AN URGENT QUESTION

According to the latest bulletin from Scottish Government mouthpiece Rape Crisis Scotland, the First Minister’s Chief of Staff Liz Lloyd intervened in the Salmond complaints process on behalf of a woman who later became “one of the complainers” against Salmond at his criminal trial.

The woman – let’s call her Ms X – has used Rape Crisis Scotland, as has now become the norm for the Salmond complainers, to give her untested – and untestable – claims the widest possible public audience while preserving her court-ordered anonymity. Whether that is a legitimate use of such anonymity remains to be tested.

Ms X’s claims

Ms X’s core claims are these:

“In January 2018 I was approached by Scottish Government HR regarding an investigation they were undertaking into a complaint about Alex Salmond’s behaviour during his time as First Minister.

“I had been named as someone who experienced such behaviour in statements obtained during the course of HR’s investigation.

“After discussion with HR, I decided I did not in any way wish to share with them my own personal experiences, however I also did not want to obstruct an investigation.

“I did not know if I was obliged to cooperate after being asked to.

“I decided to raise the matter with a trusted senior person in government, Liz Lloyd, to gain advice and an understanding of my obligations.

“I was extremely conscious of the sensitivity of the investigation and I, therefore, did not tell Liz who the complaint was from, who it was about or the nature of the complaint.

“I informed her I had been approached by HR in relation to a current investigation. I said I had been asked if I wanted to make a complaint and made it clear to her I did not want to, but I was concerned that if I didn’t I may be impeding an investigation.

“She offered to convey my concerns and what I wanted to happen to an appropriate senior civil servant, who was the most appropriate person to discuss the issue with. I agreed to this course of action. This was not ‘interfering’ but acting in line with my wishes.”

We know in addition that Lloyd’s intervention was made in late January or early February 2018 because Ms X’s claims have been made in response to the disclosure by David Davis in the UK Parliament of an email of 6 February 2018 from Judith Mackinnon in which Mackinnon refers to “Liz interference” and calls it “v bad”.

Suspending disbelief (again)

Let me say at the outset that I don’t believe the claim that Lloyd was not informed that this request from Ms X involved the Salmond complaints. It would be quite bizarre for the First Minister’s Chief of Staff to involve herself in any HR matter without insisting on being informed – and informed fully – of all of the relevant details.

A few seconds’ thought will persuade any rational person that this would have to be the case. Apart from anything else, how could the First Minister’s most senior special advisor even have the relevant conversation with one of the Scottish Government’s most senior civil servants unless both of them knew, at least broadly, what they were talking about?

Presumably, we’re being asked to believe that this was yet another of those John Le Carre conversations that seem to occur daily in the senior echelons of the Scottish Government:

“They said it would rain tomorrow, Judith.”

“You can’t trust the weatherman, Liz, not in the summer.”

“Ah great, thanks, Judith. All sorted now.”

It’s ridiculous of course, but suppose we choose to believe it. Suppose the First Minister’s Chief of Staff really did intervene, quite unknowingly, in an ongoing process being run by the Permanent Secretary under the Scottish Government’s newly adopted procedure for handling harassment complaints against former Ministers.

What follows then?

Nicola Sturgeon’s view of intervention in complaints against former Ministers

The views of Lloyd’s boss, the First Minister, on interventions in the complaints process against former Ministers are well known by now, but, for the sake of completeness, let’s refresh our memories.

This is what Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament on 8 January 2019:

“I make it very clear that I was not involved in the procedure in any way. I did not intervene in the procedure, I did not seek to intervene and I did not try to influence the course of the investigation. Had I done so, that would have been the subject of absolutely legitimate criticism” (my emphasis).

This is what Sturgeon told the Fabiani inquiry on 3 March 2021:

“Sections 4.22 and 4.23 of the Scottish Ministerial Code seek to guard against undisclosed outside influence on decisions that ministers are involved in, and are likely to have an influence on….

“The situation was, as I saw it, the opposite of that. The terms of the procedure excluded me from any investigation into a former minister. I had no role in the process and should not even have known that an investigation was under way.

“In my judgement, the undue influence that section 4 is designed to avoid would have been more likely to arise had those who were conducting the investigation been informed that I knew about it. I did not want to take the risk that they might be influenced—even subconsciously—by any assumption of how I might want the matter to be handled: their ability to do the job independently would be best protected by my saying nothing” (my emphasis).

A significant intervention in the investigation by the First Minister’s Chief of Staff, however unknowingly, must qualify by any reasonable measure as risking an assumption of how the First Minister wanted the matter handled.

Liz Lloyd’s view of intervention in complaints against former Ministers

It is axiomatic that Liz Lloyd, as chief special advisor to the First Minister, would hold the same view on this matter as her boss, and would be just as anxious as her boss to avoid intervention in such matters for exactly the same reasons. If Sturgeon’s reasoning is sound, then of course any such intervention by her Chief of Staff must be subject to the same “absolutely legitimate criticism”.

But as it happens, we don’t even have to rely on that assumption because Liz Lloyd herself, on 24 November 2017, at a meeting with Cabinet Secretary James Hynd, began the process of advancing exactly these views.

(And at the risk of eliciting more groans from loyal readers waiting for the next instalment of A Very Scottish Coup, I can’t resist a quick preview here. According to a Scottish Government response to a recent FOI request, there was another participant in this meeting who will be of interest to readers of this blog. Sturgeon’s Principal Private Secretary John Somers was at the meeting too – you know, the one who gave sworn evidence at the inquiry that he had no involvement at all in the development of the complaints procedure for current and former Ministers.)

In his evidence to the Fabiani inquiry, Hynd said this:

“During the exchanges that I had with the chief of staff, particularly at a meeting on 24 November, she indicated that the procedure should be developed further to remove from the First Minister the role to decide how to investigate complaints….

“… In the engagements that I had with the chief of staff, she was reflecting what she felt was the First Minister’s view that the First Minister should have less and less involvement in the operation of the procedure at an operational level.”

It could hardly be more obvious, then, that Liz Lloyd was no passive receiver of the First Minister’s line on this. She was, from 24 November 2017 at latest, an active participant in getting this view of the First Minister put as quickly as possible into effect.

As longstanding readers of this blog know, this was achieved in spectacular fashion with the radically “recast” procedure sent out at nearly midnight on 5 December 2017, after a day of frenzied activity and extensive “consultation” with the Salmond complainers.

So when Lloyd was asked by Ms X to intervene in an HR complaints process that was clearly important enough to require such extreme secrecy as to its subject matter and participants, her own very recent crusade to avoid interference in such a procedure at all costs can hardly have faded already from her mind.

An urgent question

When faced with the wholly context-free request from Ms X, then, surely the first thing Lloyd should have done was satisfy herself that its subject matter was at least not one which had anything to do with former Ministers.

After all, as detailed above and exhaustively elsewhere in this blog, both she and her boss had just moved heaven and earth to make sure they had no involvement whatsoever in any such processes.

So why didn’t she?

Maybe someone at the Fabiani inquiry could ask.

Maybe urgently.

DID JOHN SOMERS LIE TO THE FABIANI INQUIRY?

Documents just released by the Scottish Government strongly suggest that the First Minister’s Principal Private Secretary John Somers attended a crucial meeting on 13 November 2018 where advice was sought from senior counsel on the crisis that had arisen in the defence of Alex Salmond’s judicial review action.

Somers has previously denied on solemn affirmation at the Fabiani inquiry that he had any such involvement in the judicial review.

If Somers was indeed at the meeting with counsel on 13 November 2018, it seems clear that he has lied to the inquiry.

It is inconceivable that he could have forgotten participating in such a meeting.

Somers’s evidence

On 1 December 2020, Somers told the Fabiani inquiry of his sole involvement in the judicial review procedure:

“On the JR, and specifically the commission, I was asked on 21 December 2018 to search for any documents, emails, text messages or notes, using a number of suggested search terms. Neither I nor the private office held any documents that fell within the suggested parameters.”

He was unequivocal about having had no other involvement:

“Other than carrying out and overseeing the requested searches of the First Minister’s private office, as part of the commission and diligence, I had no involvement in the judicial review.”

The newly disclosed documents

On 13 November 2018, at 13.55, a Scottish Government official whose name has been redacted emailed senior counsel Roddy Dunlop QC to confirm that day’s emergency consultation with the First Minister and Permanent Secretary.

The official confirmed that the meeting was set for 4.45, and continued:

“The Perm Sec is intending to come along. Liz Lloyd will be there, as will [redacted]. John Somers, FM Private Office will be there.”

The email was copied to other redacted recipients who may or may not include John Somers. If he was copied in, then he would have had access not only to the email exchange but to the copious documentation that was to be discussed at the consultation, and which was attached to the email chain, including the views of Nicola Richards, Judith Mackinnon and the First Minister’s Chief of Staff Liz Lloyd on various matters.

In that case, even if, for some unforeseen reason, he did not attend the meeting, he would still have had “involvement” in the judicial review in any meaningful sense of the word.

Indeed, it’s hard to see how he could have been due to attend such a meeting without having had some “involvement” up to that point. If he didn’t, why was he due to attend at all?

The Scottish Government’s evidence

If Somers was at the meeting, contrary to his own evidence on solemn affirmation at the inquiry, his attendance is also contrary to the Scottish Government’s stated position.

On 13 September 2019, they published their response to the following question submitted under the Freedom of Information (FOI) provisions:

“Further to the FOI answer of 29 May, please list attendance of Scottish Government officials and Ministers and Special Advisers at each of the 17 meetings and conference calls with counsel defending the judicial review between 23 August and 3 January 2019.”

For the meeting on 13 November 2018, their answer was as follows:

“13 November 2018: First Minister, Elizabeth Lloyd, Permanent Secretary.”

