Scottish Politics Needs an Injection of Integrity

“Where are the feminist MSPs affronted by attempts to impede a process in relation to the handling of sexual misconduct?”

Ewan Gurr Archives – Evening Telegraph

This article appeared in the print edition of the Evening Telegraph on 22/02/2021

Last Thursday, the corporate body of the Scottish Parliament agreed to publish the controversial submission made by Scotland’s former First Minister Alex Salmond to a Holyrood inquiry into allegations of sexual misconduct against him. Approximately one week earlier, The Spectator won an Edinburgh High Court action as judge Lady Dorrian permitted its public release. The decision was heralded by The Spectator chairman Andrew Neil as a “good result for holding government to account.”

The SNP has been reluctant to publish the submission made by Scotland’s former First Minister, having voted down its release into the public domain on two previous occasions. Additionally, the SNP-chaired Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints decided not to publish the submission in January. On all occasions, the stated concern is Mr Salmond’s account may breach a court order to retain the anonymity of any or all complainants.

One complainant, whose identity was concealed on The Sunday Show, described the actions of the Committee as “more traumatic” than the High Court trial itself, saying she had “a glimmer of hope in a Committee” she expected would be “impartial” and able to “properly investigate the government”. To the contrary, she feels her “very personal experiences [have been] exploited for their own self-serving political interests” rather than addressing sexual harassment and bullying in the workplace.

Having read Mr Salmond’s submission, it is clear why the SNP did not want this information in the public domain, which has nothing to do with being able to identify complainants. To the contrary, it has everything to do with the fact a former First Minister claims the current First Minister misled Parliament by claiming she first heard of allegations when he visited her home on 2 April 2018. Mr Salmond’s submission states: “That is untrue and is a breach of the Ministerial Code.”  

I have resisted writing about the Salmond / Sturgeon relationship because comment on personal relationships does not, I believe, add value to discourse on politics and feels mildly voyeuristic. What has, however, purged me from the trenches is the lack of political commitment to democracy, as evidenced by the unwillingness to release documents that would traditionally be in the public domain. In most circumstances, withholding such information would have been viewed as an untenable position.  

For all the nationalist complaints of cronyism and corruption, short shrift is given to those at Westminster responsible for the unwarranted withholding or careless handling of sensitive information. In 2017, the current Home Secretary Priti Patel was sacked from a former role for withholding two trips she had taken to Israel on the taxpayer’s coin and, in 2019, the current Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson was sacked for a leak at a confidential National Security Council meeting.

Where is the commitment to democracy or even the feminist SNP MSPs who should be affronted by attempts to impede a process in relation to the handling of sexual misconduct allegations? Scottish politics urgently need an injection of integrity.