Analysis: What Nicola Sturgeon's evidence to the Alex Salmond inquiry tells us

There is a reason Nicola Sturgeon is regarded as “having a good pandemic”.

Wednesday, 7th October 2020, 7:26 pm
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

Despite the thousands of deaths, the care home crisis, the initial issues around PPE supply, the loss of her Chief Medical Officer and the breaking of lockdown rules by one of her MPs, Scotland's First Minister appears to rise above the storm in a way that Boris Johnson seems incapable.

Her secret appears to be empathetic communication.

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Listen closely, and she consistently says “she understands” how difficult things are right now – because she feels it too. Just yesterday she was “sick and tired” of Covid, and “finding it harder to cope” – just like all of us.

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Those who loathe her will suggest such tugging at the heartstrings is just a political con; those who love her will believe that it’s entirely genuine, and she as a leader articulates government policy by relating it to human experience.

It’s something she perhaps learned from her predecessor and mentor, Alex Salmond, a man who could turn on the twinkling charm when it was necessary, although as recent revelations have shown, he could be very different in private.

No-one would know that better than Nicola Sturgeon.

She was at his side for decades and it is this relationship which she now meant she could not turn down his request to meet back in April 2018, even when she knew it could be to discuss sexual misconduct allegations. He was in “distress”, she says; how could anyone, at least anyone with a modicum of empathy, ignore that? How can anyone hold that against her?

It's this kind of appeal to people's better natures that litters her written evidence to the Holyrood committee, which shows how difficult it has all been for her.

Even the list of WhatsApp messages to her from Mr Salmond can be read in two ways; either as an appeal for sympathy given the apparent relentless pressure from him to meet – or as her being fully open about the communications between them.

However, none of that should obscure the revelations too. Such as that she forgot a conversation with Mr Salmond's former adviser Geoff Aberdein, told her Mr Salmond wanted to meet “urgently” and "I think it did cover the suggestion that the matter might relate to allegations of a sexual nature".

This slipped her mind, even though she knew of allegations put to her government in November 2017 by Sky News about “sexual misconduct on the part of Alex Salmond”, and that despite his reassurances she was left “with a lingering concern that allegations could materialise at some stage”.

Her evidence also reveals that Mr Salmond was urging arbitration between him and the Scottish Government to avoid court, but that this was rejected by the Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans.

The result of that decision was £512,000 of taxpayers’ money heading to his bank account after the government lost the judicial review.

Ms Sturgeon refutes suggestions of conspiracy and cover-up.

She was always, as in her handling of Covid, trying "to do the right thing", and how could anyone crucify her for that?

She should certainly prepare for an attempt by opposition MSPs when she appears before the committee. An appearance which might now be sooner rather than later.

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Joy Yates

Editorial Director