Yesterday, John Somers told the inquiry that he had no involvement in the development of the procedure which was used against Alex Salmond.
This is not true.
Somers, in his capacity as Nicola Sturgeon’s Principal Private Secretary, had a key role in developing the policy at a critical time.
On Wednesday 6 December 2017, after a day and night of frantic activity which evidently resulted in very little sleep for her or other key participants, Leslie Evans emailed Nicola Richards, James Hynd and a third redacted recipient at 5.28 in the morning:
“Spoke with John S last night. We agreed you would send up tweaked codes in draft without any letters just now.
“And as discussed, info on the steps and touch points involved in the process also useful. Keep me posted – back in office tomorrow but happy to talk. John also I’m sure.”
As readers of previous posts on this blog may remember, the “tweaked codes” which Somers and Evans had agreed to “send up” to Nicola Sturgeon constituted the recast procedure which changed at a stroke everything which had been developed by Hynd and others to that point, by removing the First Minister completely from the process.
The “letters” which were now not to be sent to Sturgeon were letters which Hynd had been instructed by Evans to draft, in line with the procedure as it had existed prior to this discussion with Somers, and for the purpose of intimating the new procedure to former Ministers and former First Ministers when it was approved by the First Minister in due course.
Following the discussion between Evans and Somers on the night of Tuesday 5 December 2017, these letters simply disappeared from the development process, and the Scottish Government has never disclosed them to this day, at least not in the papers which have been made available to the public by the inquiry.
Exactly what comprised the “steps and touch points involved in the process” which were evidently also discussed by Evans and Somers remains a matter of guesswork since, of course, no-one at the inquiry asked Somers yesterday, or has ever asked Evans, what was meant by these terms.
What is clear is that both Evans herself and Somers were “happy to talk” to Richards, Hynd and the third, redacted, person about these “steps and touch points” in the procedure as now radically recast.
I want to say a lot more about the hugely significant context of this very obvious involvement of Somers, acting on behalf of Sturgeon, in the development – actually, in the complete recast – of the procedure but before doing so I want to wait for the transcripts of the evidence yesterday of Somers, Richards, Russell and Mackinnon at the inquiry since all were involved as key players in creating that context.
For now, it is worth noting that Somers’s evidence on affirmation yesterday was given, as Somers himself pointed out, with the specific endorsement in advance of the Scottish Government.
On 6 November 2020, Deputy First Minister John Swinney wrote to the inquiry:
“Mr Somers was not involved in the development of the procedure…”
Poor John Swinney. He gets all the dirty jobs.