One aspect of the First Minister’s abdication of her responsibilities which seems to have passed unnoticed in the Salmond inquiry is her decision to “recuse” herself from providing the Scottish Government’s evidence to it.
It’s difficult to ascertain exactly when this decision was made or when it was first communicated, so I have submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Scottish Government seeking the full details, and I’ll provide them here when I get them.
What we do know is that, having corresponded with the Convenor at various times up to that point on the subject of the evidence and documentation to be provided to the inquiry, and having never so much as hinted that she was precluded in any way from doing so, the First Minister stood up in Parliament on 20 August 2020 and announced:
“Given that part of the Committee remit is to look at my conduct, I have recused myself from any decision making in terms of the Government’s interaction with the Committee, so I am not going to instruct the Government, because it would not be appropriate for me to do so. The Government will, I am sure, continue to co-operate fully and within the legal obligations that it operates under, and to make available the maximum amount of information that it can to the Committee.”
Swinney to the rescue
From around this time, responsibility for writing to the inquiry to explain (repeatedly) why, much as it would like to, the Scottish Government cannot actually provide the evidence the inquiry is seeking for this, that and the other reason has fallen on the Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, who continues to fulfil the role with his usual diligence.
Readers with reasonably long powers of recall might remember that Swinney also played a similar role at the very start of this saga.
When the Scottish Cabinet met on 31 October 2017 to discuss the announcement to be made in Parliament that day of the Government’s new actions on sexual harassment in response to the Me Too movement, the minutes record his heroic decision to step forward at that moment too:
“Answering that day’s topical question on sexual harassment in the Parliament would provide an opportunity to highlight men’s responsibility to change their conduct and behaviour, and to help bring to an end the sexual harassment and abuse of women – whether in the workplace, in their social life, or at home. To emphasise this point, Mr Swinney proposed that, as the most senior man in the Government, he should answer the question and be explicit in his answer about his reason for doing so.”
Anyone who thinks that this really was John Swinney’s own idea must also think that Dominic Cummings just offers the odd suggestion to Boris Johnson.
According to the First Minister, in her interview last Sunday with Sophy Ridge, it is “age old” that when men are accused of misconduct against women, “often it’s a woman that ends up sitting answering for them”.
What is undoubtedly the case is that when a woman, Nicola Sturgeon, wants to abdicate her responsibilities, it’s often a man, John Swinney, who is wheeled in to help her out with that.
But of course there’s a much more serious point at the heart of this. The Salmond inquiry webpages provide a list of its key correspondence with the Scottish Government over the provision of evidence, and one correspondent features there far more than any other.
As usual in this whole affair, the person making all the key decisions about what evidence is to be provided and what withheld is that correspondent, the Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans.
Now let me remind readers of the terms of the remit of the inquiry:
“To consider and report on the actions of the First Minister, Scottish Government officials … ”
We can stop there.
If there is any one Scottish Government official whose conduct is more under the microscope than any other person in this whole inquiry it is the Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans.
It was Evans who ran the whole unlawful investigation into the complaints against Salmond and Evans who made the unlawful decision on those complaints after Sturgeon had “recused” herself completely from that process too, as detailed earlier in this blog.
And it was Evans who was again a key player in the decision to contest Salmond’s judicial review action and to keep contesting it until finally, more than half a million pounds of public money later, even she had to concede that defeat was inevitable.
A plea for rationality
So I ask these questions in all sincerity, and above all as a person who prizes logical and rational thought:
If, because the inquiry is partly into her “actions”, Nicola Sturgeon has to recuse herself from all decisions about providing documents and evidence to the inquiry, why doesn’t Leslie Evans have to do the same?
Why is Leslie Evans still running the Scottish Government’s show?