Nicola Sturgeon cleared: Focus should now shift to ensuring civil servants can trust complaints process – Scotsman comment

Asked to investigate whether Nicola Sturgeon broke the Ministerial Code in relation to the handling of complaints made about Alex Salmond, Irish lawyer James Hamilton has now provided a clear answer: she did not.

Nicola Sturgeon has been cleared of breaching the ministerial code after an investigation into whether she misled the Scottish Parliament by Irish lawyer James Hamilton (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire)

While five out of nine MSPs on the Holyrood committee set up to look into the Scottish government's disastrous handling of the complaints reportedly disagree, it is the verdict of the Independent Adviser on the Scottish Ministerial Code and as such is likely to hold the greatest sway.

There now seems no question of the First Minister being forced to resign despite today’s planned vote of no confidence.

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In his report, Hamilton rightly said it was “regrettable” that she did not initially give MSPs a full account of how she learned about the complaints, but accepted her explanation that it was a genuine error – even if it was “inevitably likely to be greeted with suspicion, even scepticism by some”.

The political ramifications of the whole sorry affair will, of course, continue. The First Minister’s normally high personal polls ratings have fallen in recent weeks – although to levels most other politicians can still only dream of – and, while this decision may see them recover to a degree, it is likely that some voters will view her slightly differently, both within the SNP and among all-important floating voters.

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Hamilton report finds Nicola Sturgeon ‘did not breach the ministerial code’

In an already cynical world, the sheer bitterness and rancour of the fallout between Salmond and his successor will have left some people even more cynical and, therefore, probably less likely to be inspired by optimistic visions about the benefits of independence.

MSPs’ on the Salmond Committee are due to publish their report today when the focus should shift onto a question that has been overshadowed by the political drama: how on Earth were the complaints against Salmond so badly mishandled?

It is important to remember the complaints were never investigated under the government’s complaints process because it was found to be illegal, and also that foolish attempts to defend what happened in court wasted hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money.

Civil servants – and women in Scotland as a whole looking to the Scottish government to set an example – need to have confidence that such a situation will never happen again and any future complaints will be dealt with fairly and in accordance with the law.

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