Analysis: The resignations that may follow in Alex Salmond report fallout

The long-awaited report from the Alex Salmond inquiry narrates a litany of failures, repeated instances of incompetence and the obstruction – deliberately or not – of the courts by the Scottish Government.

It is damning for the civil service and calls into question the competency of those leading key areas of government, most clearly those in HR and the permanent secretary.

While the First Minister is safe, it is likely resignations will be needed for the public to feel like someone in government has taken responsibility.

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Primarily, the permanent secretary will now be under enormous pressure to go.

Scottish Parliament handout photo of Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government Leslie Evans giving evidence at Holyrood to a Scottish Parliament committee examining the handling of harassment complaints involving current and former Ministers.
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Alex Salmond inquiry: Nicola Sturgeon 'misled the committee' as judicial review ...

Ultimately, Leslie Evans is responsible for the robustness of the implementation of the policy – a test failed by the Scottish Government.

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But more importantly the Scottish Government’s internal approach to the judicial review painted a picture of an organisation unable to meet its duty of candour through sheer incompetence or deliberate obstruction.

In a litany of failures, the running theme is a civil service unable to fulfil basic requests that were key to the Scottish Government case as they defended the judicial review.

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The report details a document-handling process so flawed it directly led to the case becoming unstatable and where several, counsel-demanded requests failed to reveal key information.

Neither is acceptable. They cost the taxpayer thousands and were Ms Evans’s responsibility.

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Judith Mackinnon, the civil servant whose appointment as investigating officer proved to be the crucial downfall of the Scottish Government’s defence of the judicial review, may also consider her position.

It is hard to see how Ms Mackinnon should stay in post given it was information from her records that failed to be provided to the court.

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On top of this, Nicola Richards, who ultimately appointed Ms Mackinnon as investigating officer, could go.

It is hard to disagree with the committee’s argument that it is “astonishing” that a civil servant of her experience did not identify the risks of appointing Ms Mackinnon into her role while aware of her prior contact with complainers.

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However, the political trophy of the First Minister’s resignation – while demanded by opposition – is out of reach.

Perversely, Nicola Sturgeon has been partially saved by the incompetence of her opponents and the belief of her predecessor that she led a unproven conspiracy against him.

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The bar for her resignation over this matter was set artificially high by the opposition at conspiracy and breaching the ministerial code, allowing the lesser charges of presiding over serious government failures to be generally accepted as not a resignation matter.

The James Hamilton report cleared Ms Sturgeon of that central accusation and even the Holyrood committee, divided irretrievably on party lines, concluded a decision on the code was for him alone.

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The groundwork for dismissing the inquiry report as partisan was laid months ago. The rookie tactical error by the Scottish Conservatives of calling for her resignation prior to her evidence session handed victory to Ms Sturgeon on a plate.

This report is damning enough that had it not been prejudged by leaks and political point-scoring, we could have seen legitimate calls for the First Minister to resign.

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Instead Ms Sturgeon escapes this fate not because she and her government was shown to act appropriately, but due to the actions of those desperate to see the back of her.

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