Alex Salmond ‘displayed bullying and intimidatory behaviour’

But former permanent secretary Sir Peter Housden said there were 'no indication at any stage' of sexual misconduct.

Alex Salmond: Cleared of all criminal charges in the spring. Jeff J Mitchell via Getty Images
Alex Salmond: Cleared of all criminal charges in the spring.

MSPs have heard of how Alex Salmond was known to display “bullying and intimidatory behaviour” during his time as First Minister.

Giving evidence to a special Holyrood committee, Salmond’s former permanent secretary Sir Peter Housden said he was aware of “concerns” about the ex-FM’s conduct.

But Sir Peter stressed there had been no indications or suggestions of sexual misconduct from Salmond.

He added that no formal complaints had been made against any Scottish ministers during his time as permanent secretary from 2010 to 2015.

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Sir Peter served as the Scottish Government’s top civil servant for four years under Salmond, who resigned after the 2014 independence referendum.

He was speaking under oath to the committee on the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment complaints against the former first minister.

Sir Peter told the inquiry: “I knew that the former first minister could display bullying and intimidatory behaviour.

“I’m not sure how exactly you would define harassment, but bullying and intimidatory behaviour, I knew he could display those behaviours…

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“I knew the situation we were dealing with.”

But he declined to say if he spoke to Nicola Sturgeon, then the deputy first minister, about these issues, arguing the civil service code of confidentiality meant he could not disclose who he discussed with.

He did, however, add that usual protocol would have seen him discuss any such concerns with a senior member of the administration.

Pressed repeatedly by Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton on if he had ever personally witnessed bullying behaviour or shouting at staff from Salmond, Sir Peter eventually replied: “No.”

He continued: “I was well aware in the way that I’ve described that those behaviours took place.

“I had a number of conversations with people who had been on the receiving end of that and as I indicated, many conversations as to what we could do to prevent their occurrence.”

“There was no indication at any stage in my time in the Scottish Government, or indeed before, no suggestions of sexual misconduct,” Sir Peter added.

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He said he had worked in close proximity to the former first minister’s during his time as the country’s top civil servant, and said in the main it ran well, with staff motivated and excited to be there.

Sir Peter said this positive atmosphere was occasionally “punctuated” by issues with Salmond’s behaviour.

The special inquiry was set up in 2019 to examine how the claims were dealt with after Salmond successfully sued the Scottish Government over its handling of them.

The Court of Session ruled the way the government investigated the two complaints was “unlawful”, “procedurally unfair” and “tainted with apparent bias”.

The SNP administration was forced to pay the former first minister more than £512,000 in damages.

The complaints were made in 2018 – shortly after the Scottish Government changed its complaints procedure – but dated back to Salmond’s time in Bute House in 2013.

While not directly related, the claims triggered Police Scotland’s separate investigation into the former first minister.

This then led to a High Court trial earlier this year where Salmond was cleared of all sexual offence charges.

Cole-Hamilton’s line of questioning of Sir Peter around Salmond’s behaviour was eventually curtailed by the special committee convener, SNP MSP Linda Fabiani.

She told the Lib Dem MSP: “We are not putting Mr Salmond on trial here.”

Salmond himself, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, deputy first minister John Swinney and a swathe of past and present officials are to give evidence under oath to the special Scottish Parliament committee.

No change to school Christmas holidays in Scotland

Proposals to standardise the break across Scotland from December 18 to January 11 had been under consideration.

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Christmas holidays: No plans to change the dates in Scotland, John Swinney says.

No changes will be made to the school Christmas holidays, the education secretary has said.

Talks had taken place about standardising the break across Scotland from December 18 to January 11.

The proposal was designed to prevent the spread of coronavirus after families were told they could gather at Christmas.

John Swinney told the Covid-19 committee: “I’ve written this morning to the education and skills committee to confirm that the government intends to make no change to the school holiday arrangements.”

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He had been responding to Donald Cameron MSP, committee convener, who had asked for an update on the government’s position on a possible extension to the school holidays.

However, individual councils could still take the decision to extend the holidays in their local authority.

