A redacted version of the Open Record which sets out the pleadings of the parties as adjusted to the time when Leslie Evans and the Scottish Government finally conceded defeat was published by the Salmond inquiry on Friday.
It contains page after page of shocking detail which should put to rest once and for all the lie that the case was conceded on some technicality. The unlawfulness of both the procedure itself and the way in which it was applied by Investigating Officer Judith Mackinnon and ultimate decision-maker Leslie Evans is laid bare again and again.
For anyone looking for a convenient summary, I suggest points a) to o) of the petitioner’s Statement of Facts XXII, beginning on page 82.
Mackinnon is due to answer for her key role in this debacle at the inquiry on Tuesday and surely Hynd, Richards and, above all, Evans must be recalled by the inquiry to answer – properly this time – for their key roles in it too.
Nicola Sturgeon again
However, my focus in the Salmond inquiry posts on this blog has been consistently on the First Minister and on her claims that none of this was anything to do with her. As the facts begin to creep painfully out, these claims that she removed herself from a process in which she should have been front and centre look ever more bizarre.
Specifically, the First Minister’s claim that she knew nothing about the complaints of Ms A and Ms B against Alex Salmond until well after he was informed of them himself on 7 March 2018 looks ever more like a brazen lie.
Consider this passage in the adjusted Answers lodged on behalf of Evans and the Scottish Government in the judicial review:
“Ms Russell, with the consent of Complainer A, shared the fact of the approach by Complainer A and the nature of the information provided by her with the first respondent’s Director of People, Nicola Richards, and Deputy Director of People Advice, Judith Mackinnon….
“Ms Allison, with the consent of Complainer B, shared the fact of the latter’s approach and the nature of the information provided by Complainer B with Ms Richards. Ms Richards advised Ms Russell and Ms Allison to ask complainers A and B respectively whether they wished to speak to the HR team. They did so [i.e. asked them to speak to the HR team] on 29 November 2017.
“On the same day Ms Richards met with the first respondent and, separately, the first respondent met with the interested party to discuss development of the proposed procedure.”
As seasoned Salmond inquiry watchers will know, the “Ms Russell” referred to here is Gillian Russell, the Scottish Government Director of Safer Communities, who had been appointed by Evans as a “confidential sounding board” for complaints on 10 November 2017.
“Ms Allison” is Barbara Allison, who is due to give evidence again to the inquiry on Tuesday. She is the Scottish Government Director of Communications, Ministerial Support and Facilities and was contacted by Ms B on 8 November 2017, when she discussed with her events involving Alex Salmond.
Now for the new bit.
The “first respondent” referred to here is Leslie Evans. The “interested party” is Nicola Sturgeon.
Leslie Evans again
The meeting on 29 November 2017 between Leslie Evans and Nicola Sturgeon “to discuss development of the proposed procedure” appears nowhere in the Scottish Government’s Written Statement to the inquiry nor in its accompanying Timeline.
This is a somewhat startling omission from documents which were supposed to have been prepared for the specific purpose of setting out for the inquiry the role of the First Minister and her officials in the development of the procedure.
The Timeline jumps from 24 November to 12 December 2017 with no events apparently thought worthy of mention in between, and the Written Statement does the same:
“A version of the draft procedure was sent to the First Minister on 24 November 2017. The First Minister and Permanent Secretary discussed a hard copy of the procedure at a meeting on 12 December 2017. The Permanent Secretary wrote to the First Minister on 20 December 2017 formally seeking her agreement to adopt the procedure. The First Minister approved the procedure on the same day.”
So what else happened on 29 November 2017, and why might it be in the interests of the Scottish Government to add this meeting to the long list of things they have conveniently overlooked or “forgotten”?
As readers of earlier posts in this blog may remember, there was a lot going on that day.
The events of 29 November 2017
Firstly, as the Answers acknowledge, Russell contacted Ms A as instructed on that day, and Allison likewise contacted Ms B.
In the cosy, intimate manner which had already developed between complainers and the supposedly impartial senior officials who would be processing their complaints, Russell emailed Ms A: “As agreed I sent your narrative on in confidence to Nicky and Judith. I have now been asked by Nicky and Judith if you would be prepared to speak to them…”
In the same informal manner, Ms A replied: “I’d be happy to speak to Nicky and Judith and will text Nicky as suggested….”
The “narrative” referred to is the same document which, with just a few tweaks, became Ms A’s formal complaint on 16 January 2018. It is the document for which, on the very same date, Judith Mackinnon was appointed as Investigating Officer, believing herself apparently to have had “no prior involvement” in the complaint, as required by the procedure.
Allison’s similar contact with Ms B, as again acknowledged in the Answers, was then noted in a text from Richards to Mackinnon: “[Redacted] the woman who spoke to Barbara – has been in touch to speak…. She hasn’t made a statement but is still in close touch with the one who did. [Redacted] ”
Quite what this meant, and what has been redacted from it, is perhaps one of the many things the inquiry could take up with Mackinnon on Tuesday.
Nicola Richards then had a one-to-one meeting with Leslie Evans, which can only have been for the purpose of discussing with Evans the “narrative” of Ms A – that is to say, her complaint about Salmond – and whatever had been learned from Ms B about her complaint.
That then is the context in which, as we now learn for the first time, Leslie Evans met with Nicola Sturgeon that very same day “separately… to discuss development of the proposed procedure.”
What the First Minister knew, and when
In that context, is there anyone in the country still gullible enough to believe that what was discussed at this newly-disclosed meeting was some abstract development of a procedure which was being developed — at breakneck speed — to be targeted at no-one in particular?
Is there anyone out there who still thinks the Salmond complaints were not discussed at all?
Just in case there is, let me remind readers of one further piece of context.
The procedure for complaints against former Ministers was still in draft at this point, so even if there had been an absolute prohibition – for some unfathomable reason – on the First Minister being told of them, it would have had no application.
Indeed, if the complaints had been about a current Minister – the closest analogy for which actual binding rules were in place on that date – the First Minister would have had a positive right under the Ministerial Code to be told of them and a positive duty as “ultimate judge” of them to put in train immediately a course of action to deal with them.
The notion that these “concerns” about her closest friend and mentor, not to mention her direct predecessor as First Minister, should or could have been withheld from the head of the Scottish Government by an unelected civil servant at this meeting is not just fanciful, it is laughable.
But matters go further still.
As readers of previous posts in this blog may again remember, the latest version of the new procedure which was being furiously drafted at this point provided in terms for the First Minister to be told of complaints against former Ministers as soon as they were made, to remain the “ultimate judge” of them, and indeed to intervene as necessary to secure the co-operation of former Ministers in the investigation of them.
So even if the procedure as drafted to that point had any binding force at all at the time of this meeting – which it did not – it would still have been entirely right and proper for Evans to give Sturgeon a full briefing on the Salmond complaints at that meeting.
So I ask again: Is there anyone out there who still believes that Nicola Sturgeon was not told of these complaints, at the very latest, by the time of this meeting?
If so, I’d genuinely love to know why.