the actions / events listed above be Anandprasad, then the least serious description of their actions would be gross misconduct. Yet none are being sanctioned, apparently.
      I would also add to the list of “suspicious occurrences “ the highly selective list of those prosecuted in relation to jigsaw identification. In my view, prosecution of only some of those who supplied the pieces is in itself corrupt. All must be equally guilty (or not).


  5. Alex Salmond was found not guilty with substantial financial award. The M15 plot failed. It did not succeed. People came to his Defence. Women in the SNP. That is why he was found not guilty. Any plot failed.
    Alex Salmond is still able to follow a successful career. On many avenues including politics. He could write a book of his experience. A bestseller. If he has been damaged financially he could establish a fundraiser. He already give talks. He still has great support.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. OT again, but relevant to understanding hate speech and garbage justifications.

    The Brexit campaign transcended political spin, to the level of promoting hate of the cultural Other. As with the first indy ref, the campaign amplified the voice of populist nationalism, by promoting a false narrative through media spin, and political practice that was devoid of ethical content.

    Buses and Breaking Point: Freedom of Expression and the ‘Brexit’ Campaign


  7. All the civil servants give an oath to the British Gov about allegiance and secrecy. From the most humble pen pusher. All of them give an oath to secrecy. The BBC staff are veted by M15 and given clearance before they are employed. Not contractors?


  8. An interesting deflection.

    If we are talking about this we avoid discussing the removal of democracy from the SNP membership. All those rule changes that took place a few years ago to exclude the voices of the membership. Let’s not mention the switch of focus from Independence to the non-debated issue of GRA.

    However the SNP could silence all those critical voices tonight. Publish the membership numbers. It was once over 120k. If it is even 40k now I would be stunned. Silence the critics. Prove the members are still there giving their full support.

    If the members are deserting the Party. Perhaps good reason exists. This could be why so many are now willing to believe the Party they worked so hard for is capable of a conspiracy act.

    I was an office bearer, an activist and a loyal member for decades. I know from friends across Scotland that, like me, thousands are now leaving on a regular basis.

    I have seen the current leadership team manipulate events.


    1. “If the members are deserting the Party. Perhaps good reason exists” – Equally it they are not, why not by your own logic ?

      “I know from friends across Scotland that, like me, thousands are now leaving on a regular basis” – Again, if there are NOT thousands leaving, on what basis do you make this assertion ?

      The shelved GRA Reforms ?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. To CameronB who writes “Is it not a tad negligent ..”

        .. to acknowledge (a) that the SNP’s NEC does NOT pass legislation; and (b) that a minority SNP government in a parliament without a majority in favour of independence may still pass a re-introduced GRA because SNP and many of its MSPs are likely NOT to be the only party and group of MSPs in favour of passing the GRA in present or amended form.

        After all, other parliaments – in Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Iceland and in other places – have already passed similar legislation, in some, perhaps all cases, on a cross-party basis.

        Oh the irony – by the actions of some, we end up with a parliament in May WITHOUT a majority to progress independence but a parliament that STILL PASSES GRA legislation – legislation informed by outstanding consultation results!

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Why has the membership numbers been hidden for years Bob.
        It is supposed to be issued annually!
        I know it is hard to accept but you cannot keep pretending it isn’t happening.


    2. “.. the removal of democracy from the SNP membership. All those rule changes that took place a few years ago to exclude the voices of the membership. ”

      As I recall, you’ve made a similar point before. These are negatively critical claims but I for one have no way of either understanding the nature of the actual rule changes nor of verifying any in terms of likely significance/outcomes. I am aware generally- based on limited insight into Labour Party rule making/changing- that such internal party matters can be rather arcane.

      So given this, do you wish me and perhaps others simply to take your comments at face value and weight them accordingly? Or is it reasonable to ask that you substantiate the claims with actual evidence, especially if you intend to continue to make such negative claims here?

      Many contributors to this site provide direct links to documentary evidence to substantiate their arguments. That is to be welcome. Can you – would you be – willing to do something similar?

      And while you’re considering this, what evidence leads you to make this statement on membership: “If it is even 40k now I would be stunned.” Do you have evidence which informs this statement or is this a polemic, and one motivated by an apparent opposition to the party of government in Scotland?

      Given the critical importance to my country’s future of the upcoming election in May, I’m alert to the distinction in commentary between what is evidenced and oppositional polemic .