In his letter to Clare Adamson MSP, convener of the education and skills committee, Swinney said: “The public health advice that I received is to keep schools open as planned as the controlled school environment is more preferable to social mixing outside of school if schools are closed early.

“In addition, vulnerable children may be at greater risk if they are out of
school for an extended period. The view of the chief social work advisor is that being in school is a very significant protective factor for the most vulnerable children and the longer children are out of school the more chance there is of hidden harm.

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“Public health advice is, on balance, that there would be less transmission of Covid-19 through children and young people being in school than mixing out of school.

“Adding this to the issues around vulnerable children and the need for childcare for key worker children, public health advice is to not change term dates at either end. I am also mindful that an extension to the school holidays could cause significant difficulties for working parents.”

In late November, it was confirmed up to three households will be allowed to mix indoors over a five-day period at Christmas.

They will be able to travel between council areas and across the UK during December 23 and 27 to form a ‘bubble’ – but each household must only join one bubble.

The bubbles should contain a maximum of eight people, however children under the age of 12 do not count towards that total.

Teaching union the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) said its members would be disappointed and angry.

General secretary Larry Flanagan said the decision showed “a complete disregard for the concerns and welfare of teachers” and described the position as “political”.

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He added: The EIS had asked that schools move to remote learning in the final week to ensure that senior staff did not find themselves having to work during the Christmas break to deal with any Covid outbreaks and also to minimise the risk for staff, pupils and parents of infections ruining the Christmas break.

“Allowing this would have helped protect staff, students and their families during the festive season and reduce the risk of pupils or teachers being required to self-isolate over Christmas – while also ensuring that education provision continued via remote learning.”

However, parents group UsForThem Scotland said its members welcomed the decision.

Organiser Jo Bisset said: “Taking children out of school for another week would have damaged their education at a time when it’s never been under greater threat.

“It would also have caused parents a severe headache in terms of childcare, especially those who rely on shift work for income.

“The Scottish Government has been right to keep schools open in the face of pressure from the unions, and parents will be very grateful for this latest commitment to education.”

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Coronavirus: 51 deaths and 958 new cases in Scotland

The latest numbers were confirmed by the First Minister on Thursday.

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Coronavirus: 51 deaths and 958 new cases in Scotland.

Another 51 people with coronavirus have died in Scotland, the First Minister has confirmed.

It brings the death toll under the measure of people who first tested positive within the previous 28 days to 3848.

The latest daily numbers, which saw the country record 958 new cases, were revealed by Nicola Sturgeon ahead of First Minister’s Questions.

She said the daily test positivity rate was 4.3%, down from 4.5% on Wednesday.

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A total of 97,720 people have now tested positive in Scotland.

There were 982 people confirmed to have the virus in hospital – 69 of whom were receiving treatment in intensive care.

With vaccinations set to begin in Scotland from Tuesday, Sturgeon said the prospect of returning to normality in the coming months should be an “incentive” for following current rules.

She said: “The prospect of vaccination, and with it a return to something more like normality, should also give us a further incentive in the weeks ahead to keep ourselves and loved ones safe.

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“As ever, all of us can play our part by sticking to the current rules and guidelines.”

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‘Gun fired’ at woman and teenager as police launch probe

Investigation launched into reports a firearm was discharged in Beith.

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Police are investigating alleged shooting in Beith.

A gun was reportedly fired at two people in a North Ayrshire town in the early hours of Thursday morning.

Police are investigating after a woman and a teenager were allegedly shot at on Hawthorn Crescent in Beith.

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “We received a report of an alleged firearm being discharged towards a 53-year-old woman and a 19-year-old man on Hawthorn Crescent, Beith.

“The incident happened around 1.15am on Thursday, 3 December.

“Nobody was injured and enquiries are ongoing to establish the full circumstances.”

Can any opposition parties halt an SNP landslide in May?

A poll by Ipsos Mori for STV News suggests the SNP are on course for a majority at Holyrood.

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The SNP could be set to replicate their 2019 general election success at next year's parliamentary vote.