No mention of John Somers.

The First Minister’s evidence

Nicola Sturgeon also gave evidence about the meeting to the inquiry on 3 March this year:

Murdo Fraser: We know that you attended a meeting with counsel on 13 November. Who was at that meeting and what was discussed?

The First Minister: Clearly, I was at the meeting, as were senior and junior counsel, the permanent secretary and Liz Lloyd—my chief of staff. I think that SGLD was represented, as well.
I requested the meeting; it was part of what I thought was the proper thing to do.

No mention of John Somers.

Why are there no notes or minutes of this and other meetings?

Those of you who are, like me, of a cynical turn of mind, will no doubt wonder if the extraordinary lack of minutes or notes of this and other meetings is somehow related to these kind of matters.

This is how Deputy First Minister John Swinney explained things in his letter to the inquiry of 8 March 2021:

“My letter of 5 March confirmed that the Scottish Government does not hold formal minutes of meetings with Counsel during the Judicial Review and, in response to the clerks’ follow-up question, we have not identified any record of minutes having been prepared or previously held by the Scottish Government.

“I asked officials to check what documents are available, prioritising the meetings on 2 and 13 November 2018, which the Committee has highlighted. Officials have identified a small number of contemporaneous email exchanges referencing these meetings. This includes exchanges following the meeting on 2 November and emails ahead of the meeting on 13 November 2018, attended by the First Minister and Permanent Secretary.

“These exchanges make clear that the focus of the meetings was on discussing and agreeing with external Counsel adjustments to the pleadings for the judicial review. I have asked officials to urgently … publish these email exchanges as soon as possible this week.”

Well, now we have them, John.

And as usual they give rise to many more questions than answers.

A Very Scottish Coup

All of these questions arise of course from my trying to keep up with the shocking revelations now coming out on a daily basis about this Very Scottish Coup, and which keep delaying the completion of Parts Three and Four.

The Government’s now published legal advice, which I’m continuing to review in detail for this purpose, is shocking almost beyond words. In particular, I keep thinking of Judith Mackinnon’s evidence that she can’t really see what she did wrong, and Nicola Sturgeon’s evidence that she just didn’t know anything about anything.

It truly is tempting just to abandon the whole enterprise of rational analysis when we’re this far through the looking glass.

Anyway, for those of you still hanging in there, my usual apologies for the continued delay.

WHAT THE SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT KNEW AND WHEN THEY KNEW IT

NOTE: I’ve edited this post after reviewing the legal advice published by the Scottish Government, as it contained some inaccuracies, for which my apologies. I’m afraid this will also delay the next post a little longer. Apologies for that too.

GD 12/03/21

Part Three of A Very Scottish Coup is nearly done and I’ll post it soon. In the meantime, here are a couple of things I’ve discovered while writing it.

The first thing is this:

The Scottish Government have always claimed that the requirement in their procedure for an Investigating Officer to have “no prior involvement with any aspect of the matter being raised” was interpreted by them throughout the development of the procedure to mean “no prior involvement in the subject matter of the complaint”.

They have always denied having the slightest inkling that the phrase could, and would, be interpreted by the courts to mean “no prior knowledge of the details of the case”.

The Scottish Government’s unique interpretation of the phrase is of course what enabled Judith Mackinnon – who had prior knowledge of the complaints against Alex Salmond coming out of her ears – to be appointed as Investigating Officer for those complaints on 16 and 24 January 2018.

I can tell you now that, as at 12 December 2017, the Scottish Government were in fact well aware of the proper interpretation of this crucial phrase in the procedure being developed by them.

Their claims that they didn’t know what their own policy actually meant are just more lies, and in what follows, I’ll tell you why.

The second thing is this:

The Scottish Government officials instructing the defence of the judicial review were well aware from the outset that Judith Mackinnon had prior knowledge of the Salmond complaints such as to make the whole procedure unlawful from the moment she was appointed.

They were well aware that her prior knowledge of the details of the complaints extended not only to receiving Ms A’s full statement on 22 November 2017, and to meeting personally with Ms A on 5 December 2017 to discuss her complaint, but also to taking Ms B’s complaint directly from Ms B prior to being appointed Investigating Officer of that complaint.

Mackinnon’s unlawful meeting with Ms A

On a date redacted by the Scottish Government, Judith Mackinnon sent Ms A a letter which she signed as “Investigating Officer” and which began:

“We met on [Redacted] to discuss your experience about the alleged misconduct of a former minister. Following this meeting you submitted a formal written complaint to Nicola Richards, Head of People Directorate. … I have been designated as the investigating officer” (my emphasis).

I have no idea what legitimate reason there could possibly be for redacting the date on this letter. It seems likely, however, that the letter was sent immediately after Mackinnon was appointed Investigating Officer on 16 January 2018, the same day that Ms A lodged her formal complaint.

It also seems likely that the redacted date of her meeting with Ms A prior to the lodging of her formal complaint was also 16 January 2018, since it was the eventual discovery of a meeting between Mackinnon and Ms A on that date that so horrified external counsel.

When Judith Mackinnon then gave evidence on oath at the Court of Session in December 2018 that she could not remember this meeting, counsel’s horror turned to barely concealed anger.

If I’m right that the meeting referred to in Mackinnon’s redacted letter is the meeting of 16 January 2018 that she cannot now remember, this is a truly remarkable failure of memory, even by Scottish Government standards.

Imagine if you can writing in a formal letter about a clearly important meeting that has just taken place in January 2018 and then being unable to remember even having that meeting, far less the details of it, later that same year. Imagine further that the other person at the meeting cannot remember it either or, for some reason that we can only again imagine, cannot be asked about it.

If you can’t imagine how any of this could be possible then join the club, because I can’t either.

What is clear is that all of Mackinnon’s prior contact and meetings with Ms A rendered her subsequent appointment as Investigating Officer wholly unlawful on that ground alone.

Mackinnon’s unlawful meeting with Ms B

The text messages between Mackinnon and Ms B which have been disclosed by the Scottish Government to the inquiry are, as usual, redacted and again for no legitimate reason that I can think of, even the dates of them have been redacted.

However, the contents of the messages make clear that they were exchanged prior to the lodging of Ms B’s formal complaint on 24 January 2018. The context makes it similarly likely that the exchanges occurred after Mackinnon and Richards met with Ms A on 5 December 2017.

On a redacted date, then, Mackinnon texts Ms B:

“[Ms B] – just checking if you got my email on Friday? Judith”

Ms B replies:

“Hi Judith, yes sorry i did. [Redacted] I’m still having a think about it if that’s ok, but will come back to you later today. Thanks for all your help with this, [Ms B]”

Mackinnon texts back:

“No problem [Ms B]. And no rush either – was thinking that maybe you take time over Christmas and come back to me in January? Judith”

In the format released by the Scottish Government, that same exchange then appears to continue, but again the content of the messages indicates that we are now at a later time period, and very likely one close to the date of the lodging of Ms B’s formal complaint on 24 January 2018.

Mackinnon now texts to Ms B:

“[Ms B] Nicky Richards has let me know that you have decided to make a formal complaint. In order to discuss the logistics it would be good to talk. Can you advise when you would be free for a telephone conversation? Best wishes in the meantime, Judith Mackinnon, SG”

There follows some to-ing and fro-ing about times to call, which ends with Ms B texting:

“Thanks Judith, speak to you tomorrow. [Ms B]”

And then, with the usual redaction of the date:

“[Ms B] – we are [Redacted] currently at [Redacted] See you soon. Judith”

Who “we” might be can only be guessed at, but it’s clear that Mackinnon and Ms B were about to meet on the day that text was sent.

And so, unless there was a yet further meeting between the two that has not been disclosed, these texts must have been exchanged on 24 January 2018, and the meeting must have been for the express purpose of Mackinnon herself taking Ms B’s complaint.

We know this because of this one-sentence email, sent by Mackinnon herself to Nicola Richards on 19 October 2018:

“[Ms B] raised her complaint directly with me.”

As with Ms A, it’s quite clear that all of Mackinnon’s prior contact and meetings with Ms B rendered her subsequent appointment as Investigating Officer wholly unlawful on that ground alone.

What those instructing the judicial review defence knew and when

As I’ve detailed in previous posts, Leslie Evans knew from the very start that Mackinnon had been provided with a copy of the full statement taken from Ms A on 22 November 2017 – the statement which, with only minor revisions, later became Ms A’s formal complaint – because Richards and Mackinnon advised her of that fact, in writing, on 23 November 2017.

Evans knew from the very start that Mackinnon had then met with Ms A on 5 December 2017 because Evans personally directed Mackinnon to have that meeting.

And Evans must also have known from the very start that Mackinnon had met Ms A again prior to lodging her formal complaint on 16 January 2018 because, as is detailed above, Mackinnon had referred to that meeting in her formal letter to Ms A immediately after she was appointed Investigating Officer of Ms A’s complaint, and that letter must have formed part of Mackinnon’s report to Evans.

What is also now clear is that Evans must have known by October 2018 at latest that Mackinnon herself had taken Ms B’s complaint directly.

And matters go further, because forwarded with Mackinnon’s email of 19 October 2018 is an email exchange which shows still further the nature and extent of her involvement with Ms B before any formal complaint was lodged.

On a date which has been redacted, Mackinnon emails Ms B to thank her for “talking to me”. She then sets out various options to progress a formal complaint, and, by way of encouragement, advises that “there may be other individuals who are also prepared to submit a complaint” (my emphasis).

Ms B replies, on a date also redacted:

“Dear Judith,

“As discussed, I have decided to make a formal complaint but would not like my name to be attached to this.

