"Stars hide your fires, Let not light see my black and deep desires"
Read Part FOUR here
It is early 2021 and the Fabiani inquiry is investigating the Scottish Governments handling of complaints against former First Minister Alex Salmond. The complaints were made in late 2017 but in order to understand the context, it is necessary to go back even further to May 2016.
In May 2016 the SNP have been elected on a manifesto which states:
“The Scottish Parliament should have the right to hold another referendum if there
is a significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014, such
as Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will.”
And when those exact circumstances did occur only weeks later, the Scottish people quite reasonably expected to be given the chance to revisit the question of independence. The Union has recently had a narrow escape, and now with the Brexit vote, it is plunged into new danger.
In March 2017, Sturgeon promises a second referendum in the autumn of 2018 or the spring of 2019. Prime Minister Teresa May responds with; ‘Now is not the time’.
So, who has the authority on matters of Scottish sovereignty? May or Sturgeon? When May calls a surprise general election for June 2017, there is the chance to answer that question. Sturgeon can pose the question of who decides when Scotland has a referendum in the campaign and a win for the SNP would further bolster her mandate.
Instead of making headway on independence, Sturgeon runs an insipid campaign around the slogan ‘Strong Voices’ and states that the election is “not about independence or about another referendum”.
Salmond thinks differently and splits with Sturgeon, saying that ‘the election is to reinforce the right of the Scottish parliament to decide when to have another independence referendum’. Salmond’s strategy would likely have had more success, as the SNP lose 21 seats, including the seats of Alex Salmond himself and close Sturgeon ally Angus Robertson.
In the early autumn of 2017 Sturgeon was not the popular figure she is today: her approval ratings are behind Conservative Ruth Davidson, and her campaign strategy is being blamed for the general election losses. And Salmond is a problem.
Salmond is incredibly popular with the independence movement; his words and support have authority. Salmond sees Scottish independence as a matter of urgency, so is unlikely stay quiet while Sturgeon kicks independence into the longer and longer grass. Sturgeon would likely lose the leadership if Salmond backed a strong candidate such as his friend Joanna Cherry. And the Union would likely also be lost.
In the autumn of 2017, with Salmond a clear danger to Sturgeon and the Union, a campaign to remove Salmond from public life gets underway.
For decades Salmond had been one of the most scrutinised politicians and in all that time no evidence of sexual impropriety had been uncovered. There has never been a complaint to the SNP about Salmond’s behaviour, a fact confirmed by SNP CEO Peter Murrell. But, in the febrile atmosphere of ‘me too’ and emboldened by how easy it had been to smear SNP MSP Mark MacDonald, remove the whip, and ruin his reputation and career, the plotters decide sexual impropriety will be the most effective smear against Salmond.
There are leaks to both the Daily Record and Sky News of sexual impropriety by Salmond, but the stories are so weak neither organisation runs them. These first attempts to smear Salmond do not bear fruit.
The Scottish Government decides to bring in a new Complaints Procedure to tackle the issue of sexual harassment by current and former Ministers. This procedure is created in SIX weeks: anyone that has ever worked in a large organisation knows that six weeks is an unfeasibly short timeframe to create any sort of procedure, let alone one on such a sensitive subject.
During the development of the procedure, Police Scotland was asked on several occasions hypothetical questions which suggested the procedure was being tailored to meet certain specific circumstances. And even more surprisingly the complainers A and B were given sight of the procedure and were asked to delay making a complaint until the new procedure was in place.
Lesley Evans is a UK civil servant and the Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government. Evans asks her bosses in London their opinion on this Complaints Procedure’s retrospective nature, in that it covers former Ministers. The response from London advises against creating a retrospective procedure. However, Sturgeon overrides that advice and explicitly instructs Lesley Evans to ensure the procedure will apply to former Ministers. None of the former First Ministers McConnell, McLeish, or Salmond are informed, and neither is the Labour Party or the Liberal Democrats.
This new Complaints Procedure would determine whether a minister or former minister had breached ministerial code. The UK Prime Minister, and in the devolved governments the First Minister, is the authority on breaches of ministerial code and should be informed of all reports of potential breaches. Therefore, during the initial drafts of the procedure, if any potential breach had come to light Sturgeon ought to have been informed.
And this is exactly what happened during the development of the procedure; potential breaches did come to light. The procedure was drafted in November and December 2017 and during this period complaints by A and B against Alex Salmond were in circulation. As these complaints are potential breaches of ministerial code Sturgeon ought to have been informed. There is no reason to assume Sturgeon was not informed other than her denial. But, considering how little Sturgeon recollects of this time, we cannot rely on that.
Then, in a very extraordinary move by Sturgeon, the final draft of the procedure on breaching ministerial code does not name the First Minister as the authority, but rather Lesley Evans a UK civil servant. Evans becomes the Decision Maker for the procedure, not Sturgeon. This will give Sturgeon deniability for what comes next. Sturgeon signs off this procedure.
The procedure is as follows: an ‘impartial’ Investigating Officer is appointed; this person should not have any prior involvement in the case; the Investigating Officer gathers the evidence and prepares a report for the Decision Maker; the Decision Maker has complete authority to assign guilt or otherwise and decide on further action and penalties.
The accused will not get to see the ‘letter of complaint’.
The accused will not be told who the complainers are.
The accused will not be afforded the opportunity to present a defence.
Judith McKinnon is Deputy Director of People Advice: she had been one of the main contacts of the complainers, she was kept updated on the complaints, she even met with A to share a draft of the procedure with her. Despite this, Evans appoints McKinnon as Investigating Officer.
Everything is now in place. All that is needed is for Evans to find Salmond guilty. Whip the MSM into a frenzy and Salmond will be out of public life for good. There is only one problem: they have to inform Salmond of the complaints before they find him guilty.
How does Salmond react? Find out more about the tangled web in part six.