Nicola Sturgeon's lies to Salmond inquiry show greater contempt for voters than Margaret Ferrier's Covid breach – Murdo Fraser

It’s a feature of all political parties which have been in government for a long period of time that they become increasingly complacent and insulated from public opinion.

Tuesday, 6th October 2020, 4:45 pm
Nicola Sturgeon insists she has not been able to provide some information to MSPs' inquiry into the Salmond affair because of legal reasons (Picutre: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images)
Nicola Sturgeon insists she has not been able to provide some information to MSPs' inquiry into the Salmond affair because of legal reasons (Picutre: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images)

A series of election victories builds a sense of entitlement and self-belief, and a confidence that public support will always be maintained, no matter what errors are made along the way.

Long-serving Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom like Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair were prone to this tendency, starting to believe their own propaganda that they were head and shoulders above the opposition, and indispensable to the running of the country. As history tells us, this hubris inevitably leads to a fall from grace, not least because the voting public dislike politicians who they feel take them for granted.

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Over the past week, we have seen from the SNP no less than three examples of what happens when this sense of entitlement becomes embedded within a political party.

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The first of these was the revelation that the former SNP Finance Secretary Derek Mackay was still claiming Edinburgh accommodation allowance from the Scottish Parliament, despite not having been seen at Holyrood since his resignation as a minister in February.

It now seems that Mr Mackay is happy to continue to receive his salary of more than £5,000 per month from the taxpayer, without actually performing any parliamentary duties until the Scottish elections in May next year, at which point he will become eligible for a substantial additional pay-out.

I can only imagine what his constituents in Renfrewshire make of the fact that he is being well paid to do nothing and not represent their interests in the Scottish Parliament, but neither he nor his erstwhile SNP colleagues seem to care about their views.

We then had the case of the Rutherglen SNP MP Margaret Ferrier, who travelled all the way from London to her Glasgow home last week whilst knowingly infected with Covid-19. This was an act of the most extraordinary irresponsibility, showing a reckless disregard for the welfare of others, whose lives were put at risk by her actions.

Quite why Ms Ferrier felt it was appropriate for her to breach the rules so flagrantly only she can know, but perhaps as a Member of Parliament she felt herself above the law, and that the rules which apply to ordinary people did not bind her. Again, the sense of entitlement was evident.

But the most egregious example of this phenomenon comes in the conduct of the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, in relation to the parliamentary committee investigating the handling of harassment complaints against her predecessor, Alex Salmond.

The SNP convenor of the committee, Linda Fabiani, has strongly criticised the Scottish Government for their lack of cooperation with the committee inquiry. These points were followed up at First Minister’s Questions last week by Ruth Davidson, leading to an angry response from the First Minister.

Sturgeon claimed that the only material not being supplied to the inquiry by the Government was where there were legal reasons that it could not be produced, and referenced the more than 1,000 pages of material made available, and officials having given ten hours of evidence so far.

Having sat through those ten hours of evidence, I have to say that little of it meets the test of “full cooperation” as promised by Nicola Sturgeon. We saw the Permanent Secretary of the Scottish Government, Leslie Evans, on numerous occasions saying that she “could not recall” specific meetings or events, and various witnesses having to write to the committee subsequent to their appearances to correct misinformation given.

The committee’s view is that the legal advice given to the Scottish Government about whether they should defend the judicial review initiated by Alex Salmond against their complaints process is essential to the inquiry, and should be released.

The Scottish Government has thus far refused to produce it. When Nicola Sturgeon claimed that there were “legal reasons” that the advice could not be provided, she was simply being dishonest. There is no legal barrier to production of this advice; it is simply a political choice by the Scottish Government, who in the past have been happy to release legal advice on a number of occasions when they have deemed it appropriate to do so.

Moreover, when quizzed about the WhatsApp messages which appeared to come from her husband Peter Murrell, the chief executive of the SNP, suggesting that he wanted Salmond to be investigated by the Metropolitan Police and Crown Office, Sturgeon complained that she could not answer questions on behalf of “other people”. The fact that the “other person” in question was not only her husband, but chief executive of the political party she leads and someone who is effectively answerable to her, did not seem to dawn on the First Minister.

Worse still, rather than answer points put to them by the committee, the SNP – under her leadership – have instructed Edinburgh lawyers to take up the cudgels on their behalf.

All this exposes the First Minister’s claims that she has been cooperating fully with the committee as little more than lies. When my Conservative MSP colleague Oliver Mundell made this statement in the Holyrood Chamber last week, he was removed for unparliamentary language. But that does not make his claim any less true.

Perhaps, like Derek Mackay and Margaret Ferrier, Nicola Sturgeon believes that she will get away with it, that eventually the public will tire of hearing about the Salmond inquiry, and that events will move on and let her off the hook. But history tells us that governments and political parties who develop a sense of entitlement invariably find that the voters are ultimately unforgiving in their judgement.

Murdo Fraser is a Scottish Conservative MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife

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