Campbell Gunn: Member of Runrig for a brief spell in 1976. Political journalist of note for many years. Retired then appointed “Special Adviser” to Alex Salmond in 2013. Deputy Spokesperson for the First Minister and Communications Adviser. Retained by Sturgeon finally packed it in around 2018. Regular contributor to Twitter. 8 July 2013
Alex Salmond was “collegiate and would take advice from everyone”, observed Campbell Gunn, who worked for both the former and current first ministers, Sturgeon relies on a small group for advice. The close circle includes Liz Lloyd, her chief of staff, and her husband. Gunn recalls that when he was working for Salmond and monitoring press coverage over the weekend they would be in constant communication. In contrast, Sturgeon is happy to delegate. “Call me if there’s something urgent,” she’d say. “Otherwise leave me alone.”
The Alex Salmond debacle
“If, as they say, they have nothing to hide, then surely they shouldn’t hide things. Do ministers, advisers and senior civil servants have any conception of how their current position looks from the outside? When I was involved in the case as media spokesperson for Mr Salmond two years ago, during the judicial review, few, if any, of my former press colleagues actually believed any of the ‘Salmond conspiracy’ allegations. Now most of them do. And that change in attitude is entirely down to the way the Scottish Government has dealt with the parliamentary committee.”
Supporters of Mr Salmond have claimed figures within government conspired against the former first minister by creating an anti-harassment policy that was out “to get” the ex-politician.
Civil servants, appearing in front of the Salmond inquiry, denied such suggestions. Gunn was also critical of Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC’s appearance in front of the Salmond inquiry last week and his response to MSPs’ questions about the legal advice. He accused Scotland’s most senior law officer of “breath-taking” obfuscation and also claimed the Scottish Government’s botched handling of the claims against Mr Salmond would have cost the taxpayer “well in excess” of £1 million. His remarks were made as MSPs on the inquiry prepared to meet in private after Deputy First Minister John Swinney blocked two Spad’s from giving evidence in public. (https://www.thecourier.co.uk/fp/politics/scottish-politics/1755322/campbell-gunn-says-scottish-government-just-fuelling-alex-salmond-conspiracy-theory)
So what should Nicola Sturgeon have done? By last autumn, it was obvious the game was up. If, at that stage, the First Minister had ordered the release of everything the committee wanted, probably including documents of which at that stage they were still unaware, there would undoubtedly have been a media storm. But it would have been short-lived, over in a week or so. Instead, she has had to suffer month after month of a continuous drip-drip of damaging revelations.
And that, it appears, is where loyalty has come in. Nicola Sturgeon is fiercely loyal to her staff, particularly the small group closest to her. Political expedience should have seen two or three senior people being sacrificed – in popular parlance, thrown under the bus – to save her own skin.
Top of the list should have been Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans, the head of the civil service in Scotland, who defiantly proclaimed the flawed procedure ‘her’ policy. Instead, she was handed an extension to her contract. Then there’s the small matter of the First Minister’s husband, Peter Murrell, who just happens to be the SNP’s chief executive. That cosy situation should never have been allowed to exist in the first place, and he should have gone. Sturgeon’s chief of staff Liz Lloyd too should have been sacrificed.
Instead, all three – and others perhaps equally culpable – are still in their well-paid jobs, and we’re still not sure if everything relevant has been published. Full disclosure, a few bodies to satisfy the baying media mob, and a fulsome apology might well have seen the entire affair consigned to history. Instead, Nicola Sturgeon will continue to face questions over the issue for some time to come. (https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/is-nicola-sturgeon-s-loyalty-her-big-weakness)
Holyrood not fit for purpose
Given recent events, it may now be time for reflection on how the Act is working in practice. Holyrood was designed as a unicameral legislature, a single body, with scrutiny and amendments to legislation being undertaken by what was supposed to be a powerful committee system. Those of us who have been forced to sit through various committee sessions over the years have known for some time that this system is unfit for purpose.
The problem was brought into sharp public focus with the high-profile appearance of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon before the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints. Thanks to partisan, soft-ball questioning by the majority SNP members and frankly, some political grandstanding by opposition representatives, the committee got nowhere, and the first minister was able to emerge virtually unscathed, having skilfully avoided any awkward pitfalls by claimed lapses of memory and in some cases obfuscation.
And recent behind-closed-doors shenanigans by the SNP reserving places for members of specific groups has effectively blocked the chances of many potential list candidates ever being elected, while virtually guaranteeing seats for others. It may well be time for an overhaul of the Scotland Act. Let’s learn the lessons of the past couple of decades. Replacing the current electoral system with multi-member wards elected by alternative vote and the addition of a second chamber would be, I suggest, good starting points. (https://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/fp/opinion/columnists/2974336/right-time-for-overhaul-of-scotland-act)
National grid outrage
Nowhere is better placed for renewable energy than the north of Scotland. But development here is being constrained by outdated electricity transmission charges, imposed by the UK Government. The system was introduced almost 30 years ago to encourage the establishment of power stations near where they were most needed – close to city conurbations, and in particular the heavily populated south-east of England. It is an extremely complex charging system, but basically the idea was that transmission of electricity over a short distance was charged less per megawatt-hour than power sent from further away. The system was initially introduced only for England and Wales but was later extended to Scotland.
And that brings us to the present situation, where the expansion of renewable developments in the north of Scotland is now being seriously held back by these charges. A wind farm in the north of Scotland pays £5.50 per unit of electricity, while a wind farm in Wales is paid £2.80 per unit. Transmission charges in the north of Scotland are £7.36 per megawatt-hour, compared to £4.70 in southern Scotland. In some areas of the south of England, generators are actually paid to use the transmission network. It produces the ludicrous situation where a wind farm in the north of Scotland pays £5.50 per unit of electricity, while a wind farm in Wales is paid £2.80 per unit. The knock-on effect on the economy of the north is palpable. (https://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/fp/news/environment/3207658/net-zero-scotland-transmission-charges-campbell-gunn-opinion)