We know we’ve given you quite a lot to digest already this year, readers. But spare a thought for us – trying to keep on top of all the fast-moving developments in Scottish politics in the first 11 days of 2021 has been rather like trying to tunnel our way out of an avalanche while it was still happening.
We’ve had a bit of job even finding a spare moment to squeeze the cartoons in. But today’s task looked like one of the most challenging of all.
Because the public papers for this morning’s sitting of the Holyrood inquiry into the Alex Salmond fiasco are an 11,000-word box of dangerously unstable hand grenades that we’ve got to try to somehow strip down into something concise and readable for you, while still conveying the considerable enormity of their contents.
They comprise two main sections – a written submission to the committee from Mr Salmond (entirely separate from the one he sent to the Hamilton inquiry last week), and a slightly-less-redacted version of a document the Scottish Government released less than a day and a half before Christmas in the hope that nobody would notice it.
The first of the two we can feasibly leave you to read for yourselves. Mr Salmond’s statement is written in more-or-less plain English rather than impenetrable legalese, and easy enough to understand. One especially noteworthy aspect, however, is that it has been redacted – against his will – by the Parliament clerks, who have struck out substantial sections which not even the committee are allowed to see.
We might pause there to raise another weary eyebrow at this latest of an uncountable number of betrayals of the First Minister’s hollow, worthless promise of two years ago that the committee would be given anything it asked for without interference or refusal.
Mr Salmond’s evidence raises so many issues that to detail and examine them all here would result in an article the length of War And Peace, so we’ll leave it to you to come to your own conclusions on it, dropping in just a couple of random highlights:
The second main section, the new version of the Christmas Eve document, sees most of the previous redactions being replaced (in red) with “paraphrased” summaries of the redacted elements, provided by the Scottish Government.
So for example, this bit from the Christmas Eve version:
has now become this:
(Re-paraphrased: “We got caught lying our arses off and our lawyers swore at us in such a violent and prolonged manner that we cried and ran away.”)
And this rather minimalist fragment:
has now expanded to this:
(Re-paraphrased: “Lord Pentland swore at our lawyers in such a violent and prolonged matter that they came out and swore at us even more.”)
But alert readers will have noticed from that last one that not EVERY redaction in the Christmas Eve document now has a summary. Most notably this key one about how the Scottish Government had to concede the judicial review because if it didn’t its QCs were going to walk out:
And while we are of course speculating, we strongly suspect that’s because it’s hard to summarise the phrase “and specifically their duty not to lie to the Court Of Session even if their client wants them to” in a way that doesn’t drop you into deep doo-doo.
So to cut a long article unexpectedly short: it looks like the Permanent Secretary – now on her third or fourth appearance in front of the committee to “clarify” the cobblers she’s tried to fob it off with until now – is in for her most uncomfortable interrogation yet. We will of course be watching on your behalf.