We were reminded this week of the amount of stick we got when we wrote these words almost five years ago, right after the 2016 Holyrood election:
(The rest of our post-match analysis wasn’t too shabby either.)
But readers, we have to grudgingly admit: we’re only NEARLY always right.
Because we’re genuinely shocked that the much-maligned (including by us) Holyrood inquiry committee has somehow ended up delivering a far more damning report on Nicola Sturgeon’s government than the man who – unlike the committee – actually WAS allowed to see (nearly) all the evidence of its corruption and conspiracy.
The intransigent blind party loyalty of the committee’s four SNP members, along with Andy Wightman’s unwillingness to take the difficult final step and vote for what he clearly knows in his heart to be true, has kept its report just short of the vital threshold required to remove the First Minister, and that – let there be no doubt whatsoever about this – is a crushing tragedy for both the Yes movement and Scotland, which kicks any prospect of independence down the road for at least another five years.
You can quote us on that again in 2026, because there is not the slightest sliver of hope of a second independence referendum while Nicola Sturgeon resides in Bute House, and we’ll put any amount of money you like behind that assertion. Contact us with a wager for whatever sum you choose and we’ll take it.
But the committee deserves some credit for still spelling out the truth for anyone willing to read even slightly between the lines. Let’s walk through some highlights.
Paragraph 235 clearly indicates that the committee knows the new harassment procedure WAS designed primarily to pursue one man and one man alone, but can’t quite summon the collective courage to actually say so:
Especially when taken in conjunction with Paragraph 293:
Let’s just linger for a few moments over the word “astonishing” in Paragraph 314:
Because it’s also a fair word to describe any prospect of Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans surviving the publication of this report in any sane world:
But we should also note this well-buried mine, which appears to be the committee’s only direct attempt in 187 pages to sneak in the truth about where the buck stops:
Paragraph 366 is shamefully weak on the issue of steamrollering the wishes of complainers with regard to involving the police, but can perhaps be overlooked given that Laura Dunlop’s review of the procedure has already recommended they should be given a clear and unequivocal veto.
Behind some rather tame wording, paragraphs 377 to 381 are nevertheless a clear and unambiguous acknowledgement of the fact that the procedure designed by Leslie Evans and her team was a complete turkey – an intrinsically unfair one which in particular was unconcerned with justice for the person being accused.
Paragraphs 408-414 will again invite readers to marvel that rather than being quietly handed a bottle of whisky and a revolver after the shambolic collapse of the judicial review, Leslie Evans was instead gifted a lucrative two-year contract extension by Nicola Sturgeon as if her performance had been not only acceptable but in some way actively meritorious.
In what’s perhaps the most powerfully-worded section of the report, the committee makes plain that Evans seriously let down not only the complainers but Alex Salmond, inflicting serious harm on all involved, to whom she alone had the primary duty of care.
Paragraphs 526-528 very unambiguously confirm the truthfulness of David Davis’s comments in the House Of Commons last week, and the utter, knowing dishonesty of the First Minister’s attack on him at FMQs.
Paragraph 588 is pretty brutal.
As are 594-595.
But it’s paragraphs 598 and 599 which ought to be the coup de grace for both Leslie Evans and Nicola Sturgeon. They represent the report’s strongest criticisms of anyone:
Evans gets it right in the neck, with the committee noting that “[her] individual failing is as significant as the general corporate failing already described”.
But while most of the worst specific errors clearly lie at the door of Leslie Evans, she is not in charge of or responsible for the Scottish Government. The First Minister is.
Yet readers will not need reminding that in fact not one person has in any material way been “held accountable” for a single moment of this fiasco so far. Indeed, most of those responsible have been rewarded with longer contracts and/or large pay rises.
It remains to be seen whether that situation persists.
The report draws to a bizarre close with the committee and James Hamilton engaged in a farcical impression of the Chuckle Brothers calling “to me… to you”.
Where yesterday Hamilton had said “it is for the Scottish Parliament [ie the committee] to decide whether they were in fact misled”:
…the committee lobs the hot potato straight back at him:
But in the end both sides bottle it. The committee, as was already leaked at the weekend, DOES conclude that it was misled by the First Minister, but chickens out of making the key (and logically inescapable) conclusion that it was on purpose, clearly because Andy Wightman lacked the courage to sign up to that part.
That failure was of course not his alone, but driven by the presence on the committee of four spineless SNP lapdogs concerned only with fawning loyalty to Nicola Sturgeon. For how else are we to explain the final paragraph?
Let’s take a moment to reflect on what that means. The committee’s key finding that it “may have insufficient powers to hold the executive to account” was OPPOSED by the four SNP members.
In other words, they actually WANT the Scottish Parliament to be too weak to hold the Scottish Government to account, and for it to have fewer and weaker powers than are being called for by the opposition and by David Davis, a Westminster Tory MP.
The abject refusal by SNP MSPs of more powers for Holyrood in case those powers might impose actual democratic accountability on their own administration is in some senses the most revealing and most shaming aspect of the entire affair.
It is an all but open admission that Nicola Sturgeon has survived only by using every means at her disposal to escape proper scrutiny, and by exploiting the weaknesses built into Holyrood’s power structures by the Unionists who devised them.
But more than that, they show a First Minister very comfortable within the confines and limits of devolution, and deeply unwilling to accept significantly more power for Scotland’s parliament because of the difficult responsibilities that comes with it.
And that’s a characteristic which readers might wish to reflect honestly and soberly on when considering the likelihood of her ever delivering independence.