As more and more information fights its way past the Scottish Government’s bouncers into the public domain, and the First Minister’s continued dogged insistence that she knew nothing about the false allegations against Alex Salmond until April 2018 looks more and more ridiculous, lots of things still aren’t clear.
One of them, of course, is who leaked the story to Davie Clegg of the Daily Record in August of that year, when the whole thing should have been confidential and passing it to the press was an unambiguously malicious and criminal act.
So let’s see what we know.
The timing of the leak is crucial. We know from material given to the current Holyrood inquiry that Alex Salmond’s lawyers had repeatedly told the Scottish Government that their investigation into the allegations was unlawful and that the matter should instead be dealt with privately by arbitration and/or mediation.
The Scottish Government had flatly refused these suggestions and insisted on going to court where the allegations would have become public – right up until the eve of the hearing, when it suddenly conceded, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of pounds to the taxpayer. It has steadfastly resisted disclosing its legal advice on the subject.
But one of the things we know is that Salmond was about to seek, on the morning of 24 August 2018, to have an interim interdict issued by the Court Of Session which would have prevented the Scottish Government from issuing any statement naming Salmond. The Scottish Government was informed of that fact at 5pm on the 23rd.
Within three hours of that notification, Davie Clegg had the whole story.
So where could it have come from? At this stage, very few people would have known in any major detail about the investigation. They included the two complainers, the First Minister herself, Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans, investigating officer Judith MacKinnon, civil servant Barbara Allison, and finally the First Minister’s chief of staff Liz Lloyd, who since March 2018 had been a central liaison between Nicola Sturgeon and Salmond’s representative and former chief of staff Geoff Aberdein.
If we rule out Salmond and Aberdein that’s just seven people (along with a very small handful of other civil-service mandarins who’ve got no axe to grind). Do any of them, we wonder, have any notable connection to or relationship with Davie Clegg?
Hmm, what’s this?
Let’s have a closer peek at those photos, shall we? (Click to enlarge.)
The front row of the first one, from left to right, is Kezia Dugdale, Liz Lloyd, SNP MSP Jenny Gilruth, then-Tory MP Ross Thomson, and Davie Clegg. (The tiny wee fella at the back is Dugdale’s official spokesman at the time, David Ross, and the other one is the oddly-named Lang Banks of conservation group WWF Scotland for some reason.)
All seven also appear in the second snap.
They were taken in, we believe, New York, but definitely during the International Visitor Leadership Program, an ongoing policy initiative of the US Department Of State in which “Scottish Opinion Leaders” – figures of influence (or potential influence, to very generously describe Dugdale’s case) are invited to spend some time over in the States “exchanging information” with the US government.
The two-week shindig has a notional price tag of $11,605 (about £8,700). We know this because Dugdale and Gilruth declared it in Holyrood’s register of interests, noting that the US Embassy picked up the tab for each of them.
(Oddly, Ross Thomson declared it on his Westminster register, even though he was an MSP at the time and didn’t become a UK MP until almost a year later.)
Given that you can get two weeks in New York in June – including flights, rather swish hotels and taxes – for as little as £900, it must be a pretty fancy affair.
Dugdale “became friends” with Gilruth on the visit, just a couple of weeks before she got engaged to her then-girlfriend Louise Riddell (it was never disclosed publicly who had proposed to who) and only five months before dumping Riddell and buying her out of their shared Edinburgh flat with the money she made from “I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here”, then officially becoming a couple with Gilruth in early 2017.
Persistent chatter in Scottish political circles – which this site cannot confirm or refute – alleges that Clegg, who is married, and Lloyd also “became friends” on the trip.
It was never clear what Clegg was doing on the IVLP at all, or who was paying for him. He tweeted only once about the “exchange trip” in the entire two weeks and the two weeks afterwards, and we’ve been unable to find any coverage of it or the “food for thought” it gave him in the Record around the time.
(He did write one piece, about the unpopularity of Hillary Clinton, based on his time in the US, but with no mention of either the IVLP or his gang of Scottish travel buddies.)
Dugdale didn’t make a single tweet about the IVLP either, nor write anything about it that we’ve been able to find, so we’re not sure why she needed to have a spokesman with her. She stayed on in the US for a few days afterwards to help Hillary Clinton to her famous victory in the Presidential election, though, and tweeted about that.
(She went back in October just to make sure, all while still claiming a salary as MSP for the people of the Lothian region, and at one point even got to meet a cardboard cutout of her heroine. Luckily she stayed away this year.)
Gilruth, however, tweeted twice about the trip, including a nice shot of the gang at the White House and revealing that they were in fact gallivanting across the whole country on Uncle Sam’s dime, not just New York.
One of the pics also features unexpected cameo appearances from two SNP MPs – its Westminster chief whip Patrick Grady and defence procurement spokesperson Angela Crawley (far right), alongside Gilruth and Lloyd.
(We have no idea who was paying for Grady and Crawley, because neither of them declare any US trip in the Westminster register of interests from July to October 2016.)
There was even time for a moment of apparent work, when Gilruth helpfully “stressed the value of education” to some US education officials who we can only assume might not have been aware of it. Nine grand well spent there.
Once again, we’re not quite clear on what Davie Clegg, a Scottish newspaper hack, is doing exchanging information with the Colorado Department Of Education, but we’re certain they were thrilled with his input. And the important thing is that everyone seems to have had an absolutely splendid time together.
That’s Lloyd snuggled in close against Clegg on the upper left, btw. It’s nice to see him still wearing a suit and tie outdoors in 36C temperatures. He must have been sweating like a Scottish Government witness at the Salmond inquiry.
Now, we of course have to emphasise that none of the above demonstrates any sort of wrongdoing by anyone. It’s just a happy bunch of good pals enjoying a
free glamorous summer holiday serious and important fact-finding trip, like anyone would.
It most certainly doesn’t prove that Liz Lloyd – one of the vanishingly small number of people who knew the details of the Salmond investigation at that point – leaked them to Davie Clegg hours before a court interdict, to make sure that they got into the public eye and enabled the press to luridly smear and monster Salmond on the basis of false allegations for months before he could prove his innocence, conveniently serving the interests of both the newspapers and the Scottish Government.
We’re equally sure that there’s nothing sinister in the US government being so nice to so many SNP figures, and that they want nothing in return.
And we’re certain that the absence of any official record of Grady and Crawley’s trips must mean that they paid for them themselves and just happened to bump into the others while out sightseeing, or something like that.
[EDIT 3.26pm: Aha.]
So to be honest, readers, we’re not sure why we even mentioned any of it, other than to perhaps show you a little about how cosily the world of politics you never hear about works. You may as well all just carry on with your day and forget we said anything.