Readers of my last two posts will have been disappointed, I’m sure, with both the questions asked and the answers given at the Salmond inquiry yesterday.
It might be worth reminding ourselves of the remit of the inquiry:
“To consider and report on the actions of the First Minister, Scottish Government officials and special advisers in dealing with complaints about Alex Salmond, former First Minister, considered under the Scottish Government’s Handling of harassment complaints involving current or former ministers procedure and actions in relation to the Scottish Ministerial Code.”
I confess I was struggling to identify the relevance to that remit of most of what was asked in the first hour yesterday. I was also shocked at how ill-prepared the witnesses were to answer the few relevant questions that were asked. Is it really too much to ask that such senior and important witnesses, giving evidence on such important matters to a Parliamentary Committee, should brief themselves fully on all of the relevant matters for which they are constitutionally responsible before they turn up?
Leslie Evans at least said she would respond to the inquiry on some of the things she was asked about and didn’t seem to know.
So here are some of the questions that I think should have been asked and to which the inquiry, and the Scottish public, deserve some answers:
Arranging to share the draft procedure with Ms A and others
On 1 December 2017 at 12:10, “Director of People” Nicola Richards wrote in an email to James Hynd, Head of the Cabinet secretariat: “Would you be able to send me the latest version of the process? I agreed with Perm Sec that I would test it with some key individuals.”
Is it true that Evans agreed with Richards, on or prior to 1 December 2017, that the latest version of the process was to be tested on key individuals? If so:
When and how was this agreed?
Was it by text or email and if so, where are those texts or emails?
What did Richards tell Evans about what was involved in the testing?
In particular, did Richards tell Evans that one of the key individuals was Ms A?
Why was Evans apparently unable to remember anything about this specific instance of sharing the draft procedure with a potential complainer when she gave her evidence yesterday?
Sharing the draft procedure with Ms A on 5 December 2017
On 5 December 2017, Richards and “Head of People Advice” Judith Mackinnon met with Ms A, and shared with her the draft procedure as it existed to that date.
In a timeline document, after recording this meeting with Ms A on 5 December, Richards made a further entry for that same day: “NR/Perm Sec 1:1”.
What does that entry mean? If Evans doesn’t know, will she find out from Richards and advise?
Did Evans meet with Richards on 5 December 2017 after Richards and Mackinnon met with Ms A? If so:
Did Richards tell Evans about the meeting that day with Ms A?
Is there written material relating to these events and if so, where is it?
Why was Evans unable to remember anything about this specific instance of sharing the draft procedure with a potential complainer when she gave her evidence yesterday?
The recast of the procedure on 5 December 2017
In all eight previous drafts of the complaints procedure up to 5 December 2017, the First Minister had a central role. She was to be informed as soon as a formal complaint against a former Minister was made. She was to take any steps necessary to ensure the former Minister cooperated with the investigation. She was to be informed when the investigation of the complaint was completed, and any further action on the complaint was hers to consider and take.
In the ninth draft, sent out by Richards at close to midnight on 5 December 2017, all of this was suddenly gone. The First Minister now had no role at all. The Permanent Secretary would now decide whether a complaint against a former Minister was well-founded, and the Permanent Secretary would determine what further action was to be taken on it.
On 6 December 2017, Richards sent this ninth draft to Evans, already calling it the “final version” of the procedure. She was right. This version was essentially what was approved by the First Minister on 20 December 2017, and was the procedure used against Alex Salmond.
Evans was closely involved in the drafting process at the time and has surely reviewed it again closely at least twice – for the judicial review and again for the inquiry – but if the answers to any of the following questions still fall outwith her own personal knowledge, they can be easily garnered from Richards, Mackinnon, Hynd or any of the others who were also involved and for whom she is ultimately responsible.
Why, after 5 December 2017, was the First Minister no longer to be informed of formal complaints against former Ministers?
Why was the First Minister no longer to seek to secure the cooperation of the former Minister with the investigation of complaints?
Why was the First Minister no longer to decide on the merits of complaints and further action to be taken?
Why was that role now taken over entirely by the Permanent Secretary?
Given that every previous draft of the procedure had emphasised the very different roles of the First Minister and Permanent Secretary in the complaints procedure, and the need for both roles to feature in the process to ensure fairness to all concerned, how could a “final version” with a role only for the Permanent Secretary possibly be fair?
Was the “final version” influenced in any way by the sharing of the draft procedure with Ms A by Richards and Mackinnon on 5 December 2017, and if so, how?
It seems to me that practically every one of these questions is more relevant to the inquiry’s remit than most of what was asked yesterday.
But I don’t suppose that any of us are holding our breath exactly for them to be asked or answered in the inquiry.