As if the Scottish Government does not have enough on its plate, it will now be subjected to a criminal investigation over the leak of details of allegations made against Alex Salmond.
Two female civil servants lodged complaints of sexual misconduct by the former First Minister when he was in office and are currently being dealt with by Police Scotland, the details of which were leaked to a Scottish tabloid and subsequently published.
The Government will now be obliged to comply with a request from the Information Commissioner’s Office to provide any evidence of unlawful disclosures and to reveal the identities of anyone responsible for leaking this information.
Any details relating to the request will then be passed to its criminal investigation team for consideration and further action if appropriate. That this leak’s sole purpose was to discredit Alex Salmond is in no doubt and appears to be part of a wider political agenda targeting the former First Minister.
If that was not enough, the Scottish Government suffered an embarrassing defeat last week in the Court of Session, when it conceded the case brought against it by Mr Salmond.Its lawyers admitted that the Government’s procedure relating to the inquiry into the allegations against him had been unlawful and unfair. The cost to the taxpayer? £350,000 and rising appears to be the figure most quoted. Scotland’s top civil servant was in overall charge of this botched investigation and although Mr Salmond has politely suggested that “she should consider her position” she has so far declined to do so and still commands office space in St Andrew’s House.
To make matters worse for the Government, it did not lose the case due to a minor technical fault but a fundamental breach of the proper process by appointing an individual to conduct the inquiry who had already been in contact with the complainants and who, it would appear from documents now disclosed, had to encourage them to come forward.
The Permanent Secretary enjoys an annual salary of around £165,000, which is a hefty sum in anyone’s language, and that they should not be held accountable for this debacle which has cost the taxpayer dearly is nothing short of breathtaking.
If a security guard had not locked a door properly, allowing a sneak thief to steal a £350 laptop, they would in all likelihood get their jotters within days, but it seems to be that the higher up you are in the food chain, the more likely you are to escape censure.
This whole episode is hardly likely to foster confidence in anyone considering raising a similar complaint that it would be handled appropriately, which defeats the whole purpose of the complaints procedure. The reputation of the Government in this regard may take some time to recover.
All of this could not have come at a worse time for the SNP. As the UK Government disintegrates before our very eyes and Brexit looming on the horizon this is a distraction the party can ill-afford.
This latest sequence of events has divided party activists at a time when they should be applying themselves to the political opportunities that have been presented. Instead this issue is likely to drag on for some time to come and the party will not be forgiven if it allows itself to divide and become embroiled in internal battles that, if allowed to do so, can only inhibit its ability to seize the moment.
This sorry state of affairs may end up having repercussions way beyond the cost to the taxpayer.