So the party conference season, in so far as it resembled one, is over. Our tribunes will now go through the parliamentary motions until Christmas, ready for the battle ahead and the sixth election to the Scottish Parliament since its inception in 1999.

Yesterday’s Ipsos MORI poll for STV gives the SNP a commanding lead and should the figures of that poll translate into hard votes, then the party would win an outright majority next May. 

Based on voting preference, the SNP would win 73 seats as against 27 for the Tories, 19 for Scottish Labour and five each for the Greens and Lib Dems.

In so doing, a pro-independence majority would herald a period of entrenched wrangling with Westminster over the holding of a second referendum. With 55% of the vote in Scotland’s constituencies in our poll, the Nationalists will argue their mandate is beyond reproach if such a scenario plays out.

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The poll is consistent with others and begs a simple question, can anything prevent an SNP landslide?

Psephologists will always animate their health warnings: a poll is not an election, it is a mere snapshot of opinion. Events can change and so can voter responses to them, altering electoral dynamics.

But given the election will still be fought in the shadow of Covid and bearing in mind the First Minister’s approval ratings for her stewardship of public health messages, it is difficult to see what can happen to throw the established order of the polls off course.

Opposition MSPs had hoped that the parliamentary committee probing the government’s handling of harassment allegations against Alex Salmond would lead to a run on Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership and ignite a publicly fought war within the SNP which would lead to a fall in support.

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From a distance it seems to this observer that the efforts of the committee are akin to sprinting on ice and it does not look likely, at least at this stage, that it will lead to the kind of schism that will lead to voters thinking twice about their support for the SNP.

The government has frequently been on the backfoot these last five years. From health waiting time targets that are missed to inadequate progress in closing the attainment gap in education, in policy area after policy area the report card on any objective reading concludes ‘must do better’. 

And yet there is no voter revolt, there is no downside when things go wrong. In part, that is down to two factors. Many voters haven’t left the post-2014 referendum bubble and continued support for the SNP is a reflection that constitutional concerns trumps any misgivings over the party’s record in government. Brexit has hardened that attitude.

The other factor that works in the SNP’s favour is the failure of the opposition parties to make any real progress. Our poll gives Scottish Labour 14%. The support for the Scottish Conservatives at 22% reflects their status as choice for the more hardened unionist.

Given the number of times ministers are on the backfoot in parliament, it is impossible not to conclude that a large section of the voting public prefer the SNP because they simply would not entrust government to any opposition party.

The poll ratings for the SNP are remarkable given they have been in power for 13 years. In part, they are also an excoriating indictment of Holyrood’s opposition parties. Over a decade of the SNP in government, the opposition and not the party in power preside over electoral decline.

This is especially true of Scottish Labour. There was a rather clumsy attempt to politically assassinate Richard Leonard a few months back but the hit squad brought pea shooters to the gunfight.

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Scottish Labour’s position is in contrast to the party south of the border. A poll this week put the party within a point of the Tories a year on from the Johnson landslide. Sir Keir Starmer is generally well regarded by voters in sharp contrast to the aforementioned Leonard.

If Labour’s poll ratings translate to actual votes in Scotland then Leonard will go the same way of Jeremy Corbyn. At FMQs he often picks good subjects but frequently fails to make an impact. Older party heads must think, oh for a John Smith or a Donald Dewar, how different things might be.

It is not only the lack of gravitas that afflicts Scottish Labour. They have nothing sellable, let alone unique, to say on the constitution and that does not bode well when it is the very issue of how the country is governed that takes primacy over policy areas in the eyes of voters who not so long ago gave Labour their support.

The Tories made progress last time around replacing Labour as the main opposition party but the brakes on further progress appear have been hit. The ‘Boris’ factor may be a positive, albeit a diminishing one in England but he simply does not play here and Scottish Tories know that.

Add Brexit to the mix and you sense that the setback the Scottish Conservatives endured last December will orchestrate an uncomfortable mood music going into the election.

Objectively, it’s hard to see the SNP being blown off course. In politics nothing is certain. Events can recast the status quo at frightening speed.