“Sorry this is a bit of a ramble.

“Happy to discuss anything in more detail but will wait to hear back from you about [Redacted].

“Many Thanks

[Ms B]”

The information in this exchange and the later confirmation from Mackinnon that Ms B had “raised her complaint directly with me” could hardly be more significant as evidence of Mackinnon’s improper interactions with Ms B.

But of course it’s inconceivable that this was the only such email sent at this stage, and sent what’s more on the very clear understanding that it would be passed on to external counsel.

So where is Richards’s email forwarding on in turn, and in full, this important information from Mackinnon to whomever had asked her for it?

And where are all the other emails in September and October and November and December 2018 from all the other participants who, like Mackinnon, must have been forwarding on relevant information as it was requested of them by Evans and her accomplices?

They’re buried of course – shredded for all we know, since nothing can be put past this lot – and, if it’s left up to the hopeless Fabiani inquiry and the incompetent Scottish media, buried is where they’ll stay.

How the Scottish Government knew in December 2017 that Mackinnon could not lawfully serve as Investigating Officer

Which brings me back finally to where I started: what the Scottish Government knew about their unlawful procedure, and when they knew it.

In their Statement to the Fabiani inquiry, the Scottish Government were keen to emphasise the significance of guidance produced by the UK Government Civil Service Employee Policy team (CSEP), a high-powered unit located in the UK Cabinet Office whose specific job it is to provide authoritative HR advice to the whole of the UK civil service.

As the Scottish Government are at pains to note in their Statement, their civil service officials:

“… received a draft copy of guidance on handling of historic allegations of harassment developed by the UK Government Civil Service Policy team on 17 November and a later copy with Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on 12 December during the development of the procedure.”

It seems that their reason for focusing on these documents is the highly dubious – in fact, laughable – claim that the documents illustrate some superiority of the Scottish Government over the UK Government because we ended up with an unlawful procedure that has by now cost us well into the millions and the UK Government didn’t:

“The lack of a published process for handling complaints about current or former Ministers in the UK Government confirmed to the Scottish Government that it had been the correct course of action to have started to develop its own procedure.”

However, on the way to making this hilarious claim, the Statement does – probably by accident – manage to say some true and important stuff about the CSEP documents, namely the guidance they contain that:

“… in complex and sensitive cases of historical allegations, it is advisable to appoint either an experienced investigator or refer the case to the HR Director, who may handle the investigation within HR.”

Of course, the Scottish Government neglect to point out that this advice is intended to cover historical allegations made by one serving civil servant against another, and says nothing at all about such allegations against a former Minister, but let that pass. The important point for present purposes is that, out of all of the guidance on which they might have chosen to hang their hats, the Scottish Government chose to quote specifically from these CSEP documents, and in particular, from Answer 23 of the CSEP “Frequently Asked Questions”:

“In complex and sensitive cases of historical allegations, it is advisable to appoint either an experienced investigator or refer the case to the HR Director, who may handle the investigation within HR. If such cases involve a senior member of staff…, departments may want to go outside their own department to ensure somebody appropriately senior and independent is appointed” (my emphasis).

Question 23, which the above paragraph partly answers, is in the following terms:

“Who should handle investigations and what training is available for investigators?”

I wouldn’t dispute for a moment that an authoritative civil service “FAQ” document which asked and answered that question should be given this level of prominence by the Scottish Government, especially since it’s clear that the “FAQ” was received and read by Nicola Richards and Judith Mackinnon, exactly as the Scottish Government Statement are at pains to aver.

The “FAQ” was received by Richards as an email attachment on 12 December 2017 and sent on by her to Mackinnon and others that same day under subject heading “Guidance on handling allegation of harassment FAQ”. We know that Richards, Mackinnon, Evans and others read it thoroughly because it is given such significance in the Scottish Government’s own Statement to the inquiry.

So in the context of the procedure for handling harassment complaints which Richards and Mackinnon were at the very heart of developing at exactly the time the guidance was received it is simply inconceivable that they did not read and understand the most important sentence in Answer 23:

“In every case, the investigator will need to be impartial, and have no prior knowledge of the details of the case.”

Let me repeat that: no prior knowledge of the details of the case.

I’ve written before on this blog about how basic this principle is and how utterly untenable it is for anyone, let alone an experienced HR professional or lawyer, to try to argue, as the Scottish Government still try to argue, that the phrase “no prior involvement” was thought by them to mean no prior involvement as a participant in, or witness to, the actual events comprising the complaint.

As Jerry Seinfeld once said, dry-cleaners should hardly need the Dry-Cleaner’s Code to tell them not to wear your clothes, and Evans, Richards and Mackinnon shouldn’t have needed Answer 23 to tell them that “no prior involvement” means – and only means – no prior knowledge of the details of the case.

But as it happens, we now have Answer 23 too.

And it is therefore beyond a shadow of a doubt that Evans, Richards, Mackinnon and the whole Scottish Government were made aware on 12 December 2017 at the very latest that appointing Mackinnon to the role of Investigating Officer would be unlawful.

As we know, and as external counsel found out many months too late, they went ahead and did it anyway.

In some other Scotland, one where laws and rules actually meant something, someone would have had to resign for that by now.

IN SHOCK MOVE, BLOG TRANSITIONS TO NEWS

My apologies to all of my readers who are eagerly awaiting Parts Three and Four of A Very Scottish Coup, and especially to all of my readers who are journalists with the Murdoch and Newsquest titles, but I just had to take this short break to let you all know that the events I have been describing in this blog since early September 2020 are now officially news.

Yesterday the Scottish Sun, in a long story headlined “Nicola Sturgeon faces ‘serious questions’…” and today The Herald in a story headlined “… Nicola Sturgeon told ‘buck stops with her’…” (faithfully attributing the story to the Scottish Sun as of course it wouldn’t do to plagiarise without attribution) have lifted wholesale the stories I was pleased to bring to you here and here and here and in various other posts on this blog.

As everyone knows, when such things are written in a blog and ignored by the mainstream media, they are not news. They are irrelevant at best, and at worst – the usual case, actually – they are conspiracy theories, deranged “Trumpian” ramblings or, in a recent SNP formulation, vile “alt-right” dogma.

This is the case, as we all again know, even if they are written by someone like Stuart Campbell, whose prodigious output over many years shows him to be well left of centre on every important issue, or for that matter by myself, an activist in the Labour Party Young Socialists when I was barely out of my teens, a Labour Councillor in my twenties, a campaigner against the poll tax and bedroom tax, veteran of a thousand marches and rallies against illegal wars, nuclear weapons, racism, sexism, homophobia, etc, etc, etc, and still now at the age of 58 as committed a libertarian socialist as I’ve been all my adult life.

And of course this is why Nicola Sturgeon and her Government have recently given £3 million of public money to the mainstream unionist media which despises her, and despises the SNP, while simultaneously seeking to make it an offence worthy of expulsion from the Party to read or share pro-independence bloggers of proven commitment like Stuart Campbell.

Because, although in our provision always of evidence, of sources for all claims made, and of rational analysis and argument, it might appear to the uninitiated that bloggers like Stuart and myself are producing news, it only becomes that precious commodity when given that vital seal of approval by the likes of Murdoch and his corporate colleagues.

So thank you Nicola, and thank you Rupert, and thank you whoever gives the journalists their orders at Newsquest for turning the stories on my humble wee blog at last into actual news.

I hope this will serve as an inspiration to all of you other bloggers out there. If you work hard, and be all you can be and dare to dream and never quit – oh, and if it happens to serve their interests for some reason at any particular time – you too might one day find your work anointed by the mainstream media as real live news.

A VERY SCOTTISH COUP (PART TWO)

In Part One, I asked what would happen if we suspended disbelief, and all of our critical faculties, and took Nicola Sturgeon and her civil servants at their word on the handling of complaints against Alex Salmond.

Specifically, I asked what would happen if we believed Sturgeon, Evans and the rest that the First Minister knew nothing of the allegations against Salmond from the time they were made in November 2017 until 2 April or 29 March 2018 (depending on which version of the First Minister’s story she is presently sticking to).

Thus began the story of how unelected civil servants staged the most breathtaking coup against the First Minister and the Scottish Government – and of how the First Minister and her Government unaccountably stood back and let it happen.

That story continues now in Part Two. It turns out, however, that simply doing justice to the early Scottish Government handling of complainer Ms B’s allegations, even before they converged with those of complainer Ms A on 20 November 2017, let alone explicating properly the significance to the coup of Ms A’s own story up to that point, and then all that followed from there, will take a good deal more time and space than I had anticipated.

So instead of three parts of A Very Scottish Coup as I’d planned, there will now be at least four. I hope you’ll agree that what follows in Part Two is worth the demands asked of your time and patience, and that by the end of Part Two you’ll still want to see how it all turns out in Parts Three and Four.

The allegations of Ms A and Ms B against Alex Salmond

In January 2018 two formal complaints of sexual harassment against Alex Salmond were made under the new Scottish Government procedure which had been designed exclusively, and which has only ever been used, for that purpose. The first formal complainer, designated Ms A, lodged her complaint on 16 January 2018, while the second formal complainer, Ms B, lodged hers a week later, on 23 January 2018.

But although Ms A had been the first to get in touch with Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans, just a day after the review of the then current complaints procedures was announced to staff on 2 November 2017, and although she was the first to lodge her formal complaint in January of the following year, it was actually Ms B who was the first of the two to raise specific allegations against Salmond.

She did this on 8 November 2017.

It makes sense, then, to look first at Ms B’s allegations, and at how unelected senior civil servants used them to further their remarkable coup behind the backs of the First Minister and her Government.

