Loudness of attempt to defend Sturgeon speaks volumes

THERE is a new rule in Scottish politics: the louder Alex Salmond becomes during First Minister's Questions at Holyrood, the deeper he and his ground-breaking Nationalist administration are in trouble.

Yesterday Mr Salmond turned in a performance of high volume condemnation of the united Unionist front that questioned the actions of his deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, in supporting serial fraudster Abdul Rauf. The conclusion is obvious.

Labour, the Tories and the Liberals provoked this display of braggadocio by seeking to elicit the First Minister's views on Ms Sturgeon's plea for leniency on behalf of Rauf, who defrauded the Department of Work and Pensions of 80,000.

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Mr Salmond refused to say if he supported the views of his deputy, who had intervened on Rauf's behalf even though she knew he had a previous conviction for fraud. Instead the First Minister resorted to the tactics of the playground bully, leading his gang of MSPs intimidatingly against the opposition, clearly hoping that bluster would cover up the weakness of his argument.

Mr Salmond claimed that Ms Sturgeon had merely been following section eight of the code of conduct for MSPs, which covers their dealings with individual constituents' cases, and said his colleague was doing what any other constituency representative would do.

This was arrant nonsense. The code specifiesthat MSPs have an obligation to take cases when constituents come to them but adds that "it is recognised that there may be legitimate reasons for a member to decline a constituent's case in certain circumstances".

Pressed to cite any example of other MSPs doing as Ms Sturgeon had done, Mr Salmond could only mention cases involving Westminster MPs including Gordon Brown who gave a reference for a constituent, with no previous convictions, who admitted growing cannabis.

Even if Mr Brown was wrong, that does not make Ms Sturgeon correct to intervene. Two wrongs do not make a right.

The First Minister was hoping that if he made this point often enough, and loud enough, the opposition would back down and also not question the involvement of one of his political advisers in assisting Ms Sturgeon in what was supposedly only a constituency matter.

Mr Salmond's line of attack will be seen by the public for what it was: an attempt to protect a political ally with arguments that insult the intelligence of the electorate.

Last night it emerged that, as The Scotsman advocated yesterday, Ms Sturgeon will make a statement on the affair to parliament, a welcome development as her fitness to remain a minister is being questioned.

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But it is worth noting that need not have come to this. Had Ms Sturgeon admitted that, motivated by an honourable desire to serve a constituent, she had made an error of judgment we would not be here. Instead of this, her leader went on the attack, refused to admit to a mistake and tried to bluff his way out of trouble. Mr Salmond should learn that you cannot play the public for fools.