Willie Rennie: Why Lib Dems abstained on Sturgeon no-confidence vote

Scottish Liberal Democrats abstained on the no-confidence vote on Nicola Sturgeon today, along with Scottish Labour.

Willie explains why here:

The tl:dr version is that of course the First Minister and the government she leads screwed up badly in its handling of the complaints of the two women but we weren’t going to get involved in Tory game playing. They first mooted a vote of no confidence before Nicola Sturgeon even gave evidence to the parliamentary enquiry into the situation.

Willie took the right decision here. What this unfortunate situation needs is considered and careful action to restore faith in the Scottish Government’s complaints sytem, not high adrenaline political drama.

Willie went into more detail in his speech during the debate on the motion:

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.

There are unresolved issues that I wish to explore today, so we would have voted for the amendment in the name of Anas Sarwar, if it had been selected.

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.

But I want to leave the last word in all of this to the women who has been releasing their thoughts through Rape Crisis Scotland. Their evidence, given in private to the Salmond Enquiry was leaked:

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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7 Comments

  • Brad Barrows 23rd Mar '21 - 10:18pm

    The Liberal Democrats did the right thing by abstaining in the Vote of Confidence. To vote against the First Minister the day after an independent investigation cleared her of all allegations of breaking the ministerial code would not have been justified.

  • It’s really not that ugly – ugly would have been the powerful using power to shut things down, not owning up to making a mistake and then being subject to the great grandmother of all fishing expeditions.

    The Tories, screaming for heads before reports were even available look ludicrous but likely won’t care. They want only to preserve the outdated Union. The Greens called it well – as for Labour and the Lib Dems well they at least don’t now have to go into an election having supported blatant Tory mischief (they likely want to damage the standing of the Parliament so they can work to abolish it, as they want in Wales) but maybe they could focus on training for members of harrassment investigations as well as other lessons to be learned?

  • @Brad Barrows

    Nicola Sturgeon was not cleared. Hamilton accepted she gave incorrect information to the Scottish Parliament. He bizarrely decided (I don’t know how) that it was unintentional. He further said that it was up to the Parliament to say if they were misled or not. The committee report says Parliament was misled.

    Note that the Hamilton remit was set by the FM and he was not allowed to consider anything outside the very limited remit. The eventual report is useless because of the number of redactions.

    https://www.gov.scot/binaries/content/documents/govscot/publications/independent-report/2021/03/independent-report-by-james-hamilton-on-the-first-ministers-self-referral-under-the-scottish-ministerial-code/documents/note-on-the-publication-of-a-redacted-report/note-on-the-publication-of-a-redacted-report/govscot%3Adocument/Note%2Bon%2Bthe%2Bpublication%2Bof%2Ba%2Bredacted%2Breport%2B-%2BJames%2BHamilton.pdf

  • Brad Barrows 24th Mar '21 - 6:46am

    @John Peters
    You misunderstand the remit of the independent Hamilton investigation (who incidentally was appointed, ironically, by Alex Salmond before Sturgeon became First Minister) – his remit is to adjudicate on whether or not a Minister is guilty of breaking the Ministerial code. In this case he investigated four particular grounds against Nicola Sturgeon and concluded she had not broken the Code ‘whatsoever’. You may not believe that she inadvertently gave wrong information to parliament when she ‘forgot’ about one particular meeting with one of Salmond’s advisers but as Hamilton concluded, there was no motive or advantage to her in not giving the information and she corrected the record herself before the opposition became aware of the error, suggesting that the error was genuine. The committee report decided 5-4 that parliament had been misled with all opposition members voting on block to force that conclusion. The Conservatives were so determined to make political capital out of the whole episode that they put down a Vote of No Confidence the day before Sturgeon gave her evidence, having disregarded her evidence before she uttered a word.

    Finally, the report has to have redactions to protect the identity of the women who made the allegations. That is entirely proper and in no way makes it difficult to understand the conclusions made in the report: she was cleared of breaking the Ministerial Code. Period.

  • John Marriott 24th Mar '21 - 7:59am

    I have to say I agree with Mr Rennie. The ‘no confidence’ vote was a cynical ploy by the Tories. I actually think that Ms Sturgeon summed it up well the other week in one of the debates, when, referring to Acting Tory Parliamentary Leader, Ruth Davidson, she said something like; “In a few weeks she will be going to the House of Lords, while I will be going to the people of Scotland!” Boom, Boom, as Basil might say!

  • John Peters 24th Mar '21 - 8:58am

    The last minister cleared by Hamilton resigned five days later. I hope the same happens here.

    There was only one independent member of the committee. A Green who became independent and was not originally selected as another Green had to pull out. As originally constructed the committee was designed to clear the FM.

    There have been an awful lot of redactions to evidence. Some were clearly made to protect the SNP rather than the accusers.

  • Yes John. It’s the withholding and redacting of pertinent evidence that has raised so many questions from those trying to remain open minded or with no party political axe to grind.

    For those following events, it’s very obvious that as you say, many redactions were made to protect the SNP and possibly certain civil servants who messed up, rather than the women who were let down by the process. Using the excuse that it was to protect them has rightly angered many.

    That aspect seems to have been lost in a lot of the coverage, which is often very binary. But the fact remains that the government messed up. Government and their civil servants all seemed to develop problems with their memories and lost the ability to find the required documents. Not one person has taken any responsibility for any of it.

    Neither report cleared the FM or the Scottish Government of wrong-doing. It’s more that they didn’t prove that the wrong-doing constituted a breach of the ministerial code. The letter Hamilton wrote to go with his heavily redacted report is telling.

    The early enthusiasm for the Parliamentary Committee was presumably based on the assumption that a member of the Scottish Greens would fall into line with the SNP, especially if they could string it out until close to the election. The pivot from being keen to engage with the committee and having faith in their findings to the assumption it couldn’t possibly be fair was notable.

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