Wednesday, 24 February 2021

The Salmond Debacle

I have spent most of my life analysing processes and procedures, how things actually happen, whether disease in my early career or, after having to retire from the medical profession on ill health grounds, management and production processes in multinational companies. 

What does it look like if I apply process analysis to the Salmond Debacle?

To do that we need to make clear some definitions which over the period of the debacle have become blurred.

The Permanent Secretary is the senior civil servant in Scotland and leads the 5000 plus people working for the Scottish Government. The Permanent Secretary supports the government in developing, implementing and communicating its policies. The current Permanent Secretary of the Scottish Government is Leslie Evans. This organisation I will refer to as the "Civil Service".

The Scottish Government is the devolved government of Scotland. It was formed in 1999 as the Scottish Executive following the 1997 referendum on Scottish devolution. The Scottish Government consists of the Scottish Ministers, which is used to describe their collective legal functions. This organisation I will refer to as the "Scottish Government".

Her Majesty's Advocate, known as the Lord Advocate  is the chief legal officer of the Scottish Government and the Crown in Scotland for both civil and criminal matters that fall within the devolved powers of the Scottish Parliament. They are the chief public prosecutor for Scotland and all prosecutions on indictment are conducted by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, nominally in the Lord Advocate's name. This is the Lord Advocate appointed by the Queen on the recommendation of the First Minister, with the agreement of the Scottish Parliament.

Above him is the UK Government appointed minister who advises the UK Cabinet on Scots Law, constitutional practice and the implications of Westminster legislation upon it, known confusingly as the Advocate General.

The timeline appear to be:

The head of the civil service in Scotland received complaints from female civil servants that they had been sexually abused by Alex Salmond. Problem there was no civil service procedure that covers allegations against non-civil servants working with civil servants. Problem solved by creating a new process and the head of the Civil Service in Scotland signing off and the First Minister approving the procedure now in place.

Problem 1: the civil service investigating officer who was going to be appointed starts taking statements from complainants before she was formally appointed which was clearly in breach of the due process. Instead of shutting down the investigation and appointing a different investigating officer they ploughed ahead.

Problem 2: news of the internal, confidential investigation is leaked to the media.

Problem 3: The Civil Service legal team say they should drop the investigation as it has not followed due process and if Salmond takes them to court they will lose. The decision is made to pursue the case in the Court of Session but by who? It could only be Leslie Evans as the First Minister is isolated from the investigation and any decision making under the procedure. The procedure is clear; the current First Minister can not be involved in any decision nor is informed at any point during the investigation.

Alex Salmond's legal team seeks to negotiate an out of court settlement but are rebuffed, the court case goes ahead, the Scottish Government on the Civil Service's behalf concedes the case at the pre-trial hearing and ends up paying out £100,000 in costs.

As far as the information in the public domain is concerned at some point prior to the Court case Salmond and Sturgeon met to discuss the situation, what was actually said at the meeting is in the realms of "she said, an I said, an she said Naw a didnae ..." and depends on which side of the fence you sit.

The key questions about the criminal case procedure are: 

  1. After the failed Court of Session hearing compromised any future case against Mr Salmond, why was the police investigation not halted?  
  2. Who then decided there was adequate evidence to pursue a prosecution? 
  3. There is only one person who could have taken that decision, the Lord Advocate, in a case involving a senior politician
  4. Why did he?  Given the investigation was already seriously compromised by leaks in the media and on social networks naming the "victims" and suggesting they were not being as straight as they claimed and had ulterior motives.

So the Sheriff Court Case went ahead with a female judge and a predominantly female jury, who after hearing all the evidence found Mr Salmond not guilty and innocent of all charges against him.

At no time during this process is the Scottish Government directly involved in any of the decision making as it was either a Civil Service decision or the Lord Advocate's independent decision to pursue the criminal case on a purely legal basis. The Scottish Government will have been informed of the process going on but had no power to intervene.

Meanwhile in the corridors in Holyrood and SNP HQ the gossips are at work filling in all the empty spaces I have highlighted, filling them with conjecture, political plotting, its known Mr Morrell hates Salmond so he must be the instigator, corridor gossip becomes media gossip, e.mails backing up the latest intrigue are leaked, confidential material pertinent to the case against Mr Salmond is leaked. The gossip pot is stirred and heated to the point it boils over, as more and more conjecture is thrown on the fire. He said / she said ....

Folk with an axe to grind about the delay to an independence referendum take up Salmond's case pointing fingers at SNP high heid yins as the culprits who tried to do down their man, the only man that can bring independence in their eyes, as the SNP are too feart, too fat and happy with the status quo, naw interested in independence anytime soon.

The question no one is asking is:  Just who can gain from all this froth and furore?

It certainly is not the SNP, the Scottish independence movement at large, the push for a referendum in Autumn 2021 or even Mr Salmond, who is now being seen as part of the problem by many both inside and outside the SNP.

For me the "Holyrood inquiry" is looking in all the wrong places if they actually want an answer, too wrapped up in the gossip and the "he said /she said and when" mire. Asking all the wrong questions for all the wrong reasons. Conflating civil service / Lord Advocate decision making with the Scottish Government being kept informed.

There are only two players who know what actually happened, when and why, Leslie Evans (as Head of the Civil Service in Scotland) and the Lord Advocate, James Wolfe QC.