Sunday, 23 August 2020

"Creepy or Sleazy' vs 'Criminal'



Iain Macwhirter has an interesting article in today's Sunday Herald which suffers from two major flaws.

Firstly, civil servants act upon the instructions of the politicians, in this case Scottish Government ministers, not the other way round. So any gripes about a new 'retrospective' complaints policy must be laid at the door of Nicola Sturgeon and whoever else was involved.

Secondly, a serious procedural flaw in the original investigation rendered the process unfair, but this does not amount to a ‘set up’, as Iain suggests, since the flaw in the procedure could have been corrected by appointing a new investigator who had no prior contact with the complainants.


The strap-line suggestion that Alex Salmond is on trial again is also wide of the mark because even though he was found not guilty of a criminal offence the former first minister's conduct at work is certainly worthy of wider public scrutiny and debate.

Read the full article via the link below to the Sunday Herald.


  

https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/18668585.opinion-iain-macwhirter-jury-found-innocent-alex-salmond-still-trial/


Opinion: Iain Macwhirter: The jury found him innocent but Alex Salmond is still on trial

By Iain Macwhirter - Sunday Herald 

Alex Salmond speaks outside the High Court in Edinburgh after he was cleared of attempted rape and a series of sexual assaults, including one with intent to rape, against nine women, who were all either working for the Scottish Government or within the SN

AS one inquiry got underway into l'affaire Salmond in Holyrood last week another ended. The Metropolitan police had also been investigating Police Scotland's allegations of sexual crime by the former SNP leader. The Met announced last week that it was winding up the probe.

Their record recently in such investigations has not been good. Last year it paid out £900,000 in damages to the former Tory MP Harvie Proctor. He was falsely accused of sexual misconduct by the serial fantasist, Carl Beech, whose allegations officers had said were “credible and true”. The Met has probably had its fill of litigious politicians.

For Alex Salmond has a formidable track record. He was cleared of 13 charges of attempted rape and sexual assault in the High Court earlier this year. Last year he won £512,000 in costs from the Scottish Government in the Court of Session over their botched sexual harassment inquiry, which was ruled “unlawful, unfair and tainted by apparent bias”. In other words, was a set up.

That 2018 harassment inquiry, under a newly-minted civil service disciplinary code devised by the head of the Scottish Civil Service, Leslie Evans, somehow didn't net any civil servants but it did lasso one former First Minister. This was because of a historic complaint made against him in 2013, which had been resolved under the old disciplinary procedure.

The investigating officials under Ms Evans acted improperly in contacting the historic complainant before the new disciplinary procedure got underway. The sequence of events is confused because the Scottish Government decided to kill the judicial review in the Court of Session by admitting it had acted unlawfully. That prevented much of the detailed evidence appearing in open court.

At the time, Ms Evans said: “We have lost a battle but we have not lost the war”. Holyrood's attempt to investigate Leslie Evans' war finally commenced last week. It didn't get very far. Ms Evans had already made clear that she was not going to discuss the legal advice or court papers relating to the Salmond judicial review. So there.

She told MSPs that she regretted nothing. The Salmond investigation had been the “right thing to do” even if it was unlawful. She said she was on “a journey of cultural change” focussing on “equality, inclusion and wellbeing, including addressing bullying and harassment”.

Kirsty Wark was on a journey too. The Newsnight presenter had her say last week on the conduct of the First Minister on BBC TV. “The Trial of Alex Salmond” should really have been called "The Retrial of Alex Salmond”. It rehashed the allegations made by the complainants, even inadvertently identifying one of them, and ignored what the witnesses for the defence said. The jury of eight women and five men, had found the latter rather more persuasive.

READ MORE: SNP women's rights activist blasts Kenny MacAskill's Alex Salmond conspiracy comments

But this didn't fit with Ms Wark's unsubtle hints that Mr Salmond was Scotland's Harvey Weinstein. It was “Britain's MeToo trial”. The only difference being that the predatory filmproducer was sentenced to 23 years in prison for rape, whereas Alex Salmond was acquitted on all counts. But that was only the jury's opinion, and who cares about them?

So will this new Holyrood inquiry get anywhere? The investigation by MSPs is ostensibly in the civil service's misconduct, not Mr Salmond's. But that is naïve. On day one Leslie Evans was asked when and if she informed the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, about complaints about Salmond's behaviour.

Evans refused to say whether female civil servants had been advised not to be alone with the former First Minister, but she did say that she discussed his conduct with Nicola Sturgeon in November 2017. The First Minister had previously insisted that she was not informed about the sexual harassment investigation until April 2018.

READ MORE: Ron McKay's Diary: The retrial of Alex Salmond seems to be gathering pace

There has been much speculation that Nicola Sturgeon will be bought down by this timeline. That she will be found to have had improper and unminuted contacts with Salmond and to have told less than the whole truth about her knowledge of the complaints. What did she know and when did she know it ?

But I have my doubts. Ms Sturgeon is an immensely skilled lawyer who chooses her words carefully. In politics there is “knowing” and there is “official knowledge of specific allegations”. She may have heard talk but may well not have been informed of the nature of the harassment investigation until April 2018.

It stands to reason that Nicola Sturgeon must have known about the historic 2013 complaint against Mr Salmond. Her chief of staff would have made sure she was kept in the loop. Ms Sturgeon unveiled Ms Evans' new disciplinary process with great fanfare in late 2017 saying that it was needed to address a culture of sexual harassment in politics.

This was at the height of the MeToo frenzy when just about everyone in public life was under suspicion of improper relations with colleagues and underlings. The human rights lawyer, Aamar Anwar, had recently claimed that to his certain knowledge “women at all levels in Holyrood have been subjected to sexual harassment”.

Well, if so the Ms Evans' disciplinary procedure has singularly failed to expose it. It's all been about Alex v Nicola. The Holyrood inquiry is about to is turn into an epic struggle between the two political leaders who have dominated Scottish public life for two decades. It isn't going to end well.