James Dornan-a foot in mouth politician whose outrageous utterances are beyond the pale-Part 2 the political assassination of Mark McDonald (final)

01 Nov 2017: Witness A said that following publication of her blogs James Dornan MSP, her boss, had been contacted by someone from SNP Party headquarters and without consulting her he copied the enquirer the private twitter messages of 26 September 2016, which he had retained for over a year without her knowledge or permission. His actions fit the profile of senior officials of the SNP who retain information which they use at a later date to bring to account officers and/or staff who might fall foul of the Party hierarchy.

02 Nov 2017: Mark was invited to attend a meeting with John Swinney and Liz Lloyd, to be informed that there had been “chatter” among Party members about him in relation to the “MeToo” movement.

03 Nov 2017: Lloyd convened a second meeting with Mark at which she showed him a copy of his messages to Miss A. She did not provide the name of the person that had supplied it to her. but she did say that a complaint that had been lodged against him by an SNP Party member. She advised him that his position as a minister of the government was no longer tenable and he would need to resign.

04 Nov 2017: Sturgeon telephoned Mark in the afternoon and told him he would be expected to resign from the Government.

05 Nov 2017: Mark resigned as minister for childcare and early years. He was suspended later by the SNP following receipt of undisclosed “new” information about his conduct.

07 Nov 2017: In a strange turn of events Sturgeon dismissed the notion that Mark should resign from Holyrood claiming that “Some may well have thought it was not serious enough to resign for.”

Comment: Mark’s resignation would have cleared the way for Alex to return to frontline politics since at that time his political standing was untarnished. Sturgeon needed to keep Mark in post until the “Get Salmond” strategy was in place.

16 Nov 2017: Mark was suspended by the SNP after a third complainer surfaced.

03 Dec 2017: The SNP compliance officer instituted an investigation. This was done by hiring a team of private investigators who reported their findigs on 03 Dec 2017.

05 Dec 2017: Mark was summoned to meet with representatives from the SNP following which they issued a “no further action” statement saying there was no criminality involved in the allegations against him.

Mark announced to the press that he had contacted the national secretary of the SNP, and the chief whip of the parliamentary group, to resign from the Party with immediate effect saying: “while at no stage was my behaviour in any way physically abusive, and while it was certainly not my intention to cause any upset, discomfort or offence to those concerned, it is clear through the concerns highlighted in the report that I have done so.” He went on the state that it was his intention to return to Holyrood to sit as an independent MSP until the next Holyrood election in 2021. He defended his decision to remain in his £62,000-a-year job claiming it to be “morally justified”.

Comment: Murrell in a statement to the Holyrood Inquiry stated that Party policy dictated the handling of complaints within the Party was the responsibility of the Party Executive and it did not share case details with any other organisation unless the complaint highlighted a “clear act of criminality”, and at no time in the Autumn of 2017 did the Party inform any Scottish Government civil servant or special advisor of a complaint by a Party member against a minister of the Government. His assertion doesn’t fit the conduct of Lloyd who contravened the ministerial code applicable to Special Advisors. She should have been dismissed.

11 Mar 2018: Mark said that releasing the report would “address a lot of misconceptions.” and said that as long as steps were taken to protect the identity of any women involved, he would be happy to see the report published. [But] if it was to be released, it would have to be done so in a redacted fashion, because people shouldn’t be identified or feel the need that they have to identify themselves.

Mark, who had undertaken counselling about his behaviour, said: “I don’t dispute that I behaved in a way that fell below the professional standards that should be expected of me, but if we are to say that people cannot make a mistake and then rehabilitate and return, what message are we sending out more widely? What are we saying about the concept of rehabilitation? Are we saying that it’s impossible?” Asked if he should be considered a sex pest, he said “I would hope not,” and followed up saying: “I want to show that my behaviour was not all that I am. One of the hardest parts of this is having a version of you held up in front of you that you don’t recognise as you. And it doesn’t tally with how you see yourself. And having to come to terms with the idea that maybe you’re wrong about yourself. And maybe other people see you very differently. I want to come back and demonstrate, yes to colleagues, yes to constituents, but also to my kids, that this wasn’t all that I was. That this wasn’t the sum of me, because otherwise this will be their truth.”

12 Mar 2018: James Dornan MSP, to the Convener of Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee: I wish to lodge a formal complaint against a Member of the Scottish Parliament, namely Mark McDonald. I have a member of staff who was a targeted victim of harassment and sexual innuendo at the hands of this member. This member of staff would like to remain anonymous, if possible, to prevent any further hurt or distress.

My staff member first approached me to tell me of her distress at the end of 2016. I encouraged her to take it further but as Mark was a Government Minister at the time she was both afraid and anxious at the prospect. My staffer kept me informed of any contact from Mark and it was only at her insistence that I did not take this further.

Mark sent her highly inappropriate messages on social media, which my staff member immediately showed me. I also witnessed him show unwanted attention within the Parliament grounds on a number of occasions. On one occasion I had to leave an event I was hosting to escort my staff member to a waiting car as she was sure Mark was waiting for her. As we left the building he was standing close to the exit, and I have no doubt he was indeed waiting for her.

When the “Weinstein” allegations started to break my staff member reported Mark to the Scottish National Party. The change in the perceived public response to victims helped enable her to do so.

In July 2017 my staff member became so unwell due to stress she was admitted to Wishaw General Hospital with a stroke, she then spent several months rehabilitating and six months off of her work, which had a massive impact on my office and on her life. It would be wrong of me not to mention that she was under other extreme pressure, but this was compounded by Mark who should have known better and who, in my opinion, used his position to harass her.

The Party conducted an investigation, including an investigation into allegations from other staffers, and Mark resigned from the SNP, left the SNP parliamentary group and his position as a Government Minister.

