Text messages now published in full by the Scottish Parliament show conclusively that Liz Lloyd, Special Adviser and Chief of Staff to Nicola Sturgeon, did interfere in the Salmond complaints process, contrary to vehement denials made on Lloyd’s behalf in March this year.
Lloyd has previously claimed that she only suspected there may be a formal complaint against Salmond some time in March 2018, that she did not know the full details of any complaint, and that she did not tell Sturgeon of her suspicions.
But the messages strongly suggest that Lloyd knew about the Salmond complaints in early February 2018 and that she was acting on behalf of her boss, the First Minister, when she interfered in the complaints investigation at that time.
Sturgeon herself told the Scottish Parliament that she knew nothing of the complaints until 2 April 2018 but later had to admit in her evidence on affirmation to the Fabiani Committee that she had in fact discussed them at a meeting on 29 March 2018, a meeting that she claimed had slipped her mind when she gave false information to the Parliament.
The messages also contradict the evidence to the Fabiani inquiry of top civil servant Barbara Allison, who swore on oath that she had no involvement in the Salmond investigation beyond “early contact” with the complainers in November 2017.
As the messages make quite clear, Allison was still playing an active and important role in the Salmond investigation in February 2018.
The background to the February text messages
In January 2018, Judith Mackinnon was appointed as Investigating Officer for the Salmond complaints. Mackinnon was then Head of People Advice, a very senior position in the Human Resources (HR) department of the Scottish Government. She was personally selected for the role of Investigating Officer by Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans, a selection that has, among many other things, cost the Scottish taxpayer well over a million pounds to date, and will probably cost a good deal more in the future.
The complaints being investigated were those of civil servants Ms A and Ms B, both of whom later became complainers (under different letters of the alphabet) in Alex Salmond’s criminal trial. The anonymity of Ms A and Ms B is protected by two separate court orders and to disclose the identities of either would be a serious contempt of court.
On 5 February 2018, a Ms X was interviewed by Mackinnon’s investigation on the basis that she might be able to corroborate aspects of the complaints of Ms A and Ms B. Although she ultimately refused to provide information to the Scottish Government investigation, Ms X later became a complainer herself in the criminal trial (again, under a different letter of the alphabet). Her anonymity too is thus protected by a court order.
In common with other Salmond complainers, and on the basis of information which she herself has chosen to make public, Ms X was self-evidently someone who was close to Liz Lloyd and by extension to Nicola Sturgeon.
Liz Lloyd’s first text message
On 6 February 2018, Liz Lloyd texted Barbara Allison as follows:
“[Ms X] will ask to see you today. Best outcome RE her is that as HR told her yesterday they didn’t need her to corroborate anything and as she told them she doesn’t want to tell her story…that by the end of today HR decide they don’t need to speak to her and cancel it. She won’t say no because she doesn’t want it to look like [she] wouldn’t testify.”
I’ll unpack that message in much greater detail below, but you won’t need me to tell you what it means in essence:
The First Minister’s Chief of Staff who, like her boss, was supposed to know nothing about the Salmond investigation, was directing a senior civil servant in the outcome she – and by clear implication, her boss – wanted to achieve regarding the evidence of a potential witness.
And the outcome she wanted for Ms X was one where Mackinnon’s investigation of her evidence was shut down forthwith – “cancel it,” Lloyd says, “by the end of today”.
On 18 March last year, after fragments of the now published messages were made public, Ms X chose to issue a statement through Scottish Government mouthpiece Rape Crisis Scotland. In that statement, she and Liz Lloyd sought to explain this extraordinary intervention by the First Minister’s Chief of Staff in the Salmond investigation process.
(In a twist appreciated by fans of irony, Rape Crisis Scotland sent out an initial version of the statement which unwittingly disclosed Ms X’s identity to all its press recipients, then issued a second, identity-free version and asked all recipients of the first version to destroy it.)
