A VERY SCOTTISH COUP (PART TWO)
In Part One, I asked what would happen if we suspended disbelief, and all of our critical faculties, and took Nicola Sturgeon and her civil servants at their word on the handling of complaints against Alex Salmond. Specifically, I asked what would happen if we believed Sturgeon, Evans and the rest that the First MinisterContinue reading "A VERY SCOTTISH COUP (PART TWO)"
In Part One, I asked what would happen if we suspended disbelief, and all of our critical faculties, and took Nicola Sturgeon and her civil servants at their word on the handling of complaints against Alex Salmond.
Specifically, I asked what would happen if we believed Sturgeon, Evans and the rest that the First Minister knew nothing of the allegations against Salmond from the time they were made in November 2017 until 2 April or 29 March 2018 (depending on which version of the First Minister’s story she is presently sticking to).
Thus began the story of how unelected civil servants staged the most breathtaking coup against the First Minister and the Scottish Government – and of how the First Minister and her Government unaccountably stood back and let it happen.
That story continues now in Part Two. It turns out, however, that simply doing justice to the early Scottish Government handling of complainer Ms B’s allegations, even before they converged with those of complainer Ms A on 20 November 2017, let alone explicating properly the significance to the coup of Ms A’s own story up to that point, and then all that followed from there, will take a good deal more time and space than I had anticipated.
So instead of three parts of A Very Scottish Coup as I’d planned, there will now be at least four. I hope you’ll agree that what follows in Part Two is worth the demands asked of your time and patience, and that by the end of Part Two you’ll still want to see how it all turns out in Parts Three and Four.
The allegations of Ms A and Ms B against Alex Salmond
In January 2018 two formal complaints of sexual harassment against Alex Salmond were made under the new Scottish Government procedure which had been designed exclusively, and which has only ever been used, for that purpose. The first formal complainer, designated Ms A, lodged her complaint on 16 January 2018, while the second formal complainer, Ms B, lodged hers a week later, on 23 January 2018.
But although Ms A had been the first to get in touch with Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans, just a day after the review of the then current complaints procedures was announced to staff on 2 November 2017, and although she was the first to lodge her formal complaint in January of the following year, it was actually Ms B who was the first of the two to raise specific allegations against Salmond.
She did this on 8 November 2017.
It makes sense, then, to look first at Ms B’s allegations, and at how unelected senior civil servants used them to further their remarkable coup behind the backs of the First Minister and her Government.
The “concerns” of Ms B
According to senior civil servant Barbara Allison in her evidence to the Fabiani inquiry, she was walking to work on 8 November 2017 when she received a phone call from Ms B, during which allegations against Alex Salmond were made to her by Ms B. The call was made, according to Allison, in response to an email which had gone out to all Scottish Government staff on 2 November 2017, and which was headed “Sexual harassment – message from the Permanent Secretary”.
It might be noted that the message from Evans to which Ms B was responding contained no mention whatever of former Ministers or historic complaints of any kind. Indeed, the message stated in terms that respondents were being invited “to share concerns about current cultures or behaviours” (my emphasis) and if need be, to access “sources of support” in relation to those current concerns.
Why Ms B contacted Allison to make her historic allegations, rather than her Trade Union representative or line manager, or anyone at the Scottish Government’s bespoke Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), or any of the other “sources of support” set out, with full contact details, in Evans’s staff message is also something of a mystery.
The EAP, for example, according to the staff message, existed specifically to provide “emotional and practical support on a range of issues through trained welfare and counselling practitioners offering confidential, independent and unbiased information and guidance”. Its helpline was free to call, “open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year” and offered “1-2-1 counselling support” with “in-house access to a Counselling and Wellbeing Officer” who could also be contacted directly on the number given.
Further, although she had been at one time Director of HR, Allison no longer had any such responsibilities, being now Director of Communications, Ministerial Support and Facilities.
On the face of it, then, the Director of Communications would seem just about the least apposite person for someone in Ms B’s position to contact about such a sensitive historic matter and, whatever the latter part of Allison’s job title may designate, it’s a fair bet that it isn’t counselling, support or complaints handling.
Of course, as in other aspects of this whole affair, it may be that the MSPs on the Fabiani inquiry have had access to some explanatory information on this matter which has not been released to the public and which would throw some light on the mystery. Certainly, one of its members asked Evans a pointed question on this which suggests he had such information, but Scottish Government stooge Fabiani was predictably on hand to shut down the line of questioning before it could reveal anything significant:
Alex Cole-Hamilton: If I could draw it back specifically to Ms B, who raised a complaint and specifically asked that it be shared only with you.
