Alex Salmond won his court case against the Scottish government last week. The court ruled that the investigation [into allegations of sexual harrassment] carried out by the Scottish civil service was unlawful.
Salmond, as he was fully entitled to do, called on those responsible for botching the investigation to consider their position.
This is political speak for resign. Two civil servants, Leslie Evans and Judith Mackinnon, presided over the investigation.
Evans, who is Scotland’s chief civil servant, issued a statement after the court verdict defending the investigation. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon publicly backed Evans.
Meanwhile a police investigation into the allegations made against Alex Salmond continues. Salmond has also demanded to know who leaked details of his investigation to a national newspaper.
Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed she spoke to Alex Salmond on several occasions. What was said was unknown. Nicola Sturgeon insists meetings were held in her capacity as leader of the SNP.
That’s the facts as we know them.
There are five stories in this saga.
The biggest story is the police investigation into the allegations made against Alex Salmond by two women. We know nothing of this investigation nor the allegations levelled against the former First Minister. The media can’t go near this story until the police investigation has concluded.
The second biggest story emerged last week when Salmond won his court case against the Scottish government. What emerged was quite sensational. An investigation so poorly managed that the Scottish government capitulated rather than allow its officials to give evidence. The blame for this lies squarely with Leslie Evans.
Within hours of Scottish government’s case collapsing, story number three emerged when Leslie Evans issued a statement. The statement itself was newsworthy in that the civil servant appeared to make unjustifiable claims regarding the case. Far from insulating herself from criticism, Evans opened herself up to even more.
The fourth biggest story in the saga is the leak. Who leaked details of the investigation to the Daily Record? There are two possible sources. The first is someone within the Scottish government or its civil service. The second is someone within Police Scotland.
For those who refuse to believe the police would do such a thing, we refer them to the videos of Tommy Sheridan and his wife Gail being interviewed by police that were leaked to the BBC.
Nicola Sturgeon has publicly backed her beleaguered official. A First Minister doing otherwise would have only increased the pressure on Evans and opened herself up to accusations that she had thrown a civil servant under a bus to protect herself. Nicola Sturgeon also confirmed meetings she had held with Alex Salmond. This is story number five, and the weakest of them all. Why? Because its newsworthyness is based entirely on innuendo and politically motivated claims.
With the police investigation off limits, the main stream media has four stories to choose from.
1. Leslie Evans botched investigation
2. Her ill-advised statement
3. The leak to the Daily Record
4. Nicola Sturgeon’s meetings with Salmond
Of the four, 1, 2 and 3 are based on sound fact … 4 is built purely on politically motivated innuendo. Which of the three is the media pushing? You guessed it. The innuendo.
Why isn’t the media pursuing Leslie Evans over the botched investigation and her subsequent statement? Evans’ claim that “All the other grounds of Mr Salmond’s challenge have been dismissed.” has been called into question by Salmond’s legal team which accused the permanent secretary of having “misled the public”. The accusation appears justified given no ruling was made on the ‘other grounds’ by the court. Yet there is remarkably little pursuit of Evans by the media.
Similarly, the leak that resulted in lurid claims about Alex Salmond being published in a newspaper and broadcast on the BBC has resuted in a similar lack of attention.
Where is the concern for the alleged victims? Indeed what of others within Scotland’s civil service who may now be put off coming forward for fear their claims may find their way onto the front pages of a newspaper or broadcast on Reporting Scotland night, after night … after night?
But it’s the smear attempts by Unionists that dominate the news. Nicola Sturgeon referred herself to the ministerial panel over her contact with Salmond. The move ought to have ended the politically motivated smear attacks whilst the panel looks at the evidence. But it won’t.
We’ve been here before of course, many times. Aex Salmond referred himself more than once to the same panel and was cleared every time.
These ‘ministerial misconduct’ smears usually have three phases. The first is the Unionist attack. The second is the self-referral. The third is exoneration. The problem of course is that the media smear machine has already splattered so much muck around that by the time the not-guilty verdict is announced, the accused has already been sentenced.
And that’s what’s coming. Below is a news item that appeared on the BBC’s national news on Sunday evening. The language used by the reporter Sarah Smith is pretty sensationalist. Civil war? Really?
And there’s more of this coming. The Scottish media will push this smear as it did previous smears. One journalist even boasted that Unionists could use the Salmond story to effectively bring down the SNP administration.
If this smear follows the same pattern as previous attacks then we’ll see journalists invited onto BBC Scotland to push the story. Hacks will tell listeners and viewers exactly what their newspaper editors want them to, that the SNP is under seige and that independence will suffer.
But what effect will it have? If previous attempts to take out senior SNP politicians is anything to go by then this smear will pass without any significant damage to the SNP.
The independence movement has been through this before. They know what to expect. They may feel Nicola Sturgeon erred in going along with Leslie Evans to the extent she did. However they know that Unionists are the real enemy here and that the prize of independence remains tantalisingly close.