However, Mark has now indicated that he will be returning to the Scottish Parliament. In my view having Mark in the same workplace as his victims would be clear negation of the duty of care that the parliament has to all its members of staff. In any other workplace I would expect my staff member to be protected from this kind of behaviour and the Scottish Parliament should be no exception.

12 Mar 2018: Dornan launched his bid to get Mark barred from Holyrood as an independent MSP with a public demand and press release demanding “speedy” action, arguing Mark’s presence at Holyrood would be a “clear negation” of the Parliament’s duty of care to staff he graphically told how Mark had bombarded one of his female employees with “inappropriate messages” and “unwanted attention “and described her as: “a targeted victim of harassment and sexual innuendo” who he had to escort from the Scottish Parliament because Mark “was waiting for her”. He went on to tell the press that the staff member “was very unwell due to stress” and had been admitted to hospital with a stroke. Clear breech of the “Code of Conduct” for MSP’s. Dornan’s actions denied Mark a fair hearing of the facts.

14 Mar 2018: Clare Haughey, Convenor of the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee issued a copy of her reply to Dornan: “We do not think it would be appropriate for the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee to undertake its own investigation since there is no procedure or precedent for the Committee to do so. While It is in no one’s interest that this matter becomes drawn out we understand that due process must be followed and this will take time regardless of who carries out the investigation. In referring the matter to the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland the Committee is confident the Commissioner will recognise this.

16 Mar 2018: Complaint against Mark McDonald MSP: To: The Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland: From: Clare Haughey MSP, Convener, Standards, Procedures & Public Appointments Committee: In exercise of the powers conferred by section 12 of the Scottish Parliamentary Standards Commissioner Act 2002 (“the 2002 Act”), and by virtue of Rule 3A.2 of the Standing Orders of the Scottish Parliament the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee of the Scottish Parliament gives the following direction to the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland: With reference to the attached letter of complaint, received from Mr James Dornan MSP dated 12th March 2018, alleging that a member of Mr Dornan’s staff was a targeted victim of harassment and sexual innuendo by Mr Mark McDonald MSP, that the Commissioner: Undertake an investigation into the complaint about the conduct of the member of the Parliament. Take into account any information which may relate to the complaint. Treat the complaint as admissible. Further, the relevant provisions which are to be treated as having been identified by the Commissioner for the purposes of the first test within section 6 of the 2002 Act are sections 7 (1) of the Code of Conduct for Members of the Scottish Parliament (“the Code”) including in particular section 7 (6) of the Code (and formerly sections 7.1.1 and 7.2.3 of the 6th edition of the Code in force from 29 April 2016 to 29 August 2017). Treat the complaint as having met all the requirements specified within section 6 (5) of the 2002 Act. MSP/2119/17-18/23 Appendix 1 The Committee look forward to receiving your Report at the conclusion of your, investigation.

Summary of Commissioners meeting with Witness A: Began working for James Dornan, MSP at the end of May 2016. Worked in Dornan’s constituency office on Mondays and Fridays and on other days in his office at the Scottish Parliament. Also an elected member of her local district council.

Described herself as a gregarious, outgoing and friendly person. However, sometime after she had taken up the role with Dornan, she had to deal with difficult issues due to her treatment by the local council and in the press and because of other issues which occurred in her own family.

Referred to social media links between party members as the means by which she first had any contact with Mark. She thought it would have been during the campaign for the Holyrood election in 2016, when Mark had been a candidate in the North East Region. It was much earlier than this.

There were occasional social media exchanges, originally on a public twitter feed. At some point there were direct messages between Mark and herself which were of a more private nature. She could not recall the point at which the direct messages began nor by whom they had been initiated. These did not cause her any particular concern, albeit that she had commented once or twice to Dornan that the respondent was “quite full on”.

Explained that she exchanged greetings with Mark at the Parliament, after the 2016 election, and that the direct messages became a bit more personal, both on Twitter and on one or the other’s Facebook page. She acknowledged that some were in response to messages she had posted about abuse which she had received in her local council role. This is a social contact relationship accident waiting to happen. A powder keg existence. Her stress levels appear to be off the chart.

After the 2016 election, Mark was appointed as the Minister for Childcare and Early Years, and Dornan was elected as Convener of the Education and Skills Committee. Explained that, in terms of the hierarchy within the party, this meant that Mark as a junior minister, was in a position which was significantly senior to her as a staffer.

Began to feel that Mark was being too friendly towards her, given his ministerial and family status. Although Mark and Dornan had offices in separate parts of the parliamentary estate, it was common for ministers, members and staffers to meet in the parliament’s ground floor restaurant or in the garden lobby. She formed the impression that Mark frequently appeared to be around when she was there.

Said she had received an email from Mark on 26 September 2016 asking if she wished to meet for coffee. An event was to be hosted that evening by Dornan on behalf of Colleges Scotland in the former Members’ Dining Room at the Parliament and she was under pressure with the added responsibilities for the event that evening. Having discussed the invitation with Dornan. Witness A declined. She had a feeling that it was not work related, and that it was “different” and she felt she was being pestered by Mark. Said that Mark had attended the event, but she could not recall any interaction with him. But Mark did not attend the meeting

Planned to walk to Waverley Station to catch a train home. However, when she went to leave, she said that she saw Mark in the garden lobby at the foot of the stairs leading down from the room where the event was being held. He was wearing a jacket and carrying a leather bag on his shoulder. She felt that Mark was waiting for her and she did not feel sufficiently secure to walk to the train station by herself. Too agitated to take a taxi. Aware that Dornan could not leave the event at that time. Contacted a friend and asked him to collect her from the parliament in his car. He contacted her some time later and said that he was parked across the road from the public entrance to the parliament. Could not recall precisely, but thought that around 20 minutes would have passed between her making contact and his arriving outside the parliament. Motherwell to Edinburgh in 20 minutes!!