For all that, the current trends would suggest removing Nicola Sturgeon from Bute House is an eviction beyond the ken of Messrs Ross, Leonard, Rennie and Harvie.


Engineering firm BiFab plunges into administration

Collapse comes after Scottish Government ruled out nationalising the company.

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BiFab has yards in Fife and Lewis.

Burntisland Fabrications (BiFab) has entered administration after Scottish ministers ruled out nationalising the company.

Canada-based DF Barnes bought the engineering firm in 2018 but said it was “not an investable company at the time” and it was understood the Scottish Government would be the “primary financiers”.

That was after BiFab, which has yards in Burntisland and Methil in Fife as well as one on Lewis, had to be rescued by the Scottish Government in 2017.

The firm had been preparing to put up to 500 employees back to work on a wind turbine scheme when it emerged ministers could no longer provide the necessary financial support.

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A £2bn deal subsequently collapsed to manufacture eight turbine jackets at its yard in Methil as part of the Neart Na Gaoithe (NnG) project.

In a statement, the firm said: “BiFab can confirm that the board has agreed to place the company in administration following the Scottish Government’s decision to remove contract assurances.

“The company has worked tirelessly to bring jobs into Fife and Lewis with some success.

“However, the absence of supply chain protections in Scotland and the wider UK have consistently undermined our ability to compete with government-owned and government-supported yards outside and inside the European Union.

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“We would urge the Scottish and UK Governments to address these structural challenges as a matter of urgency in order to ensure that the benefits of offshore renewables are shared more widely with communities across the country.”

The Scottish Government argued state aid rules prevented it from bailing out the company.

Economy secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “I know this will be an extremely worrying time for BiFab’s workers and we will continue to do everything in our power to support them and stand ready to work with any company interesting in taking on the yards.

“The Scottish Government has been working for more than three years to support BiFab through the financial difficulties it has faced and remains committed to securing a future for the yards and the workforce.

“As a minority shareholder, we have been exhaustive in our consideration of the options available to us to support BiFab. There is no legal route for either the Scottish Government or the UK Government to provide further financial support to the company as things stand.

“In order to successfully secure and deliver new contracts, BiFab required working capital, the provision of appropriate assurance packages by the shareholders, and plans for investment at the sites.

“Despite commitments made at the time of acquisition, this is something the majority shareholder JV Driver was not willing to provide to secure future work.”

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Unions said the lack of further financial support had left “industrial ruins” in Fife and Lewis.

In a joint statement, GMB Scotland and Unite Scotland said: “BiFab’s administration exposes the myth of Scotland’s renewables revolution as well as a decade of political hypocrisy and failure, in Scotland and the rest of the UK.

“The workers and communities dependent on these yards have fought so hard for a future and everyone was hoping that 2021 would finally be the turning point.

“Shamefully the Scottish Government has buried these hopes just in time for Christmas and they have worked together with UK Government in doing so.

“A decade on from the promise of a ‘Saudi Arabia of renewables’ and 28,000 full time jobs in offshore wind manufacturing, we’ve been left with industrial ruins in Fife and Lewis.”


Scots wake up to snow and ice following weather warning

The Met Office issued a warning for snow and ice for parts of Scotland up until midday on Thursday.

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Snow: Parts of Scotland wake up to wintery weather.

Parts of Scotland have woken up to snow and ice following a yellow weather warning. 

The Met Office issued a warning for snow and ice for the central belt, parts of the Borders and the Highlands up until midday on Thursday.

Traffic Scotland warned drivers of wintery conditions on the roads and gritters were deployed across most of Scotland to treat the roads. 

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A number of roads were closed in the early hours following a series of crashes, Traffic Scotland said. 

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Scots in the north west were expected to see 2cm of snow by Thursday morning, with 2-5cm above 200m and up to 10cm over some of the highest routes.

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Some snow could also reach the Southern Uplands, according to the weather warning.

STV meteorologist Sean Batty said: “I’d say this is going to be the first ‘proper cold’ we’ve had so far this season with snow settling on high ground down to about 200m in some areas, something we’ve not experienced since spring.”


