By Bill Heaney
Scottish Labour’s newly elected leader Anas Sarwar said he was dismayed at the post Salmond Inquiry clash between Tory leader Ruth Davidson and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in the Holyrood parliament yesterday.
He told MSPs: “The exchanges that we have just heard represent the worst of our politics. Each day, every one of us comes into the chamber and sits in front of that mace, which is inscribed with the ideals of the Parliament: wisdom, compassion, justice and integrity—principles that have been undermined when the Government failed the women who submitted claims of harassment; undermined by the Government’s refusal to hand over all documentation to the committee that is investigating those failures; and undermined by the Government ignoring two votes by this Parliament calling for all the legal advice to be published.
“The Government keeps telling us that it has nothing to hide, but when the Parliament twice demanded that the legal advice be published, it refused. When the advice was finally released, it was partial and came just hours before the First Minister’s committee appearance. Wisdom, compassion, justice and integrity. First Minister, why did it take the threat of a no-confidence vote in the Deputy First Minister for your Government to act?”
If she was embarrassed by what happened earlier, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon certainly didn’t show it.
She said: “The importance for all Governments of being able to take proper legal advice should be understood by everybody across the chamber. The Government has now—rightly, given the allegations that have been levelled at it—published that legal advice and people can look at it and draw their own conclusions. I say again that I sat in front of a parliamentary committee for eight hours, as is my duty and obligation. I am not sure whether any other member of this chamber has done likewise. I answered questions that were put to me and put the case of the Government. I also apologised, as I will again, to the women who were let down by the mistake that the Government made.
“It is now right and proper—in line with the principles on that mace, which I, like all of us, hold dear—that we allow the inquiry to do its work, allow the independent inquiry into the ministerial code to do its work and allow me to get on with the job that I believe the majority of the country wants me to focus on now, which is to continue to steer the country through a global pandemic so that we can get through Covid, come out of lockdown and get back to normality. That is what I intend to focus on, while those inquiries conclude their work.”
Mr Sarwar replied: “That answer would have more credibility if all the legal advice had been published before the First Minister gave evidence, not after she gave evidence. The First Minister rightly had the opportunity to address the committee yesterday. I agree with her that it is important that all parties are given due process and that we do not prejudice the outcome of the inquiry.
“With that in mind, in the coming weeks, James Hamilton QC, pictured right, will present his report on potential breaches of the ministerial code to the Government. The outcome of that report will be crucial in establishing the facts about what happened.
“The wholly unacceptable and disgraceful situation that we have had with the legal advice must not be repeated with the Hamilton report. Will the First Minister give the people of Scotland a cast-iron guarantee that the Government will release the report, without delay or obstruction, on the day that it is handed over by James Hamilton QC?”
Mr Sarwar told her: “I welcome that commitment from the First Minister, but remember this: we will hold her to that promise. The First Minister is right that it is about transparency, so there can be no delay in publishing that report.
“The ministerial code exists to uphold standards in public life. It is there to protect the integrity of the office of the First Minister, of all Scottish ministers and the whole of the Scottish Government. In her foreword to the ministerial code, the First Minister says: ‘I will lead by example in following the letter and spirit of this Code, and I expect that Ministers and civil servants will do likewise. Wisdom, compassion, justice and integrity. In that light, does the First Minister agree, removing party and personality, that any minister who is found in breach of the ministerial code should resign?”
The First Minister replied: “I will uphold my words in the foreword to the ministerial code. I will uphold the principles on the mace. However, I will also demand the right to due process, which at least one party in the chamber is not prepared to give me.
“Let us wait and see what the outcome is of the inquiries. They will be published, and then we can debate the outcome. I sat before the committee and I answered every question; I will now give the committee and the inquiry the opportunity to do their work.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon – I will also demand the right to due process, which at least one party in the chamber is not prepared to give me. Picture by Bill Heaney