Asked Dornan to accompany her to the car, which he did. She could not remember retrieving her belongings from Dornan’s office in the Members’ Block. She thought that Dornan might have fetched them for her. Said that on the way out of the parliament building with Dornan, they passed Mark who was loitering in the area at the foot of the stairs between the cash machine and the allowances desk which lead down from the room where the event took place. Said that Mark asked if she was leaving and going to the station, and that Dornan replied, frostily, that she was not. Said that Mark walked alongside her and Dornan to the turnstiles at the Canongate exit. Abject nonsense. Exposed as such in Dornan’s complaint

Explained that, at this point in her life, she was still under what she described as “mega pressure” in the council and in the media. Stressful existence holding down two jobs.

Said that later that evening, when she was at home, she received a direct twitter message from Mark saying “that’s twice you’ve dingyed me.” Dingyed: meaning: To be ignored. When someone says something and you ignore them they would say “dingyed” She did not reply, but received a further message from Mark saying that his phone had tried to autocorrect the previous message to “you’ve fingered me,” and adding “how awkward would that be?” Fingered me: A rude gesture in which the middle finger is extended upright and shown to another person to convey frustration, anger, contempt, etc. She felt that the message was testing her, to see how she would respond, and it caused her to burst into tears.

Was concerned that she had upset a government minister, a senior member of the Party. Forwarded them to Dornan then deleted them. She was unconcerned about any adverse reaction to her publicly posted letter to Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party leader. Said that Dornan phoned her and said that he intended to report Mark in respect of his behaviour towards her. She also made contact with a lawyer friend who said that she had to report it. However, she was not willing for any report to be made.

Said that she had no further contact with Mark until the SNP conference, later in the year. At the conference, she had moved an amendment to a motion which Mark had proposed, because she thought that she was right and she wanted to hurt him. Not very nice. Why did she wish to hurt him? Vindictive behaviour without good reason. Possibly stressed!!!

Said that Mark’s behaviour was different towards her in the Parliament’s garden lobby and restaurant after the evening of the Colleges Scotland event in that he appeared to be avoiding making contact with her. But wasn’t that what she wanted?

Expanded on the difficulties which she had been experiencing as a local councillor, including what she described as a smear campaign against her. She also referred to a specific, unfounded allegation which she considered was simply designed to discredit her. Stressful events.

Made reference to how she had been described in the press, for example, in terms of her glamorous appearance. There were also family issues. [These involve sensitive personal data, which are withheld, given that it may be made public at a later stage.] Stressful events.

Said that two complaints had been registered against her about alleged breaches of the local district Councillors’ Code of Conduct and these were being investigated at the time. Stressful events.

Said that as part of her recuperation she had gone abroad on what had been planned as a family trip. At that time, the allegations about Harvey Weinstein became public. She decided to write two blogs, about her own experience of sexual harassment in the council and in the parliament.

She also wrote an open letter to Jeremy Corbyn about her treatment by Labour councillors. She noted that Mark and others had been tweeting about how disgraceful the Harvey Weinstein situation was. Her conversion to the cause of the WOKE activists was swift and not unexpected. One of her children was transitioning at the time.

01 Nov 2017: Said that following publication of her blogs Dornan had been contacted by someone from SNP Party headquarters and without consulting her he copied the enquirer the messages of 26 September 2016, which he had retained for over a year without her knowledge or permission. His actions fit the profile of senior officials of the SNP who retain information which they use at a later date to bring to account officers and/or staff who might fall foul of the Party hierarchy.

Was contacted by an official from the SNP who asked if she wished to make a complaint and decided to do so. Someone at SNP headquarters was conducting a witch-hunt. Said she was aware that Mark had sent an apology to another woman, but she had only seen Mark’s public apology. Said that it would have gone a long way if he had sent an apology for the hurt which he had caused her, via Dornan or the Party, together with a commitment to avoid her. It was the absence of such an assurance that convinced her that she could not return to work at the parliament whilst Mark was there. But an apology or assurance was never requested from Mark.

14 and 21 Jun 2018: Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland: Decisions of the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee Committee: The Committee met to consider the findings of the Ethical Standards Commissioner to a complaint from James Dornan MSP about Mark McDonald MSP in which Dornan alleged that a female member of staff employed by him was a “targeted victim of harassment and sexual innuendo at the hands of” Mark:

Investigation and findings:

Witness B provided evidence to the SNP investigation indirectly, via a solicitor nominated by the SNP. She did not wish to participate in the investigation, except to confirm her agreement to the factual information set out in the report being disclosed. The facts were not disputed by Mark.

Witness B worked in Mark’s parliamentary office in a variety of roles both before and after his re-election in May 2016, but ceased to do so some weeks after his appointment as a minister.

Following the election and his appointment as a minister, the respondent decided to take a lease of a flat in Edinburgh. At the point at which a deposit was due to be paid, Mark said he was not in a position to pass across his card details or to make payment in person and he asked his assistant, Witness B, to make the payment on his behalf, intending to reimburse her. She agreed. The deposit of £476.14 was paid on 28 May 2016. This was reimbursed by the respondent on 21 June 2016.

Mark indicated that it was not uncommon for members’ staff to be asked to undertake tasks which were outside the scope of normal duties and he referred to the pressures which followed his ministerial appointment and to concurrent family health issues in respect of the delay in making payment. However, he accepted that it had been wrong to ask his member of staff to pay the deposit on his behalf. He also acknowledged that, having done so, he ought to have reimbursed her sooner. Mark regretted his actions and advised that he had issued a written apology to Witness B following the investigation of the complaint by the SNP.