The “concerns” of Ms B

According to senior civil servant Barbara Allison in her evidence to the Fabiani inquiry, she was walking to work on 8 November 2017 when she received a phone call from Ms B, during which allegations against Alex Salmond were made to her by Ms B. The call was made, according to Allison, in response to an email which had gone out to all Scottish Government staff on 2 November 2017, and which was headed “Sexual harassment – message from the Permanent Secretary”.

It might be noted that the message from Evans to which Ms B was responding contained no mention whatever of former Ministers or historic complaints of any kind. Indeed, the message stated in terms that respondents were being invited “to share concerns about current cultures or behaviours” (my emphasis) and if need be, to access “sources of support” in relation to those current concerns.

Why Ms B contacted Allison to make her historic allegations, rather than her Trade Union representative or line manager, or anyone at the Scottish Government’s bespoke Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), or any of the other “sources of support” set out, with full contact details, in Evans’s staff message is also something of a mystery.

The EAP, for example, according to the staff message, existed specifically to provide “emotional and practical support on a range of issues through trained welfare and counselling practitioners offering confidential, independent and unbiased information and guidance”. Its helpline was free to call, “open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year” and offered “1-2-1 counselling support” with “in-house access to a Counselling and Wellbeing Officer” who could also be contacted directly on the number given.

Further, although she had been at one time Director of HR, Allison no longer had any such responsibilities, being now Director of Communications, Ministerial Support and Facilities.

On the face of it, then, the Director of Communications would seem just about the least apposite person for someone in Ms B’s position to contact about such a sensitive historic matter and, whatever the latter part of Allison’s job title may designate, it’s a fair bet that it isn’t counselling, support or complaints handling.

Of course, as in other aspects of this whole affair, it may be that the MSPs on the Fabiani inquiry have had access to some explanatory information on this matter which has not been released to the public and which would throw some light on the mystery. Certainly, one of its members asked Evans a pointed question on this which suggests he had such information, but Scottish Government stooge Fabiani was predictably on hand to shut down the line of questioning before it could reveal anything significant:

Alex Cole-Hamilton: If I could draw it back specifically to Ms B, who raised a complaint and specifically asked that it be shared only with you.

Leslie Evans: I do not recognise that at all.

Alex Cole-Hamilton: Okay. You do not have a recollection of that, but—

Leslie Evans: I do not have a recollection of Ms B asking for a complaint to be shared with me. I have a recollection of a concern—

The Convener: Can I stop this here? I am becoming concerned again. That was not pulling it back.

Alex Cole-Hamilton: I will move on.

Again, it might be noted that the use here by Evans of the barrack-room lawyer distinction between a “complaint” and a “concern” – a distinction which was not even thought up by Evans and the rest as a back-covering device until much later in the process – is typical of the non-answer “answers” given by all of the civil servants to block productive questioning at the inquiry, and presumably reflects the tens of thousands of pounds of public money spent on “preparing” them for their evidence.

(It might also be noted that even as barrack-room lawyers in their own interests these people are scarily incompetent, having undermined their own precious distinction more or less completely by calling each head of formal complaint against Salmond a “cause of concern” – my emphasis – in their correspondence with Salmond’s lawyers from March 2018 onwards, when they finally deigned to tell him of the complaints.)

Be that as it may, however, the allegations made against Salmond by Ms B on 8 November 2017 were clearly of such import that Allison texted Permanent Secretary Evans that same day to arrange a phone conversation so that she could pass them on.

Then, according to Allison’s evidence at the inquiry, “I spoke to the Permanent Secretary on 9 November. At that point a concern had been raised, but there was no complaint.”

Note again the carefully rehearsed distinction. If a “complaint” can only be a formal complaint made under a published procedure, then of course there can be no “complaint” raised by a phone call, no matter how detailed or serious the allegations made in that call. The point, though, for all those of us who have not had the benefit of thousands of pounds’ worth of witness “preparation”, is that serious allegations against a former First Minister had now been passed to the Scottish Government’s top civil servant and she had to decide what to do about them.

The obvious answer is that she should have forthwith, and that very day if possible, informed the First Minister of these allegations which had emerged, however unexpectedly, from the review of current processes ordered by the First Minister’s own Cabinet “commission”.

She should have forthwith advised the First Minister of the various options for responding to these allegations, including the option which Police Scotland would have advised, and when consulted in December 2017 did actually advise, namely referring Ms B to properly trained and professional support workers and keeping the senior civil servants of the Scottish Government out of it altogether.

This was, remember, no more nor less than her duty under the Civil Service Code:

“You must … provide … advice to ministers on the basis of evidence, and accurately present the options and facts.”

“You must not… deceive or knowingly mislead a minister…”

“You must not … ignore inconvenient facts or relevant considerations when providing advice or making decisions.”

Instead, if Evans’s own evidence and that of all of her senior colleagues is to be believed, she spent the whole of November and most of December 2017 advising Nicola Sturgeon on a procedure being manically developed to action these allegations without ever telling her about the allegations themselves.

How could that be an accurate presentation of relevant evidence, options and facts?

How could it fail to be deceptive and misleading?

How could it not constitute the active concealment of inconvenient facts and relevant considerations?

The initial handling of Ms B

In her evidence to the inquiry, Allison summarised how, after that initial phone call, she then continued to be involved with Ms B and her “concerns”:

“I had early contact with Miss B. That contact was a series of texts. I also had, I think, three telephone calls with her, but no meetings. No record was ever taken of any of her concerns.”

All but one of these contacts were in the period 8 November to 29 November 2017.

Now, given that throughout that time Allison was Director of Communications for the Scottish Government, in addition to whatever responsibilities she had for Ministerial Support and Facilities, and given that a plethora of much more qualified support was already in place for someone in Ms B’s position, with even more about to be added, one might legitimately wonder how this came about.

The answer of course is Leslie Evans.

On 9 November 2017, the day Allison informed her of Ms B’s allegations, Evans met with Director of People, Nicola Richards. The email which Evans’s private secretary then sent out at 20.09 that evening indicates their main topic of discussion, and the actions that were to follow from it. One action was this:

“Perm Sec would like to have calls/conversations tomorrow with… Barbara Allison… Gillian Russell.”

Another was this:

“Nicky – copied for info (and we’ll confirm timings to you asap) and also because you are providing ‘lines’ for Perm Sec for BA and GR conversations and didn’t want to set up before you had a chance to provide.”

Some context may be necessary here for readers new to this blog.

Gillian Russell (GR) was a senior civil servant who had been under consideration for a few days prior to this as a potentially suitable candidate to act as a “confidential sounding board” for staff to go to with “concerns about current cultures or behaviours”. As someone who was outside the HR Department, it was thought that she might be seen as to some degree “independent” of HR processes for staff who were, for whatever reason, mistrustful of HR.

As it happens, one of the strong advocates for such an “independent” role to be created was Ms A, and I’ll come to that in due course. For now, what is relevant is that – however much it might seem like overkill to outsiders like myself – the creation of this role seems to have been a legitimate outcome of feedback from staff at this early stage of the review of current complaints processes and one that had been in contemplation before the allegations against Salmond arose.

The role now being contemplated for Barbara Allison was, however, an entirely different matter.

A new role for Barbara Allison

The next morning, 10 November 2017, Evans duly made her calls as arranged to Russell and Allison, using the “lines” prepared by Richards as the basis for the discussion. The calls were made quite separately to each of them, for reasons which will soon emerge.

The resulting appointments of Russell and Allison, and the roles assigned to each, are evidenced in an email from Richards which followed the separate phone calls and in the two “updates” to that email which were added by Evans’s private secretary in the course of the day.

At 10.28 that morning, Richards emailed Evans and others to run down “what’s needed for today and who’s leading on what”. One of the things needed was for Richards, on behalf of Evans, to provide an “outline for Gillian and Barbara on what is asked of them”.

What was being asked of Gillian Russell was straightforward and in line with what had been previously discussed. As set out later that day in an email written by Richards but sent out from the Permanent Secretary’s own account, her new role was:

“To provide a further choice for staff as a confidante and sounding board (in addition to established mechanisms such as HR / TUs / EAP etc) to help them consider options. If they want to take things forward more formally then you would pass to Judith [Mackinnon, Head of People Advice] and team.”

Its boundaries were also clearly described:

“To keep this manageable the focus is on those who have had experiences of sexual harassment.”

And the line of communication of “issues” through HR to Evans herself was clearly evident too:

“It would be helpful if you could give regular updates to Nicky [Richards]/Judith if issues are raised with you – anonymised if that is the person’s wish. They will then provide me (Perm Sec) … with updates as required.”

So what was Barbara Allison’s new role? What else could possibly be added to this cornucopia of sexual harassment support now being offered by the Scottish Government to their staff?

At 12.40 that day Evans’s private secretary updated the part of Richards’s note which related to what was being asked of Allison with a warning added in blue highlight:

“To bear in mind this outline may become public. There is a phrase Perm Sec thought good for BA role that I’m double checking.”

By 13.11, that double checking was evidently done. Evans’s private secretary added a further note:

“It’s ‘pastoral care’.”

Well, let’s just pause for a moment to digest that. The Permanent Secretary has personally come up with a “phrase” for Allison’s new role, and has done so in case the existence of that new role becomes public. The phrase that the Permanent Secretary has come up with for this wheeze is “pastoral care”.

So what exactly is “pastoral care”? This was Allison’s own description of her role to the Fabiani inquiry:

“The pastoral care role was to be there in case anybody wanted to say, ‘I am concerned that things are coming out; this feels tough, so where can I go for support?’ You would mention trade unions, the welfare officer and the employee assistance programme and so on.”

Huh?

Can it really be the case that Leslie Evans, Scotland’s top civil servant, landed one of her most senior colleagues with a role that was already being fulfilled not only by her newly-appointed “confidential sounding board” but by emails and intranet messages to staff?

