It’s crunch time this week with the publication of the report of the Holyrood committee inquiry into the botched Scottish Government investigation into the complaints made against Alex Salmond.
First published in March 2021.
This will be mined extensively for the SNP bad headlines which will doubtless dominate the Scottish media this week. You can also look forward to Ruth Davidson popping up on Sky News and BBC Scotland pretending that she knows what integrity is.
This week we shall also see the Conservative attempt to force Nicola Sturgeon out of office with a vote of no confidence in the Scottish Parliament. This will also generate headlines and frequent appearances on the broadcast media by pearl-clutching Conservatives, but unless the motion is backed by the Scottish Greens, whose Holyrood leader has already denounced the blatant politicisation of the committee enquiry by the Conservatives and Labour, then it will be nothing more than a piece of political theatre which the First Minister will survive.
Former FM Alex Salmond in 2013. | Flickr/Scottish Government
It will dominate the headlines and we can look forward to Sarah Smith standing outside Holyrood on the BBC evening news trying not to look smug, but if the Greens don’t support it the motion will not succeed. The Greens do have a political reason of their own for not backing the Conservative motion, their electoral success in May depends on appealing to independence supporters to give the Greens their list vote. That’s going to be harder if the Greens have been seen to collude with the Conservatives in bringing down the First Minister.
There will be plenty of headlines about how Nicola Sturgeon misled Parliament, but that is not in itself a resignation offence. The killer blow will be if she is found to have knowingly deceived Parliament. It was notable that the selective leaks of parts of the committee report, designed to inflict the maximum political damage on the First Minister by her opponents did not include the finding that she had “knowingly misled” Parliament. You can be certain that if this did figure in the report it would have been leaked as it would be crucial to Conservative efforts to win majority support for their motion of no confidence.
Also this week, James Hamilton QC will present the findings of his independent enquiry into whether Nicola Sturgeon breached the ministerial code. The First Minister and her allies are confident that he will find that she did not, alternatively he could find that she did breach the code, but not in a manner that was so egregious that she would have to resign. If he finds that there was no breach of the ministerial code or that any breach was minor and limited, this will represent an end to parliamentary proceedings into this long drawn out affair and we can get back to the serious business of concentrating all our efforts on defeating the Conservatives and the Labour party in the Holyrood election and winning that all-important pro-independence majority in the next Scottish Parliament so we can press ahead with the independence referendum that this country so desperately needs in order to resolve the constitutional question for once and ever.
It would be nice if the ending of Holyrood proceedings into this matter and a finding that Nicola Sturgeon did not breach the ministerial code seriously enough to warrant her resignation would also mean an end to the campaign of vilification of the SNP from certain ostensibly pro-independence websites, but sadly that’s not going to happen. They’ve already decided that independence isn’t worth having if Nicola Sturgeon is still leading the SNP.
FM Nicola Sturgeon. | Flickr/Scottish Government
The big threat to Nicola Sturgeon comes if the James Hamilton report finds that she did commit a serious breach of the ministerial code. Under such circumstances it would be very difficult for her to remain in office, and we would face the challenging prospect of fighting this Scottish election campaign without knowing who would become First Minister should the SNP remain the largest party and able to form the next Scottish government with or without the support of the Greens.
However one thing is absolutely certain, no matter what happens this week with inquiries and reports, none of it alters what is really driving support for independence. That is the failure of the British state to accommodate the divergent political views of Scotland and this country’s rejection of Brexit and the nakedly English nationalist agenda of the Conservative party. It will not stop the Conservatives from pursuing their campaign to neuter and undermine the Scottish Parliament in direct contradiction of the settled will of the people of Scotland. It won’t stop the British government from using Scotland as a convenient parking ground for the UK’s increasing arsenal of nukes. Whatever happens in Holyrood this week will not magically make the Labour party come up with a fleshed out proposal for federalism which is both credible and which actually has a plausible chance of ever being implemented.
Whatever happens in Holyrood this week, the Conservatives and the Labour party will very soon be deprived of the opportunities that this unfortunate affair has given them for grandstanding at the expense of the SNP. Deprived of the manufactured outrage the spotlight will return to where it belongs, the manifest shortcomings and inadequacies of the parties of British nationalism and their failure to come up with any convincing solutions to the democratic deficit which Scotland faces as a part of the UK. That, and not the SNP, is the real motor driving support for independence in Scotland, and that is the dynamic which will soon reassert itself.
It’s a dynamic that will only grow more powerful over time as the demographics of independence support, where a large majority of younger generations back independence, shift Scotland into a nation where independence is on course to become the settled will of the people. The absolute best that the Tories and their allies can hope for is to delay the inevitable.
One way or another this long and drawn out saga will soon be coming to an end, and then the parties of British nationalism will have nowhere to hide. There may be storm clouds on the immediate horizon, but in the medium to longer term the future is very bright. By this time next week we should expect to see that an end to the roller coaster ride is in sight.
▫ Wee Ginger Dug, also known as Paul Kavanagh. Blogger.
- Paul Kavanagh is the author of Barking up the Right Tree | Vagabond Voices
[This piece was originally published in the Wee Ginger Dug’s blog and re-published in PMP Magazine on 22 March 2021, with the author’s consent. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]
(Cover: Flickr/Scottish Government. - Nicola Sturgeon. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)