12 Mar 2018: Married Jamie Hepburn, MSP, was implicated in the privately conducted SNP investigation into allegations of harassment against Mark. Reports were that at the Party’s 2015 Xmas function Hepburn was embroiled in a tryst with Witness B, an SNP staffer,

Witness B, a young lady who was over 10 years his junior was witnessed leaving the party with Hepburn. They were gone for a considerable period. Witness B was a vulnerable young party researcher and it was inappropriate for Hepburn, a married government minister, to have been romantically involved with her. Witness B later slept overnight in Mark’s room and though there was no suggestion anything happened between them rumours persisted.

Witnesses to the events that evening confirmed the accuracy of the allegations to the SNP investigators during their evidence gathering in support of Witness B’s allegation against Mark.

Witness B, when interviewed by private investigators contracted by the SNP, said her overnight stay in Mark’s bedroom after the 2015 Xmas party had been uneventful and there was no cause to register a complaint against Mark. She spoke to Hepburn later and he suggested she shouldn’t mention it to anyone. Hepburn was subsequently summoned to attend a meeting with very senior SNP people .

The SNP produced a dossier which was sent to Bill Thomson, the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland for decision. The damming information about Hepburn’s involvement was whitewashed from the probe and not included in the dossier.

Witness B, preferred to provide evidence to the Commissioner through an SNP contracted solicitor prompting the Commissioner to comment: “ Witness B did not wish to participate in this investigation except to confirm her agreement to the factual information set out in this report being disclosed.”

The only information on her complaint related to a deposit on a flat of £ 476.14 that McDonald asked her to pay for him in May 2016 but failed to reimburse for a further three weeks. The Standards Commissioner’s investigation ultimately found that McDonald ’s conduct towards Witness B had “showed a lack of respect” over the flat deposit.

The absence of judgement on Hepburn’s tryst with Witness B or any comment on the allegation of harassment by Mark that triggered the SNP investigation lead to the conclusion that Hepburn’s role in events had not been included in the dossier for political purposes. Thomson’s report singularly addressed the incident in which Mark was a bit lax in failing to pay loan of money back to “Witness B”. The Commissioner’s opinion being that Mark had shown Witness B a “lack of respect”. An unbelievable comment on a matter so trivial its inclusion rendered the allegation against to a farcical level and made with the knowledge that Mark had been under severe stress a the time he was waiting on and being informed his father had terminal cancer.

Witness A was employed by James Dornan MSP as office manager from the end of May 2016. She is a member of the SNP and was also an elected member of the local district Council a post she gave up at the time of the 2017 election.

The evidence given by Witness A and by Mark indicates that contacts between them began on public social media pages around the time of the 2016 Holyrood election campaign. Mark thought that the contact began in late 2015.

At some stage, which neither party could pinpoint given the passage of time, they also began to exchange private messages on twitter or Facebook. In his evidence Dornan described this as “fairly innocent stuff”.

Witness A stated that, after the initial public exchanges, there were direct messages between her and Mark which were of a more private nature. She could not recall by whom they had been initiated. She advised that these did not cause her any particular concern albeit that she commented to Dornan that some of the respondent’s messages seemed ‘quite full on’. There was no evidence suggesting that these early exchanges involved inappropriate behaviour on the part of Mark.

Dornan described Witness A as being very friendly, and said that she was always interacting with people on social media. Witness A described herself as gregarious, outgoing and friendly.

Mark was aware that Witness A had an interest in matters concerning children and early years, which was his ministerial remit. He considered that it was appropriate for him, as the responsible minister, to seek to discuss these matters with another interested, elected representative.

Mark had been due to speak at a conference in Inverness on the morning of Friday, 30 September 2016. His plan was to travel from Inverness to Glasgow by train and stay the night there ahead of speaking at an early years conference in Glasgow the following morning.

He recollected a discussion with Witness A on private social media about the possibility of meeting up for a drink in Glasgow after work on the Friday. He advised that Witness A had declined on the basis that she would be attending a fund raising event in her local area.

Witness A said that she had become concerned that Mark was becoming too friendly towards her. Dornan said that he had been aware of Witness A’s concern that Mark was persisting in making approaches to her, and was “not taking the hint”.

This appears to have been based in part on Witness A’s impression that Mark frequently appeared to be present when she was in common parts of the Parliament, such as the ground floor restaurant or the Garden Lobby.

Witness A said that Mark’s behaviour towards her in these areas of the Parliament was markedly different after the events of 27 September 2016.

However, neither Dornan nor Witness A was able to identify any specific incidents or behaviours which stood out in this context. I do not, therefore, consider that I can give any weight to this aspect of the complaint.

Witness A said that, at some point during the day on 27 September 2016, Mark sent an email asking if she would like to meet for a coffee at the Parliament. This was not disputed by Mark, although he was unable to trace the email containing the invitation.

He said that it was common for members and staff to be gathered in the Garden Lobby area of the Parliament, having discussions over tea or coffee. Given that both he and Witness A had an interest in the same areas of policy and practice, he saw nothing exceptional in seeking to catch up in that way.

Witness A said she found the invitation to be intrusive, in the context of her growing concern about Mark’s apparent persistence. She felt pestered by Mark. It is not clear from the evidence whether Witness A replied to the invitation. Mark’s recollection was that he had contacted Witness A on a number of occasions on that day suggesting that they should meet for a coffee. However, neither Witness A nor Mark had made reference in their evidence to multiple contacts on that day.

Dornan was due to host an event at the Parliament on the evening of 27 September 2016. The event was for Colleges Scotland and was held in the Members’ Room, which is situated on the first floor of the Parliament building. The event began at 6 pm, and Witness A attended along with Dornan.

Witness A advised that her intention had been to leave the event and walk from the Parliament to Waverley station to catch a train home. However, at some point during the evening, she formed the opinion that Mark was waiting in the Garden Lobby with the intention of intercepting her as she left the building.

