‘Why don’t you try writing something a bit political?’, or words to that effect. This one is for you, Roddie!
Well, it’s over! Sorry? A Freudian slip? Yes, of course. I, merely, refer to your appearance before the Holyrood committee on Wednesday; the Salmond inquiry. I wouldn’t dare to presume. How you must have dreaded the prospect, though. Most would, given the stakes. Then, again, for one who oozes confidence, self-assurance, arrogance, nay, utter defiance, perhaps not. A First Minister of your standing – and last to appear before said committee – would be fully briefed, rehearsed and have all crucial information to hand. After all, it’s not as though you were unaware of the points in question; the dates in question. Plus, let’s face it, what is there to fear from an inquiry if one has nothing to hide?
A walk in the park, then … or maybe not? Eight hours of questioning! You must be exhausted – and no wonder. The mental agility required in evading specifics, under oath, would take it out of anyone. Too many dates, of course. How could a busy First Minister be expected to remember every meeting? Granted, it is surprising that one wouldn’t remember a meeting – even a general meeting to organise another meeting – at which one was informed as to the subject matter of the requested meeting: claims of sexual harassment against the former First Minister, your friend and mentor. For goodness sake, shocking as that is, you are a very busy woman and who is to say you weren’t late for another meeting, perhaps rushing to grab lunch or, even, desperate for the loo! A little understanding would not go amiss …
I hadn’t intended to watch the entire proceedings. Who could have predicted that you would be subjected to eight hours scrutiny? However, on an aesthetic level, the setting for the inquiry was second to none. Edinburgh, after all, is renowned for its architecture, from the medieval characteristics of the Old Town to the beautiful Georgian buildings of the New and, thus, one would expect nothing less than the grandeur in which the committee was ensconced! Westminster. Holyrood. So little between them. I suppose the Queen, being the Queen, was not privy to the required planning permission. It’s just that the concrete monstrosity, complete with bamboo embellishment, is almost directly across from Holyrood Palace … Oh, well. Nothing for it but to block one’s eyes – particularly now with Scotland so predominant in the news – and assume that, one day, it may make wonderful accommodation for the homeless. A fortune well-spent, one might say! Actually, while on the subject, could it be that you have some selfless, unpublicised charitable project ongoing whereby certain people on the street are invited into the debating chamber for First Minister’s Questions? Some, who are particularly enthusiastic in their support for your party, do look a little unprepared, shall we say, for a debate of importance – which is, also, televised!
I digress, however. Eight hours! That you were able to negotiate scrutiny of such intensity is testament, only, to your staying power. Or, perhaps, your clear conscience? To be free from any guilt of mishandling or subterfuge does afford one a certain strength in adversity, after all. Thank goodness for it, as – as you were at pains to point out at First Minister’s Questions yesterday – you were the only person, present in the chamber, to have sat through eight hours of questioning; or, more accurately, cross-examination. Something to your credit, then? Personally, I would have to ask myself why that is, or was the case. May shed a different light on matters.
I do not wish to go into any great detail – although, it was positively compelling viewing. Suffice to say your expertise in evasion proved unparalleled when faced with the staunch interrogation of certain members of the committee. Intelligent, educated and on a quest for the truth, Murdo Fraser, Jackie Baillie and Margaret Mitchell – and, to a lesser extent, Alex Cole-Hamilton – were unremitting in their questioning. Dates. 29th March, 2018, in particular. That was a problem for you. Such a shame you can’t remember it clearly, even given your shock at the revelations of 2nd April about which you had been forewarned four days before when Geoff Aberdein (is that a spelling mistake?) popped in, happening to be in the building.
There were times when you looked close to tears. Not only did you intimate that your unease at the whole subject of sexual harassment was personal but you were struggling in light of your years of close friendship with Alex Salmond, someone you had revered from a young age; your mentor and someone for whom you had cared. Deserving of note as a background to your errors of judgement? Perhaps that sheds light on why your husband – someone with whom you share a home and who just happens to be chief executive of the SNP- was not privy to these complaints against the former First Minister until August 2018, regardless of the two meetings which took place in his home between yourself and Alex Salmond? The powers of confidentiality.
You are accused of several breaches of the ministerial code: misleading parliament as to when you found out about your government’s investigation into sexual misconduct claims against Mr Salmond; failing to inform your civil servants of secret and unminuted discussions you held with the former First Minister to discuss the investigation; as First Minister, your government’s alleged persistence in its court battle against Mr Salmond, long after receiving legal advice to concede, eventually costing the taxpayer £512,250 in light of his legal fees when Lord Pentland ruled that the inquiry was ‘procedurally unfair’ and ‘tainted with apparent bias’. Your defence? Suitably vague, under oath, but you, yourself, must admit that vague was never going to cut it. Despite the Convener, Linda Fabiani’s concerted efforts to – at times – silence the attack, she was powerless to protect your fall at the hands of those well prepared. Repeatedly failing to provide documentation requested by the committee, including crucial legal advice, redaction of Alex Salmond’s evidence, the leaking of identity of one of the complainants during the government investigation, the part played by the Crown Office … Amnesia. Best form of defence or, rather, an admission of guilt?
Oh, Nicola! On your own sword. You see, at the end of the day – in the words of John Donne – ‘No man is an island’. When one’s ambition blinds one to all else, one is in dangerous waters but one’s success is always subject to others. Loyalty and integrity must always play a part. Each one of us adheres to his own …
Exhausted? Me, too (unfortunate choice of words, perhaps!). In closing, I am well aware that you are not for turning (a nod to the respected) but should you, by some miracle, survive to fight another day – thanks to those who are too bowed under the weight of their chip to bother with honesty – please do me a favour and come clean. The most important thing to you is Scottish Independence; read, your place in the history books. Whilst you may be incredibly astute – and, without doubt, streetwise – your weakness lies in underestimating those you choose to dismiss as privileged. Big mistake!
‘You must not fight too often with one enemy or you will teach him all your art of war.’
This is Trish, signing off.