We are here today because a former First Minister was accused of sexually harassing members of staff in a Government that he was there not only to lead but to serve. We are here because the hastily changed policy that was designed to protect staff from such actions was not fit for purpose and was implemented in an unfair and unlawful way. We are here because the Scottish Government, when subject to judicial review of the clusterboorach that had occurred, sought to frustrate the court, embarrassed its own lawyers and attempted to defend the indefensible, costing the taxpayer more than £0.5 million in the process. Nobody comes out of this well, apart from the original complainants and the external counsel to the Scottish Government, and nobody has taken responsibility for the multiple failings, at every level, that occurred.
Getting to today has been a process years in the making. Let us remember the promises that were made. We were told:
“I now intend—fully, as the First Minister—to respect the work of the various investigations that have been established.”
Those were the words of Nicola Sturgeon, spoken on 17 January 2019 from the place in which she is now sitting, and I took her at her word. A committee of the Scottish Parliament had been established to consider and report on the actions of the First Minister, Government officials and special advisers over the botched investigation. That committee would take evidence, deliberate and deliver a judgment. Indeed, the First Minister demanded of members of the Parliament the same high standards as she claimed for herself. She said:
“it strikes me that people cannot call for inquiries and then refuse to respect the work of those inquiries. I will respect the work of those inquiries; the question is, will others across the chamber?”—[Official Report, 17 January 2019; c 10, 11.]
That was a fundamental question to which at the time there seemed a pretty self-evident answer. What member of the Parliament would not respect and accept the verdict of a committee of the Parliament that had been established to investigate such serious matters? Now the verdict is in and we have our answer to that fundamental question, and those who have traduced the committee, who have rubbished its work, who have thrown mud at its members, who have made baseless claims regarding its outcomes and who have disrespected its conclusions—[Interruption.]
Yesterday, we publicly accepted the Hamilton report. For days, others have rejected the committee’s report. We note that Hamilton was crystal clear that the basis of the vote of no confidence, which is whether the First Minister misled the Parliament, is a decision for the Parliament and not for him.
Let us look at the committee’s conclusions. In its 192 pages, the report directly concludes that the First Minister misled the parliamentary committee regarding her initial meeting with Alex Salmond in her house in April 2018. We already know that her original statement that the meeting was the first time that she had heard of any such complaints was also misleading and that, months after she falsely stated that to Parliament, she was forced to correct the record. The committee also concluded that the catastrophic failure to disclose documents through the judicial review process was the reason for the high awarding of costs and the wasting of taxpayers’ money, and said:
“those responsible should be held accountable.”
Similarly to the judicial review, the committee was directly thwarted in its attempts to gather evidence, and its verdict was scalding. It said:
“This is an unacceptable position for a parliamentary committee to find itself in when trying to scrutinise the Scottish Government, particularly when both the First Minister and the Permanent Secretary stated there would be full co-operation with the inquiry.”
How hollow that full co-operation pledge now looks.
The part of the report that is most difficult for all of us to read—and I expect for the First Minister, too—is the evidence of the original complainers, who were badly let down. They talked of working in a culture where bad behaviour was endemic and where such behaviour was permitted and a blind eye was turned to it. That charge was substantiated by the civil service union the FDA, which said that its members who worked for the Scottish Government operated in a culture of fear and that the issues are not historical but current. No matter what our political colours are, it should shame us all that working for our country’s Government, which should be a matter of pride, is actually a test of strength because of unacceptable behaviour and blind eyes being turned.
On the subject of behaviour, I put on record that I believe that the leaking last week of the report’s findings was both damaging and wrong. I, along with my party, will support any investigation into that wrongdoing.
The First Minister proclaimed her respect for the work of this Parliament’s committee of inquiry, right up to the moment when it became clear that the outcome would not suit her and her respect for it vanished. I do not doubt that, if the committee report had cleared her of wrongdoing, it would be held up as being the will of Parliament. A report that found that she misled Parliament is instead denounced as an unprincipled hatchet job.
I have already said that I respect the Hamilton report’s conclusions, but Mr Hamilton publicly and specifically handed the question of whether the First Minister misled this Parliament back to the Parliament itself. Let us be clear about what a committee of this Parliament found in its inquiry. After spending months gathering evidence from dozens of witnesses, including eight hours of testimony by the First Minister, and after deliberation, the committee found that Nicola Sturgeon had misled Parliament. Nothing can erase that fact, however inconvenient it is to the First Minister and to her supporters.
