Alex Salmond vs Nicola Sturgeon: what will be the final outcome? – Ian Swanson
After all the drama and excitement of Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon's mammoth evidence sessions before MSPs considering the handling of the original complaints against Mr Salmond, we now await the committee's findings.
And with Holyood due to break up for the elections at the end of next week, time is of the essence. Not only has the committee to agree and publish a report, the parliament has to find time for a debate on it.
The Scottish government has been reluctant to provide all the documents requested for the inquiry and the committee has still not seen everything it wanted, but it is expected to reach conclusions as best it can, based on the evidence available.
The investigation has been heavily politicised from the start, with the parties regularly issuing press releases after each evidence session. And while they may find agreement on some of the failings exposed by their hearings, the committee is unlikely to reach a unanimous view on Ms Sturgeon's conduct in the affair.
Attention may therefore focus more on the separate inquiry conducted, away from public view, by James Hamilton QC into whether the First Minister broke the ministerial code. His report is also expected before parliament stops for the election.
If Mr Hamilton rules Ms Sturgeon did breach the code, opposition cries for her resignation will increase. The Tories have already tabled a motion of no confidence in Ms Sturgeon which they are ready to trigger as soon as the final picture becomes clear.
The Greens could well vote with the SNP to defeat the no-confidence bid, but the calls for her resignation will continue.
Although there has been much discussion of Mr Salmond and his claims about a malicious, concerted effort to damage his reputation, it is important to remember he was cleared on all counts at his High Court trial on sex charges last year. This inquiry has been into how the Scottish government dealt with the two complaints by civil servants which sparked the case.
Recent polls have shown a fall in support for the SNP and independence and a drop in Ms Sturgeon’s own approval ratings, but the party is still set to win the May elections, Ms Sturgeon’s ratings remain strongly positive and more people believe her version of events than believe Mr Salmond’s.
The First Minister has also built up an enviable reputation for her handling of the Covid crisis, which has earned her respect among many who are not SNP supporters.
Previously, it seemed revelations about allegedly murky goings-on – or even unanswered questions about exactly what did happen – would be very damaging just before the election.
But now it looks like the imminence of the May 6 poll could work to Ms Sturgeon’s advantage.
Whatever threat might normally be presented by a committee investigation, a separate independent probe and a no-confidence motion for a political leader without a parliamentary majority and lots of question to answer, it all looks very different if there is an election around the corner and that leader is well ahead in the polls.
Ms Sturgeon can say she will leave it for the people to decide her future. Never mind the MSPs’ conclusions, what the independent QC says or the no-confidence motion.
The voters verdict trumps everything.