Ms X began by stating that claims of “interference” by Liz Lloyd in the Salmond process were “fundamentally untrue” and that such claims “deliberately misrepresented” the content of the messages.
Well, we’ll go on to the other messages shortly. But let’s just pause here and consider Liz Lloyd’s message all on its own.
She tells Allison in terms what the “best outcome” of this part of Mackinnon’s investigation process should be.
She tells Allison in terms that she wants this part of the investigation cancelled that very day.
And she is the First Minister’s Chief of Staff, with all the power to influence and direct events that the title carries with it.
If that’s not interference in the Salmond investigation, even in the post-truth world of the Scottish Government and Rape Crisis Scotland, then I truly don’t know what is.
The world according to Ms X
Ms X’s public statement continued:
“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.”
Let’s pause again there. I’ve expressed my incredulity at this last claim in some detail in a previous post, and if it’s possible, I’m even more incredulous now that we have Lloyd’s full message.
We’re asked to believe that Liz Lloyd, a “trusted” colleague of Ms X, who is self-evidently herself a senior figure in the Scottish Government, was both willing and able to send the message above – with all its particular details of the investigation and its specific mention of corroboration of ongoing complaints – without finding out from Ms X any details at all of what she was getting herself into or checking in any way whether her intervention in this mystery investigation was even remotely appropriate.
If that is true, it would be bad enough and, in any organisation other than the Scottish Government, probably enough in itself to get Liz Lloyd disciplined or sacked, but the merest common sense, and everything that now follows, tells us surely that it just can’t be true.
Ms X’s statement continued:
“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.”
This, then, is the standard of logic and rationality at the uppermost echelons of the Scottish Government. The clearest possible interference by Lloyd in Mackinnon’s investigation – interference specifically labelled as such by Mackinnon herself, as we’ll come to shortly – is not in fact interference, according to Ms X, because it was carried out “in line with my wishes”.
Next time I have a client charged with theft, remind me to tell the court that it can’t be theft because he was only acting in line with his pal’s wishes.
Enter Barbara Allison
Barbara Allison is the senior civil servant to whom Ms X refers in her statement as “the most appropriate person to discuss the issue with”.
Regular readers of this blog will be all too familiar with Allison and her doings but for new readers she’s probably best known in the present context as the former director of HR who was appointed in secret by Leslie Evans in November 2017 to provide “pastoral care” for potential complainers, and as the person to whom Evans sent her infamous text on the day the Salmond judicial review was conceded:
“Thanks Barbara—battle maybe lost but not the war.”
On receiving Lloyd’s message about Ms X on 6 February 2018, Allison forwarded it on to Mackinnon, along with her own message:
“[Ms X] is coming to see me at [time redacted]. What would you want me to tell her? To corroborate info but agree it can not be used in info sent to him? Or should we ‘stand her down’? B x”
Let’s start with the last sentence of the message, and that highly significant use of “we”.
There is simply no ambiguity here. “We” in this context must comprise Allison and Mackinnon at the very least, and I’d say it extends pretty clearly in the context to the whole of Mackinnon’s investigative team, however large or small that may have been.
When Allison asks whether “we” should “stand her down”, she is not – and cannot be – asking the question as a disinterested third party offering pastoral support to Ms X in a process in which she is playing no other part.
Plainly, unambiguously, Allison is positioning herself as part of Mackinnon’s investigative process, and is asking Mackinnon, as a player in that investigative process, what “we” should do.
It is in that unambiguous context that Allison asks Mackinnon her two earlier questions, and makes her own very specific suggestion of what “we” should tell Ms X about how her evidence will be used:
“To corroborate info but agree it can not be used in info sent to him?”
The “him” referred to here is Alex Salmond, the subject of the complaints being investigated, as Ms X was by her own admission well aware.
Given then that the message being discussed – the one directing Allison as to the “best outcome” – had come not from Ms X herself but from Liz Lloyd, and given that, according to Ms X, Lloyd had no idea of the context in which she was seeking that outcome, might we not expect some intimation of that in this message from Allison to Mackinnon?
