BY EFFIE DEANS
If it turns out to be true that the Scottish Government paid £55,000 pounds to coach civil servants before they gave testimony to the Salmond Inquiry and if it also turns out to be true that these same civil servants met each other prior to testifying, then it will be impossible to avoid the conclusion that the whole system of Government in Scotland has a problem.
I have no sources. If there is a deep throat telling journalists secrets, he is not telling them to me. I don’t therefore know any more than anyone else in Scotland about what has really been happening for these past few years. But it looks from the steady drip of information coming to the papers that there is someone who knows a lot and that someone is willing to tell.
There may be a rather surprising Bob Wingsward helping to attack a leader he must once have loved for the sake of a leader he loves better. The attacks coming from members of the independence movement are quite astonishing. Is it their disappointment that Sturgeon has not delivered a second referendum or rather their despair that she never will that is behind this? I like to think however that they too are genuinely shocked at what has happened to Sturgeon’s Scotland.
But it wasn’t of course Sturgeon who built the present Scotland. It was Alex Salmond. From the moment Salmond became First Minister Scotland changed.
There has always in Britain been a distinction between the civil service and the Government. The former would advise and help, but it would never become the Government. It was this that changed in Scotland especially when the SNP gained a majority and began to push for the independence referendum in 2014.
It gradually became clear that anyone in public life who depended on the Scottish Government in any way had to be careful not to disagree. The Scottish Government White Paper “Scotland’s Future” was written by civil servants, but it read as if it was written by independence supporters, because it was.
This was something quite new in British political life. No one could suggest that the civil service in London since the European Referendum has been filled exclusively with Brexiteers let alone Tories. Quite the reverse.
But in Scotland in order to reach the top of the civil service, the police, various public bodies, universities etc, it became necessary to at the very least not disagree publicly with the SNP.
This process has accelerated since the referendum in 2014. Not merely does Sturgeon identify Scotland with the Scottish Government and the SNP, it has become obvious that criticism of both Sturgeon and SNP policies will have a detrimental affect on someone’s career.
Suddenly we find that an American academic follows the SNP line. Why? It is unlikely such a person would even have heard of the SNP prior to coming to Scotland. On the other hand, another academic expert on viruses is frozen out because he is known to oppose the SNP.
Scotland has become centralised and with the centralisation dissent has become harder still. It has meant that there have been few insiders willing to go public with what they know about the inner workings of the Scottish establishment.
If the Scottish Government wants something there is a phone call or a meeting and a promise is made of something good that might happen and an implied threat of something bad that might happen and it is usually enough to get the required opinion to be said.
It is this context that is behind the stories of civil servant witnesses being coached and working together to get their stories straight. Such behaviour is unimaginable in London, because if a civil servant felt pressured to do this, he would leak it to the Guardian. But in Scotland who can you leak such a story to and feel safe? The story might reach the paper, but you’d still have to face the wrath of the SNP on Monday morning. If you were lucky you would be sent to Unst to count fish in the sea and be grateful you weren’t swimming with them.
If civil servants have been coached to be good witnesses and if they have shared notes, we are left with the intriguing possibility that this happened during the Salmond trial too. Were these witnesses coached and did they share notes? Were consultants paid to help them testify? If you are willing to tamper with witnesses for the Salmond Inquiry, why not the Salmond trial?
We are left to wonder why these witnesses came forward in the first place with their testimony about what Salmond allegedly did all those years earlier. Did it just happen spontaneously? But an organisation that is careful to make witnesses say the right thing and indeed journalists and academics, might not leave there being witnesses to mere spontaneity. Promises might be made, with the alternative suggested.
The problem goes to the heart of the independence movement. It is not accidental that the complete identification of the civil service with the Scottish Government occurred during the SNP’s power. It hasn’t happened in London, nor did it happen before the SNP in Edinburgh. It happened because for Scottish nationalists independence is a goal that transcends everything else.
The fervour of the disappointment of losing in 2014 has distorted the characters and warped the morality of some leading independence supporters. We were so close; couldn’t we bend a rule so that we might win next time? We mustn’t have too many scruples when the goal is so worth it. So, a reward was promised a threat made, but once you go down that path it becomes easier to go a little further.
Something rotten has been happening in Scotland – worse I believe than the scandal that brought down Richard Nixon. It is getting very close to Sturgeon now.
Some independence supporters must realise that what they are doing to bring Sturgeon down will have a negative consequence for the prospects of independence. Without Sturgeon, the SNP could not mount a successful independence campaign at least in the short term.
But independence supporters, even those who see Sturgeon for what she has become, must also take responsibility for why she became it. The failure to accept defeat and the excessive disappointment and determination to reverse that defeat as quickly as possible is the cause of the corruption that has taken over the Scottish Government and the SNP. It is this that led to the Sturgeon personality cult that meant she began to believe that she could do no wrong, and which I suspect led her to take one more step than was sensible, which looks now so close to bringing her down.
Politics in Scotland since 2014 has become not merely divided but excessive. It is this that perhaps has led to a conspiracy at the heart of Scottish Government to send a man to jail for a crime he did not commit.
To have the civil service and Government and perhaps police working together to convict you is a fearsome position to be in. It’s the sort of thing that used to happen in Eastern Europe.
There must be an independent public inquiry into the Scottish Civil Service. That inquiry must be formed from people from outside Scotland and it must have the power change the Scottish Civil Service utterly.
We don’t yet know quite what the motivation is for witnesses colluding with each other and being coached, but it fits in with the secretive workings of Sturgeon and the SNP Government. It fits in with how the SNP used to be a party of unity with no one dissenting and everyone singing from the same hymn sheet. But there are discordant voices now and right at the centre of the first circle is Sturgeon fighting a battle on multiple fronts, desperate to hide something because otherwise witnesses would merely need to be told to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
The excellent Effie Deans writes at Lily of St. Leonard’s here.