Witness A did not wish that to happen, and became agitated. She stated that she did not feel confident to leave the building on her own and walk to the station, nor even to take a taxi. Witness A contacted a friend and asked him to collect her in his car and drive her home. He agreed. Dornan later escorted Witness A from the Parliament building to the waiting car and she was driven home.

Mark’s version of what happened that evening is that, after Decision Time at approximately 5 pm, he went back to his office in the Ministerial Tower. He attended to some ministerial correspondence, then left the office and went down the stairs which lead to a lobby area outside the entrance to the Members’ Room. He had no reason to go in to the event, and did not do so.

Mark said that he then went down the stairs to the Garden Lobby, and crossed it to go to the bar, in order to see if any of his backbench colleagues were there. Finding that there were none, he claims that he walked back across the Garden Lobby, left the Parliament building, and returned to his flat. He denies that he waited, or skulked, in the Garden Lobby area.

Mark recalled passing Witness A on the stairs between the first floor and the Garden Lobby, as he was heading down towards the bar. Mark said that they had a brief conversation in which Witness A asked how he was getting on, and about his ministerial work.

He thought that something might have been said about not having managed to meet up for coffee. The evidence given by Dornan and Witness A about the circumstances surrounding the Colleges Scotland event is inconsistent. This is perhaps not surprising, given that it occurred some 18 months before the complaint was submitted.

Witness A gave evidence to the effect that Mark attended the event in the Members’ Room but that she did not speak to him other than possibly to say “Hi”. Dornan could not recall if Mark did attend. Mark denied that he attended.

Witness A said that she saw Mark in the Garden Lobby area, and that he was wearing a jacket and carrying a leather bag on his shoulder. She claims to have seen him from the event. However, that is not physically possible. In order to be able to see someone in the Garden Lobby area, it would be necessary to exit from the Members’ Room, walk a short distance across the lobby area outside the room and look or walk down the stairs which lead to the Garden Lobby.

Witness A was uncertain as to the time which elapsed between her making contact with the friend who came to collect her and the point at which he did so. She estimated that it must have been about 20 minutes.

Witness A claims that the respondent was skulking in the Garden Lobby area, between the cash machine and the Allowances desk, throughout that period. The friend who drove to the Parliament to collect Witness A recalled clearly that he was at, or just leaving, Motherwell station when he received her request. His view was that it would have taken approximately 45 minutes to drive from there to the Parliament.

Witness A was accompanied by Dornan when she left the Parliament building. Her evidence was that they passed Mark on their way out. In fact, she said that he walked alongside them for the short distance between the Parliament’s Pass holders’ exit and the turnstiles at the foot of the Canongate. Witness A recalled that Mark spoke to them as they were leaving the building, and asked if she was going to the station. She did not respond but she said that Dornan did so, frostily.

Dornan recalled that they had had to walk past Mark, who was waiting inside the Parliament building. He said that he had been asked by Witness A not to say anything to Mark. He was not certain if Mark had said anything as they passed. Witness A recalled that the car was parked across the road from the public entrance to the Parliament building, outside Holyrood Palace. That accords with her friend’s recollection.

Dornan was less clear in his evidence as to where the car was parked. Mark denied that he saw or spoke to Dornan that evening. I have concluded that there was a lapse of approximately 45 minutes between Witness A making contact with her friend and his arriving to collect her. There is no evidence to support Witness A’s assertion that Mark was waiting, or skulking, in the Garden Lobby area throughout the period between her making contact with her friend and leaving the Parliament building. I considered that for Mark to have done so would have amounted to quite exceptional behaviour. I have therefore concluded, on the balance of probabilities having regard to the evidence available to me, that Mark did not wait for an extended period of time in the Garden Lobby area of the Parliament for Witness A to leave the Colleges Scotland event. Similarly, the evidence led me to conclude that Mark did not attend the Colleges Scotland event in the Members’ Dining Room. My conclusion is supported by the fact that none of the photographs of the event, which are available on the Colleges Scotland website, show the respondent being in attendance. Given his status as a minister, I would have expected him to feature, had he been there. I do not doubt that Witness A saw Mark that evening. Nonetheless, her recollection in relation to when and where she saw him cannot be reconciled with my conclusion that mark did not attend the Colleges Scotland Event and the physical impossibility of observing the area in which it is alleged that Mark loitered from the Members’ Room. The evidence suggests that Witness A could not, therefore, have observed Mark at, or from, the event except possibly fleetingly as he passed on his way down from the Ministerial Tower. Mark’s description of his meeting with Witness A that evening was that they met, and had a brief conversation, on the stairs. I noted that Witness A stated in her evidence that, when she saw Mark, he was wearing a jacket and carrying a leather bag. She said that her belongings must have been collected at some point in the evening from Dornan’s office in the Members’ Block, but she could not recall if or how she had done so. The most direct route between the Members’ Room and Dornan’s office is via the stairs and the Garden Lobby. If Witness A did retrieve her belongings from the Members’ Block, it is therefore quite possible that she passed Mark on the stairs leading to and from the Garden Lobby. That would also be consistent with the limited timings which can be established. These are that: the event started at 6 pm; Witness A contacted her friend at approximately 6.30 pm and was collected by him approximately 45 minutes later. On balance, in the light of all of the evidence available to me, I prefer Mark’s explanation of his meeting with Witness A that evening. There is then a question as to whether Mark spoke to Witness A and to Dornan as they left the building. Mark denied that he had done so. Dornan said that he and Witness A had had to walk past Mark, but that he could not recall Mark speaking to them. Witness A recalled Mark speaking and Dornan responding to him in frosty terms. I considered, given the circumstances, that it would have been strange for there to have been no conversation, if indeed they had passed in close proximity. In the light of the contradictory evidence of Dornan and Witness A, and Mark’s denial, I have been unable to reach a conclusion as to whether Mark was present at the point when Dornan and Witness A left the Parliament building. However, even if Mark was present and did walk to the turnstiles with Dornan and Witness A, there is no evidence to suggest that either did or said anything inappropriate at the time.

