It’s been just over two weeks since we last looked in on the unfolding scandal currently gripping Scottish politics, and relations between the SNP and the opposition continue to sink to new depths.
For those who haven’t been following the story – which has received scandalously little attention in the southern press – the Scottish Parliament is trying to conduct an inquiry into how the Scottish Government mishandled complaints against Alex Salmond. But having pledged her full cooperation, Nicola Sturgeon seems to have been trying to thwart MSPs at every turn.
Public money has been spent preparing ‘forgetful’ witnesses. Requests to broaden the scope of the inquiry have been denied. Peter Murrell, the SNP’s chief executive and Sturgeon’s husband, contradicted his wife’s testimony and then tried to refuse to return and explain himself. Most significantly, the SNP has tried very hard to prevent Salmond from publishing his evidence.
First, the inquiry voted against publishing the former First Minister’s submission on a party-line vote, citing legal advice. When the Spectator secured a legal ruling to the effect that there was no barrier to publication, MSPs nonetheless voted against publication again, also on independence lines. The issue was referred to the Corporate Body of the Scottish Parliament, which finally voted to publish.
But rather than being the end of the saga, the Crown Office (Scotland’s prosecutors) wrote to it to demand further censorship. Salmond’s evidence was retracted and redacted. But as the whole document is now in the public domain, we can see that the redactions relate not to the danger of identifying vulnerable women, but to criticism of the First Minister.
Now MSPs are demanding that James Wolffe, the Lord Advocate, appear before Holyrood to explain himself, whilst the Crown Office has also been ordered to release additional evidence which Salmond claims will prove the existence of the conspiracy against him.
Regardless of whether or not that turns out to be true, the scandal is having a toxic effect on the reputation of the Scottish Parliament. There is mounting concern amongst the SNP’s opponents about the extent of its apparent grip on civic life. Mainstream pro-UK politicians are talking in dire terms about the implications for the standing of the Scottish Parliament, doubtless concerned about being outflanked as devosceptic sentiment rises on the movement’s outer fringes.
What happens next is anyone’s guess. It seems increasingly apparent that the Scottish Parliament can’t hold the executive to account. But Scots have another government. Does there come a point where Westminster needs to consider stepping in and setting up a proper independent inquiry into the whole business?
Politics is broken in this country. I don’t believe devolution was a mistake. But I know, with every fibre of my being, that the SNP have corrupted it. We urgently, desperately need a re-set. https://t.co/Qdj0ZGHgIN
— Adam Tomkins MSP (@ProfTomkins) February 23, 2021
The sheer pace at which this scandal is developing certainly helps to explain why the Scottish Government seems so determined not to delay the upcoming Holyrood elections, even as Sturgeon insists the situation is so serious that she needs to offer a slower roadmap out of lockdown than Boris Johnson. (Only a cynic would suggest she might also not want to give broadcasters an excuse to stop televising her daily ‘coronavirus briefings’.)
But it remains to be seen if any of this actually sticks. The SNP have been accruing bad news stories for months – we’ve even made a recurring feature of them for this column – and yet their polling seems scarcely affected. With reports that the Prime Minister’s resolve to refuse a second referendum might be weakening, it becomes more important than ever that the opposition in Scotland make this count.