26 Mar 2021

The Hamilton Report

This week has been an intense one for Scottish politicians, as James Hamilton released his report into the conduct of the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s handling of sexual assault allegations against Alex Salmond. 

The report’s headline is that Ms Sturgeon did not break the ministerial code, either by failing to mention an initial discussion about the allegations to Parliament or by attempting to influence the investigation into her predecessor.  This finding is crucial: had she been found to be in breach of the code by an impartial barrister there would have been intense pressure for her to resign.

While the Hamilton report is important, it will not be the end of the matter. Alex Salmond has suggested that he will launch legal action against the permanent secretary to the Scottish government for her role in an internal investigation against him, and other parties will try to keep the issue alive: Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has suggested that Sturgeon should resign as the report concluded she had given an ‘incomplete narrative of events’. The Tories also launched a failed vote of confidence in the First Minister - MSPs voted by 65 to 31 to reject the motion, with the Greens backing the SNP and Labour and Lib Dems abstaining.

Supporters of the First Minister however hope that the report can help the SNP to start to move on from the intense personal and political battle that has developed over the allegations ahead of Holyrood elections taking place on 6 May. They feared that in addition to the unwelcome publicity, the split over the allegations against Mr Salmond had become a proxy for wider policy divisions within the SNP, and made the party appear tired and inward looking after 14 years in power.

Scottish Parliament elections

Serious campaigning is likely to begin now because the Scottish Parliament was dissolved yesterday ahead of the elections.

The SNP’s poll lead has dropped sharply since the matter has been under particular scrutiny: their predicted number of Holyrood seats has dropped from over 70 in December to around 65 today according to Ballot Box Scotland. Winning 65 seats would scrape the party a majority in Holyrood, which would still be an important victory for the SNP who currently run a minority government, and who are operating in a system which in theory is supposed to prevent majority governments. However it would be far from the landslide they hoped for some months ago and may mean that they seek a coalition or a continuation of the current confidence and supply arrangement with the (pro-independence) Scottish Green Party.   

The issues leading up to the Hamilton report will underline campaigning, but more practical policy matters are likely to come to the fore as the election goes on. As the Scottish parliament broke up on Thursday, Labour leader Anas Sarwar focused on his National Recovery Plan aimed at kickstarting the Scottish economy, and he is seen to be performing well. He has been in place for just a month and is seen as a credible centrist: one recent poll has seen Labour leapfrog the Conservatives into second place.  

The Conservative’s campaign has so far focused on highlighting a ‘threat to the Union’ posed by a new SNP government. This is prompted by the SNP’s own campaign agenda: they have promised a second independence referendum early in the new Parliament, and published a Draft Independence Referendum Bill on Monday setting out how this might arise.  The possibility of a second referendum is an important campaigning topic in itself and it is also underlining much other political debate: all policy ideas are being seen though the lens of the potential impact of independence.

IA activity after the election

As with every major election, the IA is preparing to welcome and update new MSPs when they arrive in Holyrood and work with their new policy agenda.  If you would like any further information on this, please contact Hannah Marwood on Hannah.marwood@theIA.org