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For months now, questions have been asked of Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the SNP.

They have to do with how much she knew about the Me Too case surrounding her SNP predecessor, Alex Salmond.

The powerful political party of independence in Scotland has been in the headlines for months as other sexual harassment complaints have been levelled between other SNP members. To say that some of them have their minds in the gutter is an insult to gutters.

Furthermore, earlier this month, the Scottish Parliament passed the SNP’s far-reaching Hate Crime Bill.

Local elections will be taking place in May. Will the SNP still control Scotland’s devolved government at Holyrood?

Returning to Sturgeon and Salmond, the main question has been ‘What did she know and when did she know it?’

Tom Harris of The Telegraph has an excellent summary of past and present from Monday, March 22, 2021: ‘James Hamilton’s convenient conclusions don’t exonerate Nicola Sturgeon entirely’.

Let us begin with the past, when Alex Salmond lived and worked at the first minister’s residence in Edinburgh, Bute House, which is an elegant Georgian building located just off Princes Street in Charlotte Square.

Emphases mine below:

Let us revisit those years in which Salmond was first minister, and let us not fail to remind ourselves that during that entire time, Sturgeon was not only his deputy but his closest friend and colleague as well as a senior minister. For it is events in that period, not more recent events, that were at the root of the current crisis. The SNP and its followers have spent a good deal of time on social media and elsewhere trying to promote the narrative that somehow the complainants have been let down both by the Scottish government (meaning the civil service, not its political leaders) but also by the partisan manoeuvrings of the MSPs who make up the committee; a leak of its conclusions became a political football last week.

But it was Salmond’s tenure at Bute House, not events since, that is key to all this.

During that period, rumours swirled around Westminster and across news rooms about unhappy civil servants, mainly women, who were unhappy with the first minister’s behaviour. The rumours were no doubt exaggerated and it should be pointed out that when Salmond was finally brought to trial for sexual offences based on the evidence of ten complainants, he was acquitted on all charges. Nevertheless, the complaints were made and everyone in politics knew about them, and we knew (or thought we knew) the identity of at least some of those who had complained.

But you know who didn’t know about those rumours? You know who was completely blindsided until she first heard, from Alex Salmond’s own mouth, about the complaints against him as late as 2018, four years after he left office? That’s right, his protégé and trusted lieutenant, Nicola Sturgeon. We are asked to believe that this was a coffee-spitting moment, that nothing had prepared her for what Salmond was about to tell her.

In fact, women had been complaining about Salmond since 2009:

In 2009, Angus Robertson, the then Westminster leader of the SNP, was asked by the management of Edinburgh Airport to speak to Salmond about the “inappropriate” nature of then serving first minister’s behaviour towards female members of staff. Robertson did so; he interviewed Salmond, put the complaints to him and then concluded that there was nothing else to report and closed the case

But even though this event happened in 2009, while Sturgeon was Salmond’s loyal deputy, we are asked to believe that no report or hint about it was ever conveyed to her.

Is it not rather more likely that Sturgeon was as aware of these rumours as every journalist in Scotland and beyond. Is it not more logical to conclude that she chose not to do anything about them because she considered that the greater prize, one far more important than the safety at work of female civil servants or airport staff, was the SNP’s central goal of independence?

Now let us fast forward to the present.

The SNP are a particularly tightly knit party:

The same Angus Robertson is a close political ally of Sturgeon’s; he is standing in May’s Holyrood elections and was selected after the ruling SNP executive – controlled by Sturgeon and her husband, party chief executive Peter Murrell – made it almost impossible for Robertson’s most likely rival for the nomination, Joanna Cherry MP, to stand. Robertson’s account of his intervention on behalf of Edinburgh Airport was detailed in a letter Robertson wrote to the committee investigating the Salmond scandal.

Earlier in March, Sturgeon gave evidence to the Holyrood committee investigating the Salmond inquiry. It was an eight-hour session, and I watched the last three hours.

Salmond had appeared the week before in front of the committee. His evidence was concise and judicious.

Sturgeon, on the other hand, answered every question with a form of ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I cannot remember’. She often used a form of the words ‘soul searching’ more than once to indicate that she wished she could remember more details, including those from a meeting at Bute House between her and Salmond.

The committee was comprised of four SNP MSPs (including the convener, Linda Fabiani) and one MSP each from Scottish Labour, Scottish Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

The question afterwards was, ‘Did Nicola Sturgeon break the ministerial code?’ Did she withhold knowledge from the committee?

It was up to barrister James Hamilton to decide in the first instance. He determined that Sturgeon did not, in fact, break the ministerial code. (Full report here.)

The Telegraph‘s article led with this:

So the (rather unsurprising) verdict is in: Nicola Sturgeon’s own adviser to her government has concluded that she did not break the ministerial code in statements to the Scottish Parliament.

Barrister James Hamilton delivered his verdict to a breathless press pack this afternoon. His conclusions will be welcomed by the SNP and by Sturgeon herself, obviously, as a glimmer of light in a very dark landscape recently. As if there was much doubt about it, she will now lead her party into May’s elections, and elections are what the SNP care about most.