Did she really go to all the trouble of dreaming up a job and naming it personally as “pastoral care” just so that one of Scotland’s most senior civil servants could be a human signpost, directing staff to where they could access actual care and actual support?

Well no, of course she didn’t.

Allison’s actual job – not the ludicrous one dreamed up by Evans herself for the express purpose of fobbing off the “public” – was to keep in place the evidently vital connection that had caused Ms B, for reasons we don’t know, to single out Allison in the first place as the person to whom her allegations against Salmond should be made.

Allison’s actual job had nothing to do with “pastoral care” and everything to do with keeping Ms B, and her “concerns” about Salmond, on board while the joyous frenzy to develop a procedure to deal with them began in earnest.

In a rare moment of candour during her evidence at the inquiry on her dealings with Ms B, Allison herself even admitted as much: “I felt that I was trying to hold a space open for her,” she said.

Again, it’s glaringly obvious that this development – a senior civil servant being given a fake job so that a space could be held open for a specific complainer while a procedure was cooked up to action her complaint – was one that the First Minister should have been told about as soon as it happened.

How could the First Minister possibly make informed decisions about that procedure, and assess properly the provisions it should contain, without knowing – as her senior civil servants knew – that a space was being held open so that a specific complainer with a very specific complaint could be the first one to use it?

Let’s leave that for now, though, and complete the story of Allison’s “pastoral care” of Ms B.

The pastoral care of Ms B

On Monday 13 November 2017, a message from Evans was sent out to all staff. It was headed “Sexual harassment at work Permanent Secretary update” and, among other things, it intimated Russell’s new role as a “confidential sounding board”. According to the evidence of the civil servants at the inquiry, it also intimated Allison’s new role of “pastoral care”. A comparison of the two intimations is highly instructive.

The part of the message regarding Russell was perfectly clear. It gave her name and contact details. It described her role of “confidential sounding board for those who have experienced sexual harassment”. It even added for the first time, in an obvious nod to the now frantic efforts being made to develop a procedure to service Ms B’s “concerns”, that the experiences to be confided to Russell could be “current or in the past”.

The part of the message regarding Allison on the other hand…

Well, here’s a test. What follows is a full and complete transcription of the part of Evans’s staff message intimating Allison’s new role.

So imagine you’re a Scottish Government employee in want of “pastoral care”. See if you would be able to divine from this that such care was on offer from Allison. See if you can even find the words “pastoral care”:

“I am aware that some staff have been contacted by the media. It is standard practice to redirect journalists to submit requests through the newsdesk – 0131 244 0222. If you have concerns please contact [REDACTED] or Barbara Allison [REDACTED].”

I promise you that’s the whole thing.

If you don’t think that this would have been sufficient for you as a Scottish Government employee to learn of Allison’s availability for “pastoral care”, you’re not alone.

Gillian Russell didn’t know of it either. Here’s her evidence to the inquiry:

“To be honest, at the time, in November, as the documentation will demonstrate, I was not aware of Barbara Allison having that role of pastoral care. I was aware of the role that the permanent secretary asked me to do.”

In fairness to Allison, though, in addition to her true role of keeping Ms B and her allegations on side while a procedure was drafted to action them, she did also fulfil her fake role of human signpost, at least as far as Ms B was concerned.

On 13 November 2017, Allison forwarded Evans’s staff message containing Russell’s contact details to Ms B, texted her to advise of Russell’s role, and spoke to Russell to advise that someone might be in touch with her, providing no further details.

Russell’s somewhat cool response at that time, as recollected in her evidence to the inquiry, was perhaps hardly surprising, given that Russell, in common with almost all of her Scottish Government colleagues, had no idea of the secret role Allison was performing then for Evans:

“After I took on the role on 13 November, there was an engagement with Barbara Allison, in which she advised me that somebody might want to come and speak to me. I advised Barbara that the text number for that purpose had been made available to staff and that, if anyone wanted to contact me, I would obviously be happy to see what I could do to support them, as had been set out in the note…. She said that she had been approached by somebody who wanted to speak. That was all I knew.”

In fact, Russell never did have any contact with Ms B. Throughout the whole complaints process from “concerns” to formal complaint to ultimate decision, she was handled entirely by Evans through Allison, Richards and Mackinnon.

Indeed, even as late as the time of giving her evidence to the inquiry last year, Russell still wrongly assumed that the “somebody” Allison had been referring to on 13 November 2017 was Ms A. In what is now standard procedure for the inquiry, Allison had to write to them on 9 December 2020 to correct this misunderstanding, and point out that the “somebody” was actually Ms B.

And throughout that whole process, the First Minister was, we are to understand, told nothing.

But again, let’s leave that for now because the handling of Ms B and her “concerns” is about to converge with the handling of Ms A and her “concerns”, and to understand properly how and why that happened, and what it tells us about this very Scottish coup, we need to look now at Ms A.

WHICH IS WHERE I’LL PICK UP IN PART THREE

HOPE YOU’LL COME BACK SOON FOR THAT.

POSTSCRIPT ADDED ON 20 FEBRUARY 2021

I made this reply to a commenter below, and I’ve decided also to give it more prominence here:

The misleading statements of the law being put out to the public on behalf of the Salmond complainers by Scottish Government funded agencies like Rape Crisis Scotland concern me deeply.

An accused person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. When an accused person is acquitted — either by not guilty or not proven verdict, both of which are of identical legal effect — the presumption of innocence is maintained. Therefore an accused person who is acquitted is innocent of the crimes of which (s)he has been acquitted as a simple matter of law.

This is not rocket science, nor is it in any way controversial. I would be saying it, as would any person of integrity, if Woman H or Woman A or anyone else championed by Rape Crisis Scotland had been accused and acquitted of a crime by a jury of their peers.

Rape Crisis Scotland and all of the others who are trying to peddle some kind of grey area of guilt in the Salmond case should be deeply, deeply ashamed of themselves. They are doing a very grave disservice to a cornerstone of our justice system.

A VERY SCOTTISH COUP (PART ONE)

Let me be clear, as the First Minister herself likes to say.

I don’t think Nicola Sturgeon was being truthful when she made this statement to the Scottish Parliament on 10 January 2019 about the complaints against Alex Salmond:

“I did not know how the Scottish Government was dealing with the complaint, I did not know how the Scottish Government intended to deal with the complaint and I did not make any effort to find out how the Scottish Government was dealing with the complaint or to intervene in how the Scottish Government was dealing with the complaint.”

I think it’s inconceivable that Nicola Sturgeon did not know of the complaints against Alex Salmond as soon as they were made in November 2017.

I think it’s inconceivable that Nicola Sturgeon did not then direct personally the development of the unlawful procedure which was devised by her civil servants specifically to target Alex Salmond.

And I think it’s inconceivable that Nicola Sturgeon was not closely involved in the unlawful handling by her civil servants of the complaints against Alex Salmond from the moment they were made.

I therefore think that Nicola Sturgeon has committed a flagrant breach of this most basic requirement of the Ministerial Code:

“It is of paramount importance that Ministers give accurate and truthful information to the Parliament…. Ministers who knowingly mislead the Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation….”

I think that the First Minister should have resigned a long time ago.

But suppose I’m wrong about all of that.

Suppose Nicola Sturgeon has actually told the truth to the Scottish Parliament, and in the pleadings lodged on behalf of her Government and herself in the Court of Session.

And suppose that every civil servant who has given evidence to the Fabiani inquiry has told the truth too.

Then I think that, if anything, Nicola Sturgeon and her civil servants are in even worse trouble.

Because if they are all telling the truth then there has been, and continues to be, a coup of the most unprecedented proportions against the democratically elected First Minister and democratically elected Government of Scotland by unelected civil servants.

And the First Minister and her Government, who have stood by and let that coup happen, are every bit as much to blame for it as the civil servants who carried it out.

The Civil Service Code

It seems almost pedantic to mention rules at all in the face of such a blatant and self-evident coup against democracy but, perhaps not surprisingly, developing and executing a policy targeted exclusively against a former First Minister behind the backs of the present First Minister and her Government turns out to be in breach of the Civil Service Code.

This is what the Code requires of civil servants under the heading of “Honesty”:

“You must not… deceive or knowingly mislead a minister…”

This is what is required under the heading of “Objectivity”:

“You must … provide … advice to ministers on the basis of evidence, and accurately present the options and facts.”

And just in case that isn’t clear enough:

“You must not … ignore inconvenient facts or relevant considerations when providing advice or making decisions.”

It’s worth at least bearing those rules in mind as we explore the civil servants’ own accounts of what they did behind the First Minister’s back in November and December 2017.

Scottish Government policy on alleged sexual harassment by former Ministers in November 2017

This can be stated simply. In common with every other democratic government in the world, the Scottish Government had no policy on alleged sexual harassment by former Ministers in November 2017.

So if ever there was an area in which civil servants should not have been acting on their own initiative, and behind the backs of their Government, it was this one.

But then perhaps, even if there was no actual policy, there was at least some hint from the First Minister or her Government that could give civil servants, determined for some reason to go it alone, some kind of guidance on how to do so.

Well, let’s look at that.

On 31 October 2017, the Cabinet of the Scottish Government provided its civil servants with a “commission” – a formal instruction – which was recorded in the Cabinet minutes under the heading of “Sexual Harassment” as follows:

“While there was no suggestion that the current arrangements were ineffective, the First Minister had also asked the Permanent Secretary to undertake a review of the Scottish Government’s policies and processes to ensure they were fit for purpose.”

Not much encouragement here, then, for our independent-minded civil servants to strike out on their own.

