Last week this column led on the unfolding drama wracking the Scottish National Party after Alex Salmond mounted a successful legal challenge against the Scottish Government led by his party.
The court upheld the former First Minister’s complaint that an official inquiry into allegations of sexual misconduct, levelled against him by two female civil servants, was unfairly skewed against him. Lord Pentland ruled that it had been “procedurally unfair” and “tainted by apparent bias”.
Now Nicola Sturgeon, Salmond’s successor, finds herself having to handle not one, not two, but three investigations into issues surrounding the botched inquiry, conduct amidst a deepening rift between her supporters and those of her predecessor.
First, the First Minister has acquiesced to demands from opposition parties that she submit herself for investigation over whether or not she has breached the Ministerial Code. Second, MSPs at Holyrood are to hold their own inquiry into the Scottish Government’s handling of the investigation of complaints against Salmond. Third, the Information Commissioner’s Office have passed a complaint from Salmond about the initial leak of the Scottish Government inquiry to their criminal investigations desk.
Add in the Scottish Government’s own inquiry into how it so mishandled the investigation into Salmond, and the oft-overshadowed Police Scotland investigation into the original allegations against the former First Minister, and you have a total of five.
The root of the scandal is the fact that Sturgeon held a series of off-the-record meetings with Salmond, without officials present, after the allegations had been lodged against him and whilst the investigation was underway, in what opposition parties have called an “astounding lapse in judgement“. Fresh evidence suggests that the role of Liz Lloyd, Sturgeon’s chief of staff, will shortly be in the spotlight too.
Another issue, and the one which caused the inquiry against Salmond to be ruled unlawful, is that one of the investigating officers had counselling both of the complainants, a clear conflict of interest. The subsequent court defeat cost Scottish taxpayers £500,000, and as the relevant appointment was made by Leslie Evans, Scotland’s top civil servant, there is mounting pressure on her to step aside.
Meanwhile relations between the two leading Nationalist politicians of their generation are getting worse by the day. First Salmond’s supporters warned of a ‘conspiracy’ against him and claimed that Lloyd tried to use the allegations to dissuade him from standing for election.
Sturgeon, for her part, has accused her former mentor of waging a “smear campaign” against her. Exasperation with Salmond amongst her supporters has been mounting since he lost his Gordon seat at the 2017 general election, after which he took a controversial talk show slot on RT which was widely considered to bring him – and by association, the Nationalist cause – into disrepute.
Jim Sillars, the former SNP deputy leader, has warned that the party is paying the price for allowing cults of personality to build up around both Salmond and Sturgeon during their times as first minister. The result is that the Nationalists, who usually operate with phalanx-like discipline and total command from the centre, are losing cohesion at just the moment when another opportunity to revive their push for independence might (only might) have been possible.