The Hamilton report raises more questions than it answers over Scottish First Minster Nicola Sturgeon's handling of sexual harassment claims against her predecessor Alex Salmond.
“Independent” Scottish government employee James Hamilton’s 61-page report is heavily redacted by the Crown Office, the state prosecutor whose chief the Lord Advocate also sits in Sturgeon's cabinet, obscuring the evidence for many of his opinions from readers — a point he made himself in a separate statement released on Monday.
"A redacted report... cannot be properly understood by those reading it, and presents an incomplete and even at times misleading version of what happened," Hamilton wrote. "I am deeply frustrated that applicable court orders will have the effect of preventing the full publication of a report which fulfils my remit and which I believe it would be in the public interest to publish."
The report acknowledges that Sturgeon failed to inform the Scottish parliament of a meeting on March 29 2018 with Salmond’s legal representative Geoff Aberdein, where Aberdein says they discussed the allegations against the former Scottish National Party (SNP) leader ahead of a meeting between Salmond and Sturgeon at her home on April 2.
Hamilton, a former Irish director of public prosecutions who has been the Scottish government's advisor on the Ministerial Code since 2013, accepts the first minister’s claim that she merely “forgot” about the key meeting when she addressed the Holyrood parliament in January 2019.
"Her explanation for why she did not recall this meeting when giving her account to Parliament, while inevitably likely to be greeted with suspicion, even scepticism by some, is not impossible," he writes in chapter 7 of the report. "I accept that this omission was the result of a genuine failure of recollection and was not deliberate. That failure did not therefore in my opinion amount to a breach of the Ministerial Code."
Cover-Up or Incompetence?
Hamilton's report emerged the evening before the Scottish parliamentary committee chaired by SNP MSP Linda Fabiani delivered its findings that Sturgeon had indeed misled the Holyrood assembly — although it also dodged the question of whether she did so intentionally.
The report was also critical of government officials for delaying the release of key documentary evidence to the inquiry, some of which indicates they went on what one described as a "fishing" expedition for claims against Salmond.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph on Monday, former Glasgow South Labour MP Tom Harris pointed out that it is hard for Sturgeon to claim ignorance of the widely-rumoured accusations against Salmond — dating back to between 2009 and 2013 — when she served as his deputy first minister from 2007 to 2014 and deputy party leader for three years before that.
"But you know who didn’t know about those rumours? You know who was completely blindsided until she first heard, from Alex Salmond’s own mouth, about the complaints against him as late as 2018, four years after he left office? That’s right, his protégé and trusted lieutenant, Nicola Sturgeon," Harris wrote. "We are asked to believe that this was a coffee-spitting moment, that nothing had prepared her for what Salmond was about to tell her."
Harris charged that Sturgeon must have known about the rumours circulating in newsrooms and parliamentary lobbies, but kept quiet about them in the run-up to the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. Salmond resigned that year in the wake of the nationalists' defeat by a margin of over ten per cent.
"She could have acted before Salmond chose to resign in the aftermath of the SNP’s defeat at the 2014 independence referendum. Instead she made the deliberate decision not to," Harris argued.
"Either this less generous version of events is true or Sturgeon was, after all, uniquely insulated against gossip and rumour; she was extraordinarily ill-informed about what was going on in the administration she aspired to lead. In which case, how suited was she to taking over after Salmond left?"