Jim Sillars’ formal complaint re Nicola Sturgeon’s smears about Alex Salmond


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  • #67896 Reply
    Justin

    Jim Sillars, former Depute Leader of the SNP, has lodged a formal complaint about Nicola Sturgeon’s rants during her televised official Covid briefing on Wednesday.

    Here is his letter of complaint:


    25th. February 2021
    Ms. Leslie Evans
    Permanent Secretary
    Scottish Government
    St. Andrew’s House
    Edinburgh EH1

     

    Dear Ms. Evans,

    FIRST MINISTER IN BREACH OF THE MINISTERIAL CODE ON 24TH FEBRUARY 2021

    I wish to lodge a complaint of breaches of the Ministerial Code by the First Minister on Wednesday 24th. February, 2021. The substance of the complaint and the facts it is based upon, are set out below.

    As the complaint could be seen as being in the context of matters being examined by the Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry, to which you have given evidence, you may think it inappropriate for you to be the official dealing with this complaint. If that is so, then I request that the next person in seniority should take this as addressed to them. I would like to be informed of who will deal with this complaint, should it not be you.

    In her daily press briefings on the pandemic, the First Minister has consistently refused to answer questions on issues other than Covid-19. Yesterday, however, instead of refusing to respond to questions on matters irrelevant to the purpose of the press briefing on Covid-19, she deliberately chose to do so. Not once, but five times. It can be seen here:

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000spr2/coronavirus-briefing-24022021

    You will note, “coronavirus briefing.” The national broadcaster was in no doubt of the purpose of First Minister’s appearance. These briefings have all along had only one purpose. The timings show her response to questions which were asked as the briefing continued. I have had them double-checked as to times:

    30.20 Question from James Matthew (SKY News)

    First Minister spoke for 48 seconds on what can fairly be described as the Salmond issue.

    32.57 Question from Peter Smith (ITV)

    First Minister spoke for 5m 16secs on Salmond issue.

    52m 49scs Question from Simon Johnson (Daily Telegraph)

    First Minister spoke for 1m 36scs on Salmond issue.

    1h. Question from Michael Blackley (Daily Mail)

    First Minister spoke for 52 seconds on Salmond issue.

    1h 02m “Question from Richard Percival (Daily Express)

    First Minister spoke for 59 seconds on Salmond issue.

    In total, she spent over 9 minutes of a meeting called to inform the public, through the media, including BBC television, of the government’s continuing action on the pandemic crisis, not to express her views on clearly separate matters arising from the Parliamentary Inquiry.

    Of course, the First Minister was not to know that the first question from James Matthew was not about Covid-19 and government policy in dealing with. But she did not, as on previous occasions, refuse to answer and re-state the purpose the briefing was convened for. Nor did she do that when the second question came from Peter Smith, and the others. The only conclusion that can be drawn from her action from 30.20 on, points to it being no accident; a deliberate choice.

    When I state “the Salmond issue” above I mean what can be seen from the BBC iplayer – a sustained attack on Mr. Salmond on matters relevant to the Parliamentary Inquiry, but not remotely connected to a Covid briefing.

    The complaint is, therefore, based on the attacks on Mr. Salmond in a forum that had been arranged by the Scottish Government to inform the public on a subject, the pandemic, a matter of serious public concern, in which maximum publicity would be given to the words of the First Minister. It is a gross breach of her duty to use that Government sponsored forum, for a public attack on Mr. Salmond in matters not related to the purpose of a briefing to which the media had been invited.

    I submit that it is a breach of the Ministerial Code to allow, and then use, a public health Covid briefing to launch an attack on Mr. Salmond in the context of matters arising from the Parliamentary Inquiry. By her conduct as recorded by the BBC, she is in flagrant breach of the Clause 1 of the Code, and Clause 10 governing the conduct of Ministers and the Presentation of Policy.

    It is not for me to question a decision by the First Minister to make a public attack on Mr. Salmond. But if she wished to do so, then she could have arranged a press conference on the subject, which would have been the proper and legitimate forum in which to do so. Abusing the Government Covid briefing was neither proper or legitimate. That is where the Code has been breached.

    However, there are additional breaches of the Code which are quite extraordinary, unique in their gravity, and a matter of deep concern for all who understand the implications of what the First Minister said in those 9 minutes.

