The Scottish Government seems determined to pile insult upon injury to the Scottish people in relation to the inquiry into its botched stitch-up of Alex Salmond.
A shocking story in today’s Sunday Mail reveals that in addition to wasting in excess of £1 million on the initial unlawful investigation, untold millions on a criminal prosecution and trial, and £55,000 on coaching its inquiry witnesses (so badly that almost all of them were forced to return to the inquiry to subsequently “correct” their evidence), it’s also spent thousands of pounds of your money on lawyers to prevent one of the key witnesses appearing at all.
Possibly because the witness in question doesn’t exist.
Unfortunately we can’t tell you who the “senior official” is, even though we know their identity. We can’t tell you whether or not they’re the same person who [REDACTED] or [REDACTED] or if they’re the one who met [REDACTED] on [REDACTED] and talked about [REDACTED], because if we told you those things the Crown Office would try to put us in prison.
(Even though all of the above has already been published in Scottish newspapers.)
And more to the point, neither can Alex Salmond.
Ludicrously, just two days before the former First Minister is due to appear before the Holyrood inquiry to give evidence, it’s still not clear whether he’ll actually be able to do so without running the risk of being prosecuted for it, because almost every aspect of the events he was at the centre of has been ruled off-limits.
A majority of inquiry members asked on Friday for an emergency meeting to try to resolve the matter, but were refused by its convener Linda Fabiani. It’s very difficult to see how it can now possibly be cleared up by Tuesday, which would be the crowning jewel in the entire farce – an inquiry into events surrounding one man, prevented from hearing that man’s evidence by a government which promised that not a single obstacle would be placed in the inquiry’s path but has to date interfered with it on at least 58 separate occasions.
Of the five main players in the story – Nicola Sturgeon, Alex Salmond, Leslie Evans, Geoff Aberdein and [REDACTED] – the inquiry might now hear from only two, one of whom has been called back no fewer than FOUR times to “clarify” her testimony.
At this point we know for sure that the committee will never get to hear from Aberdein or [REDACTED] in person, and now perhaps not Mr Salmond either. Written evidence from Aberdein and Salmond has already been blocked. Its members are being asked to solve a 1000-piece jigsaw with 600 pieces missing and without the picture on the box, and it’s not allowed to ask for clues. (And the pieces it does have so far may be from a different jigsaw entirely and can’t be relied on.)
And those aren’t its only problems.
A bombshell piece in Sky News today reveals that not only might the First Minister have lied repeatedly to Parliament about when she knew of the allegations, but also to the Court Of Session.
Having breached the Ministerial Code by lying to Parliament would require Sturgeon to resign. But lying to the Court Of Session would be of a whole other order of magnitude, with even graver consequences for the First Minister.
(The document from which that image is taken, incidentally, is one of a large number connected with the case which have been formatted in a strange way which makes them very difficult to search for text in. The image above comes from page 25 in the document, but if you search it for the word “petitioner’s”, the first result you get is on page 36. If you search for the word “became”, you get no results at all. We are sure this is an innocent coincidence.)
The court record is an important document.
But the reason for the madly absurd situation by which committee members are being forced to pretend they don’t know things that everyone else in Scotland knows is that if Salmond’s submission to the separate Hamilton inquiry is published by the committee, it will then be empowered under its remit to ask about the events of 29 March 2018.
If it isn’t, the events of that date will be off limits. And above everything else, the 29th of March 2018 is the day the First Minister really, really, really doesn’t want you to know about – so much so that she wiped the details of one of her meetings that day from both her own memory and her official diary.
(The FOI response above was released in June 2020, a year and a half after the First Minister claimed to have remembered the meeting and who it was with again.)
And while diehard supporters of the SNP leader try to dismiss the whole issue as an unimportant confusion over two dates just four days apart, they have no answer as to why, if that’s the case, the Scottish Government has gone to such extraordinary lengths to avoid answering any questions about it.
We’ll know within the next 48 hours whether it will be able to continue to pretend – for a little while longer, at least – that the 29th of March 2018 simply never happened. But the truth is coming, and that right soon.