In February 2008 a man called Rob Armstrong visited the Constituency Office of his Member of the Scottish Parliament, Nicola Sturgeon.
He went there for two purposes. Firstly he was involved in a child access dispute. My understanding has always been that such an approach to an MSP would have been in confidence but not apparently if it involves circumstances that subsequently embarrass the MSP. Then, confidentiality goes out the window. For it appears the only reason we know this at all is because the SNP later put it into the public domain in an attempt to throw the press off the scent.
This is because the other reason Mr Armstrong went to Ms Sturgeon’s office was to draw to her attention to the fact that his ex brother in law, Bill Walker, was a violent and abusive bully and not, in Mr Armstrong’s opinion, a fit person to be a representative of the SNP or any other political Party. Yet Mr Walker had, that previous May, been elected as an SNP Councillor in Fife.
Ms Sturgeon was, as the Deputy First Minister, understandably not immediately available to meet Mr Armstrong. So he spoke to a member of her staff.
Now, I’ve been involved professionally in dealing with the Offices of political representatives of all four major Parties. And enough to know that, while child contact disputes form, regrettably, part of the routine grind, allegations of the nature of those being made by Mr Armstrong against Mr Walker are a much more unusual occurrence.
Yet, today, we are asked to believe that then something quite extraordinary happened. Despite Mr Armstrong going to Ms Sturgeon’s Office specifically to draw this to her attention, Ms Sturgeon was not told about this at all. Despite this being precisely in the, always difficult, area (for all Parties) of the interaction of Constituency Staff, paid for from public funds, and Party political matters in which, theoretically, they ought not to be involved. Despite all that, the member of staff, without even so much as mentioning it to her employer, Ms Sturgeon, contacted the SNP head office. And, then, even more extraordinarily, the member of staff forgot all about it.
And yet there was then an even yet more extraordinary occurrence. The SNP, by reason of administrative oversight did nothing at all to follow up a matter raised by the Constituency Office of their Deputy Leader. Or even to respond to that Office.
And the member of staff didn’t even recall this when, two years later, Councillor Walker was adopted as the SNP Scottish Parliamentary Candidate for Dunfermline. When her boss was photographed with candidate Walker, she didn’t apparently think even to ask informally if the allegations made had been checked out and dismissed. She had completely forgotten the whole thing.
So, when in the aftermath of Candidate Walker, to everyone’s surprise, becoming Bill Walker MSP as a result of the 2011 landslide, and then being exposed by the Sunday Herald as a man with a long history of domestic violence, conduct for which he has finally convicted today, it was just as well everybody had had these previous memory oversights, administrative errors, and departures from what common sense might have been the more likely sequence of events following Mr Rob Armstrong’s visit to his MSP. For otherwise this would be a scandal requiring Ms Sturgeon’s resignation.
Here’s what I suspect really happened. When Walker became a Councillor, the SNP knew nothing. Once they found out, that was embarrassing to the SNP. But let’s be honest, all Parties probably have Councillors with dirty secrets, some of which become known to the hierarchy after they’ve been elected. Then a calculation has to be made (by all Parties): the right thing to do and the damage caused by doing it. A decision was made by the SNP to do nothing about Councillor Bill Walker based on that calculus. When however, he became a Scottish Parliamentary candidate things became more difficult. To intervene would mean awkward questions about when first things were known. So a further calculation was made. The SNP would never win Dunfermline, a calculation that didn’t factor in the potential ineptitude of the Scottish Labour Party. By then the die was cast. The only hope was that no-one would find out. But Paul Hutcheon did.
I say only three things in conclusion.
Firstly, and disgracefully, domestic violence doesn't yet press the panic button of paedophilia or, bizarrely, mere financial impropriety. At least within the SNP.
Secondly, Nixon was not brought down by Watergate. He was brought down by the cover up. Hopefully the SNP won’t take my caution in that regard. Hopefully Hutcheon and Gordon will then live up to their self image as successors to Woodward and Bernstein in the face of that cover up..
Finally, those SNP spinners briefing that this was all the fault of Nicola’s member of staff, who met with Mr Armstrong, are contemptible pieces of human detritus who have no place in any system of government.