    During her attacks on Mr. Salmond, she said:

    “The behaviour complained of was found by a jury not to constitute criminal conduct and Alex Salmond is innocent of criminality, but that doesn’t mean that the behaviour they complained of didn’t happen and I think it’s important that we don’t lose sight of that”

    Unlike the First Minister, who did not attend Mr Salmond’s trial, the jury was there for every second. They saw Mr. Salmond, cross examined, precisely denying that the alleged behaviour happened. The jury saw and heard prosecution witnesses under cross examination. The jury’s conclusion, with a majority of women on it, was to acquit Mr. Salmond. If as the First Minister states the jury’s verdict means that the complaints they had before them in evidence did in fact happen, then the only logical conclusion you can draw from her words is that the jury was wrong in its verdict – 13 times.

    Those were weasel words employed by the First Minister, and any reasonable person would draw more than an inference from them that the jury was wrong. The First Clause of the Ministerial Code (1.1) states that “Scottish Ministers are expected to maintain high standards of behaviour and to behave in a way that upholds the highest standards of propriety.” The First Minister’s comment on the trial verdict, breached those standards.

    I have been in public life for over 60 years, and in the course of it studied how heads of state and governments in the democracies have behaved in office. I cannot recall one single incident when the head of a government so egregiously questioned the verdict of a jury or even thought it a proper and legitimate discharge of their duty to do so.

    It is vital to the health of a democracy that Government more than any other part of our society maintain a scrupulous distance between it and intervention, even post-trial intervention, in our criminal justice system. That is the standard reflected in Clause (1.1) of the Code. Clause 1.3 states, inter alia, that Ministers “should uphold the administration of justice.” The First Minister, knowingly, breached those parts of the Code with her comments on the trial.

    I submit that there is overwhelming evidence that on several counts the First Minister has engaged, deliberately, in grave breaches of the Ministerial Code.

    Jim Sillars


    What do you make of it? Do you think it has any chance of being taken seriously? Or will it be quietly filed in the shredder?

    #67911 Reply
    Justin

    Here’s what the complaint’s about. Nicola took several opportunities to slander Alex Salmond at the Covid briefing:


    [30:48] James Matthew (Sky News): “And second of all, if I could read you a quote. “There was discussion about the investigation, the process of it, the fact it was a civil service investigation being conducted by civil servants. That’s an account from someone in discussion with you about the investigation into Alex Salmond in your office on March the 29th 2018. Have they misremembered those details?”

    [31:10] NS: “That’s not an account that I would agree with. I can’t speak for somebody else and I don’t know for sure – apart from what you’ve just told me – exactly whose account that is. But I hope that I’ll be before the committee looking at these matters a week, a week today – this is Wednesday and I’ll be able to answer all these questions in full. I’ve waited a long time to do so before this committee, so I certainly welcome that opportunity and I’ll be questioned I’m sure, fully and in detail on all of these matters, and I look forward to giving my responses, answering all and any questions and setting the record straight where I think that is required. So, with that, I’m going to move back on to Covid, because this is a Covid briefing and there are other forums where, quite properly and legitimately, I will be questioned on these other matters.” [31:58]


    [32:56] NS: “Peter Smith from ITV … “

    [32:59] Peter Smith (ITV): “Thank you very much. Good afternoon, First Minister and Clinical Director.

    [33:07] Every day, you’re coming here and you’re asking the Scottish people to have faith in your message and to trust you. Now, we now hear some serious allegations from a former First Minister. This is not someone from the sidelines – a former First Minister who knows the democratic institutions of Scotland – and he’s alleging that there’s corruption that is undermining the trust that we can have in you and these institutions. You have said, clearly, “Show us your evidence.” Alex Salmond said he would like to, but he’s been blocked by the Crown Office. Can you say: has anyone in your government or your office contacted the Crown Office, asking them to censor or withhold vital evidence.”

    [33:40] NS: “Look, again, I’ll answer this question – albeit this is a Covid briefing – and then I’m going to move back to Covid.