Witness A said she had received message from Mark at 19.51 which she opened and read when she got home from the event at the Parliament building on 27 September 2016. Mark does not dispute that he sent them. He does not have a record of any messages received by him as part of an exchange of which they might have formed part. In the absence of any contrary evidence, I have concluded on the balance of probabilities that the messages were sent on the evening of 27 September 2016. Witness A said that the messages caused her considerable upset, and that she burst into tears on reading them. She said that she was under “mega pressure” at the time and she convinced herself that the messages had been sent to test her reaction. At the same time was concerned that she had angered a government minister whose responsibilities were relevant to the committee of which Dornan was convener.

Mark claimed that the messages represented misguided humour on his part, referring to a couple of failed attempts to meet up with Witness A. He said that there was no malice on his part, nor any intention to engage in any form of innuendo. However, he accepted that the messages caused hurt, and acknowledged that there could be a distinction between intention and interpretation. He had recognised the problem, and for that reason had taken the decision to resign as a minister and issue an apology.

The reference in the second of the three messages to being “dingyed” twice supports Witness A’s evidence that she had rejected his attempts to arrange a meeting, and that she found them unwelcome. There is clearly an element of sexual innuendo in the third message. Even if the messages were a clumsy attempt at humour on the part of Mark, they were wholly inappropriate. Mark accepted that. Witness A said that she forwarded the messages to Dornan that evening. Dornan’s evidence was that he was furious, and wanted to confront Mark. However, he did not, because Witness A did not want him to take that course of action. Mark challenged Dornan’s interpretation of events, on the basis of a light hearted public social media exchange between him and the complainer later on the evening of 27 September 2016. Whilst I have no doubt that Witness A did forward the messages to Dornan this was on an unspecified date as it was he who provided them to the investigation.

Dornan makes reference to Witness A being admitted to hospital with a stress induced “stroke” in July 2017. and refers to Witness A being “under other extreme pressure” at the time, and alleges that this was compounded by Mark’s harassment of Witness A. Witness A provided more detail about the deterioration in her health which led to her being hospitalised in June 2017, and the factors which she considered had contributed to her condition. It was identified by medical staff as an extreme reaction to stress. The factors included difficulties which she had experienced in her role as an elected member of Council, including two complaints to the convenors office about her conduct, family circumstances, and the way in which she had been portrayed in the media. It is clear that Witness A was subject to pressures in more than one area of her life. However, I am not in a position to make any judgement as to the extent to which the conduct of Mark, or Witness A’s perception of it, contributed to the impact of those pressures on her health.

Mark expressed surprise that no earlier attempt was made to raise with him the concerns of Dornan or of Witness A. He drew attention to the social media exchange with Dornan late in the evening of 27 September 2016. He noted that Dornan continued to behave towards him in a friendly manner in the Parliament after that evening. Mark also made specific reference to the day of the Scottish Cup Final in Glasgow between Celtic and Aberdeen, on 27 May 2017. His evidence was that Dornan collected him from the hotel, and they campaigned together in East Renfrewshire, before Dornan drove him back to Hampden Park for the match, all on an apparently friendly basis. It does appear that the relationship between Dornan and Mark was cordial which somewhat weakens the evidence he gave earlier.

Conclusions: Section 7.2.3 of the 6th edition of the Code is headed Treatment of Staff and includes a statement that: “Complaints from staff of bullying or harassment, including any allegation of sexual harassment, or any other inappropriate behaviour on the part of members will be taken seriously and investigated.” The provision clearly applies to the staff of MSPs. However, there is no definition of “harassment”. I have therefore had regard to the definition set out in section 26 of the Equality Act 2010. The Committee is unanimous in the decisions reached on the complaint.

Firstly, it agrees with both the findings in fact and the conclusion of the Commissioner that Mark failed to treat one witness with respect, and that his conduct towards her involved sexual harassment, and that he also failed to treat a second witness with respect in relation to a financial matter. The Committee agrees with the Commissioner’s finding that both behaviours were in breach of the Code of Conduct for MSPs. Secondly, the Committee considers that the breaches justify the imposition of sanctions on Mark. While the Committee’s role in the complaints process is specifically focused on considering the Commissioner’s findings in fact and conclusion, the Committee would also like to comment more generally on the nature of the complaint. The Zero Tolerance statement agreed by the Presiding Officer, the Chief Executive and the party leaders on 12 June 2018 provides clear definitions of sexist behaviour and sexual harassment and makes it clear that these behaviours do not belong in the Parliament. The Committee fully endorses this statement. In the Committee’s recent report on sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour the Committee identified a number of potential areas in which the Code of Conduct could be strengthened and the Committee will pursue these revisions in the coming parliamentary year.

Decisions: The Committee looked at the full range of sanctions available to the Parliament and agreed that the sanctions placed on Mark should send a clear signal about the seriousness of his conduct, but should not have a financial impact on his staff nor unduly impact on his ability to represent his constituents. Mark was excluded from proceedings of the Parliament for a period of one month. His salary for the month was withheld and he was barred from Holyrood for one month.

Afternote: An explicit provision in the Code of Conduct states that Members must not disclose, communicate or discuss any complaint or intention to make a complaint to or with members of the press or other media prior to the lodging of the complaint or during Stage 1 and 2 of the procedure for dealing with complaints. The Convener had issued a reminder of this provision in her statement on 08 March 2018 and said that proper processes must be observed in order to ensure a robust outcome so that the Commissioner and the Committee would be enabled to carry out their work without any external interference or influences and the Committee considered it unacceptable that the confidentiality requirements had been blatantly flouted more than once during the course of the investigations. This was disrespectful to the process and those involved, as well as to the Committee and the Parliament. A matter of concern is that before the Committee had even seen the Commissioner’s report, its findings had been released to and discussed with the media, by James Dornan MSP.

