BRIAN WILSON’S COLUMN: Ms Sturgeon is now hanging on by the skin of her teeth

Reports of what the Committee investigating the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment complaints has concluded may or may not prove accurate, writes BRIAN WILSON

It would have been better if the report was published in full before comments were passed.  As always in the world of spin, it is far from obvious who would think there was advantage in getting something out early.

In the meantime, attention might focus on the First Minister’s response to these reports. Opposition MSPs, it was claimed in her name, had “pre-judged” her so that the majority conclusions and the briefing around them were “partisan”.  In other words, the work of the committee was worthless from the start.

Where does one begin? Utter disrespect for the committee process? Complete blindness to the possibility that its four SNP members were anything other than independent-minded seekers after truth?

I think Ms Sturgeon’s advance dismissal of unfavourable conclusions on the grounds they were “all out to get  her” is grossly disrespectful to Jackie Baillie, Murdo Fraser and Alex Cole-Hamilton.  I doubt if any of them went into this uninvited exercise with a fixed idea of how it would turn out. Whatever their conclusions, they have been led there by the evidence.

However, Ms Sturgeon’s dismissal of the reported conclusion that she misled Parliament really boils down to an attack on the integrity of one man, Andy Wightman,  who – according to the “party lines” theory – has been the swing voter on the committee since ditching the Greens, to become independent in both name and spirit.

Anyone who claims Mr Wightman was part of a conspiracy to “pre-judge” the evidence in order to conspire with a “partisan” majority is either a fool or a liar.  Whatever conclusion he has reached on any aspect of this affair will have been based on the evidence and not on any prejudice. For Ms Sturgeon’s spokesperson to implicitly assert otherwise is pretty disgusting.

It cannot be overstated that all of this would have been finished months ago if Ms Sturgeon and her acolytes had been open and honest with the Committee. Indeed, Mr Wightman would never have been involved since he only became a member late last year, in place of another Green.

Even if it had been found then that Ms Sturgeon had misled Parliament – as is pretty obvious – she would have brass-necked her way through it and would have had a majority with the help of the Greens to do so.  It would all be history – albeit grubby, disputed history.

The fact Ms Sturgeon is now hanging on by the skin of her teeth, days before Holyrood closes down for elections, is due entirely to the fact the Committee’s work has been obstructed and delayed at every turn, primarily by the withholding of evidence for no reason other than to protect the First Minister and those around her.

The David Davis intervention in the House of Commons this week did not tell us a great deal that any follower of the saga did not know already. However, it would be interesting to hear how any decent person could defend the messages between senior SNP officials and quoted under privilege by Mr Davis. 

For example: “McCann expressed great disappointment to Ruddick that someone who had promised to deliver five complainants to him by the end of that week had come up empty,… Ruddick, in one of her texts, expressed nervousness about ‘what happens when my name comes out as fishing for others to come forward’.”

All of this, as Mr Davis pointed out, was going on while a criminal investigation was under way.  It is a very strange way to run a political party, never mind a country – and somewhat chilling to reflect that the Murrell-Sturgeon axis presides over both.

We have seen the vicious response this week when an independent MSP reportedly tips the balance against complete SNP hegemony on a Holyrood committee. The elections in May will determine whether these people are given the untrammelled power they seek to further debase Scotland and its institutions.

REFERENDUMS? IT ALL DEPENDS ON THE QUESTION YOU ASK

Polls about a repeat independence referendum are of little relevance, regardless of how the weekly pendulum swings.

There isn’t going to be one any time soon and arguments affecting people’s lives – currencies, borders, pensions, kinships – haven’t begun to be engaged.

Accordingly, the significance of a Survation poll showing 57 per cent wanting to stay in the UK does not lie in that headline figure. Rather, it demonstrates the critical significance of the question asked.

In this instance, it was: “Do you want Scotland to remain part of the UK?” – to which “yes” had a 14 point lead. This caused our Justice Minister and juvenile tweeter, Humza Yousaf, pictured left, to yelp about ‘rigged polls’. Let’s hope nobody told Survation.

In 2014, Alex Salmond’s triumph was to sucker the Electoral Commission into agreeing a question which, according to every  referendum expert, built in a five per cent advantage for “yes” –  i.e. the  ”positive”.

 With a different question, the result would have been even more clear-cut.  There is no ‘right’ or ‘rigged’ question – just different ones which means great decisions hang on a form of words. That should be remembered.

There is a more immediate issue for the Electoral Commission –  campaign slogans on ballot papers. The Nationalists want  “IndyRef2” while opponents would counter with pro-Recovery messages.

This is madness. Not so long ago, posters were banned around polling stations, symbolising the dignity of the process. Citizens were granted a small space, free from last minute pressures when exercising their democratic duty.

Now, unless the Commission says otherwise, the sacred ballot paper will be further reduced to a competition for the smartest slogan.  Their message to all parties should be – forget it.

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