    The decisions about what the Scottish Parliament publishes, and how it publishes whatever it publishes in compliance with the law, are matters for the Parliament, for the corporate body. I am not party to these discussions. And the decisions the Crown Office takes in relation to enforcing or upholding the law – and this relates specifically to your question – are taken independently by the Crown Office, independently of … of government. And any suggestionany suggestion at all that these decisions are in any way politically influenced are downright wrong. But I would suggest that the … go further than that … that they actually start to buy into what is a false, and quite dangerous, conspiracy theory that has no basis in fact. You refer to allegations made by Alex Salmond. I don’t think there is a shred of evidence behind those allegations and the claims that have been made. But Alex Salmond has had the opportunity – he had the opportunity today to be in front of the committee and to try to substantiate those allegations. Now, he’s declined that opportunity today, I don’t think with any good reason, and I hope he comes to the committee in early course so that he can say what he wants, put forward any claims that he wants, and crucially bring forward the evidence.

    In terms of the submission that the Parliament redacted yesterday: that relates to one part of the Inquiry. I don’t think that it inhibits the questioning of me – the allegations in relation to that part of the Inquiry that Alex Salmond is making about me have widely reported in the media and in the public domain. I have always, and continue to be, of the view that I will be fully questioned on all of these issues by the committee when I appear – hopefully, a week today – fully and in detail. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t be, and I don’t think there’s any reason why Alex Salmond should not sit in front of that committee, make whatever claims he wants to make, say whatever he wants to say, and bring whatever evidence he thinks he has to bear. There was no conspiracy theory, and I sometimes think that the … [NS grins] … the preference of Mr Salmond is to continue to make those claims without ever subjecting them to the proper scrutiny of the Parliamentary committee looking into them. So I hope he proves me wrong on that by getting himself in front of the committee in early course. And then I look forward to appearing next week. I’ve … next week I think is the … [NS smirks] … sixth date I’ve had in my diary and every one before now has been postponed by the committee. And the last few, because Alex Salmond has not agreed to appear.

    So I want to get in front of this committee to answer every and all questions that people have of me, to address all the issues that people have, and to rebut – frankly, head on and very directly – some of the wild, untrue, false and baseless claims that have been made in recent times. But for now, I’m going to get on with my job of leading the country through Covid. So … eh … I’ll get back to that.”

    [36:55] Peter Smith: “I appreciate that, First minister, if I may just ask: is there a worry that this inquiry is losing credibility every day, and it is to the detriment of women who may be afraid now to speak out against powerful men?”

    [36:09] NS: “Em … I do worry, not just about the women in this case, whose voices have been silenced, whose motives have been maligned, who have been accused (or it seems to me to be accused) of being liars and conspiracists, and I think that is wrong. They came forward with complaints; the behaviour they complained of was found by a jury not to constitute criminal conduct, and Alex Salmond is innocent of criminality … but that doesn’t mean that the behaviour they claimed of didn’t happen, and I think it’s important that we don’t lose sight of that. And when I’ve said that before, people have said “You’re hiding behind the women!” I’m not hiding behind anybody! If anything, I’m standing up for the right of women to come forward and for claims to be taken seriously. I, I can’t speak for the conduct, or the status, or the standing, or the credibility of the parliamentary committee – that’s for the committee. And all I know is that … [NS chuckles] … I’ve been waiting for months to appear before this committee and haven’t yet had the opportunity.

    [38:07] Eh, the one final point I would make – and then I am going to get back to Covid – is that this submission that’s been in the news yesterday, that had to have some redactions for legal reasons, … um, that related to the aspect of the committee that is looking at whether or not I breached the ministerial code. There’s actually a separate investigation into that, being conducted by the independent adviser on the ministerial code. Now, my assumption is that the adviser has this submission in full, because in its initial form, it was actually a letter to him. So he’s looking at that without any redactions – I assume – and will be able to take all of that into account. So the idea that scrutiny of me is being inhibited in any way, shape or form, is wrong. There is no reason why I can’t sit before that committee, answer questions, fully, in detail, openly, for as long as the committee wants. And frankly, there’s no reason why Alex Salmond cannot do the same. So perhaps he should just get himself in front of it; we can both have our say; people can make up their own minds; and then I’ll get on with my job of leading the country through the pandemic, and hopefully out of the other end of it. [39:11]


    [52:47] Simon Johnson (Daily Telegraph): “And … just briefly on the Salmond Inquiry, there seems to be some people, including some people within your own party, who believe what happened with Mr Salmond’s evidence is … is essentially a cover-up, and I wondered what you would say to them. Thank you.”