Sturgeon spoke to the media on Monday after his findings were announced:

However, the story does not end there.

On Tuesday, March 23, The Telegraph had a follow up article: ‘Holyrood inquiry: Nicola Sturgeon misled parliament and SNP government “badly” let down Alex Salmond complainants’.

It says:

James Hamilton, the Irish lawyer who conducted the ministerial code investigation, concluded that it was for the Scottish Parliament to decide whether they were misled.

This new report is the one from the aforementioned Holyrood committee: the four SNP MSPs and the three others.

The report is 192 pages long. The article summarises the report’s findings:

Nicola Sturgeon misled parliament and her government “badly” let down women who lodged complaints against Alex Salmond, a damning Holyrood inquiry has concluded.

The committee examining the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment complaints against Mr Salmond found the First Minister gave “an inaccurate account” of what happened at a meeting with him and so misled the cross-party investigation.

In a 192-page report, the MSPs also said the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment complaints, and the subsequent judicial review, was “seriously flawed”.

The two civil service complainers who triggered the investigation told the committee in private they had not seen a “meaningful change in culture” in Ms Sturgeon’s government and it had “given itself a bigger hill to climb because of the failure of the process.”

The complainers – Ms A and Ms B – also said they had been “taken aback by the lack of contact and support from the Scottish Government” following the conclusion of the judicial review, adding that “it felt as though we were just left to swim.”

The report said there was a “fundamental contradiction” between Ms Sturgeon’s evidence about her meetings with Mr Salmond and that of his team.

MSPs concluded she had left him with the impression she might intervene in the complaints process. They also said that her written evidence was “an inaccurate account of what happened”, and that “she has misled the committee on this matter”.

They also said they were “concerned” about how long it had taken Ms Sturgeon to inform the government’s permanent secretary that she was aware of the complaints and it was “inappropriate for the first minister to continue to meet and have discussions” with Mr Salmond.

It seems unlikely that Nicola Sturgeon could be forced to stand down as Scotland’s first minister.

However, the Scottish Conservatives tried to by holding a vote of no confidence at Holyrood on March 23:

Murdo Fraser, a Tory member of the committee, said: “The committee verdict is in – Nicola Sturgeon misled Parliament and the public.

“It seems clear that Nicola Sturgeon will refuse to abide by the principle of democratic accountability for her government’s monumental mistakes.

Someone will have to be the fall guy or gal, because the report states:

The Committee finds that this state of affairs is unacceptable by an organisation such as the Scottish Government and that those responsible should be held accountable.

There is much more in the article.

Nicola Sturgeon skates away, like water off a duck’s back.

The Rev. Stuart Campbell is the author of the best known pro-independence website, Wings Over Scotland.

On March 23, he commented on the above findings in ‘The Switch’. He concludes:

The committee’s key finding that it “may have insufficient powers to hold the executive to account” was OPPOSED by the four SNP members.

In other words, they actually WANT the Scottish Parliament to be too weak to hold the Scottish Government to account, and for it to have fewer and weaker powers …

The abject refusal by SNP MSPs of more powers for Holyrood in case those powers might impose actual democratic accountability on their own administration is in some senses the most revealing and most shaming aspect of the entire affair.

It is an all but open admission that Nicola Sturgeon has survived only by using every means at her disposal to escape proper scrutiny

But more than that, they show a First Minister very comfortable within the confines and limits of devolution, and deeply unwilling to accept significantly more power for Scotland’s parliament because of the difficult responsibilities that come with it.

And that’s a characteristic which readers might wish to reflect honestly and soberly on when considering the likelihood of her ever delivering independence.

One of Wings Over Scotland‘s readers summed up then-Prime Minister Tony Blair’s approach to his concept of Scottish devolution, an executive without checks and balances:

Tony Blair’s Labour basically designed something for Scotland they would have wanted for Westminster: an executive that could not be held to account by the parliament or the judiciary.

When Alex Salmond became First Minister in 2007, he tried to separate the powers by NOT having the Lord Advocate as a minister in his government. Nicola Sturgeon invited the Lord Advocate right back in.

That the SNP under Sturgeon is now endorsing the flawed devolved parliament design is the real tragedy for Scotland

Right now, they’re very happy with devolution – with periodical noses about “independence” when they need to harvest votes at an election – and in the unlikely event that Scotland became independent under Sturgeon’s SNP, she and her cabal and acolytes would be perfectly happy to keep the original devolved parliament design flaws and have the parliament and judiciary of an independent country firmly under the control of the executive, with no accountability or transparency.

Anybody who desires an independent Scotland that aspires to be an open, transparent, accountable, modern democracy should recoil in horror from Nicola Sturgeon’s vision for Scotland.

One wonders if many Scots will forget all of this by the time the May elections roll around.

Sixteen-year-olds will also be able to cast their ballots, probably bringing more votes the SNP’s way.

As I write, informed Scottish voters, whether pro-independence or unionist, are figuring out how to vote strategically. Many are suspicious of Sturgeon’s stated desire for independence. Is it just a cynical ploy for SNP votes? More on that in a future post.

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