Leslie Evans: I do not recognise that at all.
Alex Cole-Hamilton: Okay. You do not have a recollection of that, but—
Leslie Evans: I do not have a recollection of Ms B asking for a complaint to be shared with me. I have a recollection of a concern—
The Convener: Can I stop this here? I am becoming concerned again. That was not pulling it back.
Alex Cole-Hamilton: I will move on.
Again, it might be noted that the use here by Evans of the barrack-room lawyer distinction between a “complaint” and a “concern” – a distinction which was not even thought up by Evans and the rest as a back-covering device until much later in the process – is typical of the non-answer “answers” given by all of the civil servants to block productive questioning at the inquiry, and presumably reflects the tens of thousands of pounds of public money spent on “preparing” them for their evidence.
(It might also be noted that even as barrack-room lawyers in their own interests these people are scarily incompetent, having undermined their own precious distinction more or less completely by calling each head of formal complaint against Salmond a “cause of concern” – my emphasis – in their correspondence with Salmond’s lawyers from March 2018 onwards, when they finally deigned to tell him of the complaints.)
Be that as it may, however, the allegations made against Salmond by Ms B on 8 November 2017 were clearly of such import that Allison texted Permanent Secretary Evans that same day to arrange a phone conversation so that she could pass them on.
Then, according to Allison’s evidence at the inquiry, “I spoke to the Permanent Secretary on 9 November. At that point a concern had been raised, but there was no complaint.”
Note again the carefully rehearsed distinction. If a “complaint” can only be a formal complaint made under a published procedure, then of course there can be no “complaint” raised by a phone call, no matter how detailed or serious the allegations made in that call. The point, though, for all those of us who have not had the benefit of thousands of pounds’ worth of witness “preparation”, is that serious allegations against a former First Minister had now been passed to the Scottish Government’s top civil servant and she had to decide what to do about them.
The obvious answer is that she should have forthwith, and that very day if possible, informed the First Minister of these allegations which had emerged, however unexpectedly, from the review of current processes ordered by the First Minister’s own Cabinet “commission”.
She should have forthwith advised the First Minister of the various options for responding to these allegations, including the option which Police Scotland would have advised, and when consulted in December 2017 did actually advise, namely referring Ms B to properly trained and professional support workers and keeping the senior civil servants of the Scottish Government out of it altogether.
This was, remember, no more nor less than her duty under the Civil Service Code:
“You must … provide … advice to ministers on the basis of evidence, and accurately present the options and facts.”
“You must not… deceive or knowingly mislead a minister…”
“You must not … ignore inconvenient facts or relevant considerations when providing advice or making decisions.”
Instead, if Evans’s own evidence and that of all of her senior colleagues is to be believed, she spent the whole of November and most of December 2017 advising Nicola Sturgeon on a procedure being manically developed to action these allegations without ever telling her about the allegations themselves.
How could that be an accurate presentation of relevant evidence, options and facts?
How could it fail to be deceptive and misleading?
How could it not constitute the active concealment of inconvenient facts and relevant considerations?
The initial handling of Ms B
In her evidence to the inquiry, Allison summarised how, after that initial phone call, she then continued to be involved with Ms B and her “concerns”:
“I had early contact with Miss B. That contact was a series of texts. I also had, I think, three telephone calls with her, but no meetings. No record was ever taken of any of her concerns.”
All but one of these contacts were in the period 8 November to 29 November 2017.
Now, given that throughout that time Allison was Director of Communications for the Scottish Government, in addition to whatever responsibilities she had for Ministerial Support and Facilities, and given that a plethora of much more qualified support was already in place for someone in Ms B’s position, with even more about to be added, one might legitimately wonder how this came about.
The answer of course is Leslie Evans.
On 9 November 2017, the day Allison informed her of Ms B’s allegations, Evans met with Director of People, Nicola Richards. The email which Evans’s private secretary then sent out at 20.09 that evening indicates their main topic of discussion, and the actions that were to follow from it. One action was this:
“Perm Sec would like to have calls/conversations tomorrow with… Barbara Allison… Gillian Russell.”
Another was this:
“Nicky – copied for info (and we’ll confirm timings to you asap) and also because you are providing ‘lines’ for Perm Sec for BA and GR conversations and didn’t want to set up before you had a chance to provide.”
Some context may be necessary here for readers new to this blog.
Gillian Russell (GR) was a senior civil servant who had been under consideration for a few days prior to this as a potentially suitable candidate to act as a “confidential sounding board” for staff to go to with “concerns about current cultures or behaviours”. As someone who was outside the HR Department, it was thought that she might be seen as to some degree “independent” of HR processes for staff who were, for whatever reason, mistrustful of HR.
