Here are two very different opinion columns on the Alex Salmond affair.
The first by Ian McWhirter in The Sunday Herald reads to me like a 'puff piece' for the former first minister while the second by Alex Massie in The Sunday Times is a more measured and serious contribution to an important debate.
But the thing that really beggars belief for me is that a far bigger scandal over equal pay has been unfolding in Glasgow City Council for years and will cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds to put right - yet the Scottish press, so far at least, has not been calling for the heads of highly paid council officials to roll.
Iain Macwhirter: After the Scottish Government admitted acting unlawfully, it beggars belief that the senior civil servants in the Salmond case are still in their jobs
By Iain Macwhirter - The Sunday Herald
HE was supposed to just go quietly. Admit his personal failings. Beg tearful forgiveness for the sexual harassment of which he had been accused, and then disappear into shamed oblivion. Alex Salmond’s downfall last March had all the makings of a #Me Too show trial – Scotland’s answer to Harvey Weinstein. But it didn’t go quite to plan. Instead, the Scottish Government found itself in the dock last week – humiliated and shamed in the Court of Session.
The Government’s lawyers admitted the conduct of the quasi judicial procedure under which civil servants investigated Mr Salmond, and found him guilty, had been unlawful and unfair. This was a calamitous climbdown from which the Government may never fully recover, since it has exposed manifest incompetence and ignorance of the law among the highest reaches of the Government service.
If ever there was an investigation it simply had to get right, not least for the women who made the complaints, it was this investigation into the former first minister. The Government botched it.
It emerged in previously-withheld documents there had been contact between the investigating officer, Judith MacKinnon, and the “victims” before her inquiry was even convened. It appears from those documents, as outlined by Salmond’s counsel this week, that Ms MacKinnon had had to “encourage” the complainants to come forward, even though the main case had already been resolved by an earlier inquiry in 2013. This was an unconscionable violation of due process, made worse by the attempts by the Government to conceal it from the court.
It simply beggars belief these people are still in their jobs. It positively bankrupts belief that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon continues to defend them. How can any future victim of sexual harassment, or civil servant with a complaint, have any confidence in bringing their case forward, when these people are still in charge of handling it? There was even a suggestion they might reopen the inquiry into Salmond, which makes you wonder on what planet the Scottish Government has relocated itself.
Salmond is not fully vindicated, of course. That will only come if and when the policeinvestigation into the sexual harassment allegations is dropped. It seems hard to believe that what emerged in court about the Government’s involvement with the complainants would not have a bearing on the prospects of a successful prosecution. But the former SNPleader is not out of the woods yet. However, the Scottish civil service, and Sturgeon, are now deep in the woods with him. And they are digging themselves further in by the day.
The parliamentary inquiry or inquiries that will surely follow this debacle, not least into the previously undisclosed contacts between Sturgeon and Salmond, will expose further aspects of this case. Then there is the question of damages, which Salmond has hinted at. This fiasco has already cost the Scottish taxpayer some £350,000. The bill will almost certainly be very much higher before the affair enters the history books.
The new complaints procedure was created at the height of the #MeToo panic in 2017, after Scottish lawyer Aamer Anwar claimed he had a “catalogue of abuse” about sexual harassment in Holyrood. These were never authenticated. In December that year, Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans set up a bespoke disciplinary procedure to target former Government ministers – not former civil servants, who appear to be exempt from the rigours of this retrospective quasi-judicial process. As if by magic, Salmond fell into the frame the moment the new procedure went live in January 2018. We now know how.
The Government tried to prevent the court seeing the documentation confirming all this, and when that failed, it collapsed the whole judicial review, by admitting it had behaved unlawfully. Sturgeon knew early on about the allegations against Salmond, not least because she had a series of private meetings with him last year, as revealed last week. In some of these meetings her chief of staff, Liz Lloyd, was also present. There are now questions about whether these meetings breached the ministerial code.
The First Minister’s defenders on social media claimed last week she had no control over the civil service and that this was all a “Yoon” plot to undermine the SNP, orchestrated by the UK Government. Nothing could be further from the truth. The senior civil servants and the Permanent Secretary, Ms Evans, are directly answerable to the First Minister, not the UK Government. She is the boss.
We can be confident Sturgeon was not responsible for leaking lurid details of the alleged assaults to the Daily Record in August, though she may have a pretty good idea who was. The Information Commissioner is now looking into the exposure of this material. This action was not only prejudicial to Salmond, but could have endangered the confidentiality of the alleged victims. Again, any parliamentary investigation will want to know names and pack drill.
But the leak is a sidebar to what is surely the worst scandal to hit Sturgeon since she became First Minister. It is the human dimension to this affair that makes it so serious. The women who made the complaints against Salmond must be near despair by now, as inquiry after inquiry bears down upon them.
Then there is the stress, expense and reputational damage inflicted on Salmond. The former first minister has been defamed on social media, with people routinely calling him a “sex pest” and much worse. Newspaper columnists said he was “finished” and brought down by his “unconquerable flaws”. He may have won his day in court, and may be in line for substantial damages, but nothing will assuage that assault on his character.
The civil servants probably thought his exposure was a slam dunk. Once the allegations of sexual harassment had been made public, new complaints would surely come flooding in. They didn’t. Instead, we have the dismal spectacle of a close-knit group of senior civil servants and political advisers closing ranks to protect their well-upholstered derrieres. Nicola Sturgeon, for reasons that remain inexplicable, has elected to act as their human shield.