Let us remember that, by misleading the Scottish Parliament, the First Minister also misled the people of Scotland. No First Minister who truly wanted to live up to the ideals of this Parliament should feel able to continue in post after being judged guilty of misleading it. How can Parliament have confidence in the words of a First Minister whose words have been found to be false? The honourable thing would be to resign. Whether the First Minister has that sense of honour is now between herself and her conscience.
That the Parliament has no confidence in the First Minister, in light of confirmation that the Scottish Government ignored legal advice on its prospects of success in Alex Salmond’s judicial review case, and multiple credible witnesses indicating that the First Minister misled the Parliament.
Wisdom, justice, compassion and integrity—those are the values inscribed on our mace and each and every one of us has a duty to uphold them. Before I address my position, I say that there are some in this chamber who decided before a single word of evidence had been heard that I was guilty in relation to the handling of complaints against the former First Minister. The only question was what they would choose to find me guilty of. In recent months I have faced accusations of conspiracy against, collusion with and cover-up on behalf of Alex Salmond. None of that is supported by evidence because none of it is true.
For some—as the Tory motion makes clear—getting to the facts, learning lessons and helping to ensure that women are not let down in the future were always secondary considerations to the desperate attempt to claim my political scalp.
Nevertheless, the committee’s work was important and I give an assurance that the Government will study the report closely and will take its recommendations seriously. The mistake made by the Government in the investigation of the complaints against Alex Salmond—albeit a mistake made in the course of trying to do the right thing—was serious, as were its consequences. Once again, I apologise unreservedly to the women who were let down as a result of that.
It will be a priority for me, for as long as I am First Minister, to ensure that lessons are learned and that trust is re-established so that anyone who considers in the future that they have suffered sexual harassment has the confidence to come forward and knows that their concerns will be listened to and addressed.
Turning to my own position, as I said in evidence to the committee, I may not have got everything right in my handling of the situation. The situation that I was confronted with was extremely difficult, certainly politically but also personally. I accept and respect that some people faced with the same situation might have made different decisions, but I am clear in my mind that I acted appropriately and that I made the right overall judgments and I entirely reject any suggestion of misleading this Parliament.
Being at peace with my own conscience on those matters, as I am, is a necessary condition for my being able to continue as First Minister, but I know that that is not sufficient. No politician can be her own judge and jury. The public deserved independent verification that I had not breached the standards that I am expected to uphold. Yesterday, they got that assurance from James Hamilton’s report.
Mr Hamilton considered all the issues that were alleged to amount to a breach of the ministerial code, including the question whether I misled Parliament. He concluded:
“I am of the opinion that the First Minister did not breach the provisions of the Ministerial Code in respect of any of these matters.”
In advance of yesterday’s report, all parties spoke of the need to respect Mr Hamilton’s conclusions. Indeed, the committee’s report says:
“James Hamilton’s report is the most appropriate place to address the question of whether or not the First Minister has breached the Scottish Ministerial Code.”
Let me be clear. Had Mr Hamilton’s report gone the other way, I would have accepted it. Had he found that I had breached the code in anything other than the most technical and immaterial of ways, I would have been standing here right now tendering my resignation, because the integrity of the office that I am so privileged to hold really matters to me. The office of First Minister is more important than any temporary incumbent of it.
However, given that I have been cleared by the independent report of any breach of the ministerial code, my message to all those—especially the Conservatives, despite Ruth Davidson’s protestations—who now refuse to accept Mr Hamilton’s conclusions is this: if they think that they can bully me out of office, they are mistaken and they misjudge me. If they want to remove me as First Minister, they should do it in an election. Of course, if today’s desperate political stunt proves anything it is that they have no confidence whatsoever in their ability to do so, because they have nothing positive to offer the Scottish people.
The past year has been exhausting for everyone. My experience of it is as nothing compared with those who have lost loved ones, suffered illness or watched businesses go to the wall. However, I have given my all every single day, trying to lead us though this ordeal. I do not mind admitting that the intensity and gravity of decision making has taken its toll.
The Alex Salmond saga, and the assault on my character that it has entailed, has certainly not helped. However, this country needs strong, experienced and positive leadership as we continue to navigate our way through and out of this crisis, and that is what I offer.