Peer faces suspension over homophobic abuse of SNP MP

A probe was launched into the conduct of Lord Maginnis' treatment of Livingston MP Hannah Bardell and three other complainants.

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Livingston MP Hannah Bardell reported Lord Maginnis to police.

Lord Maginnis should be suspended from the House of Lords for at least 18 months for the bullying and harassment of SNP MP Hannah Bardell and three other complainants, the peers’ standards watchdog has recommended.

The recommendation from the Lords Conduct Committee follows an investigation into the Northern Irish peer’s treatment of Ms Bardell, as well as a parliamentary security officer and MPs Luke Pollard and Toby Perkins.

Lord Maginnis was investigated after being “verbally abusive” to security officer Christian Bombolo when asked to show his parliamentary pass in January.

Ms Bardell witnessed the incident with Mr Bombolo and complained that when she attempted to intervene she was treated “rudely and aggressively by Lord Maginnis, who later used “homophobic and derogatory language about her” in comments to the media.

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Lord Maginnis was also investigated for using homophobic language in relation to Mr Pollard in February.

Ms Bardell said the experience had made a profound impact on her mental and emotional health.

She said: “I appreciate that an 18-month ban is a serious sanction and that Lord Maginnis’ return to the House of Lords will be dependant on him undertaking a ‘dedicated course of bespoke behaviour change and coaching’.

“However, I consider it likely that if this had happened in any normal workplace in the UK and someone behaved in such a systematically abusive, bullying and homophobic way, which the report clearly states he has, they would be shown the door.”

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The Lords Conduct Committee suggested Lord Maginnis’ suspension could be extended if he does not undergo training and change his ways.

Peers will have to approve the report before the suspension comes into force.

Gold poured at Scotland’s first commercial goldmine

The milestone happened on Monday at Scotgold Resources Cononish gold and silver mine near Stirling.

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Gold rush: Production is planned to be ramped up in the new year.

Gold has been poured at Scotland’s first commercial goldmine.

The milestone happened on Monday at Scotgold Resources Cononish gold and silver mine near Stirling.

Production is planned to be ramped up in the new year, and it is hoped an annual rate of ore production of 36,000 tonnes and total gold production of 9910 ounces can be achieved in 2021.

The company said it is now focused on completing an accelerated expansion plan to increase production at the mine to 23,500 ounces a year.

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The current first phase is targeting an annual rate of ore production of 36,000 tonnes and total gold production of 9910 ounces in 2021.

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The milestone happened on Monday at Scotgold Resources.

Phase two will focus on doubling the annual rate of ore production to 72,000 tonnes and more than doubling average annual gold production to 23,500 ounces.

The company is fully funded to achieve phase two expansion by May 2022, 17 months from the start of phase one production.

Richard Gray, Scotgold chief executive, said: “Our first gold pour is not only a significant milestone in the development of our Cononish gold and silver project but a milestone on the road to a Scottish gold mining industry. 

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“Today’s news is therefore a landmark event both for the company and for Scotland.

“I would like to take this opportunity to commend the work of the Scotgold team both at the operational and managerial levels. 

“All our personnel have worked tirelessly to make this happen in the face of unprecedented challenges caused not least by the ongoing pandemic and associated restrictions.

“I would also like to thank our shareholders, contractors, advisers, regulatory agencies, the Scottish Government and all stakeholders in the project for their support throughout this journey.”


Cyclist killed in A90 crash with two other vehicles

The 52-year-old died at the scene in Aberdeenshire on Wednesday afternoon.

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Police are appealing for witnesses to come forward.

A cyclist has been killed in a crash involving two other vehicles.

Police were called to the scene on the A90 near Boddam in Aberdeenshire at around 2.30pm on Wednesday.

The 52-year-old cyclist died at the scene.

Police Scotland said: “The road was closed for six hours to allow for collision investigation work and reopened around 8.30pm.

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“Anyone with information that can help with our inquiries into what happened is asked to call us on 101, quoting incident 1710 of Wednesday December 2.”


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