Might we not expect Allison to try to to ensure that Lloyd continued to be shielded from this highly confidential knowledge in any further action Mackinnon might take or any reply she might make to Lloyd?
At the very least, might we not expect some kind of warning from Allison to Mackinnon of the need to keep from Lloyd and her boss at all costs the identity of “him”, of the nature of the complaints for which Ms X was being asked to “corroborate info”, and of the proposed agreement with Ms X that such “info”, once used, would not be “sent to him”?
Of course, there is no such intimation or warning, because the idea that Lloyd was not already aware of every salient detail of what this process was, and against whom it was being directed, would have been as ludicrous then to Allison and Mackinnon as it is to the rest of us now.
Apart from anything else, they would both surely have assumed, as any rational person would assume, that the First Minister’s Chief of Staff would not be getting involved in such a momentous and sensitive investigation unless both she and her boss were fully aware of what they were asking of Allison and Mackinnon, and the full context in which they were asking it.
That they were aware of this is yet further evidenced by Mackinnon’s response.
What Allison said on oath
Before coming to that, however, let’s pause again to remember what Allison told the Fabiani inquiry, on oath, on 15 September 2020 about her role in the Salmond investigation:
“I had some early contact with the two individuals who ultimately became complainants under the policy for the handling of harassment complaints. Other than that early initial contact, I had no involvement in the investigation.”
And again on 27 October 2020:
“To the extent that it might be relevant to today’s session, although I had early and limited contact with the complainers, I was not involved in the investigation process.”
I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that this evidence, given on oath, is directly contradicted by the terms of Allison’s own message above.
Contrary to her evidence to the inquiry, Allison was involved in the investigative process long after her “early contact” with the complainers Ms A and Ms B.
What is more, her involvement was not in some trivial matter of procedure or “pastoral care” of a complainer.
As is set out in black and white above, Allison was involved on 6 February 2018 in deciding, along with the Investigating Officer, what “we” should do about a potentially important witness whose evidence the First Minister’s Chief of Staff was overtly seeking to shut down and “cancel”.
In her October session of evidence – a session convened in part so that she could now be allowed to “remember” the “battle maybe lost but not the war” text which she had unaccountably denied ever receiving in her first session of evidence to the inquiry – Allison had the following exchange with MSP Jackie Baillie:
Jackie Baillie:… Have you ever expressed concern, or had concerns expressed to you, about interference by special advisers in the civil service complaints process?
Barbara Allison: Could you ask me that again?
Jackie Baillie: Have you ever expressed concern, or had concerns expressed to you, about interference by special advisers in the civil service complaints process?
Barbara Allison: During the investigation, there was some correspondence between me and some other people about somebody who was perhaps going to give evidence or be a witness. In my pastoral care role, I was asked whether I could offer support at that time. That is probably what you are referring to.
Jackie Baillie: I will leave it there for now. Thank you.
I don’t know what Jackie Baillie was referring to, but I do know it can’t have been Allison’s actions on 6 February 2018, at least if her answer to Baillie was truthful.
Because to describe Allison’s actions on that day as no more nor less than giving “pastoral care” and “support” to “somebody who was perhaps going to give evidence or be a witness” is to give up all belief that the English language actually means anything.
It is, in short, to enter the wacky, black-means-white world of the present Scottish Government.
Mackinnon’s response to Allison
Mackinnon responded to Allison that same day, 6 February 2018, as follows:
“[Ms X] did not tell us she didn’t want to tell her story or participate. She told us she was concerned and needed to consider. Liz interference v bad – promoting a climate that doesn’t encourage people to be supported to speak out. This contradicts the FMs own public statements about sexual harassment and doesn’t allow Perm sec to fulfil her duty of care. Bottom line is we can’t make her talk to us – but at least we needs reason why she won’t. Not for us to stand her down – she needs to decide she’d rather not and tell us. Think we need her to give us on writing that she doesn’t want to take part. Grrr. Jx”
If we were in any doubt about how Mackinnon viewed Lloyd’s extraordinary intervention, that last “sentence” is pretty unmissable:
So let’s unpack the rest.