There was, in terms of the commission itself, “no suggestion that the current arrangements were ineffective”. If then the current effective arrangements did not include procedures for progressing specific allegations against a former First Minister who also happened to be the present First Minister’s mentor and, by her own account, the closest person to her outside of her own family for thirty years, perhaps that was a rather obvious signal that, at the very least, the present First Minister must be advised of these allegations before another step was taken.

In fact, let’s get even more specific.

If the Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans thought on receiving these allegations against Alex Salmond in November 2017 that, alone among all the governments of the world, the Scottish Government needed a new and unprecedented procedure to deal with them, she was obliged by the rules of her job, as well as by plain ordinary common sense, to bring the allegations to the attention of the appropriate Government Minister, namely the First Minister.

If Leslie Evans truly thought that the Scottish Government’s policies and procedures were not fit for purpose unless they could deal with these specific allegations, and that new policies and procedures were therefore needed, it was incumbent upon her to provide all of the evidence in her possession about the allegations to the First Minister, to advise the First Minister on the basis of that evidence, and to accurately present the options and facts.

By the same token, Evans was expressly forbidden from deceiving or knowingly misleading the First Minister and from ignoring inconvenient facts or relevant considerations by withholding this vital evidence of the specific allegations from her.

Our hands-on First Minister and the Ministerial Code

Could there have been, though, some analogous policy or procedure for dealing with similar allegations in another context that Evans could have claimed to be applying in this novel context? And could that have excused what looks for now like the most flagrant of breaches of the Civil Service Code?

Well, let’s look at that too.

The only arguably analogous policy to which Evans could have turned for support in dealing with the Alex Salmond allegations without any mention of them to the First Minister or her Cabinet was the policy for dealing with allegations against current Ministers, namely the policy laid out in the Ministerial Code.

I’ve written and talked about the relevant provisions of the Ministerial Code in previous posts but, with apologies to regular readers, here they are again:

“The First Minister is … the ultimate judge of the standards of behaviour expected of a Minister and of the appropriate consequences of a breach of those standards.”

And:

“It is not … the role of the Permanent Secretary or other officials to enforce the Code.”

That seems pretty clear. Even if we grant for the sake of argument that Evans could rely on an analogy with allegations against current Ministers in seeking to deal with the allegations against Alex Salmond in November 2017, there is precisely nothing in the Code which would have allowed her to do so behind the back of the First Minister.

The Ministerial Code says so in terms. It is for the First Minister to judge the standards of behaviour expected of Ministers. It is for the First Minister to decide whether there has been a breach of such standards. And, where the First Minister decides that there has been such a breach, it is for the First Minister to decide what the consequences for the Minister are to be.

And, as the Code also makes clear in terms, not one of those things is a matter for the Permanent Secretary.

But matters go further still.

The civil servants cliped on their own coup

There was specific communication between senior civil servants on this very topic in November 2017 which puts beyond any doubt that Evans and her colleagues knew full well that all allegations of sexual harassment against Ministers were to go straight to Nicola Sturgeon the very moment they were received.

Remember that the first allegations against Alex Salmond were made in a phone call from complainer Ms B to Director of Communications Barbara Allison on either 7 or 8 November 2017. (The Scottish Government’s Written Statement says 7 November but Allison told the inquiry on oath that it was 8 November.)

Allison then told Evans of the allegations on 9 November 2017.

Just days later, on 13 November 2017, Cabinet Secretary James Hynd said this in an email to senior civil servants about sexual harassment allegations against current Ministers:

“We would need to alert the FM to the fact that a complaint had been received against one of her Ministers and to take her mind about how she wished it to be handled.”

On 15 November 2017, Hynd was even clearer. Here he is, in an email sent to both of Evans’s private secretaries, commenting on a suggestion that complaints against Ministers might be resolved by informal means without the need for Sturgeon to be involved:

“I am not at all sure that this … will be acceptable to the FM either generally or in the specific context of sexual harassment. Especially for the latter I think she will want to know straightaway if a complaint against a Minister has been received and will want to decide how it should be treated.”

There is, then, not the slightest plausible argument that Evans or any of her fellow civil servants could possibly have thought that it was acceptable for them to keep Nicola Sturgeon in the dark about any allegation of sexual harassment against any of her current Ministers.

What possible legitimacy, then, could attach to their extraordinary decision not to tell her about such allegations against her mentor and closest friend of thirty years?

None that I can see.

Nor do matters end even there.

At exactly the time Ms B’s allegations against Alex Salmond were being made to Barbara Allison and passed on to Leslie Evans in November 2017, senior civil servants in the HR Department were coming up with a “route map” for allegations of sexual harassment against former Ministers.

It’s clear that they were simply making this up as they went along since the Cabinet commission of 31 October 2017 had made no mention of the need for any such “route map” and there was no existing policy or procedure for former Ministers on which it could possibly have been based.

Nonetheless, its terms are worth noting:

“If allegation is about a former minister … FM to be alerted …”

And on 15 November 2017, the same date on which he made clear to all of his colleagues the need for Nicola Sturgeon to be advised the moment any allegations were received against a current Minister, Hynd also circulated to all the key players his proposed policy for dealing with sexual harassment complaints against any former Minister.

The draft contained this paragraph:

“The Permanent Secretary will be advised at that point [when a complaint is received] about the nature of the complaint. If the former Minister is a member of the Party of the current Administration the First Minister will be informed and will decide how to address the complaint against the former Minister.”

It’s quite bizarre. Even in terms of their own policy – the one they were now dreaming up from thin air, and entirely behind the backs of the First Minister and the Government they were supposed to be serving – Evans and her fellow civil servants were acknowledging that the first step they should be taking with the Salmond complaints was to tell Nicola Sturgeon about them.

Having acknowledged this obvious requirement on them, they then proceeded to blithely ignore it until June 2018, when the First Minister herself finally told them she had known of the complaints since 2 April.

It’s hard to know whether to be more baffled by their rule-breaking or by their ineptitude.

But perhaps we need to bear in mind that Leslie Evans, over and above any policy of the Government she works for, is an enthusiastic personal devotee of the Stonewall cult and its unhinged policy of “acceptance without exception”, as are other key players such as Nicola Richards and Judith Mackinnon.

So these are people who think that a man can turn into a woman – no, really – just by ticking a preference for female pronouns on a form, and that saying women are “adult human females” is a “dogwhistle” for a “transphobic” hate crime.

Maybe nothing should surprise us about this would-be Scottish junta and their utterly extraordinary coup.

PLEASE COME BACK SOON FOR PART TWO OF A VERY SCOTTISH COUP.

WE’RE ONLY JUST GETTING STARTED.

THE SMOKING GUN

Here is the further interview I did with Tommy Sheridan for his podcast Tommy Talks on the Sputnik website in which we address the questions of what lay behind the Scottish Government conspiracy against Alex Salmond and how the present inquiry has been designed to fail.

My sincere apologies to readers waiting for A Very Scottish Coup. It is coming, I promise.

A POLITICAL WITCH HUNT

I did this interview with Tommy Sheridan for his podcast on the Sputnik website, in which Tommy and I attempt an overview of some main aspects of the Salmond stitch-up. I hope you’ll give it a listen.

I’m working on a post which I hope to publish later today or early tomorrow. It’s titled A Very Scottish Coup because if the evidence given to the Salmond inquiry by civil servants is true then a coup by unelected mandarins behind the backs of the democratically elected First Minister and democratically elected Government of our country is precisely what has taken place.

POSTSCRIPT: My apologies to readers coming here for the post promised — over-optimistically — above. I am working on it whenever I have a spare minute and will put it up as soon as it’s done.

CONTRARY TO THE FACTS: THE EVIDENCE OF LESLIE EVANS AND JUDITH MACKINNON

It won’t surprise readers of this blog to learn that two of the Scottish Government’s most senior officials – Head of “People Advice” Judith Mackinnon and Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans – have once again given evidence to the Salmond inquiry which is contrary to the facts.

In this and the next couple of posts I’ll detail some of the relevant facts and evidence, and I’ll try to explain where this quite extraordinary behaviour by the Scottish Government fits into their ongoing war on Alex Salmond, and on the truth.

The Facts

In January 2018, Mackinnon was engaged in an email correspondence with the person designated in the heavily redacted Scottish Government documents produced for the Salmond inquiry as “Head of Branch, People Directorate 2”.

The subject of the correspondence had the catchy title “Complaints against Ministers Tracked version which shows union comments and final version which went to FM”.

The context of the correspondence was that the First Minister and her Permanent Secretary, in their panic to have Sturgeon removed from any role in the procedure at the earliest possible date, had put everyone under extreme pressure in the previous month to have the process finalised and approved. This had resulted, among other things, in a rushed and derisory “consultation” with the unions in which their last-minute comments had been tracked by HR onto a draft of the procedure. A few cosmetic changes had then been made in response before the procedure was hastily approved on the very same morning that the final union comments were received.

A further result of this was that the unions had not even been informed by the time of the January correspondence what the approved procedure was, and so the delicate task of pretending that their voices had somehow been heard and that this had been any kind of normal negotiation with management on a subject of considerable import for their members now fell to Mackinnon and her HR colleagues.

In carrying out this task, Mackinnon, who by this stage had already had extensive interaction with complainers Ms A and Ms B, and who would shortly become the Investigating Officer of their complaints, was also pursuing what was by now a well-established HR view, one that had been clearly set out in an email of 23 November 2017 from her boss Nicola Richards to Permanent Secretary Evans, and copied to Mackinnon:

“We would need to consult with the individual before disclosing to another party or the police because of the risk of the matter getting into the press and the individuals being identified.