As it happens, one of the strong advocates for such an “independent” role to be created was Ms A, and I’ll come to that in due course. For now, what is relevant is that – however much it might seem like overkill to outsiders like myself – the creation of this role seems to have been a legitimate outcome of feedback from staff at this early stage of the review of current complaints processes and one that had been in contemplation before the allegations against Salmond arose.
The role now being contemplated for Barbara Allison was, however, an entirely different matter.
A new role for Barbara Allison
The next morning, 10 November 2017, Evans duly made her calls as arranged to Russell and Allison, using the “lines” prepared by Richards as the basis for the discussion. The calls were made quite separately to each of them, for reasons which will soon emerge.
The resulting appointments of Russell and Allison, and the roles assigned to each, are evidenced in an email from Richards which followed the separate phone calls and in the two “updates” to that email which were added by Evans’s private secretary in the course of the day.
At 10.28 that morning, Richards emailed Evans and others to run down “what’s needed for today and who’s leading on what”. One of the things needed was for Richards, on behalf of Evans, to provide an “outline for Gillian and Barbara on what is asked of them”.
What was being asked of Gillian Russell was straightforward and in line with what had been previously discussed. As set out later that day in an email written by Richards but sent out from the Permanent Secretary’s own account, her new role was:
“To provide a further choice for staff as a confidante and sounding board (in addition to established mechanisms such as HR / TUs / EAP etc) to help them consider options. If they want to take things forward more formally then you would pass to Judith [Mackinnon, Head of People Advice] and team.”
Its boundaries were also clearly described:
“To keep this manageable the focus is on those who have had experiences of sexual harassment.”
And the line of communication of “issues” through HR to Evans herself was clearly evident too:
“It would be helpful if you could give regular updates to Nicky [Richards]/Judith if issues are raised with you – anonymised if that is the person’s wish. They will then provide me (Perm Sec) … with updates as required.”
So what was Barbara Allison’s new role? What else could possibly be added to this cornucopia of sexual harassment support now being offered by the Scottish Government to their staff?
At 12.40 that day Evans’s private secretary updated the part of Richards’s note which related to what was being asked of Allison with a warning added in blue highlight:
“To bear in mind this outline may become public. There is a phrase Perm Sec thought good for BA role that I’m double checking.”
By 13.11, that double checking was evidently done. Evans’s private secretary added a further note:
“It’s ‘pastoral care’.”
Well, let’s just pause for a moment to digest that. The Permanent Secretary has personally come up with a “phrase” for Allison’s new role, and has done so in case the existence of that new role becomes public. The phrase that the Permanent Secretary has come up with for this wheeze is “pastoral care”.
So what exactly is “pastoral care”? This was Allison’s own description of her role to the Fabiani inquiry:
“The pastoral care role was to be there in case anybody wanted to say, ‘I am concerned that things are coming out; this feels tough, so where can I go for support?’ You would mention trade unions, the welfare officer and the employee assistance programme and so on.”
Can it really be the case that Leslie Evans, Scotland’s top civil servant, landed one of her most senior colleagues with a role that was already being fulfilled not only by her newly-appointed “confidential sounding board” but by emails and intranet messages to staff?
Did she really go to all the trouble of dreaming up a job and naming it personally as “pastoral care” just so that one of Scotland’s most senior civil servants could be a human signpost, directing staff to where they could access actual care and actual support?
Well no, of course she didn’t.
Allison’s actual job – not the ludicrous one dreamed up by Evans herself for the express purpose of fobbing off the “public” – was to keep in place the evidently vital connection that had caused Ms B, for reasons we don’t know, to single out Allison in the first place as the person to whom her allegations against Salmond should be made.
Allison’s actual job had nothing to do with “pastoral care” and everything to do with keeping Ms B, and her “concerns” about Salmond, on board while the joyous frenzy to develop a procedure to deal with them began in earnest.
In a rare moment of candour during her evidence at the inquiry on her dealings with Ms B, Allison herself even admitted as much: “I felt that I was trying to hold a space open for her,” she said.
Again, it’s glaringly obvious that this development – a senior civil servant being given a fake job so that a space could be held open for a specific complainer while a procedure was cooked up to action her complaint – was one that the First Minister should have been told about as soon as it happened.
How could the First Minister possibly make informed decisions about that procedure, and assess properly the provisions it should contain, without knowing – as her senior civil servants knew – that a space was being held open so that a specific complainer with a very specific complaint could be the first one to use it?
Let’s leave that for now, though, and complete the story of Allison’s “pastoral care” of Ms B.