Mackinnon begins by flatly contradicting Lloyd’s version of Ms X’s meeting with “us” – presumably Mackinnon herself, and one or more other members of her investigative team.
According to Mackinnon, and quite contrary to Lloyd’s message, Ms X did not tell the investigation that she did not want to participate but only that she needed to consider. For this reason, and others to follow:
“Liz interference v bad.”
I don’t often agree with Judith Mackinnon but she’s bang on the money here. It’s outrageous for the First Minister’s Chief of Staff to be interfering in this way with any ongoing HR investigation, let alone the uniquely significant and sensitive Salmond investigation.
Nor is Mackinnon in any doubt that by seeking overtly to shut down this area of Mackinnon’s inquiry, Lloyd is “promoting a climate that doesn’t encourage people to be supported or speak out”.
This is of course the very opposite of what Lloyd and her boss have always proclaimed and continue to proclaim about their motives and actions throughout the whole Salmond business, a point that Mackinnon does not miss either:
“This contradicts the FMs own public statements about sexual harassment and doesn’t allow Perm sec to fulfil her duty of care.”
For me at least, the subtext of this is also quite clear. Mackinnon assumes, as she has every right to assume, that Lloyd would not be taking this extraordinary course if she did not have her boss’s approval for doing so. Hence, it is not just a matter of Lloyd herself behaving improperly but of the “FM” having her own statements contradicted and the “Perm sec” having her duty of care thwarted by the very person charged with acting on the First Minister’s behalf.
So for readers who keep in mind the broader context of this remarkable saga, and who have read some of the other posts on this blog where I go on at length about the determination of the First Minister, her Chief of Staff and her Permanent Secretary to get Alex Salmond, this attempt by two of the three major players to shut down evidence potentially damaging to Salmond will – and should – require to be explained before we continue.
The broader context
In my view, the war fought against Alex Salmond by Nicola Sturgeon and her powerful clique of insiders has to be seen in distinct chapters to be properly understood.
The first relevant chapter for present purposes covers the period of the Mackinnon investigation from January 2018, when Ms A and Ms B made their formal complaints, to August 2018, when Evans issued her report.
For most of that period, the Sturgeon clique had two equally important and mutually compatible goals: (1) to get Salmond via the complaints of Ms A and Ms B; and (2) to keep Sturgeon herself entirely off the record as playing any part whatsoever in what was being done to Salmond with her full knowledge and wholehearted approval.
(Veteran readers might remember that my very first post on this blog detailed the process by which the whole complaints procedure was “recast” on Sturgeon’s behalf in early December 2017, precisely to remove Sturgeon from the central role she had played in previous drafts of that process and thus to insulate her as completely as possible from responsibility on the record for what was being set up for use against Salmond.)
Throughout most of this first chapter, and certainly during February 2018 when the events detailed in this post were taking place, the last thing Sturgeon or Lloyd wanted was for anything to take place on the record in the Mackinnon investigation that would connect the complaints being made in any way to them. Just as important was to make sure that Alex Salmond never got to hear of any such connection, on or off the record.
I’m very limited in what I can say about this for obvious reasons but self-evidently, the involvement of Ms X on the record in the investigation process presented such a danger.
Self-evidently, it was not, and is not, open to the average Scottish Government employee to approach the First Minister’s Chief of Staff for help as Ms X was able to do, nor to secure the kind of extraordinary intervention on her behalf that Ms X was able to command. It’s a mere statement of the obvious that Ms X was not an average Scottish Government employee.
The second relevant chapter begins in August 2018, when Salmond launched his judicial review and extends at least until Salmond was charged by the police in January 2019, within a couple of weeks of winning his judicial review and humiliating the Scottish Government.
