The Salmond row: What we know, what we need to know, and what happens now

Ben Wray

The Salmond row has become extremely complex very quickly – CommonSpace provides a handy breakdown of what you need to know

THE debacle over Alex Salmond’s alleged sexual misconduct, which he denies, has engulfed Scottish politics and caused an unseemly public spat between the former and current First Ministers in the press, each accusing the other of smears.

In the week since Salmond’s victory over the Scottish Government at the Court of Session, four new inquiries have been established in what is now set to be a complicated and long-running examination of the what, why, when and how of the complaints against Salmond and how they’ve been handled, on top of the ongoing issue of whether the former First Minister is guilty of criminal sexual misconduct.

CommonSpace breaks down what we know, what is set to happen now, and the known unknowns of the fiasco.

What we know

First, let’s clarify what has already ben established. 

Sexual misconduct complaints were made to the Scottish Government in January 2018 concerning allegations dating back to December 2013. 

A process was established by the head of the Scottish civil service, Lesley Evans, which was signed off by Nicola Sturgeon, for the handling of those allegations.

In August 2018, the allegations became public following the completion of Evans’ investigation, when the Daily Record revealed that Salmond had been reported to police over claims that he sexually assaulted two staff members at Bute House, the first minister’s official Edinburgh residence.

Following this press leak, Salmond strongly denied the allegations, and announced that he would be taking the Scottish Government to court over the handling of the investigation, which he described as “grossly unfair and therefore will inevitably lead to prejudicial outcomes”. He also stated he had resigned from the SNP but intended to rejoin once he’d cleared his name.

Read more – Nicola Sturgeon: Sexual misconduct complaints against Alex Salmond “could not be ignored”

Sturgeon and Evans initially said that the Scottish Government would “defend its position vigorously” in court, before conceding before the trial was due to begin that it had prejudiced the case because the senior official appointed by Evans to handle the investigation, Judith MacKinnon, had had significant contact with the complainants about the issue prior to her appointment.

The Judge said that the government had acted unlawfully “in respect that they were procedurally unfair” and “tainted with apparent bias”. Salmond described it as an “abject surrender” from the Scottish Government, and called on Evans to consider her position.

Evans did not step down, and Sturgeon defended her remaining in post. Both said botching the procedure was “deeply regrettable” and apologised to the two complainants, but that “in all other respects” the procedure was “fair to all concerned”. Salmond had accused the Scottish Government of coaching the two complainants.

The First Minister then revealed that she had spoken to Salmond on five occasions once the investigation had begun, three times in person and twice on the phone. Sturgeon claimed that on every occasion she told him that she could not intervene in the case, and had met him in her capacity as SNP leader, not First Minister. 

Read more – Alex Salmond wins case against @ScotGov over handling of sexual harassment claims

It has since been revealed that Sturgeon’s chief of staff, Liz Lloyd, and one of Salmond’s lawyers, Duncan Hamilton, attended the 2 April meeting between the two. Salmond and Sturgeon talked in private.

The meetings were set up after Lloyd met Geoff Aberdein, a former employee of Salmond during his tenure as First Minister, who has since said that at a meeting between the two on 6 March Lloyd said “she suspected” a Scottish Government investigation into Salmond was coming. Sturgeon has claimed she became aware of the investigation from Salmond at the 2 April meeting. The First Minister only informed Evans of the first meeting when the second one was requested.

Sturgeon has referred herself to the ministerial ethics watchdog over whether she broke the ministerial code in having the meetings with the former First Minister. She said she has “acted appropriately and in good faith at all times”.

Sturgeon’s spokesperson accused “the other side” – Salmond’s team – of orchestrating a “vendetta” against Lloyd.

Salmond, who said the First Minister should “concentrate on Scottish independence” when asked about her role in the row, has said he is being targeted because “some people are clearly very anxious to remove me now as a political threat, which is why this is probably not over”.

What happens now?

Criminal investigation

The first and most important investigation, which takes legal precedence over all the others, is Police Scotland’s criminal investigation into the complaints. It has been reported that this has been wide ranging, including meetings with many former SNP staff and including Edinburgh Airport, which has confirmed it has assisted the investigation. The criminal investigation began in August and there appears to be no end in sight yet. More than anything, we need to know if Salmond is guilty of the allegations or not.

Civil service

The Scottish Civil Service has announced an internal review into its own handling of the case following the Scottish Government’s defeat in court, which cost taxpayers £500,000 to fight and was clearly botched. Civil service investigations into itself are notoriously unlikely to throw up surprises, but we need answers as to how it could have gone so wrong, who is responsible, exactly what sort of contact MacKinnon had with the two complainants prior to being appointed to handle the complaint and whether the handing over of heavily redacted documents to Salmond’s legal team is part of some sort of cover-up.

Information Commissioner

Salmond has reported the Scottish Government to the Information Commissioner’s Office over how the allegations were leaked and by who. The ICO has said it is making enquiries to the Scottish Government, which said it found no evidence of a data breach. But the information must have got to the Daily Record by some source, with only a very limited number of people having access to such confidential information: the First Minister’s Office, Evans’ Office and the two complainants. The leak is a major breach of procedure in itself, and risks the right to anonymity of the accused and accusers, as well as deterring survivors from bringing forward cases in the future. 

The Ministerial Code Panel

Sturgeon’s referral of herself to the Ministerial Code centres around whether she discussed official ministerial business at a private meeting with Salmond and, if so, whether she reported that back to her Private Office “as soon as possible after the event”, as section 4.23 of the code obliges her to do. A panel of independent advisers will pursue the investigation. It’s essential that Sturgeon and her chief of staff’s full role in the Salmond investigation is made clear to see whether she did “act appropriately at all times”, as she has claimed.

Parliamentary inquiry

The final investigation, announced yesterday [15 January], is that of the Scottish Parliament, which is going to look at the Scottish Government’s handling of the investigation. The exact details of the scope of this investigation are yet to be decided, with a Scottish Parliament spokesperson saying that a special committee has ben established to “prepare options on its remit and membership”. It is likely to be wide ranging, and to seek to look forward to ensure that the mishandling of this investigation is never repeated and that Holyrood becomes a place where survivors of sexual misconduct feel confident to come forward. 

Known unknowns

This debacle clearly has a long way to run, and only those on the inside will have a good idea about where it is going to go next. But there are clear known unknowns: What did Sturgeon and Lloyd know and when? How did the leak happen? What was the nature of Mackinnon’s contact with the complainants prior to being appointed to handle the investigation? Why were the Scottish Government’s documents to the court relating to the case heavily redacted? Is Salmond guilty of criminal sexual misconduct or not? 

Picture courtesy of the Scottish Government

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