That takes me to my final and most fundamental point. Tomorrow, this parliamentary session reaches its conclusion—perhaps not a moment too soon. The toxic atmosphere that has infected the chamber in recent months will give way—I hope—to the fresh air of an election. I hope that the fresh air will bring with it a rigorous and positive debate not just about personalities but about the kind of country that we want to be, and about how we rebuild from the pandemic and create a fairer, more prosperous Scotland. It is now time for the country to decide.
The confidence of this Parliament matters—of course it does. However, it is the confidence of the people of Scotland that matters most, and that is what I will seek to demonstrate, and seek to win, in the weeks that lie ahead.
Earlier today, we held a minute’s silence on the steps outside the chamber to remember all those who have lost their lives over the past year and all those grieving the loss of a loved one. On this, the penultimate day before the Parliament reaches the end of its five-year session, I would much rather that we were reflecting on the impact of this dreadful pandemic and debating what we need to do to ensure that our country recovers in the years ahead. Instead, we are confronted by a litany of Government failings, which led to two women being so badly let down, and by a Tory party that cares not about the principles but about the politics.
The harassment policy failed and two women were let down. That has shaken trust in the system and risked discouraging victims from coming forwards. The situation has called into question the integrity of Government, it has undermined the principles of transparency and accountability, and it has seen a misuse of public money. There are huge failures and big questions to be answered.
There are no winners in this debate. The Scottish National Party is not a winner in it. The spectacle of using a harassment inquiry as a recruiting tool was grotesque.
In the face of all those failures, the Tories have played politics and have been interested only in getting a scalp. They announced that they would bring forward a vote of no confidence before the First Minister had even given evidence to the committee. They lodged the motion on 4 March, before the Hamilton inquiry or the committee inquiry had concluded. Seriously?
On one side, there is a litany of failings from a Government that let down two women; on the other, there is an Opposition that is guilty of playing grubby party politics with an issue as serious as sexual harassment. This is a day of shame for our Parliament. Scotland deserves a better Government and a better Opposition.
From the outset, I have made it clear that we would not prejudge the outcome of the inquiries and that we would remove party and personality. I accept the conclusion of the report that was published yesterday, but I also accept the conclusions of the cross-party report that was published today by a committee of the Parliament, which highlights a catalogue of errors. However, still nobody has taken responsibility for the catastrophic failings of the Government. There are still serious questions for the permanent secretary and for the First Minister, because the buck ultimately stops with her.
It cheapens the Parliament to have the Government attacking the work of the committee. The SNP’s tactics risk calling into question all the verdicts of every committee of the Parliament ever. Members have spent months scrutinising and investigating in an attempt to get to the truth, often in the face of obstruction from the Government.
There are huge challenges ahead for our country, and we cannot come back to such a Parliament after 6 May. We cannot use the chamber as a game that is designed to divide our country further.
Earlier today, I lodged an amendment to the motion that recognised the gravity of the Government’s failures, demanded that someone take responsibility and called out the shameless game playing by the Conservatives. I regret that that amendment was rejected. As happens far too often in Scottish politics, we are left with a binary choice once again.
Do I have confidence in the way that the First Minister, her team and senior members of the Government have handled the matter? Do I have confidence in the Government’s record—we need only see today the report on the attainment gap; the First Minister said that we should judge her record on that—and its ability to focus on coming through a national recovery as we come through Covid? No, I do not. However, on what I hope is the Tory party’s second-last day as Scotland’s main Opposition party, I have no confidence in a Tory party that seeks to use an awful episode in our country’s history in the futile and vain pursuit of a cheap political scalp, and contradicts what it says here by what it says in a different Parliament elsewhere.
We cannot support a motion that is designed not to deliver the strong opposition that the Tory party promised but purely to divide our country and our politics still further. There is a failing Government on one hand and a game-playing Opposition on the other. Our politics must be better than that, and our people deserve better than that.
For the sake of the people of Scotland, who are coming through Covid, and with the huge challenge and task that faces us, we cannot come back to this. Scotland deserves a better Government, and it deserves a better Opposition.
Scottish politics today does not look pretty, with talk of lynching and assassination; the leaking of the private evidence of complainants; the lodging of motions of no confidence even before all the evidence has been heard; the attacking of a committee because it does not agree with the First Minister; the lauding of the performance of Nicola Sturgeon because she talked to a committee for eight hours—as if the show is more important than the facts; and the boasting about recruiting new members on the back of this tragedy. No one wins from this ugly episode—not the First Minister, not Douglas Ross and certainly not Alex Salmond, who has been exposed for what he really is.
