Should Sturgeon face a vote of no confidence?

Should Sturgeon face a vote of no confidence?

by Jonathan Stanley
article from Wednesday 9, January, 2019

IT SMACKS of Yes Minister when the response to a scandal breaking is to order a full and far reaching internal inquiry into an embarrassing matter.  I don't remember the BBC’s brilliant series ever taking it so far as a leading minister seeking to address a party issue with an internal inquiry into a process managed by public official.

The relationship between Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon is both a close one and an old one by modern standards. The collapse of the case against the former First Minister will, if he sues, inevitably lead to a generous compensation package, possibly to be donated to a future YES campaign. That alone would be a terrible precedent to set, where political movements benefit financially from incompetence in public office.

This saga is not the first time Sturgeon has been caught up in a case of a party member accused of harming women. The sad tale of the wife of former MSP Bill Walker being the subject of domestic abuse and this being known to the party leadership before he was selected as a candidate is not so old, but was eclipsed by the general indyref fever of the day. 

Likewise Sturgeon and Salmond were both part of a team that spent £80,000 of taxpayers' money trying to hide legal advice (on EU membership) that did not even exist. Before her political career took off Sturgeon was a working solicitor. It is fair to say that the First Minister, though possibly incompetent, is in no way naive to the Scottish legal system. So why did this nonsense happen? Should she not face a vote of no confidence in her leadership of the government, never mind her own party?

Though I find this an embarrassing legal case far worse than, say, putting in for some dodgy taxi receipts I can't help but think we all deserve to know a lot more about the personal behaviour and the robustness of processes before we demand our MSPs sling her out.

Could the blame instead really lie with Leslie Evans the Permanent Secretary? Either way I think there appears to be a failure of a government institution and a serious one. That would be the case in any sense but that it involves both a sitting First Minister and her former employer and mentor demands answers for some serious questions of probity and of the ability to distinguish the roles of party leader and First Minister. 

The civil service must be fit for purpose under all circumstances.

Jason Beer QC has been quoted as specifying three main functions of a public inquiry once public concern has been established,

What happened?

Why did it happen and who is to blame?

What can be done to prevent this happening again?

It is not sufficient or credible for the First Minister to now decide what Holyrood does and does not know about this case.  The potential blurring of political and public roles within a devolved government that struggles frequently over what is and is not its competency is serious (e.g. the European Continuity Bill, international aid). Given the gravity of the complaint, the persons involved, and the impact of public confidence to report cases of sexual harassment I believe there is a strong case for the opposition to call for an independentpublic inquiry into this case.

We all deserve to know the truth. The government deserves the right to defend itself and learn lessons.  

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