‘I am the First Minister, not the office gossip’

The stench grows thicker around the SNP hierarchy. A distinct odour of something-isn’t-right-here. Peter Murrell, party chief executive and spouse of Nicola Sturgeon, appeared before Holyrood’s Alex Salmond inquiry on Tuesday. His evidence had more holes than Turnberry and there are already calls for him to be hauled back.

But when the Scottish Tory leader turned to the matter at First Minister’s Questions, wounded indignation was the tactic of the hour.

‘Ruth Davidson might want to attack my husband and use him as a weapon against me,’ Nicola Sturgeon sniffed.

Davidson had made no mention of Sturgeon’s relationship to Murrell, yet suddenly he was no longer a party official but the First Minister’s beloved and querying his inconsistent statements before a parliamentary inquiry a low-blow swipe at an opponent’s family.

No doubt one of Sturgeon’s clever advisers thought this was a powerful line that would cut through on a human level. Except, normal people don’t deploy their marriage as a tactical deflection against hard questions. For a first minister who already has a weirdness problem, it was a very weird thing to do.

Davidson is made of sterner stuff and didn’t flinch: ‘I am asking about that because a group of women who came forward were utterly let down by the First Minister’s government… If the First Minister does not want to answer for the consequences of her government’s actions, shame on her.’

The last three words stung, as they were meant to. Sturgeon protested: ‘I care about the implications for the women who came forward with complaints and for any women who feel the need to come forward with complaints in the future.’

Davidson got rough. ‘Nicola Sturgeon seems to think that all our heads button up the back,’ she hissed. We were asked to believe, she said, that the SNP’s chief executive ‘popped his head round the door’ to see Salmond, Sturgeon, their chiefs of staff and Salmond’s lawyer ‘all sitting unannounced in his living room’ but had ‘never asked a single question, then or since, about what that was all about’.

It was all true, Sturgeon maintained. ‘I do not gossip about those things, even to my husband,’ she insisted. ‘I am the First Minister of the country, not the office gossip.’ This from the ruthless political operator who revealed details of a phone conversation with Kezia Dugdale during a TV debate. Methinks the lady doth have an absolute brass neck.

Then she returned to her opening salvo. ‘I understand why Ruth Davidson wants to drag my husband into these matters but the fact is that he had no role,’ she whimpered, as though she was the politician of the family and Peter did three days a week in Primark.

Her every effort to mask the bad smell lingering around her government and her party only makes the whiff grow stronger.

Problems abound elsewhere, including at BiFab, which Sturgeon was meant to have saved in 2017, as Willie Rennie reminded her: ‘The First Minister boasted to the workers that she had saved their jobs, but she will not, I suspect, be back to hand out their P45s.’ Rennie presents as a loveable Lib Dem who just wants to give the world a big hug. Sometimes, though, his arms are lined with barbed wire. He pleaded with her not to announce another working group: ‘If the SNP’s working groups created work, we would have full employment by now.’

You’ll never guess who was to blame: ‘There are issues around the renewables supply chain that involve us getting people round the table, not least, with the UK government, which still holds so many of the powers.’

If Sturgeon was a game show host — and the way things are going at BBC Scotland, I wouldn’t rule it out — it’d be called The Blame Game and contestants would have to guess who was at fault for every Scottish Government bungle. There’d be no need for 50:50 and Phone A Friend would just be a direct line to the House of Commons switchboard.

Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Letters: scotletters@dailymail.co.uk.

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