First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her husband, Peter Murrell, the SNP chief executive. Top of the page: Conservative interim leader Ruth Davidson.

By Bill Heaney

Peter Murrell, husband of Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, got it in the neck from Tory leader Ruth Davidson in the Scottish Parliament today when she accused him of failing to give straight answers to the committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints otherwise known as the Salmond Inquiry.

Davidson, who will take her seat in the House of Lords after the Scottish Parliament elections in May, told MSPs: “The Scottish National Party’s chief executive, Peter Murrell, might have committed perjury by changing his story under oath to an inquiry of a committee of this Parliament.

“However, he has been clear about one thing: Nicola Sturgeon did not discuss the Alex Salmond meetings with him as her party chief executive.

“That is about the only thing that he has given a straight answer on. He was certain that the meetings were on Government business. Did Peter Murrell tell the truth under oath?”

A remarkably un-flustered Sturgeon replied: “Yes, Peter Murrell did tell the truth. Of course, he is perfectly capable of standing up for himself and does not need me to do that.

“I will, assuming that the committee does not postpone my appearance again, get my opportunity to set out to it my account next Tuesday. I relish that opportunity.

“It is perhaps clear to everyone why the Opposition parties are so keen to drag Peter Murrell into a process that he had no part in, and to damage him.

“Perhaps they know how integral he has been during the past 15 years to the electoral success of the SNP and, conversely, to the electoral defeats of those parties. Their motive is very transparent, indeed.”

After that peon of praise for her husband from Sturgeon, Davidson said: “The First Minister said that Peter Murrell told the truth, but the SNP chief executive’s evidence conflicts with the First Minister’s, and only one of them can be right.”

She added: “There is a pattern here: a ruling party of government acting as though it is beyond reproach, a chief executive changing his story, a suddenly forgetful First Minister, votes in Parliament ignored and promises of co-operation broken.

“Officials who have been coached at taxpayers’ expense have been forced to change their evidence, and lawyers have shut down key witnesses and statements.

“The Parliament—the country—should not have to put up with that. Therefore, today I am sharing evidence that the committee will not publish. This evidence has been shut down even though it is already in the public domain.

“The First Minister does not need to wait for her committee appearance to answer these questions, because the committee will not publish the evidence anyway.

“Alex Salmond says that the First Minister set up a meeting on 14 July 2018, in her home, and that after that she called him on 18 July to discuss the ongoing situation. Did the permanent secretary know about those meetings before they happened?”

Former First Minister Alex Salmond has refused to give evidence to the committee.

Sturgeon said she had already set out an account of the dates on which she spoke to Alex Salmond, in person and on the telephone – “In my written evidence. I told the permanent secretary that those meetings had happened, and I told the committee in written evidence when all that happened. I will go into all of it in detail, under oath, before the committee next week. That is the right and proper way to do this.

“I  want to sit in front of the committee. I have been having accusations levelled at me for two years now, but have not been able to answer them fully because, first, of the ongoing criminal proceedings, then laterally out of respect for the process of the committee.

“I am not refusing to sit in front of the committee; I am relishing the prospect of doing it, because then people will be able to hear my account and make up their own minds. In the meantime, I will get on with doing the job that people across the country want me to do, which is to lead it through a pandemic.”

Davidson was not content with that answer. She replied: “If we pick our way through that answer, it sounds like the First Minister only informed the permanent secretary after the meeting and the phone call. Let us get the story straight.

“In everyone else’s mind—including Peter Murrell’s—this was always a Government matter. However, according to the First Minister’s story, it only became a Government matter on 6 June, when she wrote to the permanent secretary to say that she knew about the investigation. Therefore, this became, to the First Minister’s mind, a Government matter on 6 June. It being a Government matter, she then—a month later—set up a meeting with Alex Salmond, in her house, on 14 July. Then, she called him four days later. All that was on a Government matter, without any official being present or record being taken, and it was all against the ministerial code.”

The Tory interim leader asked the FM: “If she knew that it was Government business on 6 June, she set up the July meetings and phone calls without an official being present or a record being taken?”

Sturgeon reply was scathing: “A moment ago, Ruth Davidson said that she was going to reveal evidence that nobody would otherwise hear. As far as I recall—people can check my written evidence—everything that she has just said is set out in the written evidence that I have already given to the committee. It is published, and it has been for months.

“I have been patiently waiting to give oral evidence to the committee, but my date on which to do that has been postponed—I understand the reasons why—certainly two and perhaps three times. I certainly hope to be sitting in front of the committee, answering all these questions, under oath next Tuesday morning. People can listen to that and make up their own minds.

