By Alasdair Galloway
This title is something of a truism. One form of this is that anything we do can come back and bite us on the bum at some point in the future. This might be something that Alex and Nicola would do well to contemplate. But that, dear reader, is not my topic for tonight.
Instead, it is this. Have all of us thought through the consequences of the action that we are set on? As Stuart Campbell pointed out yesterday, “We’re in for a heck of a week in Scottish politics”. We are indeed.
First of all, the Scottish Government have agreed to publish the legal advice that they were given prior to Salmond’s judicial review. This is astonishing on at least two counts. There have been two previous demands by the Parliament for this to be published, which were both ignored, but the fact is that if not unique, then it is fairly unusual, in British politics for a government anywhere (even, or particularly, at Westminster) to make its legal advice public. Blair, for instance, simply refused to make public the legal advice he received before taking us into Iraq. But tonight, the Scottish Government decided to make public the legal advice they received prior to Salmond’s Judicial Review. Given that we know their QC threatened to withdraw rather than go into Court to argue for the procedure used in investigating Salmond, it seems clear it won’t be pretty reading for them (though it will be for the other parties). The problem they faced was that otherwise they would have faced a vote of no confidence in John Swinney, as the man nominally in charge. Thus, it seems possible, if not actually likely, that some kind of political comparison has been made with the conclusion that the harms caused by losing Swinney were greater than publishing the advice.
This will now, secondly, have to be defended by James Wolfe as Lord Advocate, and in charge of the Government’s legal affairs, when he meets the Inquiry on Tuesday. Rather like Sturgeon’s meeting on Wednesday, it will be interesting to see how they do.
After this, the final curtain will come down on this wholly unedifying (and in my view unnecessary) affair when the Committee of Inquiry publish their final report, which will no doubt come to conclusions on whether the First Minister broke the Ministerial Code of Conduct. Even if it is found that she has, whether she will resign is open to question as there is nothing mechanical in this regard in the Code. In fact, interestingly, if a Minister is found to have breached the Code, then the question becomes whether the First Minister retains confidence in them. So, I suppose the issue will be whether the First Minister still retains confidence in Nicola Sturgeon.
If the conclusion of the Committee and James Hamilton is that she didn’t breach the Ministerial Code, then while she has been damaged by the bad (particularly bad?) publicity she gets from the press, she can put it behind her.
But let’s suppose, either the Committee of Inquiry or Hamilton’s investigation, determine that she did breach the Code. It is possible that politically she might survive, but especially with this Parliament about to be dissolved (before the end of March), and particularly if the SNP were returned with their own majority, she might be able to ride it out. We can though be sure that her breach of the Code will be made most salient by her political opponents. Will it affect the SNP vote? According to Ipsos Mori what matters for Scottish voters are
1. Scottish independence/devolution 394 or 38%.
2. Education/schools 305 or 30%
3. Healthcare 239 or 23%
4. Coronavirus 199 or 19%
5. Economy 163 or 16%
6. Europe 127 or 12%. (https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/99457212/posts/3204578393)
Only 0.7% selected LGBT rights and, and less than half of 1%, selected the Salmond Inquiry. It seems that James Doleman might be right when he asserted that no one outside the Edinburgh Ring Road cares very much about this.
Perhaps, though, we should care. So far, we have considered scenarios where the First Minister survives – possibly scarred, but still alive. But let’s suppose she doesn’t and has to resign. Who will be happy? Well I suspect Wings will put the flags out. Others – such as Kenny MacAskill, Chris McElenay – along with others, some of whom I still consider friends, will have a wee smile on their face. But who else? Will Sturgeon’s critics – and there are others besides those named – be happy to be standing beside such as Andrew Marr, Euan McColm, Alan Cochrane, Stephen Daisley, Sarah Smith, Kirsty Wark and of course Andrew Neill? Remember when various Labour grandees cavorted around BBC Scotland when it got out that Salmond had lost in Gordon in 2017? That will be as nothing if they get the First Minister.
If the current First Minister has to resign, we will have lost someone who is not divisive (unlike Alex Salmond, who has other qualities, including inducing endless loyalty among his followers), a fine communicator and, perhaps more important than anything, someone who has their public approval at a level that most politicians would die for.
Do I think she has made mistakes? Yes – I think that is clear from what I have written already? Do I think those mistakes amount to a resigning matter? No, I don’t, and I think this for two reasons. First, if she goes, who is getting the job? Is there an MSP who stands out as a candidate? Even an MP? It’s a bit like sacking your football club’s manager because he has lost a few games, when you don’t have a clue whether anyone better is available.
But secondly, because there is a greater prize out there that is more important than anything – independence. Getting out of the UK. I can scarcely believe that faced with the most incompetent bunch of shysters in Downing Street ever in my adult life, polls suggesting we would be starting with anything from 52% support upwards and a debate which seems to me to be changing from “why independence?” to “what are we doing still in the UK?”, we are having this rammy. As I titled an earlier blog – FFS.
In terms of religious belief I would characterise myself as an extreme agnostic (in the strict sense of that word, that as humans we are not equipped to be able to know if God exists), but my prayer would be that, even now, Salmond and Sturgeon can get their heads together, realise that there is a greater prize, the one they signed up for, and can come to an agreement to work together in the future. However uneasily! I mean if he can turn water into wine and raise folk from the dead, is that too much to ask?