We know who has been failed: the women who complained. When they stepped up, we were not there for them. In the committee’s report, which was published today, one woman tells how she and her fellow complainer were dropped by the Scottish Government and left to swim.
The Conservatives have shown themselves to be interested only in removing Nicola Sturgeon from office rather than in the facts of this terrible series of events. They have undermined the integrity of the independent investigator. However, even the most ardent SNP supporter must recognise that the women who complained were let down by the Government and that £500,000 was wasted on defending the indefensible in court.
We know that the Government will win today, because it has the unconditional support of the Green Party, but this debate and vote cannot be the end of the matter. In his summing up, therefore, I would like the Deputy First Minister to tell us where this goes from here.
First, how does he explain why James Hamilton was unable to conclude whether the First Minister misled Parliament over whether she offered to help Alex Salmond when they met in her home? James Hamilton says that it is up to the Parliament to determine whether it was misled on that issue. We need an adequate explanation from the Deputy First Minister.
Secondly, on the transfer of the name of a complainant to Alex Salmond’s former chief of staff, James Hamilton believes that that did happen, and he says that that version of events is credible. That is a terrible breach of confidentiality. Not only was the complainant left to swim, but their identity was passed to the person about whom they were complaining. What is now to happen to the person who was responsible?
Thirdly, the Government made a serious error in defending the indefensible in a court case that cost £500,000 and more. That was a colossal error, but apparently no individual was responsible for it. What will happen next?
Finally, confidence in the Government’s complaints process is now at rock bottom. No one has complained in the past three years. What will the Government do to convince Parliament and women that the process will change?
The SNP is divided and has a terrible record of delivery over 14 years in Government, and there are serious questions about how women were treated by this Government. I contest that it should no longer be in office.
Even as the Government wins today, the voters will have their say in seven weeks’ time. The country deserves a positive, progressive alternative that will put recovery first. How we vote today will be determined by the answers that we receive from the Deputy First Minister when he sums up.
This situation began with an extremely serious issue: the mishandling of an investigation into sexual harassment allegations. I honestly wish that everyone’s focus had remained on that issue.
What we have seen since then has been the deliberate, systematic and entirely cynical exploitation of that issue to suit motives that are all too apparent today. The media in Scotland and throughout the UK are awash with speculation about the Sturgeon-Salmond psychodrama. The coverage of it is dominated by one question: what does it mean for the independence cause, when we should be asking what it means for the treatment of harassment or the position of those who want to call it out. Sadly, we already know the answer to that question. Since the original committee leaks months ago, through multiple instances of MSPs on that committee prejudging the evidence and announcing their political motivations to the world, and then to the disgraceful betrayal of trust of the original complainants during the past weekend, what should have been a serious inquiry has descended into farce.
I believe that that has been the deliberate choice of those who have nothing to offer the people of Scotland. They looked at the devolved institutions, saw a high level of public trust in them and could not bear it, so they set about trying to drag everything down to their level. They will fail, but, as a direct result of their actions, the women who complained about sexual harassment in the first place had to put out a statement via Rape Crisis Scotland to complain about the violation of their trust.
So, here we are: in one hand, we have an independent report by someone with enough professionalism not to go hawking quotes to the press in advance, which clears the First Minister of any breach of the ministerial code; in the other hand, we have a report by a committee of the Parliament whose members have prejudged the evidence, called for resignations before listening to it, betrayed the original complainers in the sexual harassment case and leaked their conclusions to the media. Their actions are a betrayal of the trust that we all placed in them when we appointed that committee.
Calling out that behaviour does not, as Anas Sarwar suggests, reflect on the rest of our Parliament—our Parliament is better than that—but they have clearly destroyed the credibility of their own work and advertised their partisan motivations for all to see. Far worse than that, they have sent a chilling message to anyone else who is considering complaining about harassment by powerful men that, if they do so, their lives can be turned into tawdry political theatre for months or even years.
The only resignations that I have any interest in debating today are those of the committee members who have so systematically broken our rules, abused the trust of witnesses and played childish games with the serious issue that they were asked to examine. They are the ones who should be resigning, and any political party that wants to come out of the episode with a shred of credibility will do whatever it takes to identify the culprits and ensure that they are not able to stand for re-election in six weeks’ time. They have shown contempt for the serious issue of sexual harassment, for their witnesses and for the rules of the Parliament. Having failed in their attempt to drag Scottish politics down to their level, they should just go.
