THE head of Scotland’s civil service has cleared the First Minister of breaking parliamentary rules when he visited a primary school in the run-up to a crucial Aberdeen by-election.
Sir Peter Housden, the permanent secretary to the Scottish Government, dismissed the need for an investigation into Aberdeen City Council’s complaints, arguing the business of government continued during by-elections.
However, the Labour leader of the council, Barney Crockett, yesterday announced he had written to Sir Bob Kerslake – the head of the UK’s civil service – and called on him to investigate the First Minister.
Last month, Councillor Crockett’s administration instructed the council’s chief executive, Valerie Watts, to write to Sir Peter about the “conduct” of the First Minister during his visit on 26 June, only days before the vote in the Aberdeen Donside by-election.
Mr Salmond was accused of acting “like a sneak thief” when he made an “unplanned” visit to Bramble Brae Primary school.
It was alleged that he had also breached “purdah” rules, which come into effect immediately before an election, by announcing a £100,000 donation to the Piper Alpha Memorial Trust.
The council’s demand for an investigation sparked an angry backlash from the First Minister who accused the Labour group of being in danger of bringing the “kamikaze” council into total disrepute and branded criticism of the Piper Alpha memorial donation as “offensive.”
Cllr Crockett, in turn, accused the First Minister of being a bully and lying about his visit to the school.
Yesterday, in a letter sent to the council’s chief executive, Sir Peter, stated: “As the First Minister indicated, the business of government continues during by-elections – there are no ‘purdah’ procedures per se.
“The donation to which you refer formed part of suite of events and engagements in Aberdeen and elsewhere that ran through the period to the anniversary on 6 July and beyond.
“It was made to the Piper Alpha Memorial Trust, a body set up to preserve the memory of a tragedy impacting on victims and relatives from many nations and communities. I hope these points will be of assistance to the council.”
But Cllr Crockett went back on the offensive last night revealing he has now written to Sir Bob, asking for an investigation into Mr Salmond’s conduct following Sir Peter’s “failure” to investigate.
He said no contact had been made by the permanent secretary’s office to investigate the complaint that the First Minister had entered the school to address a classroom without informing the headteacher.
Mr Crockett said: “It is clear from the permanent secretary’s response that there is no-one who is able to stand up to him and tell him he is wrong.
“The bully-boy tactics we have seen from the First Minister over the last few days extend to his office where no-one – not even the country’s most senior civil servant – feels brave enough to question his reckless and aggressive behaviour. He is out of control.”
Last night, Councillor Callum McCaig, the leader of the council’s SNP group, slammed Cllr Crockett’s stance. He said: “Mr Salmond has been cleared. The permanent secretary is saying he sees no reason to investigate.
“One must wonder if the lunatics have taken over the asylum.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The permanent secretary has already responded to Aberdeen City Council following the letter of July 1, explaining that the First Minister’s letter sets out the facts and background on the issue.”