    [53:04] NS: “I’ve already covered that. The issues with a particular, single, piece of evidence yesterday was a matter … is a matter for the Parliament and the Crown Office, and I’m not party to those discussions; and nor should I be. And I’ll say very, very firmly: I understand politics – I’ve been in politics for a long time and I understand oppositions wanting to hold governments to account, and also to engage (as we all do) in the cut and thrust of politics – but let’s all be careful here that we don’t start signing up to false, damaging conspiracy theories that have no basis in fact, that start to actually unfairly undermine trust in our public institutions. The idea that any decision of the Crown Office, around what they do to uphold or enforce the law, is politically driven or influenced, is just downright wrong, and nobody who is responsible should be making that claim. And as I’ve said before, this is about one element of evidence that I don’t think inhibits what I can be asked about, and I don’t see why Alex Salmond’s ability to sit before that committee … he’s put reams of evidence before that committee – much of it … well, I’ll say what I think of it when I get to the committee myself. There’s no reason why he can’t … there’s no reason why he isn’t sitting …. No good reason why he isn’t sitting in front of the committee right now. I understand he said he’ll go later in the week. Let’s hope he does, and then we can get all of it out in the open, all of it out on the table, and then I’ll have my say next week, and then people can make up their own minds. And in the meantime, and after that, I’ll get on with my job.” [54:40]


    [1:00:12] Michael Blackley (Daily Mail): ” … and also, given that this is my first opportunity to ask you about Alex Salmond – I appreciate you’ve talked about some of the issues already – even before the events of recent days, Alex Salmond said in his evidence that government and Crown Office blocking of the release of information amounted to a matter of shielding of some of the most powerful people in the country who are acutely aware of how exposed they would become if information was released. Douglas Ross this morning described the Scottish Government as “corrupt”. Have the tools of the state been used to protect your reputation?”

    [1:00:52] NS: “Absolutely, emphatically, not! And there is not a shred of evidence to suggest that that is the case. I know why Douglas Ross would be making these claims: you know, he’s the opposition, a few weeks before an election – I don’t think that should surprise anybody … em, but, you know, I do think even opposition have a duty to, you know, have some evidence for the claims that they’re making. And Alex Salmond – well, you know, maybe creating an alternative reality in which the organs of the state – not just me, and the SNP, and the civil service, and the Crown Office, and the police, and the women who came forward – were all part of some wild conspiracy against him, for reasons I … [NS chuckles] can’t explain. Em … maybe that’s easier than just accepting that, at the root of all this, might just have been issues in his own behaviour. But that’s for him to explain, if he ever decides to pitch up and sit in front of the committee. [1:01:44]


    [1:02:53] Richard Percival (Daily Express): “And just to follow up on the Alex Salmond stuff: would you be willing to do like a … a press conference, um, after you’ve given evidence to ex… make your … make your position clear on this whole saga, basically? Because I know Alex Salmond has sort of previously hinted that he may give a press conference after he’s given evidence.”

    [1:03:15] NS: [chuckles] “I’m laughing because it feels like that’s what I’ve been forced to do today. I’ll speak to anybody. I’ve always said that I want to speak to the committee on the detail of this first. Because I think that is showing respect for the parliamentary process. I am accountable to Parliament, and through Parliament to the public. I’m getting very frustrated at the length of time it is taking for me to have my opportunity to come before the committee, and once I’ve had that opportunity no doubt others will want to question me and I’ll be happy to answer those questions.

    [1:03:42] Um, you know, what I’d say to Alex Salmond is: do a press conference if you like, but don’t dodge the committee. Sit in front of the committee, on oath – just like I will do – and put forward your views, say what you want to say, and – crucially – bring the evidence to back it up. Because, in spite of all the, you know, sort of furore over some redactions to one document yesterday – that’s the missing bit here: the evidence that backs any … of it … up.

    [1:04:06] So if you aren’t doing it today, how about Friday? And then I’ll do it next Wednesday, and we can let people decide.” [1:04:14]


    [1:06:03] NS: “Em, as you know, I like to keep these briefings on Covid, so apologies to those of you who tuned in to hear updates on Covid and had to listen to my answers on another topics. Em, I’d prefer to keep these issues on Covid, but I hope you understand that when I’m asked questions about issues of the day that are fundamentally about me and my actions, it’s also important that I try to, eh, answer those questions as fully as I can. But I apologise to anybody who is frustrated at the fact that not all of today’s briefing was entirely about Covid.

