This was first posted on Facebook on 22nd March 2021, with support from my Ko-Fi network.
The question for the independent investigator, QC James Hamilton, who was Director of Public Prosecutions for the Republic of Ireland (1999-2011) and in 2010, President of the International Association of Prosecutors, and who has been the independent advisor to the Scottish Government on the Ministerial Code since 2013 (first appointed by Alex Salmond, re-appointed by Nicola Sturgeon in 2015):
“When Nicola Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament she had first learned about the complaints against Alex Salmond on Monday 2nd April, when in fact she was told about them on Thursday 29th March, was she knowingly misleading Parliament?”
To knowingly mislead Parliament is a resigning offence in the Ministerial Code, though when you look at the current Cabinet Ministers and Prime Minister at Westminster, you wouldn’t think so.
Nicola Sturgeon’s explanation, under oath, was that yes, once reminded, she did recall a meeting with Alex Salmond’s former Chief of Staff, Geoff Aberlein, and if Aberlein recalls telling her about Alex Salmond on the Thursday before Good Friday, it happened – but she herself recalled the date she learned what Salmond had been doing as the date on which she’d had the meeting with Salmond, which she knew to be Easter Monday, because Salmond visited her for that purpose at her home – she recalled Aberlein setting the meeting up. When she was asked about the date, she said, she remembered it was Easter Monday and her mind then went down the track of trying to remember “what date was Easter Monday in 2018”.
Nicola Sturgeon, by her own account, was in shock: her friend and her mentor was telling her, not only that there was a list of women who had made complaints of sexual harassment against him, using the newly-devised process for investigating harassment by government ministers, but that he recalled one incident which the woman described as attempted rape (and Salmond claimed in court was just “sleepy drunken cuddle”) he’d apologised to her about afterwards. And furthermore, Salmond wanted her to use her powers as First Minister to stop the investigation, ensure it didn’t go any further, get the women individually into “mediation” with him. Salmond wanted her to engage in a cover-up. Salmond claims Sturgeon agreed to this at the time: Sturgeon says she was trying to say no very gently.
Sturgeon says that all of this led to her getting fixed in her mind that the date she first heard about this was Easter Monday, 2018, and the earlier meeting just went out of her mind.
Hamilton concluded that while Sturgeon had misled Parliament by giving the incorrect date and by leading MSPs to believe she first heard about it from Salmond, when Aberlein says he told her about it, she didn’t do it knowingly – he believes her lapse in memory was genuine, and one reason why he believes this, is that she gained nothing at all by saying she had learned of this on the last day of the 4-day Easter weekend, on Monday 2nd April 2018 rather than on the day before the 4-day weekend, Thursday 29th March.
So, Nicola Sturgeon will not resign, much to the chagrin of the BBC, the Scottish Tories, Scottish Labour, the Scottish Liberal Democrats, and Keir Starmer, all of whom have called for her resignation prior to the Hamilton Report on the grounds that she broke the Ministerial Code.
Keir Starmer, when asked about Matt Hancock, assured his questioner that “now was not the time” to call for resignations. Curiously, that did not seem to apply to the leader of the SNP, only to Tory Ministers.
There are now only two full days left for Parliamentary business before Holyrood goes into recess on 25th March – the 2020 Coronavirus Act for Scotland allows Parliament to remain live but in recess til 4th May. On Wednesday 5th May is dissolution, and on Thursday 6th May is the election, and sometime on Friday 7th May, we’ll have a solid idea of the results. (It may take longer – I don’t know what the plans are for a pandemic-safe count.)
While polling numbers have slid a bit both for the SNP and for independence over the past couple of weeks, as the media Establishment and all of the opposition parties stormed at Nicola Sturgeon, polling still says that the SNP will be the largest single party, likely with more seats than Labour and the Tories put together, and that with the Scottish Greens (who have, if anything, improved their position by declining to take part either in kneejerk support or mudslinging) there will be a pro-independence majority in Holyrood, and thus, 7 weeks from now, a democratic mandate for the second independence referendum once the coronavirus crisis is over.
Today is also the day the Scottish Government published legislation for the second independence referendum, which means the question can go forward for testing by the Electoral Commission (but it’s exactly the same question as 2014, which means the EC should pass it).