“We have a duty of care for our staff which means we shouldn’t do something that puts them at risk – so if they don’t want us to share information or go to the police, it would be very difficult to justifying [sic] doing so (without putting them at risk of being identified and wider impacts).”

Despite the usual management-speak, that seems pretty clear. If a complainer doesn’t want to go to the police, it would be very difficult for the Scottish Government to justify doing so.

This is not just for the reason which is obvious to any lawyer, and indeed to any person endowed with an ounce of common sense, namely that people should be free to decide for themselves what they want to do about such important matters which will inevitably have the most profound effect on their lives.

It is also because going against a complainer’s expressed wishes in such a matter would patently breach the Scottish Government’s much-trumpeted “duty of care” – the Holy Grail of duties if the constant citing of it by Evans and her crew to justify their every action is anything to go by.

Nonetheless, it’s only fair to point out that this same email indicates that all of the key players in the process – Evans, Richards, Russell, Allison and Mackinnon herself – were due to have a further discussion of this and other important topics:

“Perm Sec may want to discuss with Gillian, Barbara, Judith and I next week so that we can reach a view on the best way ahead.”

It can hardly be doubted that such a discussion took place nor that a final and very clear view was reached on it because it is that clear and final view that Mackinnon then set out in her January correspondence with “Head of Branch, People Directorate 2”.

On 8 January 2018, Mackinnon wrote:

“… have added one comment in the last paragraph (nothing to do with the unions comments) – [Redacted]. We will have to draw James Hynds attention to this as it is a change.”

Mackinnon is referring to paragraph 19 of the approved procedure, one of two paragraphs covering “engagement with the police”. (It may be noted in passing that this reference to changing the procedure long after it was supposedly set in stone on 20 December 2017 is far from unusual in the emails of those involved, a subject considered briefly again below.)

The paragraph is as follows:

“19. Throughout the process, all available steps will be taken to support the staff member and ensure they are protected from any harmful behaviour. However, if at any point it becomes apparent to the SG that criminal behaviour might have occurred the SG may bring the matter directly to the attention of the Police. Also, if it becomes apparent that the matter being raised is part of a wider pattern of behaviour it may be necessary for the SG to consider involving the Police in light of the information provided. Should either of these steps be necessary the staff member will be advised and supported throughout.”

In their tracked comments to that paragraph (and probably on the basis that they thought they were entering a dialogue with responsible employers as opposed to taking their one and only shot at being heard by zealots), the unions had written:

“What is HR’s role?”

Mackinnon now added her own comment right underneath that one:

“Actually, we cannot notify the police if the victim/staff member doesn’t want us to.”

So could that be any clearer? We do not have to guess what the outcome was of the discussions between all of the key players as mooted back in the email of 23 November.

Here is their unequivocal commitment to complainers in black and white.

The Scottish Government cannot – and therefore, of course, will not – notify the police of a specific complaint if the complainer does not want them to.

On 9 January 2018, “Head of Branch, People Directorate 2” replied to Mackinnon:

“Thanks Judith. We’ll need to pick it up with them [the unions]. I guess the drafting may be wide enough to allow for the situation you envisage. Maybe we should put an extra sentence in to note that we don’t inform the police without the employee’s consent?”

Note what is being agreed here. An “extra sentence” will clarify the decided view of the Scottish Government that it cannot refer specific complaints to the police without the consent of the complainer but, even without such a clarifying sentence, “the drafting may be wide enough” that this view can be taken as forming part of the existing wording anyway.

As a lawyer of some experience in such matters, I am happy to confirm that the view of “Head of Branch, People Directorate 2” is correct. Paragraph 19 says only that “the SG may bring the matter directly to the attention of the Police”. As long as everyone involved in the process understands that the specific complaint may only be referred directly by the SG to the police with the consent of the complainer, there is no need for any revision.

Nonetheless, Mackinnon persisted. An hour later on 9 January 2018, she responded to the question about adding the extra sentence:

“That would do it I think.”

Four hours later, on the same date, “Head of Branch, People Directorate 2” came back to Mackinnon:

“See attached. We will need to pick up with James H on Thursday.”

This is the second reference in the correspondence to James Hynd, the Cabinet Secretary, who drafted all of the versions of the procedure before the dramatic Evans “recast” described elsewhere on this blog rendered him largely redundant, but who was still consulted, for form’s sake as much as anything it would seem, on such matters.

Of much greater significance is the attachment, the same tracked version of the procedure that had been going back and forth between them, but which now featured a revised paragraph 19 with this “extra sentence” duly added in accordance with Mackinnon’s wishes:

“SG as employer will not refer specific cases to the police without the knowledge/consent of the employee.”

So then paragraph 19, as revised at the specific request of Mackinnon, now read as follows:

“19. Throughout the process, all available steps will be taken to support the staff member and ensure they are protected from any harmful behaviour. However, if at any point it becomes apparent to the SG that criminal behaviour might have occurred the SG may bring the matter directly to the attention of the Police. Also, if it becomes apparent that the matter being raised is part of a wider pattern of behaviour it may be necessary for the SG to consider involving the Police in light of the information provided. SG as employer will not refer specific cases to the police without the knowledge/consent of the employee. Should either of these steps be necessary the staff member will be advised and supported throughout.”

As usual in the inquiry proceedings, we do not have the paperwork for the meeting with James Hynd or other follow-up on this chapter, notwithstanding that it is central to the inquiry’s remit and would no doubt be very easy to locate and provide. (I’m the world’s biggest Luddite but even I fancy my chances with a simple document search for the subject heading “Complaints against Ministers Tracked version which shows union comments and final version which went to FM”.)

However, we know that Mackinnon’s proposed revision did not make it into the finally published procedure, and the reasons for that are hardly difficult to divine.

From mid-November onwards, it had become more and more critical to Evans and Sturgeon to have a decided procedure which gave Sturgeon plausible deniability of her knowledge of the complaints against Salmond just as soon as anything remotely coherent could be cobbled together.

After 20 December 2017, when this was, at least in their eyes, accomplished, it was seen as risking the whole project to change so much as a comma in the 20 December version. That’s why, for example, something as central as the description of what became Mackinnon’s role has her wrongly described in the crucial paragraph 11 of the published procedure as the “senior officer” despite the fact that, as a sop to one of the union suggestions, “senior officer” was changed elsewhere in the procedure to “Investigating Officer.”

Evidently, even to rectify such an obvious inconsistency in a key term was deemed too risky.

(As noted above, though, it’s clear that not everyone got the memo about this, as a rather extraordinary chain of correspondence involving “Head of Branch, People Directorate 1” demonstrates. His or her drafts of the procedure, produced in late January, well after the procedure was supposedly set in stone, cheerfully sought to re-write the whole procedure to cover all complaints against Ministers, was sent to the various key players, and appears to have been left to die quietly on the vine.)

The evidence: Judith Mackinnon

This is part of Judith Mackinnon’s evidence on oath before a Parliamentary Committee on 1 December 2020:

Margaret Mitchell: Right. The referral [of the Salmond complainers’ specific complaints to the police] was not considered until a little later, then. Should it have been considered at the point at which the concern was raised?

Judith Mackinnon: Do you mean at the stage at which the initial formal complaint came in?

Margaret Mitchell: Yes

Judith Mackinnon: I am not aware that it was considered. I think that we were very much in the fact-finding stage. I do not remember an actual conversation, when the complaints came in, about reporting at that stage to the police.

Margaret Mitchell: Okay—but an option to report to the police was part of the route map, was it not?

Judith Mackinnon: Yes, I believe so.

Margaret Mitchell: So, that must have formed part of the thinking and discussions as the process was developed—and certainly when the complaints were received and the investigation took place.

Judith Mackinnon: I think that once the facts had been gathered, and the full picture was known, that was the stage at which the permanent secretary, as the deciding officer, might have considered the appropriateness of referring the matter to the police.”

That evidence is contrary to the facts.

Ms A lodged her formal complaint on 16 January 2018. Mackinnon was appointed Investigating Officer on the same day.

Ms B lodged her formal complaint, written for her by Mackinnon, on 23 January 2018.

These complaints “came in” just eight and fifteen days respectively after Mackinnon specifically asserted in writing that:

“… we cannot notify the police if the victim/staff member doesn’t want us to.”

It is inconceivable that she could have forgotten, then or now, that this was her clear and decided view.

The complaints “came in” just seven and fourteen days respectively after Mackinnon’s own request for an “extra sentence” in paragraph 19 was answered with the following:

“SG as employer will not refer specific cases to the police without the … consent of the employee.”

It is inconceivable that Mackinnon could have forgotten, then or now, that this was her clear and decided view of how paragraph 19 was to be interpreted and applied.

Mackinnon’s evidence that she was not aware of the issue of referral to the police being considered at the time when the complaints were lodged is contrary to the facts.

As the process was being developed, Mackinnon received and endorsed her boss’s email of 23 November 2017:

“We would need to consult with the individual before disclosing to … the police because of the risk of the matter getting into the press and the individuals being identified.

“… if they don’t want us to share information or go to the police, it would be very difficult to justifying [sic] doing so …”

It is inconceivable that Mackinnon could have forgotten, then or now, that this was the clear view being taken by herself and her Scottish Government colleagues on this matter as the policy was being developed in November 2017.

Mackinnon’s evidence that referral of complaints to the police did not form part of the thinking and discussions as the process was developed, and certainly when the complaints were received and the investigation took place, is contrary to the facts.

Mackinnon’s evidence that the appropriateness of referring the matter to the police was not considered until the stage when the facts had been gathered, and the full picture was known, is also contrary to the facts.