    #68357 Reply
    Justin

    Nicola Sturgeon responded to Jim Sillars’ allegations on Thursday with a trite dismissal:

    “I made every attempt to restrict the focus of my daily briefings to responding to the pandemic. However, and quite properly, we do not seek to vet the questions put to me by journalists. I had no prior knowledge that a number of journalists were intending to ask me about Mr Salmond. It is therefore quite incorrect for you to suggest that this was in some way a ‘deliberate choice’ on my part. Nothing could be further from the truth.
    Indeed, I was at pains to move the questioning back onto issues relating to Covid as soon as I could. If I had refused to answer these questions I would doubtless have been criticised for avoiding scrutiny.
    It is also entirely wrong of you to suggest that I was casting doubt on the outcome of the criminal trial. I have never, and would never, call into question the jury’s findings.
    Despite your allegations, I am clear that I did not breach the ministerial code. Of course, the most appropriate place for me to be questioned about these matters is in front of the parliamentary committee. And I look forward, at long last, to appearing before the committee next week when I can lay out the facts of what happened rather than the spurious and unfounded conspiracies that others choose to misrepresent as the truth for their own ends.”

    As usual she deflected the criticism, effectively saying it doesn’t matter what other people think, even if they’re senior members of her own party, because she’s only answerable to James Hamilton QC.

    #68368 Reply
    Justin

    Sturgeon’s defence seems to be that she was helpless to avoid smearing Alex Salmond and she couldn’t help undermining the verdict of the jury in the Salmond trial, because it was the journalists wot started it. “It wisnae me!” Sillars wasn’t impressed. He responded today:

    It would have been wiser for you to take more time to consider the substance of my letter.

    May I request that you transfer the question of whether or not you breached the Ministerial Code to Mr. Hamilton or some other suitable independent person.  I think, given the gravity of the breaches I have detailed, it would not be construed as proper for you to be judge and jury.

    I concur with your view of the Covid briefings as of great advantage to the public. You have been scrupulous in keeping them to that agenda, which is your Government’s agenda. When you chose to depart from that practice and respond to a non-Covid related question from James Matthew, to launch a political attack on Alex Salmond, you breached the Code as I set out in my original letter.

    Of course, I accept, as you say, that you did not know that Mr. Matthew would ask you a non-Covid related question; but you had the choice to inform him that it was not an appropriate one in the context of a public health briefing, or to take the bait.  The choice you made was yours, and yours alone.

    You are an experienced Minister, with many years of dealing with questions from journalists. You and others in your position never know what they might ask, just as you do not know the supplementary questions that will come from MSPs at FMQs.

    Ministers have a variety of ways that enable them to avoid answering questions that are inappropriate, or asked in a context not germane to the agenda for which the meeting was called. It is not a criticism to say that you employ that approach each week at FMQs, and could have done so in reply to the first non-Covid related question from the Sky journalist. Again, I make the point that you chose not to do so.

    Your excuse, that if you “had refused to answer these questions I would have been criticised for avoiding scrutiny,” is unconvincing. Who would have criticised you? Not the public looking in on the briefing, for whom public health information is their only reason for watching.

    I venture to suggest that a sharp reminder to Mr. Matthew of the purpose of the briefing would not have been criticised by the public, but approved.  It is true that journalists may have criticised you, but that goes with job and should not be something of such importance to you, that you chose to breach the Code in order to avoid their anticipated critical views.  Your reply gives me no reason to withdraw that part of my complaint.

    The statement issued by the  Faculty of Advocates, expressing their concern about  the reputation of the Scottish legal system, included “and perhaps most importantly, the vital place of the verdict of impartial juries in criminal  proceedings.”

    That they should feel it necessary to issue that statement on the day following your departure from the purpose of the  public health briefing, speaks volumes.  I see no reason to withdraw my complaint that in choosing to speak as you did in relation to the criminal trial, you breached the Code.
    I now refer to the final paragraph of your letter where it says: “Of course the most appropriate place for me to be questioned about these matters is in front of the Parliamentary  Committee.” I agree. But in choosing first to use the forum of a briefing on Covid public health matters, you breached the Code.

    I shall be grateful to have your assurance that you will refer my complaint to either Mr. Hamilton or some other person with the authority to investigate it.

    #68378 Reply
    John

    Clearly she is not fit for purpose and neither is the system that props her up.

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