Nicola Sturgeon’s plan is: hold the referendum (having made a due effort to get the Section 30 order that would make it binding at Westminster) after the pandemic is over, whenever that is – when enough Scots have had both jabs that we have effective herd immunity. Campaign for a winning majority – in my view, has to be at least 50% of the whole electorate. And then take that majority and use it to make the legal case for independence, both within the UK and internationally.
Other people in the SNP and in the independence movement aren’t keen on what sounds like a slow boring process. Stuart Campbell, the blogger who publishes at Wings Over Scotland and currently tweets as “Ghana Tourism Authority” to evade a Twitter permaban – has more or less openly admitted that for him, whose income depends on crowdfunding money from the Yes movement, independence isn’t the goal any more.
He is at a far end of the range: for a lot of independistas, Sturgeon’s slow-motion plan to obtain independence for Scotland by a series of legal moves, just sounds exceedingly dull. And slow. They want big flashy gestures, loud speeches, Boris Johnson style clowning, insults and aggression, flag-waving and marches. That this may not actually obtain independence, whereas Sturgeon’s slow legal process well may, is not something that I think has crossed their minds.
And for some people – for example, Alex Salmond, who is almost certainly the “anonymous whistleblower” who handed a file of private messages to David Davis, the former Conservative Minister for Brexit, to disclose in the House of Commons last week – well, the cynical part of me says that Salmond may not want Scottish independence at this point nearly as much as he wants Nicola Sturgeon crushed into the dust and himself resurgent as the Leader of the Independence Movement, with no one daring to say a word about the gropey hands and the pestering ways, just like in the good old days.
Two of the women who brought forward complaints against Salmond, are bringing a complaint against the Scottish Parliament for the leaks from the committee. Because, while it is undeniably true that the harassment process failed the women who were pestered by Salmond – given what we know about what he did, in a workplace investigation, which has a much lower standard of proof than a criminal court, a properly carried out investigation would have found that Salmond had abused his position and have censured him and banned him from a ministerial position again. The women’s complaints were passed to the Crown Office without their consent: the story was leaked to the Daily Record: they have been let down in every possible way imaginable, and the very committee which was supposed to be investigating the harassment process with a view to improving it, has been largely composed of MSPs of opposition parties who excitedly saw this as their chance to bring down Nicola Sturgeon by finding her to blame for it all.
And they might have done so – had they picked one area where Sturgeon could most solidly have been held to blame, the failure of the initial harassment investigation itself – while not directly responsible for it, as First Minister the buck stopped with her. But instead, they kept running after new leads that might make her look worse or force her to resign before the May election – Salmond’s allegation that the whole thing was a conspiracy against him instigated by Sturgeon, Salmond’s initial assertion that Sturgeon had agreed to a cover up (two mutually-excluding allegations, but I swear I saw Scottish Tories excitedly claiming both were true practically at the same time), Sturgeon’s misleading Parliament by saying 2nd April instead of 29th March, Sturgeon’s husband saying Salmond had come to see Sturgeon on Scottish Government business –
(Sturgeon said that her husband had assumed Salmond’s visit to their home on Easter Monday 2018 was Scottish Government business, because her husband is senior enough in the SNP that if it was party business, Sturgeon would have told him about it even if he hadn’t been included in the meeting: and as she said not one word to him about it, he assumed it must be government business and therefore something he should not know about.)
– all of these different slipshod allegations, none of them actually added up to anything, but the firehose effect is known to work – if you say enough bad stuff, people inclined to believe you will assume that at least some of it must be true.
The Scottish Conservatives intend to proceed with their Vote of No Confidence against Nicola Sturgeon, even knowing they cannot win: the Scottish Greens may or may not vote with the SNP MSPs, but they have already declared that they would abide by the Hamilton Report and only vote no-confidence in Nicola Sturgeon if James Hamilton ruled she had broken the Ministerial Code.
