Hamilton report a tremendous boost for Sturgeon and a disaster for her critics

Analysis: Scottish unionists had hoped Salmond affair would deprive SNP of majority

 

Nicola Sturgeon and her adversaries agreed on very little about the Alex Salmond affair but both sides were united in their admiration for James Hamilton and their confidence in his report representing the final word on the first minister’s conduct.

So the former Irish director of public prosecutions’ clear and unambiguous conclusion that she did not breach the Scottish government’s ministerial code is a tremendous boost for Sturgeon and a disaster for her critics.

The report is so heavily redacted for legal reasons that Hamilton himself complains in an accompanying note that it “cannot be properly understood by those reading it and presents an incomplete and even at times misleading version of what happened”.

Be that as it may, its conclusion is unmistakable in its exoneration of Sturgeon and its rejection of claims that she deliberately misled parliament or broke the code by continuing to fight a judicial review of her government’s handling of the allegations against Salmond after her lawyers said she was likely to lose.

Hamilton finds himself in a similar position to that of Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor who investigated Donald Trump’s alleged ties with Russia. Both were admired as straight arrows but by simply following the evidence, each has disappointed the political camp that invested the greatest hopes in them, the Democrats in Mueller and Scottish unionists in Hamilton.

Certain defeat

A Scottish parliamentary committee is expected to find on Tuesday that Sturgeon misled parliament but to stop short of saying she did so knowingly. A Conservative motion of no confidence in her faces certain defeat after the Greens said they would vote with the Scottish National Party (SNP) in support of the first minister.

Unionists in Edinburgh and London dared to hope in recent weeks that the Salmond affair would end Sturgeon’s career, or at least damage the SNP’s greatest electoral asset and the most persuasive advocate of Scottish independence.

Instead, the Hamilton report has allowed Sturgeon to emerge stronger from the Salmond controversy, leaving her political adversaries looking like partisan critics of a female politician who sided with women complaining about sexual harassment.

Polls show the SNP, which runs a minority government supported by the Greens, on course to win a narrow majority in May’s Scottish parliament elections. Unionists hoped the Salmond affair would deprive the SNP of that majority, undermining Sturgeon’s claim to a mandate for a second Scottish referendum.

Hamilton may just have destroyed those hopes.

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