James Hamilton’s independent investigation has finally reported. It has unambiguously cleared the First Minister of all charges that she breached the ministerial code. Those very accusations were, of course, what today’s flimsy motion of no confidence was seemingly built on, and, judging by what I have heard so far, they are the dead horse that the Tories look determined to flog.
It is worth collectively reminding ourselves that the whole unhappy story is not ultimately about politics. It is not about the conspiracy theories that gripped the political and media worlds and that, at one fevered point, encompassed everyone in Scotland from the First Minister to SNP staff, the complainants, the civil service, prosecutors and even, improbably enough, the Lord Advocate. In case we forget, it is, ultimately, the much simpler and sadder story of two women—two real human beings—who made complaints. The Scottish Government’s complaints procedures, as we all now know, completely failed. So, too, it gives me no pleasure to say, did some of the officials who were tasked with operating those procedures.
For my many sins, I have served for the past two years on Parliament’s committee of inquiry into the handling of those complaints. Like a number of other committee members, I decided many months ago not to give a breathless running commentary to the media about our evidence and private deliberations. To say that our committee leaked like the Titanic would be to do a considerable injustice to Harland and Wolff: the Titanic leaked only once.
I can genuinely say that the low point in my 14 years in this place was when I found out that someone on our committee had gone so far as to leak sensitive material purporting to be the accounts of the two women—accounts that had, in fact, not been authorised by them for release. That was in flagrant breach of every assurance that the women had been given about the trust that they could place in us.
Some have said that such behaviour represents a challenge to the credibility of the Parliament. Like Patrick Harvie, I profoundly disagree with that assessment. I think that it is simply a challenge to the credibility of some members. I am afraid, however, that it speaks to the deep reserves of disfiguring political hatred that some people in this place apparently have for the First Minister—a hatred born, no doubt, of long political frustration, which brings them to their no confidence motion today.
There were, of course, many things in the committee’s report on which we all agreed, and I hope that those findings will be useful in preventing people from being failed again in the future. The unevidenced insinuations about the First Minister that were tacked on to the end of our report in the last day or two of our meetings do not, I am afraid, fall into that category.
In any case, Mr Hamilton’s report demolishes the very basis for today’s motion. The idea that the ministerial code was breached through failure to record meetings and the allegations that the First Minister may have attempted to influence the conduct of the investigation, misled Parliament or failed to comply with the law are all rejected.
As this parliamentary session draws to a close and the motion runs into the sand, what are Opposition members left with—their loathing aside? They are left facing an election that, it seems, they have decided to make all about character. After this week, I wish them good luck with that one.
I am proud to have been a member of the Scottish Parliament since its inception, just like the Presiding Officer and the First Minister—a member of the class of ‘99. However, never in my 22 years here have I seen or imagined anything quite like this. The fallout between the former First Minister and the current First Minister has laid bare the deep divisions in the SNP and the blurring of lines between the party and the Government, and it has exposed the need for the Scottish Parliament—in my view—to have more powers to hold the Government to account.
I will focus my comments on the committee’s report, but I will first say that the result of the vote of no confidence is a foregone conclusion. I must question the motivation of the Tories to schedule a vote of no confidence before James Hamilton had even reported and before they had seen the outcome of the committee’s inquiry. That was deeply irresponsible.
The committee report that was published this morning details the catastrophic failings of the Scottish Government on a matter of the utmost seriousness and sensitivity. Despite the obstruction of the Scottish Government—and that obstruction was significant—the committee has managed to get beyond the veil of Government secrecy.
We must never forget the two female civil servants who complained about harassment and who have been comprehensively failed by the Scottish Government. I welcome the First Minister’s acknowledgement of that and her apology for it but, three years on, no one has taken responsibility for it. There have been no resignations and no sackings, yet we all acknowledge that the failure was catastrophic.
The harassment policy was rushed through without any specialist advice or input. The handling of complaints was fundamentally flawed, with the appointment of an investigating officer that was not independent from the process. The person who had oversight of all of that, and who was involved in every aspect of the procedure, was the permanent secretary, and she must bear much of the responsibility.
The Scottish Government still does not have a functioning harassment policy, so it is essential that the recommendations of the Laura Dunlop report are carried through urgently, and it is essential that the recommendations of the committee, the majority of which were unanimous, are carried forward, too.
The committee felt that the Scottish Government’s determination to plough on, defending its position in the Court of Session when the prospects of success were minimal, was irresponsible, and it cost the taxpayer in excess of £500,000.
