FMQs sketch: SNP's handling of Alex Salmond inquiry baked in layers of denial and obfuscation

There is a classic political quote that sums up the Scottish Government and the SNP’s internal handling of the Alex Salmond inquiry.

Nicola Sturgeon was challenged on the Salmond Inquiry during First Minister's Questions
Nicola Sturgeon was challenged on the Salmond Inquiry during First Minister's Questions

The line “it’s a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma” neatly describes the blurring of the lines, the non-denial denials and forgotten details which are so inherent in the daily drama of the inquiry.

The quote is attributed to Winston Churchill (although it is likely the SNP leadership have also forgotten this fact), and his party compatriot Ruth Davidson took it to heart during a heated exchange with Nicola Sturgeon during First Minister’s Questions.

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Nicola Sturgeon accuses Ruth Davidson of 'attacking' her husband and using him a...

The Scottish Tory’s interrogation put the marital life of the SNP leadership at centre stage of one of the most significant political scandals in Scottish history, but the public was left shrouded in opaque responses.

“Your husband’s evidence contradicts your own” was the first course Ms Davidson served up for the First Minister.

In response, Nicola Sturgeon put forward her initial riddle, that something could be simultaneously not government business for the purposes of recording it in the diary and in minute form and not party business to keep Mr Murrell out of the loop.

This was justified by the First Minister because, as she said, her husband had no role in the process so would not be told.

Ms Davidson suggested this was not plausible. Surely the First Minister would have spoken to the chief executive of the SNP – who happens to be her husband – on what was surely party business?

However, Ms Sturgeon claimed she did not discuss much of her working life with her husband. She’s the First Minister, she said, not the office gossip, and admonished Ms Davidson’s use of her husband as “a weapon”.

Mr Murrell must, therefore, exist essentially in marital mystery, adding an additional layer of foggy uncertainty to the details of who knew what, and when.

If only we could be a fly on the wall at dinner time at the Sturgeon/Murrell household.

Ms Davidson further attempted to disentangle the web between the First Minister and the truth, accusing Ms Sturgeon of thinking we all have our “heads buttoned up the back”.

The First Minister and her husband are “experienced, intelligent political operatives”, she said. Surely this continued forgetfulness from senior figures, stubbornness around the release of legal advice, and garbled attempts to stick the apocryphal party line was simply too unlikely to take seriously?

This is all “wild conspiracy theories” roared the First Minister. “I look forward to the opportunity” to set out my evidence in front of the inquiry, she said.

It begs the question why – if the truth is so clearly on the side of the First Minister – the Scottish Government has so regularly failed to meet the committee’s deadlines, why it has failed to release the legal advice connected to the judicial review, and why Ms Sturgeon has tied herself in knots time and time again.

That was the final enigma presented at FMQs on the Salmond inquiry.

It means instead of the full story, MSPs are left with a box of individually deniable threads of half-truths seemingly too knotted to untangle.

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