The evidence: Leslie Evans

This is part of Leslie Evans’s evidence on affirmation before a Parliamentary Committee on 12 January 2021:

“Ms Mitchell’s main point, if I picked it up correctly, is about the referral of the case to Police Scotland and the Crown Office and whether that was against the wishes of the complainers. It was against the wishes of the complainers—I understand that. The decision to refer the matter to the Crown Office was consistent with the procedure. You will have seen that in paragraph 19 of the procedure.”

The fact is that as at 9 January 2018, the Scottish Government’s clear and decided interpretation of paragraph 19 of the procedure was that they could not, and should not, refer specific complaints to the police without the express consent of the complainer.

The Scottish Government have produced no evidence to suggest that this interpretation was ever challenged or amended.

Evans’s evidence is contrary to the facts.

This is a further part of Evans’s evidence:

“… it says in the procedure that the Scottish Government may decide to refer a complaint to the police even if the complainer does not want it.”

Neither paragraph 19 nor any other part of the procedure says anything of the kind. The Scottish Government’s own interpretation of their own procedure in January 2018 was exactly the opposite of what Evans claims in her evidence on affirmation.

Evans’s evidence is contrary to the facts.

The war on Alex Salmond, and on the truth

Regular readers of this blog will have worked out by now what lies behind all that is set out above. It’s purely and simply part of the self-described “war” being waged on Alex Salmond by Nicola Sturgeon, Leslie Evans and all of their hirelings.

In November and December 2017 and in January 2018, it was never anticipated by any of them that a report to the police and consequent criminal investigation would be necessary for them to achieve their principal aims of establishing beyond all doubt their Me Too credentials while insulating the First Minister entirely from any criticism that might come from ruining beyond repair the man whom she herself called her mentor and person closest to her of anyone outside her family.

As I’ve detailed in earlier posts, and will return to again soon, this was achieved in the truly remarkable “recast” of the complaints procedure, tailored entirely and solely to get Alex Salmond, which was completed at nearly midnight on 5 December 2017, removing the First Minister of Scotland completely from the procedures of her own Government and doing away also with every last trace of procedural fairness for Alex Salmond.

It is hardly surprising then that the procedure at that stage still recognised the very obvious fact that whether to report things to the police is, and should be, entirely a matter for the responsible adult concerned. That fair and reasonable component of it was of no moment to them at the time.

By now we all know what changed in the months that followed.

Between January and August 2018, it became increasingly obvious to the whole sorry gang that they were in the most serious trouble. This was not least because Alex Salmond was sharing with them the advice of his senior counsel, which spelled out exactly why this was so, even on the very limited information Salmond’s defence then had.

Given that they themselves must have at least suspected that this was just the tip of the iceberg of what they’d perpetrated, and that things were exponentially worse for them than even Salmond knew – a suspicion which would soon be confirmed for them by their own senior counsel, when competent external legal advice was finally taken – it was obvious that an exit strategy was needed, and needed urgently.

And that of course is where the clear and decided Scottish Government policy on referral to the police, and of course the wishes of the complainers, were unceremoniously set aside.

If Salmond could be charged with criminal offences, the civil court proceedings which were inevitably coming could be sidelined – “sisted”, or suspended, to use the legal term – while criminal proceedings took their course. The gleeful and hysterical press coverage that would then be forthcoming from the ever-reliable Scottish media would ensure that the war was already all but won.

If Salmond could then be convicted of even one of those offences, then the war would be won in a rout.

Who, after all, would care what wee corners the Scottish Government might have cut in their righteous crusade to get justice for these brave complainers against a powerful sex offender?

The playbook could not be more obvious, nor is it the first time it has been run, by any means. It was only unfortunate for them that the integrity of their own counsel forced them to concede the judicial review just days short of the Salmond charges, and a decisive victory in the first battle of the war.

How they must have cursed.

There’s a lot more to follow, so please stay tuned.

THEY CAME FOR MARK HIRST

On 7 January 2021 my friend Mark Hirst was acquitted of the charge brought against him by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS). His alleged crime had been the practice of journalism.

The court made clear in upholding the defence submission of no case to answer that comments Mark had made on a video blog about the Salmond case were political speech protected by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, that they represented the free expression of opinion, and that as a matter of objective fact a reasonable person would not be threatened or alarmed by them.

This raises obvious questions about why Mark was prosecuted.

Are there no reasonable persons at COPFS who can properly assess objective facts?

Has no-one there read Article 10?

Or, like Humza Yousaf, are they just at war with freedom of expression?

Let me do what I can to answer those questions.

No case to answer

In an open letter to the Lord Advocate of 31 May 2020, distinguished signatories such as Noam Chomsky, Yanis Varoufakis, Professor Robert Black QC and – ahem – myself wrote of our “growing concern over the actions of both the Crown Office and Police Scotland”.

We continued:

“In recent weeks vocal independence supporters and backers of the former First Minister Alex Salmond, specifically the former UK diplomat, human rights campaigner and journalist Craig Murray along with fellow journalist Mark Hirst, have been arrested and charged in relation to comments they made publicly during and following the trial of Mr Salmond.

“We are particularly concerned to note that the investigating police officers are the same detectives who led the investigation against Mr Salmond over a period of two years and at considerable cost to the public purse.”

This, we pointed out, “leaves the distinct impression that Police Scotland, at the direction of the Crown Office, is acting in a manner that is both biased and disproportionate”.

Accordingly, we wrote:

“The actions taken so far risk establishing a public perception that both Police Scotland and the Crown Office are conducting themselves in a manner which is biased and is indeed political in nature.

“Such perceptions risk seriously damaging confidence in the Scottish legal system.”

We concluded by asking the Lord Advocate for “any meaningful public assurances you can offer that both Police Scotland and the Crown Office are complying with their obligations to act with complete impartiality and to apply the law fairly”.

In his response, published in the Sunday National on 7 June 2020, the Lord Advocate chose to focus on the trial of Alex Salmond, on which he commented as follows:

“Following a trial, Alex Salmond was acquitted by the jury and he stands innocent of the charges brought against him. That does not mean that it was inappropriate to investigate the allegations, or that the prosecution was not properly brought.

“Mr Salmond’s counsel did not argue, nor did the court hold, that there was no case to answer.”

It’s very important to note that, in defending the actions of Police Scotland and Crown Office in the Salmond case, the Lord Advocate laid great stress on the fact that a submission of no case to answer was not made by Salmond’s defence, and that the case went straight to the jury for them to assess the credibility of the complainers.

The clear implication of these comments is that a successful submission of no case to answer in that case would have suggested something inappropriate in the proceedings and would have caused him concern that the prosecution was not properly brought.

Well, as we know, in Mark’s case exactly such a submission was made, and was duly upheld by the court.

Further, unlike in the case of Alex Salmond, where much of the evidence of Crown witnesses was disputed, the facts in Mark’s case were never in dispute.

Indeed, the Crown evidence consisted entirely of the video in which Mark made his political comments, the contents of which were agreed by joint minute between prosecution and defence, and whose provenance had never for a moment been disputed by Mark.

The submission of no case to answer was therefore upheld on the basis of exactly the evidence which had been available to Police Scotland and Crown Office from the outset, and on which COPFS authorised and defended the decision to prosecute Mark.

So this was not a case where a submission of no case to answer succeeded because witnesses failed to speak up or because there were difficult questions of admissibility of evidence which were ultimately resolved in favour of the defence and where the Crown could therefore say that the issues needed to be tested in court before it could become evident that their case had failed.

No, this was a case where COPFS brought a prosecution which was quite obviously doomed to fail the moment it came to be assessed by a competent judge. Indeed, it’s hardly even a boast of my legal prowess to tell you that I was just one of many experienced lawyers, including Mark’s own legal team, who told him from the very outset that this is what was bound to happen.

So why was it allowed to happen?

The bias of COPFS

The two complainers against Mark were also two of the complainers against Alex Salmond, whose accusations against Salmond were dismissed by a jury but who, for good reasons of public policy, still enjoy the anonymity granted by the court in those proceedings.

Through their unofficial spokesperson, Sandy Brindley of Rape Crisis Scotland, and taking advantage of that anonymity – an anonymity which was surely never designed for such a purpose – they told the Daily Record that Mark’s comments were “sinister” and “threatening” towards them.

Then they reported him to the police.

Anyone who has ever reported an actual crime to the police will know how slowly the wheels of justice then tend to grind.

Not so for this utterly fictional crime.

Mark was arrested immediately and his eight month ordeal at the hands of Police Scotland and COPFS began. He doesn’t know who his accusers were and, precisely because their allegations were not allegations that a reasonable person would make, their presence in the proceedings was never required in order for the sheriff to throw out their whole fictional complaint.

Any reader of this blog who thinks that’s a fair and proper use of the anonymity granted to these two complainers should apply forthwith to COPFS for employment. They can use someone like you, believe me.

The obvious answer to the obvious questions

Here then is my answer to the obvious questions about why Mark’s prosecution, based on allegations by two anonymous, unreasonable complainers, was authorised and vigorously pursued by equally unreasonable persons in the employment of COPFS.

It’s the answer that the Lord Advocate would have given to our open letter of 31 May 2020 if there was even an ounce of honesty left at COPFS.

Police Scotland and COPFS have indeed acted in a manner that is both biased and disproportionate.

What is more, there is every indication that they will continue so to act whenever anyone under the protection of the Scottish Government, of which the Lord Advocate is a key member, makes accusations against anyone perceived to be an ally of Alex Salmond.

In so acting, both Police Scotland and COPFS are conducting themselves in a manner which is patently biased and political in nature.

All that any reasonable person has to do to reach that obvious conclusion is look at what happened to Mark Hirst.

POSTSCRIPT:

If you haven’t already seen it, check out also this excellent interview with Mark by Stuart Campbell on the Wings Over Scotland blog today.

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