During that period, for reasons which I’ve detailed at length elsewhere, getting Salmond at all costs became the only goal, previous concerns about connections of complainers to Sturgeon herself were all but abandoned, the plan to secure anonymity was hatched, and some of the most powerful people in Scotland became Salmond’s accusers.
Ms X was one of the accusers added during that chapter.
Mackinnon’s response to Allison (continued)
Mackinnon’s response to Allison continues:
“Bottom line is we can’t make her talk to us – but at least we needs reason why she won’t. Not for us to stand her down – she needs to decide she’d rather not and tell us. Think we need her to give us on writing that she doesn’t want to take part.”
And then, as we’ve seen, Mackinnon ends with probably the most eloquent comment she ever made on the whole sorry process:
The “bottom line”, as Mackinnon makes clear, is that her investigation is not going to do Lloyd’s bidding and let Ms X off the hook of being responsible for her own decision not to participate.
Further, Mackinnon will not allow Lloyd’s false version of Ms X’s interview on the previous day to stand and will insist on Ms X giving her own reasons in writing for now refusing to co-operate.
Allison’s meeting with Ms X
According to Ms X’s public statement issued in March last year, her meeting with Allison – which, remember was scheduled for 6 February 2018, the same day these messages were exchanged – then took place as follows:
“I then met with the senior civil servant and relayed my extreme apprehension about being involved in the investigation.
“They offered me reassurance that should I decline to cooperate that I would not be impeding the investigation.”
This surely can’t be right. Mackinnon had left Allison in no doubt whatsoever that she disapproved strongly of the behaviour of both Ms X and Liz Lloyd and regarded what they were now seeking to achieve as a contradiction of the First Minister’s own position and even a thwarting of the Permanent Secretary’s duty of care.
The idea that Allison would, that very same day, agree with, and offer “reassurance” about, the very thing that had driven Mackinnon to the point of growling in print, is surely preposterous.
How it ended
There is then a break in the published messages before they resume two days later, on 8 February 2018, with Mackinnon to Allison:
“Still not heard from [Ms X] – so proposing to send her this – As I have not heard further from you in relation to the investigation, I will take that as an indication that you do not wish to engage further with the process. – ok B?”
If there is any truth in Ms X’s version of events above, this would surely then have been the time for Allison to admit to Mackinnon that she had in fact already reassured Ms X that her refusal to cooperate would not impede the investigation and that this was why Mackinnon had not heard further from Ms X.
Allison’s reply was, however, very different: “Can you hold off a bit? Liz is getting me you a number to call her.”
“Will do,” Mackinnon replied.
“Ta. B,” texted Allison. Then, a bit later: “Hi. [redacted] is texting me now with her number apparently. Bx”
And, finally, Mackinnon to Allison: “Standing by. X”
And that’s as much as we know. It’s clear that Lloyd’s extraordinary interference on behalf of Ms X was continuing, and that the conduit for that interference continued to be Allison, who for her part continued to be thoroughly involved in this aspect of the investigation.
But it’s very far from clear why this was happening or what happened next or how the whole matter came to be resolved. Surely, though, this final sentence from Ms X’s statement can’t be all there was to it:
“I conveyed my decision to HR and had no further part in the process.”
And of course this evidence, on oath, from Barbara Allison continues to be as contrary as ever to the facts:
“I had some early contact with the two individuals who ultimately became complainants under the policy for the handling of harassment complaints. Other than that early initial contact, I had no involvement in the investigation.”
What it means
There is much of importance to be drawn from this episode and I hope I’ve made most of it clear in what I’ve written above.
But, at least for me, the overarching meaning of it is the meaning which looms over almost everything I’ve written about the Salmond complaints on this blog.
The episode is just one more piece in the 1,000 piece puzzle that, when fitted together, provides the most compelling evidence that Nicola Sturgeon knew about, wanted, and directed, the campaign to get Alex Salmond, and that she did so from the very start.