The pastoral care of Ms B
On Monday 13 November 2017, a message from Evans was sent out to all staff. It was headed “Sexual harassment at work Permanent Secretary update” and, among other things, it intimated Russell’s new role as a “confidential sounding board”. According to the evidence of the civil servants at the inquiry, it also intimated Allison’s new role of “pastoral care”. A comparison of the two intimations is highly instructive.
The part of the message regarding Russell was perfectly clear. It gave her name and contact details. It described her role of “confidential sounding board for those who have experienced sexual harassment”. It even added for the first time, in an obvious nod to the now frantic efforts being made to develop a procedure to service Ms B’s “concerns”, that the experiences to be confided to Russell could be “current or in the past”.
The part of the message regarding Allison on the other hand…
Well, here’s a test. What follows is a full and complete transcription of the part of Evans’s staff message intimating Allison’s new role.
So imagine you’re a Scottish Government employee in want of “pastoral care”. See if you would be able to divine from this that such care was on offer from Allison. See if you can even find the words “pastoral care”:
“I am aware that some staff have been contacted by the media. It is standard practice to redirect journalists to submit requests through the newsdesk – 0131 244 0222. If you have concerns please contact [REDACTED] or Barbara Allison [REDACTED].”
I promise you that’s the whole thing.
If you don’t think that this would have been sufficient for you as a Scottish Government employee to learn of Allison’s availability for “pastoral care”, you’re not alone.
Gillian Russell didn’t know of it either. Here’s her evidence to the inquiry:
“To be honest, at the time, in November, as the documentation will demonstrate, I was not aware of Barbara Allison having that role of pastoral care. I was aware of the role that the permanent secretary asked me to do.”
In fairness to Allison, though, in addition to her true role of keeping Ms B and her allegations on side while a procedure was drafted to action them, she did also fulfil her fake role of human signpost, at least as far as Ms B was concerned.
On 13 November 2017, Allison forwarded Evans’s staff message containing Russell’s contact details to Ms B, texted her to advise of Russell’s role, and spoke to Russell to advise that someone might be in touch with her, providing no further details.
Russell’s somewhat cool response at that time, as recollected in her evidence to the inquiry, was perhaps hardly surprising, given that Russell, in common with almost all of her Scottish Government colleagues, had no idea of the secret role Allison was performing then for Evans:
“After I took on the role on 13 November, there was an engagement with Barbara Allison, in which she advised me that somebody might want to come and speak to me. I advised Barbara that the text number for that purpose had been made available to staff and that, if anyone wanted to contact me, I would obviously be happy to see what I could do to support them, as had been set out in the note…. She said that she had been approached by somebody who wanted to speak. That was all I knew.”
In fact, Russell never did have any contact with Ms B. Throughout the whole complaints process from “concerns” to formal complaint to ultimate decision, she was handled entirely by Evans through Allison, Richards and Mackinnon.
Indeed, even as late as the time of giving her evidence to the inquiry last year, Russell still wrongly assumed that the “somebody” Allison had been referring to on 13 November 2017 was Ms A. In what is now standard procedure for the inquiry, Allison had to write to them on 9 December 2020 to correct this misunderstanding, and point out that the “somebody” was actually Ms B.
And throughout that whole process, the First Minister was, we are to understand, told nothing.
But again, let’s leave that for now because the handling of Ms B and her “concerns” is about to converge with the handling of Ms A and her “concerns”, and to understand properly how and why that happened, and what it tells us about this very Scottish coup, we need to look now at Ms A.
WHICH IS WHERE I’LL PICK UP IN PART THREE
HOPE YOU’LL COME BACK SOON FOR THAT.
POSTSCRIPT ADDED ON 20 FEBRUARY 2021
I made this reply to a commenter below, and I’ve decided also to give it more prominence here:
The misleading statements of the law being put out to the public on behalf of the Salmond complainers by Scottish Government funded agencies like Rape Crisis Scotland concern me deeply.
An accused person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. When an accused person is acquitted — either by not guilty or not proven verdict, both of which are of identical legal effect — the presumption of innocence is maintained. Therefore an accused person who is acquitted is innocent of the crimes of which (s)he has been acquitted as a simple matter of law.
This is not rocket science, nor is it in any way controversial. I would be saying it, as would any person of integrity, if Woman H or Woman A or anyone else championed by Rape Crisis Scotland had been accused and acquitted of a crime by a jury of their peers.
Rape Crisis Scotland and all of the others who are trying to peddle some kind of grey area of guilt in the Salmond case should be deeply, deeply ashamed of themselves. They are doing a very grave disservice to a cornerstone of our justice system.