Friday 19 March 2021

Losing with a stacked deck


It is remarkable indeed that the Alex Salmond Committee has concluded that Nicola Sturgeon misled it. It is about as remarkable as winning a game of poker against someone who can deal whichever card he pleases when he pleases. If we were in a Western saloon such a person would be liable to get himself involved in a gunfight if his dealing from the bottom of the deck or from up his sleeve was discovered. But the gunfight would be liable to occur only when his opponent found that he had lost and that he had lost not because of chance but because the deck was stacked against him. If the card sharp were lucky he would be run out of town. If he were unlucky, he would come away with a bullet rather than his winnings. But although the Salmond Inquiry involved a stacked deck, it is Sturgeon that has lost.

The Alex Salmond Committee has an SNP convener, Linda Fabiani. It has four SNP members, who give the impression of doing everything in their power to prevent anything damaging to Sturgeon from coming to light. They wasted time by asking irrelevant questions. We had to sit through hours of filler from the SNP members just to get to people like Murdo Fraser and Jackie Baillie who asked the difficult questions designed to get at the truth. There were two other Pro UK members of the committee and one former Scottish Green MSP Andy Wightman now sitting as an independent.

The Scottish Greens in general are more interested in saving Sturgeon than saving the world. Their main role since being elected to the Scottish Parliament has been to form a group with the SNP. On every important issue they have sided with the SNP especially over the issue of independence. They are not so much environmentalists as a different shade of Scottish nationalist. The Committee therefore has not only a pro independence convener, it also has a pro independence majority. But the side you take on Scottish independence is the only issue of substance that the Scottish electorate votes on. So, the Committee has a majority on that issue too. If that is not a stacked deck, what is?

The Committee has been hampered from the beginning by the Scottish Government being unwilling to cooperate with it. The Crown Office and the Lord Advocate have done their best to prevent the Committee reading statements written by Alex Salmond, going so far as trying to prevent it reading statements that were already in the public domain. We have discovered that certain civil servants were given expensive advice on how they should testify. When Sturgeon herself appeared before the Committee much of her evidence amounted to, I don’t know, I don’t remember, and I wasn’t there. It took a vote of no confidence in John Swinney before crucial evidence about the legal advice given to the Scottish Government was made available. If that is not a stacked deck what is?

But even so a majority of the committee now thinks that Sturgeon misled it. She of course maintains that this is partisan. But the only thing that is partisan is that the four SNP members of the Committee voted against. It is extraordinary and to his credit that Mr Wightman has voted contrary to the normal division of Scottish politics. Doubtless Sturgeon will be furious with him and perhaps there will be political consequences for him. Independence supporters who voted for him to be an MSP may be regretting their decision.

The Scottish Government did everything possible to prevent the Committee coming to the conclusion that it did. We can assume that Mr Wightman was sympathetic to Sturgeon and shared the same political goal as her to achieve Scottish independence. He must know that any damage to her would also be damaging to the prospects of independence. Yet still he chose to side with the Pro UK minority MSPs in saying that Sturgeon misled the Committee.

When an historical witness who is a supporter of a King or Queen says something negative about them, we are more likely to believe it precisely because it is contrary to that person’s interest to say something negative. So too here. If Mr Wightman could have possibly sided with the SNP he would have done so, but the evidence must have been so overwhelming that his conscience overcame his natural tendency to support the pro-independence side. It makes his view crucially more believable precisely because it is contrary to his interest.

Imagine if the Committee had been organised differently with genuinely impartial members, such as during a Public Inquiry. Imagine if the convener had been a judge. Imagine if the Scottish Government and the Crown Office had cooperated fully and provided all the evidence they had, if necessary, in private to protect the identities of the women complainers. In that case there would not have been a stacked deck. How much more likely would it have been in those circumstances that Sturgeon would have been found to have not merely misled the Committee, but something worse?

The Scottish Government did everything possible to prevent the truth about Sturgeon coming out. It had cards up its sleeve, it dealt from the bottom, it had marked cards, yet still it could not win the poker hand. The case against Sturgeon is now so bad that she cannot win even by cheating.

Sturgeon will not resign. The Scottish Parliament with its independence supporting majority will protect her. But the Scottish public can now see the aces coming out of her sleeves. If she can mislead a Parliamentary Inquiry, she can mislead us about everything. How can we trust her to tell the truth about Scottish Independence, Covid or anything else? If she won’t go honourably, it is time to make her go dishonourably by running her out of town on a rail.