“I believe that it is important to subject myself to scrutiny and to make sure that the Government is subjected to scrutiny, but it is also important to have the opportunity to tackle head-on some of the ridiculous conspiracy theories that people such as Ruth Davidson have, in my view, been all too quick to indulge.

“I call on anybody who has anything that would help with the process of the committee to do what I am going to do, which is to put an account on the record, under oath. I am not the one who is refusing to do that.”

This appeared to be a dig at Alex Salmond who has refused to give evidence to the inquiry.

Sturgeon added: “I undertook all my meetings, as I have said before, in my capacity as party leader. I will set that out again orally. I informed the permanent secretary in June when I thought that the Government was going to be subjected to a legal challenge. I have made all that clear.

“All along, I was determined that I was doing nothing to intervene in or to compromise the confidentiality, independence and integrity of a process that was kicked off because women—whose voices have, to be frank, too often been lost in this process—came forward with complaints.

“I thought that it was important that those complaints were properly investigated and not swept under the carpet just because of the seniority and party affiliation of the person whom they were about.

“I will set out my account openly and fully. I relish having—at long last—the opportunity to do that.”

Davidson said that women in the Salmond sexual harassment case, in which he was cleared of all charges, were failed – “The women were failed—they were failed by system that was set up by the First Minister’s Government.

“While they were being failed, the First Minister knew exactly what she was meeting Alex Salmond about.

“She chose not to tell her officials in advance and she chose not to keep a record. She kept on speaking to Alex Salmond all throughout the process—the process that failed all those women. Then she came into this chamber and told Parliament things that have been utterly contradicted by her own evidence and testimony.

The Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh where the debate took place.

“We have women who have been failed, taxpayers’ money and a cover-up at the heart of Government. The whole affair stinks to high heaven. Someone should take responsibility for those failings. Should not it be the First Minister?”

Sturgeon appeared unfazed by the Tory leader’s questions: “Scrutiny of the Government and of my role as First Minister is right and proper, which is why I am freely subjecting myself to that scrutiny next Tuesday. I have waited a long time to get the opportunity to do that, and I now relish the opportunity.

“What is very clear—it has certainly been clear from Ruth Davidson and, I think, from some members of the committee—is that it does not matter to some people what I say next Tuesday. It does not matter what any of us say to the committee, because those people have prejudged the issues. They have decided in advance what are the rights and wrongs of the situation.

“The roots of this whole issue are in complaints that came forward not about my behaviour, but about somebody else’s behaviour. It was right that those complaints were properly investigated. We know, because this is why the judicial review action collapsed as it did, that the Government made a mistake in its application of procedure.

“I deeply regret that, because I think that it let women down. However, in my view, a process that indulges conspiracy theories without insisting that people come before the committee to substantiate those theories also lets down the women.

“The scrutiny of me and my Government is right and proper, and I do not shy away from it. On the contrary—I have been waiting a long time to sit before the committee and face up to it.

“Of course, another on-going process is looking into whether—or not, as I would say—I breached the ministerial code. It is important to allow that to take its course, as well.

“It feels to me as though certain people in the chamber have already prejudged all that and are not interested in what I have, or anybody else has, to say about it”

One comment


    Iain Lawson’s article yesterday could be viewed in two different ways. It explains the agony facing an indy voter, who knows support for a good local MSP will be seen, when taken with all similar votes in the country, to be an endorsement of Nicola Sturgeon whose conduct he finds reprehensible. Or, he finds himself in a political blackmailed position, where he dare not do what he wants without unfairly punishing a good SNP MSP.

    But what if others with an SNP MSP who is not a good one: just one of the sheep on the backbenches who bleats unthinking support on demand of the leadership? Or one of the new MSP candidates so obsessed with Woke issues that they would be oblivious to the £268m cut in social housing as set out in the SNP budget last week?

    The dilemma those second group of individuals will face, as does Iain Lawson, is that when all their votes are counted together, they will be seen by the media, and claimed by the leadership, as solid endorsement of all they have done.

    That is the cost of “Wheesht for indy,” the national political blackmail wielded by the leadership. “You don’t like the way we have centralised power in the party, made a mockery of the previous party constitution, marched you up the hill and back down again on the referendum, rammed gender down your throats, sacked the most able MP, attacked free speech, set out to ruin and imprison the former leader, but ‘Wheesht for indy’ because we are the only ones you can vote for.”

    To say Independence voters are between a rock and a hard place, isn’t the half of it. SNP members and supporters who are not members but voters, are in the same position here that Trump placed decent USA republican members and voters in during his presidency and at the 2020 election. “You are repelled by what I say and do, but you have nowhere else to go” was his message. Basically the same as “Wheesht for Indy.”

