GUNN must be fired if Salmond and the SNP are to have any claims of integrity writes Euan McColm
A civil servant working for the First Minister of Scotland is caught passing inaccurate information about a woman to a journalist. The only logical explanation for this act is that it was hoped the information might undermine the authority of the woman, who happens to hold views on Scottish independence which differ from Alex Salmond’s.
Almost a week after this ham-fisted attempt to damage the credibility of Clare Lally – a mother of twins, one of whom requires round-the-clock care – was exposed, the First Minister’s spokesman, Campbell Gunn, remains in a job. And this is troubling, indeed.
It seems appropriate to declare an interest. I’ve known Gunn for more than two decades. He was a universally popular member of the Holyrood lobby while political editor of the Sunday Post.
And, though it was hardly any surprise to those of us who knew him when Gunn went to work for the First Minister, as a journalist he considered all politicians to be fair game.
But his many decades of excellent journalism do not excuse what he did to Clare Lally.
After seeing her introduced at a Better Together rally as an “ordinary” mother of two, Gunn decided to email a newspaper to point out that she was, in fact, a member of Scottish Labour’s shadow cabinet, which she attends as an adviser on carers’ issues.
Not only this, he said, but she was also the daughter-in-law of former Labour lord provost of Glasgow Pat Lally. But Gunn misfired. She is not related to Glasgow’s one-time civic leader.
At the same Campbell was sending his email, Clare Lally was being traduced on social media. That same baseless allegation that she’d concealed a relationship with a one-time senior (but, it must be said, no longer at all influential) Labour politician was a theme of attacks which reduced her to tears.
Salmond ordered Gunn to apologise but insisted that this was neither a sacking nor a resigning matter.
The First Minister had a benign, silly-old-Campbell explanation which refused to read between the lines. All Salmond’s man had done was pass on one piece of perfectly accurate information and one piece which was inaccurate, but hardly insulting.
This was disingenuous rubbish, of course. The problem here was not the substance of information, but the intention behind its distribution. Lally had spoken at a Better Together rally and her bubble had to be burst. Gunn’s email was all about undermining her credibility.
This rather petty – and now quite evidently idiotic – act was made doubly indefensible by the fact that the information which was to cast doubt on Lally’s credentials was not true.
Salmond insists that his spokesman did not break the code of conduct for special advisers which states that one found distributing inappropriate material should be instantly dismissed.
I fail to see how using the first falsehood he Googled to undermine a political opponent isn’t a clear-cut case of the distribution of inappropriate material.
Are there to be degrees, here, where we will accept the spreading of misinformation up to a certain level?
This, of course, cannot be so. Special advisers may be unique among civil servants in being allowed to engage in party political matters, but this doesn’t empower them to spread the lies (or flawed suppositions) of others to score points.
Campbell Gunn clings to his job, supported by a First Minister who has begun to show a little less respect to the parliament he has dominated since 2007.
These days, any criticism of the Scottish Government – however valid, however right there in front of your nose the misdeed may be – is to be dismissed. Thus, the clearly inappropriate content of Campbell’s email is judged by Salmond not to be so. To reach this conclusion he must have considered the spreading of falsehood to have been appropriate. There is no grey area, as much as some in the SNP would like there to be.
There are wider issues here. Recently there was the defence of inappropriate behaviour when it was revealed Health Secretary Alex Neil had excused himself from making a decision on the future of mental health services at a hospital in his constituency only after he’d ordered officials to act to ensure their retention.
There was a paper trail, even a smoking gun email that laid bare Neil’s actions, but Salmond argued black was white, inappropriate was appropriate.
Nor is dissent from a pro-SNP narrative tolerated in Holyrood’s committees where, currently, much of the detail of the Government’s white paper is being examined. On Thursday just past, Prof Adam Tomkins of Glasgow University was called to give evidence to the European and External Relations Committee about the division of assets post-independence.
When his evidence did not suit the SNP’s “everything will be straightforward” story, his views were crudely misrepresented by nationalist MSP Willie Coffey.
Attempting to clarify his remarks, Tomkins was then silenced by the committee’s convener, Christina McKelvie, also of the SNP. It was as uncomfortable a scene to watch as you might imagine two idiots ganging up on a professor could be.
Campbell Gunn remains in his job, allowed to stay after spinning something which wasn’t true. Alex Neil remains in his job, allowed to stay after misleading the country about his involvement in a decision which had direct implications for his re-election.
Holyrood’s committees – intended to be a substitute for a second chamber, where Government business would be thoroughly scrutinised and rigorously tested – are dominated by SNP MSPs who stamp down on criticism of Salmond and his proposals.
The Scottish Nationalists promised government of integrity, open and accountable. But, as the independence referendum draws closer, there can be no admission of error, no payment for fault.
Every day Campbell Gunn remains in post, the accusation that Alex Salmond holds Holyrood and its codes of conduct in contempt simply because his parliamentary majority allows him to will remain valid. «