      Liked by 3 people

  9. By all reports the membership has remained stable. Especially among those who support Independence. Still the biggest Party by far (pro rata) in the UK, £600,000 has just been approved by the NEC for the Independence campaign. There is less political activity just now because of the pandemic. Not everyone enjoys or likes Zoom calls or meetings etc. People may have let their membership lapse but more members are joining. Sometimes it is difficult to realise how such a small number are involved on a regulate basis. Unless a campaign or election/Ref is going on.

    Most branches have not seen a dramatic drop. Not that anyone has heard from other branches.Some members might have passed away. Many people are not active members. The pay their dues but are not activists. People lead busy lives. Working and caring. Often it is down to retired people or unemployed to be the most involved They have the time. Older people are also more likely to vote. Young ones less likely. They can be occupied elsewhere. College and studying. Socialising normally.etc.


  10. I’ve got to the point where I don’t care what is being said. Nobody deserves the treatment Nicola sturgeon is getting and you wouldn’t know who to believe or trust any more. It has the real feel of a witch hunt or gladiator fight now and the stuff coming out is so twisted by hate, spite and self righteousness that I doubt we’ll ever learn the whole truth. My sympathy and moral support at this point are for niciola but whatever happens I’ll still be voting snp x 2 come May. There’s not one of us here I hope that would stand by and let a relative or friend face this without support and we will all be complicit in the mayhem to follow if we are ok with what is going on

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I was pleased to see today Jackie Baillie MSP being called out by a witness before the Harassment Committee for her sly behaviour.

    She asks a question: she receives an answer; then she sums up the answer in her own words and therefore has her summary also written into the formal record. But the ‘problem’ was her summary did not accord with the actual question she originally asked and/or did not reflect the content of the actual response given to her question according to the witness.

    I pointed out a similar example of this a few days ago btl on another site. It relates to the Harassment Enquiry session on 1 December when the Committee interviewed John Somer and asked him, among other things, about the FM’s meeting with Mr Aberdein. I watched it and was concerned by the nature of this interchange. What follows is from the pubic record.

    Jackie Baillie: Do you know where the meeting was held?
    John Somers: According to the First Minister’s note, it was in Parliament.

    Jackie Baillie: Was it in her office, or in a meeting room?
    John Somers: I WAS NOT THERE, so I CANNOT SAY DEFINITIVELY. I IMAGINE that it would have been in her office. (MY EMPHASIS)

    Jackie Baillie: OKAY; SO IT WAS IN HER OFFICE. Did somebody collect Mr Aberdein from reception?

    So here we proceed from something stated explicitly as speculation – “I imagine” – by a witness turned into a statement of certainty by a Committee member – sleekit or what?

    Liked by 1 person

  12. “ in law a conspiracy is ??
    In law the meaning of conspiracy is the same meaning as it is out of law which is the every day meaning you will find in a dictionary.
    Yes it could be a group plot to do something unlawful
    But it can also be a group plot to do something that is not unlawful

    There is no separate meaning of conspiracy just for law mr galloway
    You are sensationalising


  13. Mr galloway you say this
    “. Moreover, let’s not forget just what is being claimed by at least some of Salmond’s supporters, that not only is the First Minister corrupt, but so must be her Deputy, John Swinnie and her Lord Advocate (a former Faculty Dean) as well as a good part of the Crown Office. Then there is the Chief Executive of the SNP (the First Minister’s husband) its Chief Operating Officer, as well as sundry Party Officials. Oh, yes and Police Scotland too.“”

    What a load of tosh, the claim is not that all these are corrupt as you infer here
    The claim is that some are
    None have been named
    But a group of conspirators is said to have been at work
    You mr galloway are the one naming the conspirators on the basis that they all work together so must ALL be in on it

    Grow up

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I’ll admit I’m not particularly up on parliamentary and party procedure, but I do know a bit about how the law works, i.e. as an interconnecting fabric of mutually supporting principles. Which will be rendered meaningless if we allow certain officials to re-interpret the legal identity of women, in a manner that defies logic and liberal science.

    The section on “Causation” should prove instructive, as well as the section on “Sexual offences”.


    Click to access cp_criminal_code.pdf


  15. Nicola said today that talk of plots was absurd. She gave a very detailed account of the great care with which the Salmond situation was handled. In light of this, I don’t think I was right to query possible MI5 involvement above. With the great amount of detail provided today, I don’t think it was appropriate and doesn’t really contribute to the discussion. Everything seems to have been handled in a very considered and correct manner. I admit it when I get it wrong.

    I thought she came across as very genuine and human. I don’t think the all day grilling was a good look for the opposition. It was a very long day.

    Overall, I found it reassuring.


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