Her loyalty may be admirable but it is entirely misplaced. The people she entrusted with conducting this inquiry were serially incompetent. The procedure itself, which she still maintains is “robust” is anything but.
Salmond was not allowed to see the reports that convicted him, nor was he able to question witnesses or the complainants. It was a kangaroo court, presided over by a Permanent Secretary who acted as judge and jury.
Personnel departments in many organisations are setting up their own pre-cooked inquisitions along similar lines. This whole area of instant law should be subject to wider judicial review. It was borne out of the understandable urge for zero tolerance of sexual harassment but, in the absence of due process, it has turned into zero justice.
Alex Massie: Another fine mess they’ve got us into
By Alex Massie - The Sunday Times
Salmond’s war against this government puts Sturgeon on the back foot
As Theresa May’s government lurched from embarrassment to calamity last week, and with there being no end in sight to her, and the country’s, Brexit agonies, David Linden, the SNP MP for Glasgow East, tweeted: “Are you watching this mess, Scotland?”
It was a good question and a fair one. There is no chance of salvaging much from this Brexit shipwreck. But if Linden’s tweet had an evergreen quality, it was also a question that could be asked of matters closer to home. Because, really, the strange, depressing, awkward, serious matter of Alex Salmond and his war against the government he used to lead is the most astonishing drama of its type in the history of the Scottish parliament.
It is serious, too. Much more serious, I would suggest, than the affair that brought down Henry McLeish. That, you will recall, concerned the former first minister’s failure to register income he derived from sub-letting his Westminster constituency office. It was treated as an important thing at the time, even if it seems trivial now. Other Holyrood “scandals” have been equally Lilliputian. Wendy Alexander’s career was curtailed by a kerfuffle over an illegitimate donation of £950; David McLetchie was compelled to resign as Tory leader over taxi bills on party rather than constituency business, in contravention of the rules.
This is a matter of a different order. I make no comment on the credibility of the allegations of misconduct made against Salmond. He protests his innocence and those protestations must be taken seriously. There is a live police inquiry, so it would be improper to say anything more about the specifics and substance of the case. Even so, his victory in the Court of Session last week, as the Scottish government conceded that its investigation could be perceived as less than wholly impartial, was not a victory on the substance of the affair but instead a question of process and procedure.
If Salmond has every reason to feel aggrieved at the shambolic manner in which the Scottish government conducted its investigation, however, his mortification is as nothing compared with that endured by the women whose complaints began this sorry saga. They have been let down shamefully.
Much of this story is grotesque and those parts of it that are not are simply unprecedented, bizarre and unbelievable. The seriousness of the situation in which Salmond finds himself is one thing, but so too is the predicament into which Nicola Sturgeon has plunged herself.
Nobody watching first minister’s questions this week could recall a time when she seemed so uncomfortable. If she was not quite ashen-faced, she was certainly in a subdued, downbeat mood. Time and time again, she stressed that she had not intervened and, indeed, it would have been inappropriate for her to do so.
Indeed so. Nevertheless, questions arise. Last August, when this ghastly affair first became public knowledge, I suggested that as a matter of political inevitability, “the first minister cannot indefinitely avoid the classic questions: what did you know and when did you know it?” So it has proved. Sturgeon says she knew nothing about the complaints against Salmond, or the Scottish government’s investigation of them, until Salmond told her about the case last April.
So far, so fit and proper. It would plainly be wrong for the first minister to play any part in an investigation into her predecessor’s conduct. Doubtless that is what she told Salmond, too. But if this is so, then why was she accompanied by her chief of staff at the first meeting with Salmond at her Glasgow home? It is not quite enough to say that the first minister’s chief of staff — a government-paid position — also has a role to play in party matters, just as it is not possible for the first minister to hear things as leader of the SNP, but not head of the Scottish government. Sturgeon’s claim that “I have responsibilities as leader of my party and I took meetings in that capacity” seems painfully thin.
Moreover, if she apprised Salmond that she could do nothing, why did she have no fewer than four further conversations with him last year? What, more importantly, were those conversations about?
Sturgeon says it is “self-evident” that she did not intervene “because what Salmond was seeking did not happen”. With respect, first minister, that is not self-evident at all. It is reported that Salmond sought a mediation or arbitration process to settle the matter, but that would have required the agreement of the complainants. The first minister says she washed her hands but, if this was so, why did she then muddy them all over again and not just once but on four separate occasions? This is a question she has repeatedly declined to answer. Those conversations can’t have been about nothing.
Meanwhile, Salmond appears to have descended into something close to paranoia. He claims he is the victim of a conspiracy determined to ruin him because he is seen as a “political threat”. I fear he has absorbed too much from his Russian paymasters at RT. But a threat to whom? The UK government? Surely not any more. Which leaves us with no option to conclude that the former first minister believes he is the victim of a conspiracy run from the heart of the government he used to lead.
Some of his friends and allies certainly seem to think so. They are putting it about that Sturgeon and her husband Peter Murrell, the SNP’s chief executive, are determined to destroy Salmond. The reasons for their desire to do so remain obscure and you may perhaps think these claims preposterous. So do I. Nevertheless, that is what some of Salmond’s supporters believe.
Salmond suggested last week that it was time the first minister put all this behind her and got on with the day job of “achieving independence for Scotland”. Well, maybe. But that is a task made more difficult, not easier, by her predecessor and, at least for now, there is neither any mistaking nor exaggerating the woe evident in SNP quarters.
And, yes, “Are you watching this mess, Scotland?” remains a good and fair question.