    Unlike Iain Lawson I don’t have a good SNP MSP presenting me with his dilemma. I am, therefore, freer than he is to consider whether by my vote I am going to endorse an SNP government with its toxic tentacles stretching into and around civic Scotland, and whose practices revealed in the parliamentary inquiry are shown to have debased the open, fair, just, democratic principles that the party was established on. The rectitude of the past, exemplified by Gordon Wilson’s integrity as leader, is no more. Can I, when the rot at the centre is unmistakeable, vote for it? No.

    At present, as Iain Lawson demonstrates, party members and non-party indy activists are going to be trapped into endorsing what they do not agree with. But does that need to be the case? Yes, time is short, but it has not run out. There needs to be a revolt and a change in leadership, a real sweeping change. The first action falls upon the NEC to demand and create the change.

    If it cannot do so, and the party membership finds it has no means to do so, then all better get their heads out of the party sand, and the polls, they are in at the moment, and realise that others are not bound by the same ties, the people, and they will shortly be emerging from the smothering of politics that has been a feature of the Covid-19 pandemic. The leadership, it is reported in the press, thinks the pandemic has meant the public has paid little real attention to the parliamentary inquiry, and it will quietly sink and disappear. That is a self-serving error of judgment.

    Although those who succumb to the “Wheesht for indy” rule cannot think beyond today, and seem ready and willing to throw away their moral compass and do mortal damage to the Scottish body politic, ripping to pieces the ethical standards that underpin a society where law and justice should be pre-eminent, it does not follow that the people will be so accommodating.

    Widespread vaccination will do more than protect us from the virus. It will slam open the doors and windows of politics to show a government misusing the limited devolution powers and patronage to pursue vindictive and unlawful actions against a single citizen whom it feared, with its legal arm going after two of his supporters. Will the public “Wheesht for indy,” turn a blind eye, or ask itself what would this group do if they had the full untrammelled powers that will come with independence? Will the public believe these leopards will change their dark spots?

    What if the public ask, as I think they will, what sort of law and justice can we expect from this present lot if they are in charge in our future? The “Wheesh” merchants, if successful, will turn the SNP and the whole independence movement into an ideology akin to that in Stalin’s USSR, where the “Wheesht for the party’s cause” enabled criminality to flourish, because the people who did know the truth stayed silent. Vilification and persecution was the lot of those who did speak. Joanna Cherry’s persecution is mild, dismissal from a shadow job, but the vilification is not greatly different from that dished out by the Kremlin’s stooges.

    Of course it isn’t Stalin in Bute House, and her chief of staff isn’t Beira, nor are all those SPADS and compliant civil servants officers in the KGB. But they are capable of using the system to send a man to ruin and the jail, whom they believed was in their way. And the system they have created can put Mark Hirst through an eight month wringer, and put Craig Murray on criminal charges that somehow are not pursued against other journalists much more culpable, but who happen to take the side of the government’s complainers against Alex Salmond.

    Once it emerges from under the blanket of pandemic measures, I doubt if the people will obey the “Wheesht ” order, and be content to vote for those who do.

    Of course I could be wrong. The leadership bet is that I am. That the people are as willing to “Wheesht for indy” as much as the most fervent party member. But if I am right……………………well.

    Ah but, I hear the “Wheesht” advocates cry, if all followed you it would put back indy; there would be no referendum by Christmas. There are two answers to that: Mike Russell’s Christmas promise is utter garbage. He is playing to the indy gallery. Two minutes thinking about the process and the logistics, shows it cannot happen in that timescale.

    But let me deal separately with the much bigger issue, that failure to achieve an SNP majority will set back when independence will be achieved. So it will. But a set back by a few years in the life of a nation is nothing. Independence will happen. But just as important to that achievement is how it is achieved. If it is to be in the immediate short term, and the price is to submerge, as if they are of no importance, the bedrock principles of a democracy – law, justice, decency, and fairness, then what kind of Scotland do we think will emerge? One tarnished by how it was achieved.

    Final point. Everyone is aware that the unionist camp is salivating over all the muck revealed. Whose fault is that? Salmond’s? No. When he won the judicial review, he did not name Nicola Sturgeon or anyone else in the SNP. He deliberately sought to pin the blame on the permanent secretary alone. It was not he who landed himself in court in the ‘trial of the century,’ but those who, failing at the judicial review, set out to “get him” by going to the Crown Agent and the police. It is in their lap the blame lies, and theirs alone. Is Salmond, a man whose character was turned inside out for all to see during the court case, not entitled to produce evidence that he was placed in that dock by people who conspired to put him there? Alex Salmond got a fair trial, but there is a question as to whether he got the fairest trail. His defence was not allowed, by a judge’s decision at preliminary hearings, to bring forward evidence of the conspiracy. In the public court of a parliamentary inquiry, it seems the same ruling is to apply against him again. We should be ashamed of those who govern us.

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