Last week, I wrote about the ongoing collapse of the Scottish Parliament’s official inquiry into the Alex Salmond scandal. Things had got so bad that the Spectator had called for the whole thing to be superseded by a formal, judge-led investigation.
Well, we’re less than a week on and things just keep going from bad to worse.
The catalyst for the latest wave of bad news was the second appearance before MSPs of Peter Murrell, the chief executive of the Scottish National Party and (apropos of nothing) Nicola Sturgeon’s husband.
His first testimony covered neither in glory, as he appeared to contradict the First Minister’s evidence on a vital detail about a key meeting with her predecessor. Sturgeon said that it had been Party business – and thus there was no need to take official minutes – whereas Murrell said it had been Scottish Government business. Failing to keep proper minutes of official business would be a breach of the ministerial code.
As chief executive you’d expect him to know, but Murrell now says that his previous statement was merely ‘speculation’. This has prompted incredulous MSPs to call on the Crown Office to investigate whether or not he committed perjury by lying under oath. And they are reportedly considering it.
Nor is that the only front where the Scottish Government is coming under increasing pressure. Despite Sturgeon promising the inquiry her full cooperation, it has since been revealed that her ministry spent £76,000 preparing civil servants before they gave evidence – and thousands more on lawyers who tried to block MSPs from asking ‘crucial questions’, as the Sunday Mail reports.
Of course, none of this is conclusive evidence of conspiracy. But coming on top of officials changing their stories, panicky responses to run-of-the-mill media requests, and John Swinney’s refusal to authorise a broadening of the inquiry’s scope, it definitely looks as if the Scottish Government has something to hide.
And all of this is unfolding alongside the SNP’s own civil war. A week ago we saw a dramatic development when Joanna Cherry, a high-profile MP and vocal critic of Sturgeon, was dismissed from her role on the Nationalists’ front bench at Westminster. Now the party is reportedly ‘at war’ over fresh allegations against Salmond.
Sue Ruddick, the SNP’s chief operating officer, alleges in a statement that she previously reported the former First Minister to Police Scotland over “an act of physical aggression”. But his legal team have released a statement by Anne Harvey, who works in the Nationalists’ Westminster office, which says: “I know that to be wrong since I was the only witness to this supposed event.”
Who knows where these stories will be a week from today?