The Tories are doing this for two electoral purposes: firstly, because they can frame the Vote of No Confidence to make a good soundbite in social media and the news, even though they lose. We will hear a lot about this vote in the next six or seven weeks. Secondly, because if they can get Labour and the LibDems to vote with them, this will only do the other two parties harm electorally – siding with the Tories in a final act of spite against Nicola Sturgeon. Because while Keir Starmer clearly has double standards with regard to calling for resignations for Tories at Westminster versus SNP at Holyrood, his are nothing to the flaming turds of hypocrisy coming out of the Scottish Conservatives mouths in a reverse-peristalsis that is as appalling to watch as it is disgusting to smell.
Boris Johnson has lied to Parliament. Matt Hancock and Priti Patel have been found guilty of breaking the Ministerial Code. Johnson’s sexual harassment may not be as abusive as Alex Salmond’s, but he’s also got away with handsy, slimy groping ways.
And the millions of our money that the Tories have spaffed over their cronies and themselves, while being reluctant to find money to compensate homeowners stuck in cladding death traps, or to give healthcare workers a decent pay rise, or to fund the courts so that people accused of crimes see justice promptly, or even to feed hungry children – all of this, the Scottish Conservative MPs have seen and smiled on and voted for, and Scottish Conservative MSPs have seen and smiled on in bland loyalty, and yet because Nicola Sturgeon confused the date of a meeting by four days, they claim to think that on this, they have the moral high ground? They are standing in a pit pissing down at their own boots and pretending there’s someone below them.
And yet, the Tories now have some strong campaigners on their side, determined to do down the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon – Alex Salmond himself: Stuart Campbell: and the experienced campaigners who won Brexit and the December 2019 election for Boris Johnson with soundbites and memes on social media. Also, the BBC and Scottish Labour, both of which very much want there not to be a pro-independence majority in Holyrood in 7 weeks time.
The only chance the anti-independence parties have, I think, is if between them Scottish Labour and the Scottish Conservatives have enough seats to outvote the SNP and the Greens. If that were the case, the Greens wouldn’t join with the SNP: they’d get all of the stigma of coalition without any of the benefits.
If Labour MSPs and Conservative MSPs were to join in a Holyrood coalition, that would be the final death knell to Scottish Labour as a viable party in Scotland – but it’s far from clear to me that Keir Starmer would understand that, or that Scottish Labour MSPs would have the collective sense to refuse if the Tories offered them the poisoned chalice. Because of course that would end all hope of an independence referendum before 2026 – and forever, I can imagine the leadership at Westminster thinking, if the Tory/Labour Holyrood government voted to abolish the Scottish Parliament in obedience to an Act passed by Boris Johnson’s 80-seat majority.
Fortunately, I genuinely think that’s a low-probability scenario. But I thought the same about Donald Trump becoming President.
In Scotland, we are in for a very nasty campaign for the next few weeks. What more can I say than what I said before the December 2019 election: the Tories understand how to sell lies on social media using targeted ads, and they will do it. They got away with election over-spending before: they got away with huge dishonesty before. I see no reason not to suppose they won’t try similar strategies again – with necessarily less success, as it is far harder to gerrymander the Scottish proportional representation system than it is to fix the FPTP system for Westminster elections.
While at least one Tory MSP made the reasonable suggestion that to win the independence argument the Conservatives should try selling the union to the Scots, focussing on the positive aspects of being in the United Kingdom – this same Adam Tomkins was calling for Nicola Sturgeon to resign in advance of the Hamilton Report, just like all of the other Scottish Tories.
The Tories tell lies to win. They over-spend to win. They target ads on Facebook at people they think to be vulnerable to a manipulated message. And they will do their best to push the idea that the SNP are incompetent and corrupt and Nicola Sturgeon “got away with it”, and if enough of us are foolish enough to believe them, they could win – at least enough seats to make a play for coalition with Scottish Labour, “for the sake of our precious Union”, as I’m certain someone’s going to put it to Keir Starmer.
The SNP screwed up the harassment enquiry. But this does not mean we should let the Tories in at the gates to wreck the house. To keep the Tories out, vote Green, vote SNP – vote Labour if you trust your Labour MSP not to ally with the Tories under any circumstances. (But first vote SNP second vote Green will, in most Scottish Parliament constituencies and regions, maximise the number of pro-independence MSPs in Holyrood.)
And if you don’t support independence, then plan to vote No in the second independence referendum, but accept that – unless the Tories win their nasty campaign – we’ll be having that second referendum.