Noteworthy is that the complaint notified to the Committee by Dornan was not upheld since it had been compiled in collaboration with Witness A nearly 18 months after the alleged events. In a short statement Mark said: “The manner in which Dornan chose to publicise his complaint, and make lurid allegations against me, has had a significant and lasting impact upon my personal mental health and wellbeing, and has affected my family. I am grateful that his allegations were not upheld, as I have always denied them.

Summary of Commissioner’s interview with Mark McDonald, MSP

Mark confirmed that he was first elected to the Scottish Parliament in 2011, to represent the North East Scotland Region. In 2013 he stood down to contest the Aberdeen Donside seat, for which he was elected in June of that year and re-elected in May 2016. He is a dedicated advocate for individuals on the autistic spectrum, leading members debates on the issue and asking questions of the Scottish Government. He has been a member of the Scotland Advisory Committee of the National Autistic Society and a trustee of the charity, Friendly Access, which looks to create a more accessible environment for individuals with sensory disabilities. He has been a member of many committees in the parliament, but most recently sat on the Finance Committee and the Devolution & Further Powers Committee. In addition, he served on a number of Cross Party Groups (CPGs) including Oil & Gas, Carers, Epilepsy and Mental Health (which he co-convened). He served as a Parliamentary Liaison Officer to the Deputy First Minister, John Swinney having previously been Parliamentary Liaison Officer to Alex Salmond during his tenure as First Minister. A very busy politician dedicated to bettering the existence of children in need and those with sensory disabilities.

On 20 May 2016, he received a phone call from the First Minister’s office asking him to attend at Bute House the following day. He was then invited to become Minster for Childcare and Early Years. Mark then had to move parliamentary office, from the Members’ Block to the Ministerial Tower. Mark had leased a flat on Royal Park Terrace from 2013, which he had to terminate following a leak from the upstairs property which brought down the bathroom ceiling. He moved to serviced apartments near the parliament which were not to his liking.

His election to office in 2016 prompted him to find better accommodation a task not made easier since his appointment as a minister of government entailed significant time consuming commitments. Mark’s parliamentary assistant offered to assist with the search and securing of a flat and she was happy to attend the installation of broadband in the flat. When it came to paying the fee, Mark said he was not in a position to make the payment physically, or in person and asked his assistant to make payment on her credit card, which he would then reimburse. She agreed to do this and the payment was made at the end of May 2016. He repaid the loan 3 weeks later, on 21 June 2016.

Mark said he regretted the incident and acknowledged that he should not have asked his staff member to pay the fee and that, having done so, the repayment should have been made sooner.

In mitigation, Mark explained that his father had been undergoing tests at the time which resulted in a diagnosis of terminal cancer and whilst he did not offer that the request he had made was normal, he did say that it was common practice for MSP’s to ask their staff to do things outside the normal scope of their duties, Mark added that he had made a written apology to the person concerned following an investigation by the SNP.

In terms of social contact with Witness A following the election in 2016, Mark said that Witness A was an elected local district councillor with a keen interest in the area of children and young people for which he had ministerial responsibility and they had and they communicated openly and regularly on these matters and before his promotion they had also regularly indulged in more relaxed conversations on social media. He provided copies of twitter exchanges from May to July 2016 and explained that he no longer had copies of earlier exchanges. He and Witness A also conversed in person at a number of events, such as an SNP conference in Aberdeen in 2015.

He went on to explain that following his ministerial appointment in 2016, he had been interested in speaking to elected representatives at local council level (she was an elected local councillor) with an interest in the agenda for children and young people, formally or informally, about alignment of policy and approaches and Witness A had expressed a willingness to participate but she was employed as a staffer for another MSP and it would be inappropriate to take her away from her duties to facilitate discussions. They circumvented the problem by routinely meeting for coffee in the garden lobby area and whilst he had no recollection of the arrangement that would have been the nature of any approach and invitation for coffee, had there been one.

Regarding the alleged incident at the Colleges Scotland event in the parliament in September 2016, Mark said that the allegation that had been suggested to him at the time he was interviewed by the SNP investigation officers related to his alleged behaviour in connection with an equality network event hosted by Mr Dornan in November 2016. There was no such event. Mark said that he had advised the SNP investigators that he had a recollection of an occasion when he had met Witness A on the stairs leading to the garden lobby at the parliament but he was adamant he did not attend the Colleges Scotland event in September 2016.

On reviewing his diary, he noted that on that day he had a number of ministerial meetings in the course of the day but had nothing booked for the evening. After Decision Time at the parliament he had done what he normally did and went up to his office to work through his ministerial papers. He was also scheduled to lead an important debate on early learning and child care later in the week and he spent time preparing for this.

At the conclusion of that period, he left the office and went down the stairs from the ministerial tower, coming out by the lift next to the members’ restaurant, where the College Scotland event was in process. He did not go into the event, because he was not required to be there and he had no indication that anyone from his constituency would be attending or wished to speak to him.

He proceeded to the stairs leading to the garden lobby and met witness A who was coming up the stairs to the event. He recalled a very brief but cordial conversation in passing, to the effect that they would not be able to meet for coffee which they had discussed earlier due to her other duties.

Mark referred to the SNP Conference in March 2017 at which he and Witness A spoke on the platform together on a resolution in relation to child care, on which he was leading and in which she had an interest. He said that Witness A later messaged him on an open social media channel to ask about the policy of the SNP government on a child care issue, as an example of Witness A’s willingness to engage with him some months after the events alleged to have taken place in September 2016.

He also referred again to the debate in the Parliament in which he was leading and said that he sent messages to Dornan and all the other contributors to the debate, congratulating them on their good speeches. He said that Dornan responded positively and he had continued to be cordial afterwards.