A majority on the committee believed that the First Minister misled the committee about whether she offered to intervene during her meeting with Alex Salmond on 2 April 2018. I know that that has been painted as a partisan decision, but let me say this: one independent member, one Labour member, two Tories and one Lib Dem agreed after hearing the evidence—that is not partisan. However, the four SNP members who voted together were never, despite what they may have heard, going to vote to criticise the First Minister.
There remain many serious questions that need to be answered about the First Minister’s judgment and the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment complaints. Above all, we need to ensure that women who come forward to complain about harassment are not let down by the Scottish Government ever again.
It is my privilege to close the debate for the Government, and to encourage Parliament to reject this baseless motion from the Conservatives. At the heart of the debate, as many members have said, are two women who had the bravery and the courage to complain about behaviour that was unacceptable.
I say to Parliament honestly that they were let down by the Government. That has been acknowledged by the First Minister and by me on countless occasions; we accept that criticism and we have apologised for it. However, as Dr Alasdair Allan has just said, those women were also very badly let down by somebody who was a member of the committee leaking a misrepresentation of their evidence to a Sunday newspaper. That has added trauma upon trauma to those complainants, and whoever was responsible for it should consider the issues that Patrick Harvie raised in his contribution, because they are unfit to be a member of this Parliament.
The Government accepts that mistakes were made; we apologise for them and we will remedy them. There is much of substance in the committee report, which was published this morning, that presents a strong challenge to the Government’s procedures and processes, and the Government must accept that. Good work has been done there, and—as Jackie Baillie just said—the overwhelming majority of the report was delivered unanimously. I have indicated publicly that the Government will take forward the Laura Dunlop report, which was passed to us last week, along with the harassment committee inquiry report and the report by Mr Hamilton, in order to ensure that action is taken speedily to address the issues that need to be addressed. That will enable us to ensure that we have in place a policy framework that is fit for purpose to enable anyone who has the need to complain to be able to do so with confidence. Those will be the Government’s actions, and it will be for incoming ministers to take that work forward after 6 May.
That was the day before the First Minister gave eight hours of testimony—before she had said a word to the parliamentary committee.
On the same day, Adam Tomkins, who is a member of this Parliament, tweeted:
“Sturgeon lied. We know that now. That’s why she must resign. She lied.”
Ruth Davidson talked about high standards. I have to say that I find that tweet the lowest standard I have ever seen in my Parliamentary life. My dear friend the First Minister talked about a toxic culture. If there was a toxic culture anywhere, Adam Tomkins, with a remark of that type, emptied a gallon of petrol on it.
Jackie Baillie talked a moment ago about how the committee arrived at a dispassionate conclusion with the votes of two Conservatives, one Labour member, one Liberal member and one independent member. On 12 October 2020, Murdo Fraser tweeted again that the FM had lied. How on earth can we be expected to take seriously the conclusions that were arrived at by five votes to four, at the last gasp of the committee process, when the committee had already agreed to these words:
“For all these reasons, the Committee believes that James Hamilton’s report is the most appropriate place to address the question of whether or not the First Minister has breached the Scottish Ministerial Code”?
Yesterday, Mr Hamilton gave his verdict:
“I am of the opinion that the First Minister did not breach the provisions of the Ministerial Code in respect of any of these matters.”
Mr Hamilton exonerated the First Minister yesterday on the committee’s test and I am delighted that that has been the case.
The First Minister and I have sat in close quarters for many years, as colleagues who have sometimes been in active disagreement about priorities, most of which, I seem to remember—I say this respectfully to the First Minister—have been about money. Throughout all my days of dealing with the First Minister, I have always known that I was dealing with an individual of integrity, character, responsibility and devotion to serving the people of this country. She has given every ounce of her energy to protect the people of this country over these past trying 12 months of Covid. She has done everything that she can to protect the public, and the last thing that she deserves is this grubby motion from the Conservatives. I invite Parliament to chuck it out at the first available opportunity.
Tomorrow, every seat in the Parliament becomes vacant again. All business in the chamber comes to an end, after which we await the verdict of the voters on 6 May, which is just six weeks away. As the First Minister said, that is as it should be. I hope that the newly elected members on 6 May will learn some important lessons about what this whole sorry saga has meant for Scottish politics. I also hope that every single politician, irrespective of his or her political views or seniority, will learn those lessons, starting with the fact that the serious flaws in the Scottish Government’s handling of the complaints process utterly failed the female complainants in this case.
