The Scottish Government's investigation into Alex Salmond shows basic incompetence

Written by Mandy Rhodes on 13 January 2019 in Comment

Mandy Rhodes on how the inquiry into allegations of sexual misconduct against Alex Salmond was deemed unlawful

Image credit: David Anderson

Picking through the absolute carnage that followed last week’s revelations about why the civil service inquiry into allegations of sexual misconduct against Alex Salmond was deemed unlawful, I can only imagine how the two women at the heart of his case must feel.

Having summoned up the courage to speak to their bosses about the behaviour of a man who was once the most powerful in Scotland, they must now be aghast at the farce that they have had to watch unfold.

They must wonder what this was all for and question why they put their faith in a personnel procedure that was meant to protect them and has left them so exposed.

Think, then, on the person that first leaked details to the press and ponder on their motivation and the fact that if that had never happened, none of this would be playing out in public. And that the two women, who thought they were doing the right thing, would not have then found themselves in the eye of storm, talked of like pariahs by anonymous keyboard warriors, and worrying about the day that their identity could be unveiled.

And then for a final thought, and while it may feel unpalatable, spare a minute or two for the former first minister, a giant of a politician, who used to run this country, took us to the brink of independence, and who has had to take his own government to court to seek justice.

And while you may feel no sympathy at all for a man accused of sexual misconduct – which he denies – you can at least understand his pain at such a fall from grace when guilt is something still to be proved.

There can be no bigger scandal than this for the Scottish Government and it only has itself to blame.

To have a former first minister accused of sexual misconduct was desperate enough. To have him then raise a legal action against the very government he once led, knowing his actions could fatally compromise his one-time friend, political ally and successor, was extraordinary. But to then have the court case rule in his favour because of basic incompetence on the government’s behalf is catastrophic.

This was the highest profile case the Scottish Government’s HR department could ever have imagined it would have to deal with and in the immediate post #metoo aftermath, it was a golden opportunity to show off Scotland’s progressive credentials and how a disciplinary process could operate that allows fairness, dignity and justice for all.

How could it not get that right?

And damagingly, if anyone believed that having women design, manage and lead on claims of sexual harassment was somehow a guarantee of future success or of greater sensitivity in their handling, then they have now been proved spectacularly wrong.

And for that, the Permanent Secretary, Leslie Evans, and the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, who together signed off on the procedures, must now accept their blame.

And while both have apologised to the women involved, they have also attempted to minimise a catastrophic mistake by continuing to repeat the mantra that the legal case fell on just one small element of the process.

That one fundamental mistake nullified the whole shebang and could cost the public a whopping half a million pounds in legal costs. And for that, heads should roll.

But is has also cost hope. Hope that if we move to a society where women lead and play their part in helping to shape institutions where they put gender equality at the core, then we could all operate in workplaces where we feel free of the fear of sexual abuse or discrimination.

How can we trust that to happen now when the two most powerful women in our country have failed on that count within our own government?

The exposé of the all-pervasive nature of sexual harassment is the motif of our time. This was the moment for political leaders to step-up and provide the roadmap for change.

And yet, instead of showing leadership and efficacy, the political world has shown itself to be wanting in every area of handling allegations of sexual harassment. From Tory MPs accused of sexual impropriety being brought back into the fold out of sheer political expediency, to the shambolic way the SNP handled the case against Mark McDonald and through to the now disastrous manner the Scottish Government has erred in the Salmond case.

There will be surely some out there asking what hope do ordinary women have in seeking justice over complaints of abuse when the two governments of the day and the parties that lead them are unable to get their own house in order, particularly when they have women at the very top?

There is undoubtedly much in this whole sorry saga that is hard to compute and many questions that remain to be answered. Salmond has won the first round, at great cost to the Scottish Government and to his one-time political protégé, who now faces the biggest test of her career as questions rage about what she knew, when she knew and how she knew.

Round two will be if the police throw out the case against her former mentor and we are then into another phase of the SNP journey.

In a similar column to this that I penned back in September, I questioned where Sturgeon would be now without Salmond. It seems that hurt. It was not, however, meant to denigrate her considerable ability or question her worth now as first minister, but there is an undeniable fact, Sturgeon would not be first minister had Salmond not got there first. The question for now could be, will he be the one to unseat her?

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