Providing evidence of this Mark said In May 2017, he travelled to Glasgow for the Scottish Cup final match between Aberdeen and Celtic. Dornan collected him from his hotel in Glasgow and drove him to East Renfrewshire, where they campaigned together. Dornan then drove him to Hampden for the match. At no time did Dornan mention any problem or issue between them. He provided photographs from the day as proof of the good relationship he referred to.

Mark said he was disappointed that Dornan has not raised the allegations with him providing the opportunity to correct his behaviour as provided for in the procedures set out in the Code of Conduct for MSPs which required an approach to business managers or to the Parliament’s HR department if there were concerns about about the treatment of staff.

Mark accepted that he had sent an unsolicited but not unusual twitter message to Witness A. He said that its content was a poor attempt at humour referring to their failed attempts to get together. There was no malice, nor any attempt to engage in any form of innuendo. However, he accepted that it had been received in a way which did not match the intent.

He was first given sight of the message which he had previously deleted, on 04 November 2017 when he was shown it by Liz Lloyd who told him she has been told to instruct him to offer his resignation from his minister post immediately. Confronted with the evidence he did so.

In regard to the timing of the message he could not confirm the date he sent it since it was not date stamped but the SNP investigation team alleged he had sent it in November 2016.

Giving the matter further thought Mark said he recollected a twitter exchange with Witness A in the last week of September 2016 in which they discussed the possibility of meeting up in Glasgow the next weekend, when he would be addressing an early years conference. After speaking at a conference in Inverness on Friday, 30 September 2016 Mark anticipated travelling by train and staying overnight in Glasgow where he would have some free time before the conference scheduled for the Saturday morning.

Witness A had declined the invitation because she had a fund raising event in her local area. Mark said that he had not made any approach to Witness A with nefarious intent. There had been many friendly twitter exchanges between them both in private messages and on public social media.

Mark also produced copies of what he described were humorous exchanges on social media in public between him Dornan on 23 July 2017 and a thank you from Dornan for Mark standing in for him at an event at the SNP conference in October 2017.

He also referred to items on social media in June 2017 which confirmed that Witness A had not, in fact, suffered a stroke, to material allocating blame for her condition to three other causes, and in September 2017 showing her return to work at the Parliament and drew attention to reports in the Daily Record and the Daily Telegraph on 09 November 2017, following his ministerial resignation, in which Witness A was quoted as commenting on people’s behaviour changing but made no reference to his behaviour towards her going beyond the messages nor to his behaviour contributing towards the health episode as now alleged. Whilst he was not seeking to diminish the health issues, nor to avoid responsibility for his actions, Mark did not consider that he should have to take responsibility for matters in which he had no involvement.

Mark had issued two written apologies. One to Witness B which had been accepted. And the other to Witness A in which he had accepted and regretted that he had let his standards fall in relation to his relationship with her, meeting the requirement she had requested of him in her complaint to the SNP.

He further explained that had apologised for any upset and hurt which had arisen as a result of his behaviour, and also to say that his intention was to demonstrate through his future conduct that he had changed as a result. He added that, until very recently, he had mistakenly thought that he enjoyed positive relationships on a personal level. The realisation of how he was perceived had been hurtful and had forced a period of reflection on what he could do to change that perception.

August 2018: Mark issued a press release advising his intent to leave politics at the end of the present parliament. He wrote: “It has been one of the greatest privileges of my life to have had the opportunity to represent the constituency of Aberdeen Donside, and prior to that the North East of Scotland region, in the Scottish Parliament. “I grew up in, and live in, the constituency I represent and thus it has always had an importance to me, which I have sought to emphasise through my advocacy on behalf of constituents and communities. “I am, however, acutely aware that none of these achievements will be the things which people will associate with me, and that my time in office will forever be defined by the mistakes I have made, and for which I have paid a significant and lasting price. When I returned to parliament in 2018, I made it clear that I would demonstrate through my conduct that I had reflected upon the errors of judgement I had made in my interactions with people, where I had misunderstood how the power dynamics as a government minister, or MSP, could lead to interactions being perceived differently by those who I had regarded as friends or colleagues. I hope that I have been able to demonstrate such change. I will have to live forever with consequences of those mistakes and the upset that they caused, and it is appropriate for me to reiterate here the apologies I have made before. I continue to seek to make right the things I got wrong. I am also acutely aware that any election campaign in which I played a part would be one which would focus far less on the important issues which affect the communities I represent, and would instead be one defined around my presence. I believe the constituents and communities of Aberdeen Donside deserve a range of candidates whose sole focus is on how they can improve the life circumstances of those they represent, and while that is the primary motivation which I have to do the job, I recognise that for it to be a reality I cannot be one of those candidates. After speaking to those closest to me to make them aware of my decision, I am taking the opportunity to formally announce that I shall be stepping down from parliament at the 2021 election. I shall continue for the next twelve months, as I have done since my first day in the job, to represent the communities of this constituency to the best of my ability, and I look forward to continuing to meet constituents and organisations to enable their voices to be heard.”

08 Mar 2020: In a press interview Mark said he considered committing suicide shortly after his suspension from the SNP in November 2017 and again four months later in March 2018. He said: “After my suspension ended and I returned to work there seemed to be a mentality among some MSPs that I should have been given a harsher punishment. I never said my conduct did not merit any sanction and I duly served the punishment. I had hoped that since I demonstrated that I truly reflected on my behaviour and hoped that most people who encountered me would say I was not the person I was in 2017. But in coming back to parliament, I felt I was being punished multiple times for the same thing. I haven’t spoken about this before but recent events have made me feel like we can’t carry on with this culture where people can’t atone for their mistakes. At Holyrood we talk a good game about these things. I haven’t seen any of it from within the SNP with a few honourable exceptions.”


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