According to the latest bulletin from Scottish Government mouthpiece Rape Crisis Scotland, the First Minister’s Chief of Staff Liz Lloyd intervened in the Salmond complaints process on behalf of a woman who later became “one of the complainers” against Salmond at his criminal trial.
The woman – let’s call her Ms X – has used Rape Crisis Scotland, as has now become the norm for the Salmond complainers, to give her untested – and untestable – claims the widest possible public audience while preserving her court-ordered anonymity. Whether that is a legitimate use of such anonymity remains to be tested.
Ms X’s claims
Ms X’s core claims are these:
“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.
“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.”
We know in addition that Lloyd’s intervention was made in late January or early February 2018 because Ms X’s claims have been made in response to the disclosure by David Davis in the UK Parliament of an email of 6 February 2018 from Judith Mackinnon in which Mackinnon refers to “Liz interference” and calls it “v bad”.
Suspending disbelief (again)
Let me say at the outset that I don’t believe the claim that Lloyd was not informed that this request from Ms X involved the Salmond complaints. It would be quite bizarre for the First Minister’s Chief of Staff to involve herself in any HR matter without insisting on being informed – and informed fully – of all of the relevant details.
A few seconds’ thought will persuade any rational person that this would have to be the case. Apart from anything else, how could the First Minister’s most senior special advisor even have the relevant conversation with one of the Scottish Government’s most senior civil servants unless both of them knew, at least broadly, what they were talking about?
Presumably, we’re being asked to believe that this was yet another of those John Le Carre conversations that seem to occur daily in the senior echelons of the Scottish Government:
“They said it would rain tomorrow, Judith.”
“You can’t trust the weatherman, Liz, not in the summer.”
“Ah great, thanks, Judith. All sorted now.”
It’s ridiculous of course, but suppose we choose to believe it. Suppose the First Minister’s Chief of Staff really did intervene, quite unknowingly, in an ongoing process being run by the Permanent Secretary under the Scottish Government’s newly adopted procedure for handling harassment complaints against former Ministers.
What follows then?
Nicola Sturgeon’s view of intervention in complaints against former Ministers
The views of Lloyd’s boss, the First Minister, on interventions in the complaints process against former Ministers are well known by now, but, for the sake of completeness, let’s refresh our memories.
This is what Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament on 8 January 2019:
“I make it very clear that I was not involved in the procedure in any way. I did not intervene in the procedure, I did not seek to intervene and I did not try to influence the course of the investigation. Had I done so, that would have been the subject of absolutely legitimate criticism” (my emphasis).
This is what Sturgeon told the Fabiani inquiry on 3 March 2021:
“Sections 4.22 and 4.23 of the Scottish Ministerial Code seek to guard against undisclosed outside influence on decisions that ministers are involved in, and are likely to have an influence on….
“The situation was, as I saw it, the opposite of that. The terms of the procedure excluded me from any investigation into a former minister. I had no role in the process and should not even have known that an investigation was under way.
“In my judgement, the undue influence that section 4 is designed to avoid would have been more likely to arise had those who were conducting the investigation been informed that I knew about it. I did not want to take the risk that they might be influenced—even subconsciously—by any assumption of how I might want the matter to be handled: their ability to do the job independently would be best protected by my saying nothing” (my emphasis).
A significant intervention in the investigation by the First Minister’s Chief of Staff, however unknowingly, must qualify by any reasonable measure as risking an assumption of how the First Minister wanted the matter handled.
Liz Lloyd’s view of intervention in complaints against former Ministers
It is axiomatic that Liz Lloyd, as chief special advisor to the First Minister, would hold the same view on this matter as her boss, and would be just as anxious as her boss to avoid intervention in such matters for exactly the same reasons. If Sturgeon’s reasoning is sound, then of course any such intervention by her Chief of Staff must be subject to the same “absolutely legitimate criticism”.
But as it happens, we don’t even have to rely on that assumption because Liz Lloyd herself, on 24 November 2017, at a meeting with Cabinet Secretary James Hynd, began the process of advancing exactly these views.
(And at the risk of eliciting more groans from loyal readers waiting for the next instalment of A Very Scottish Coup, I can’t resist a quick preview here. According to a Scottish Government response to a recent FOI request, there was another participant in this meeting who will be of interest to readers of this blog. Sturgeon’s Principal Private Secretary John Somers was at the meeting too – you know, the one who gave sworn evidence at the inquiry that he had no involvement at all in the development of the complaints procedure for current and former Ministers.)
In his evidence to the Fabiani inquiry, Hynd said this:
“During the exchanges that I had with the chief of staff, particularly at a meeting on 24 November, she indicated that the procedure should be developed further to remove from the First Minister the role to decide how to investigate complaints….
“… In the engagements that I had with the chief of staff, she was reflecting what she felt was the First Minister’s view that the First Minister should have less and less involvement in the operation of the procedure at an operational level.”
It could hardly be more obvious, then, that Liz Lloyd was no passive receiver of the First Minister’s line on this. She was, from 24 November 2017 at latest, an active participant in getting this view of the First Minister put as quickly as possible into effect.
As longstanding readers of this blog know, this was achieved in spectacular fashion with the radically “recast” procedure sent out at nearly midnight on 5 December 2017, after a day of frenzied activity and extensive “consultation” with the Salmond complainers.
So when Lloyd was asked by Ms X to intervene in an HR complaints process that was clearly important enough to require such extreme secrecy as to its subject matter and participants, her own very recent crusade to avoid interference in such a procedure at all costs can hardly have faded already from her mind.
An urgent question
When faced with the wholly context-free request from Ms X, then, surely the first thing Lloyd should have done was satisfy herself that its subject matter was at least not one which had anything to do with former Ministers.
After all, as detailed above and exhaustively elsewhere in this blog, both she and her boss had just moved heaven and earth to make sure they had no involvement whatsoever in any such processes.
So why didn’t she?
Maybe someone at the Fabiani inquiry could ask.