Analysis: Frustrations and obfuscations in Alex Salmond inquiry, but no-one to blame

There have been many frustrations around the multiple inquiries into how the Scottish Government handled sexual harassment complaints against former first minister Alex Salmond.

There was the reluctance of the government to release legal advice about the judicial review – which Mr Salmond won – despite two parliamentary votes urging its publication.

There was the drip drip of information from the civil service, rather than throwing open its books to committee scrutiny, which later appeared to have been its normal modus operandi as it had also failed to disclose all information to its legal counsel until the last moment.

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There were the clarifications which needed to be made after government witnesses appeared on oath to give evidence to MSPs.

Nicola Sturgeon with Alex Salmond when the pair were firm friends and allies.
Nicola Sturgeon with Alex Salmond when the pair were firm friends and allies.

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Alex Salmond inquiry: The key findings by MSPs

And, of course, the legal restrictions on information which had been raised in the criminal trial – which cleared Mr Salmond – was protected from the public gaze in case the identification of any of the complainers could be made.

Then there were the redactions – in the evidence the committee published as it went along, in Mr Salmond’s evidence after the Scottish Parliament’s Corporate Body was warned it could have amounted to contempt of court, and finally in the independent report by James Hamilton, who investigated whether Nicola Sturgeon had breached certain sections of the ministerial code.

He concluded she hadn’t broken the rules, yet said he himself was frustrated that an incomplete picture had been given after the government blacked out much of his report.

There was also a certain frustration that it took the committee quite so long to hear from Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon – the two main witnesses with wildly differing recollections of events.

And, of course, there were the leaks. The most damaging of all was the release of some of the testimony of the two women at the heart of the whole mess.

Was it deliberate, to frustrate the committee’s authority and its report? Was it, as Mr Salmond’s supporters would claim, just “another smear” against a man they seem to believe never put a foot wrong despite the fact he apologised to one of the women at the time of the incident of which she later complained?

What was most frustrating of all was the fact those two women, key to all of this, were not spoken to by the committee until the very end of its deliberations. It’s understandable they may not initially have wanted to do do so, but as the committee progressed, its members should have realised that without their views on the process in which they were caught, that its report would be incomplete.

So a week before its report was published, the women gave evidence. And it was damning.

They spoke of a “blind eye” being turned to poor behaviour on Mr Salmond’s part, that “making complaints was simply not the done thing”, and the Fairness At Work process was “laughable”.

Worse, they said they had received no support from the Scottish Government since the collapse of its judicial review case. None. That they were “dropped”. That through the police investigation and criminal trial they were left to sink or swim.

All of this could have been put to Ms Sturgeon, Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans and indeed Mr Salmond had the committee spoken to them earlier.

How could Ms Evans, in particular, have defended her abandonment of these women? How could Ms Sturgeon say now Ms Evans will not be asked to resign if she was forced to face the testimony of the women during her oral evidence session?

No-one is to blame it seems for how these women were treated by their employers. That is a scandal and one which should not be allowed to be forgotten.

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