Analysis: Nicola Sturgeon's fate in hands of James Hamilton

As consistently dramatic and explosive as the Alex Salmond inquiry has been, its conclusions matter far less to the future of Scotland’s First Minister than that of another concurrent investigation into her conduct.

Throughout its existence, the Holyrood inquiry into the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment complaints against Mr Salmond has been an exercise in partisan politicking.

To an extent, this is fine. It has helped some of the key issues be examined with forensic excellence, most commonly shown by Jackie Baillie of Scottish Labour.

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But it also leaves the committee open to attack for being partisan and some committee members’ questions (or in one incident, a five-minute speech) offer a transparent window into their motivations.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's judgement day will likely come when James Hamilton QC's report is released.
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The problem for the First Minister is attacking the committee members is an unedifying spectacle, especially when she is the subject of its conclusions, and Anas Sarwar and Keir Starmer’s accusation that in doing so she is no better than those leaking has its merits.

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It is a depressing fact that a ‘partisan prior judgement’ angle might just work for Sturgeon.

It is also why, without wishing to dismiss the importance of the Salmond inquiry, the investigation that really matters is that of James Hamilton.

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He is independent of any political party, a lawyer with a significant reputation, and one who has done this sort of thing before when investigating allegations the Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones misled the Senedd two years ago.

This additional layer of credibility to his investigation provides the First Minister with a buffer she otherwise would not have when facing accusations from the Holyrood equivalent.

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It is also clear there is a degree of confidence from the SNP that Mr Hamilton will find in favour of Sturgeon. It would not be brought up at every opportunity if they feared the worst.

That’s not to say he is guaranteed to find in her favour and the decision to put all of the First Minister’s eggs into the lawyer’s basket could become problematic for her.

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If Hamilton does find Sturgeon broke the ministerial code, any potential vote of no confidence will be strengthened and the Scottish Greens, so often the kingmakers, would likely find it very hard in election season not to vote in favour of such a move.

The First Minister may also feel duty bound to resign, though her public statements suggest she is confident she will not be obliged to do so.

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It is a shame the Salmond inquiry – ostensibly about the failings of the Scottish Government – has turned into a partisan crusade to topple Sturgeon.

Lessons that must be learned about how incompetence within the civil service led to the concession of Salmond’s judicial review might be forgotten as the opposition search for any reason to remove Scotland’s most popular politician from frontline politics.

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Two women were failed by the complaints process, still in place, which Laura Dunlop indicated was rushed by the Scottish Government.

Much of this lost in the noise of ‘misleading Parliament’ – surely a lesser charge than failing potential victims of sexual harassment.

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Sturgeon will likely ride out the Salmond inquiry report regardless of its findings and has been developing the ‘partisan’ grounds to do so for months.

Instead, the Hamilton report should decide her fate.

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