That is not all, however. The fallout from both James Hamilton’s report and the report of the parliamentary committee that investigated the Scottish Government’s handling of the complaints process is significant and certain to have long-term ramifications. The First Minister has been cleared of breaking the ministerial code, but she has not been cleared of showing a serious lack of judgment, of presiding over a dysfunctional Government and, crucially, of misleading the committee, most especially when it comes to her account of when she first heard about the concerns of Alex Salmond.
Neither should we ignore the fact that James Hamilton makes it clear that he was frustrated by the fact that legal constraints prevented him from publishing all the relevant details without redaction, so that the necessary evidence could be examined in the appropriate context—[Interruption.]
I will not. When political commentaries are written these days, it is often said that politicians have sunk low in people’s esteem; that there is a diminished level of integrity in politics and therefore a diminished level of trust between the voter and the body politic. I agree with that, and for me that is what has happened in this case, which is symptomatic of the problem.
At times, there has been a complete disregard for the will of Parliament. How many times in recent months have we seen the Scottish Government completely ignore the outcome of votes in the chamber? We have seen a Government that is determined to override the democratic process, believing that it knows better than Parliament. That is indeed the main difference that I see in my 14 years in Holyrood—Government is now dominant over Parliament rather than the other way around, which is not healthy for democracy—[Interruption.]
If Mr Swinney is going to make comments, I would be grateful if he could just listen to the next point.
“Although I accept the First Minister’s statement that her motivation for agreeing to the meeting was personal and political, and she may have sought to underscore this by hosting it in her private home with no permanent civil servant present and no expenditure of public money, it could not in my opinion be characterised as a party meeting.”
That quote speaks volumes about the difference between party and Government, and about how we should operate.
In a further section in his report, James Hamilton raises concerns that the claim that one of the First Minister’s officials leaked the name of the complainer is credible. That must also ring alarm bells. There is then the vast sum of taxpayers’ money that was spent on a legal case that the First Minister knew was fundamentally flawed.
The whole issue has principally raised questions about the operations of the First Minister and the Scottish Government, but it has also raised questions about the effectiveness of Holyrood. To those ministers who, in recent weeks, have been trying to pretend that this Parliament is above reproach, I say, “No, it is not.”
I do not subscribe to the view that Holyrood is broken, but if it is to restore its reputation, it has a lot to think about in the next parliamentary session, led by the next Presiding Officer, whoever he or she might be. It needs to address the concerns about the in-built political bias of the committee system; the relationship between Government and other important bodies, including the Crown; the absence of parliamentary privilege; and the need for post-legislative scrutiny given the absence of a revising chamber. Therefore, we fully accept the committee’s recommendation that there should be
“a commission to review the relationship between the executive and the legislature and make recommendations for change.”
I return to my earlier remark that this is all about women who were failed by the Scottish Government. However, it is also about the failed workings of Government, the First Minister and her senior officials, and the weakened scrutiny of Parliament, which resulted from obfuscation, a lack of transparency and incomplete information provided by the Scottish Government.
I suggest that no one comes out of the situation well, but it is principally the First Minister who does not. Although she is cleared of breaking the ministerial code, she has been found guilty of so many other failings, which have undermined the integrity of the whole political process.
A person out there in the real world can see that staff have been bullied, evidence has been withheld, stories do not add up and women complainants have been badly let down. When the political history of 2021 comes to be written, people will rightly ask, “Why has no one resigned?”
The Presiding Officer:
That concludes the debate on a motion of no confidence, and we will go straight to the vote.
The question is, that motion S5M-24292, in the name of Ruth Davidson, on a motion of no confidence, be agreed to. Are we agreed?
There will be a division. We will suspend for five minutes to allow members in both the chamber and the virtual chamber to access the voting app.
16:02 Meeting suspended.
16:08 On resuming—
We are back in session and we will move straight to the vote.
The question is, that motion S5M-24292, in the name of Ruth Davidson, on a motion of no confidence, be agreed to. Members should cast their votes now. It will be a one-minute division.
The vote is now closed. Please let me know if you were unable to vote.
The Presiding Officer:
Motion disagreed to.
We will move to the next item of business. I remind all members who need to leave the chamber at this stage to follow the one-way systems, to wear their masks, to make sure that they observe social distancing rules and, if they are having to change desks, to make sure that those are wiped down.