A Gun Soon To Smoke

BY EFFIE DEANS

The Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints has come to a halt. It cannot proceed further at the moment because of witnesses not attending and evidence not being supplied.

The Committee (otherwise known as the Salmond Inquiry) is waiting for responses from the Scottish Government, SNP Chief Peter Murrell (Nicola Sturgeon’s husband) and Alex Salmond.

Linda Fabiani (an SNP MSP) has complained about obstruction and being frustrated at key documents and testimony not being provided.

The remit of the Committee covers:

  • The First minister (Nicola Sturgeon)
  • Scottish Government officials.
  • Scottish Government Special advisers.

If the inquiry discovered the whole truth of who knew what and when about the harassment complaints involving Alex Salmond, it could be extremely damaging for the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon.

Suppose for instance that it could be proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Nicola Sturgeon had been told in 2013-2014 that staff at Bute House had complained about Alex Salmond sexually assaulting them, this would be highly damaging to her reputation. We could reasonably ask if she chose to bury what she knew out of fear that it would damage the chances of a Yes vote in the 2014 independence referendum.

Imagine if during the months leading up to the vote the media had heard from women who said that Salmond had assaulted and attempted to rape them. This would have completely destroyed the credibility of Salmond as leader of the campaign, whether or not the claims could be proven in court.

There is no way that the Yes campaign would have received 44% of the vote. It might have been lucky to reach 30%. Under those circumstances there would have been no mass increase in SNP support in 2015 and the years following. Scottish independence would now be a dead political issue.

So, a huge amount hangs on what Sturgeon and her SNP colleagues knew when Mr Salmond was allegedly committing offences in the same building (Bute House) where they had their meetings. The staff who complained about Mr Salmond would have known Sturgeon and every other senior SNP party figure.

We are supposed to believe that none of these people knew anything at all about the allegations when they happened, but only found out in 2017.

The old guard SNP are a close-knit group who have known each other often since they were teenagers. It is stretches credibility to suppose that they knew absolutely nothing about Salmond’s behaviour and the complaints about it. Did they really not tell each other? Anyone who has worked in an office knows that this isn’t how life works. If the boss is having affairs with the secretaries everyone knows about it.

At present the inquiry is stalled. We are left to speculate why. But what can be done?

Well according to the Scottish Parliament’s regulations on committees:

  • 5.12. Committees can invite and have the power to require witnesses to submit written evidence and attend to give oral evidence.

Has this committee required people to attend and required them to give evidence?

On what basis can people be legally forced to give testimony and provide evidence?

  • 5.13. The power to require the attendance of witnesses and the production of documents is derived from section 23 of the Scotland Act and from Rule 12.4. It applies in relation to any subject for which the Scottish Government has general responsibility.

The same law that gives us a Scottish Parliament in the first place gives its committees the right to make people attend and give evidence. The Committee’s remit explicitly covers the actions of the Scottish Government.

Why doesn’t someone on the Committee point out either that it is required that Sturgeon, Murrell and Salmond provide evidence and if this point has already been made to them, why are the police not called to enforce the law?

The problem of course is that this is Scotland. The police have been centralised and put firmly under the control of the Scottish Government. The law and those who interpret are subject to the influence of the Scottish Government.

Sturgeon, Murrell, Salmond and others are unlikely to very scared of Linda Fabiani or anyone else on the Committee.

But if all of these people had absolutely nothing to hide, why are they not gratefully accepting the invitation to appear before the Committee with all the evidence that they have available? It is reasonable to infer that there is something that they know that they don’t wish us to know. What could this be?

It could be something that is damaging to their reputations, something that would damage the SNP and something that would damage the prospects of Scotland becoming independent. Such a something could for instance be that Nicola Sturgeon, Peter Murrell and everyone else in the SNP knew all about the allegations about Alex Salmond in 2013 and 2014 but chose to keep silent out of fear that they would damage the cause of independence.

The biggest danger of independence is not that Scotland would be poorer than we are at present, though at least in the short term we would obviously be much poorer. The danger is that having won independence the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon would be rewarded with decades of unchallenged power. The idea that post-independence, Scottish Labour, Conservatives and Lib Dems would suddenly replace the SNP is about as likely as Benedict Arnold beating George Washington to be First President of the United States.

Sturgeon and Murrell run Scotland like a family business, but there are limits on their power, because Scotland is part of the UK and there are whole chunks of British life that the SNP can’t touch. Imagine if there was no limit to their power.

It would be unimaginable if a parliamentary committee in Washington, London or any other European capital city required a witness to attend a meeting and provide evidence and the witness just ignored the requirement. This is the sort of behaviour that we associate with corrupt regimes where democracy is a matter of going through the motions and the judgment of courts are decided on the basis of political expediency.

In Scotland today can we expect a fair inquiry or indeed a fair trial when the SNP are involved? What would it be like after independence when there would be no check on Sturgeon’s power?

The danger of Scottish nationalism is not so much that people motivated by the cause of independence might be willing to ignore allegations of sexual harassment until it was more convenient to do so, the danger is that voters might be willing to ignore corruption because it would be worth a bit of corruption if only we could get independence.

I have lived in places that are ruled by corruption. It doesn’t feel much like independence, because you depend on giving a bribe or using someone you know to get the least little thing done. You end up depending on corruption and you are never free from it.

You can smell corruption because it is everywhere, and its smell gets into your clothes and you can’t quite get rid of it no matter how much you wash them. It begins to smell like that in Scotland.

The excellent Effie Deans writes at Lily of St. Leonard’s here.