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Mandy Rhodes: The women who started it should be at the heart of it. They are shockingly absent

© UNPIXS (EUROPE)Civil servant Leslie Evans
Civil servant Leslie Evans

Scots could start a fight with their own shadow but never has the paradox of our political perversity been as stark as in the first few days back after the parliamentary recess.

On the one hand, we have another poll showing a majority for independence, the First Minister’s popularity ratings at an all-time high, and further solid predictions of an SNP landslide under her leadership at the next election in May.

But on the other, there are calls for her to resign with claims by the former first minister Alex Salmond that she has lied to parliament, broken the ministerial code – indeed, is a repeat offender – and, ergo, must go.

The two big beasts of Scottish politics, once on the same side, and locked in a bitter battle that neither of them now controls and which could destroy them both and all that they have achieved.

The ongoing psychodrama is painted in shades of grey not black and white but what is certain is that this began with two women making historic complaints about the former first minister in the wake of #MeToo.

Encouraged by a sympathetic civil service keen to be at the fore of the global movement that was exposing alleged wrongdoing and speaking truth to power; these women were to be the first to test drive a new complaints process designed by the Scottish Government, signed off by Sturgeon, and which included, for the first time, and against the advice of Whitehall mandarins, complaints raised against former ministers.

It’s a mystery to me how that could ever have worked in practice but as the record now shows, the process then followed was unlawful. Salmond was forced to take the government he once led to court to prove it. That was just the start. The head of the civil service, the Permanent Secretary, Leslie Evans, had unusually handed over the findings of that internal HR investigation straight to the Crown and against the wishes of the women themselves.

A police investigation subsequently ended in a lengthy charge sheet against the former first minister, shocking in its scale and breadth and including other women who had come forward during the exercise.

And, if you believe in the conspiracy theories, this should have ended with Salmond in prison, Sturgeon a #MeToo heroine, and the Scottish Government a world-leading beacon of progressive employment practice. Instead, Salmond was cleared, the Scottish Government put under parliamentary investigation, and the First Minister under scrutiny over whether she had lied. And what of the women?

They are shockingly absent in this. Two women let down by a complaints process, their wishes ignored and their views overruled, the only time they appear to get a mention is when it is politically convenient for the First Minister or her spokespeople to do so to deflect criticism from her and back on to Salmond.

And I am angry that a parliamentary committee set up to seek answers as to why the government got this so horribly wrong, is frustrated in its attempts to do that by the key protagonists, by obfuscation, memory loss, legal privilege and now accusations that they are the ones exploiting the complainants for political purpose.