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We Deserve Better

We can't tolerate any more of this pish.

Thursday, February 1, 2024
7 mins

Nae Merr Ay This Pish!

by Rab Clark

Following Nicola Sturgeon’s long-anticipated appearance at the UK Covid Inquiry yesterday, what is to be done?

Some remain impressed by Sturgeon and are convinced that she is competent, that she led Scotland through the pandemic as well as she could and that her interrogation was in some way vindictive, seeking to prove that she is obsessed with Scottish independence and used every opportunity to score points over the UK government. Those supporters seemed content with her performance yesterday and claimed some kind of ‘victory’. Others, among whom we count ourselves, are thoroughly sick of the sight and sound of Sturgeon and her deputies and can barely contemplate the prospect of having to hear yet more from them as this inquiry grinds on and some of the same faces are summoned to explain their role in the conspiracy to jail Alex Salmond on fictitious charges.

The feelings of both camps (and those with no dog in the fight) are irrelevant. As are the ‘feelings’ of Baroness Hallett and the lawyers involved in the process. The only ‘feelings’ relevant in this tragic episode are those of the families of the bereaved and injured and we suspect that we will be hearing much more from them and their legal representatives in due course. 

No Kings Counsel, no matter how brilliant, can elicit ‘truth’ from people who have spent decades learning how to avoid questions. Filibustering is more commonly associated with protracted debates in the Houses of Parliament where the disgraceful tactic is still deployed on occasion to run down available debating time in order to secure this or that outcome. What we have seen in the past few weeks (and in many previous inquiries over recent decades) amounts to the same thing. 

(Some readers may wish to leave at this point because we are about to attempt a brief analysis of what Sturgeon said yesterday. If it is even half as grim to read as it was to transcribe then we urge caution before proceeding any further…)


Jamie Dawson (KC): But that wasn’t the question you were asked. You were asked the question as to whether you would disclose emails, whatsapps, personal emails if you were using them, whatever. He didn’t ask you the question as to whether the material that was contained within the discussions exchanged via those media was recorded in the corporate record. He asked whether emails, whatsapps, private emails, whatever would be disclosed and you gave an assurance that they would be.


Nicola Sturgeon:  And I, you know, as will have been the case in, eh, many occasions, eh, over the course of, eh, not just the covid pandemic but in my many years in politics, answering questions when you’re answering questions you’re trying to answer the substance of the question and when you look back at the literal terms of the answer, eh, it can be put to you in that way so I accept that and I apologise if that answer, eh was, eh, not as clear but I also want to be very clear and give the inquiry, eh, a personal assurance, eh, that I am certain, that the inquiry has at its disposal, em, anything and everything germane to my decision-making during, eh, the the process, eh, and the time period of the pandemic and the factors underpinning, eh, those decisions. That has always been important to me, em, and, it remains important to me but more importantly than that it’s essential to the scrutiny of the decisions, eh, that I will carry the impact of these decisions with me forever and I want to make sure that those who come after me in politics eh have the benefit of the learning, eh, the things that my government did right and the things that my government did not, that were not right or with hindsight that we wish we had done differently. I cannot, eh, say strongly enough how important that is to me. Eh, these decisions were of a magnitude, eh, beyond what I had ever experienced and that is true of decision-makers everywhere and, eh, the impact of them, em I think about literally every day (voice breaks) and I want this inquiry and the Scottish inquiry to scrutinise those decisions so that we can learn and future governments can learn appropriate lessons from them.


That is, we believe, a fair and accurate transcription of the exchange. What it cannot capture is the body language of Sturgeon and the cadence of her delivery. The link is here: COVID Inquiry: Sturgeon sorry for saying WhatsApps would be released - when they'd been deleted (youtube.com)

Some will assert that Sturgeon’s response there was honest. Others maintain it is typical of the kind of bloviating guff we’ve become accustomed to. So we thought it might be a good idea to check with an impartial observer, in this case Google’s ‘Bard’ AI tool. Here’s our question followed by Bard’s response

OTS: Could you please do a critical analysis of this question and answer? Has the question been satisfactorily addressed?

Google Bard: The question posed by Jamie Dawson KC is clear and direct: Did Nicola Sturgeon assure the inquiry that she would disclose all emails, WhatsApps, and personal emails related to her decision-making during the pandemic?

Answer:

Nicola Sturgeon's answer is lengthy and somewhat convoluted. Here's a breakdown:

  • Initial defense: She acknowledges potentially misinterpreting the question due to the pressure of answering numerous inquiries.
  • Assurance of transparency: She assures the inquiry she has provided "anything and everything" relevant to her decision-making.
  • Emphasis on learning: She highlights the importance of scrutinizing decisions for future learning and improvement.
  • Emotional impact: She expresses the weight of the decisions and her desire for future transparency.

Addressing the Question:

While Sturgeon expresses commitment to transparency, she doesn't directly address Dawson's question of whether she promised to disclose all communications. Her answer focuses on her intention to provide relevant information but avoids mentioning an explicit assurance about the scope of disclosure.

Critical Points:

  • Ambiguity: The answer lacks clarity on whether Sturgeon truly made the blanket assurance Dawson claims.
  • Deflection: The focus on the burden of decision-making and the importance of learning could be seen as deflecting from the specific question of her initial commitment.
  • Emotional Appeal: The emotional element might resonate with some but could also be seen as an attempt to shift the focus away from the specific question.

Overall:

The exchange leaves some ambiguity about whether Sturgeon definitively promised to disclose all communications. While she expresses commitment to transparency, her answer doesn't directly address Dawson's claim. The focus on other aspects and the emotional appeal add further complexity to the interpretation.

Additional Notes:

  • It's important to remember this is just one excerpt from a larger exchange. Analyzing the full context might provide further insights.
  • The inquiry is ongoing, and further details about the communications in question might emerge.


We Deserve Better

We don’t know if it’s possible to tackle this kind of behaviour. What we do know for sure is that no-one (who isn’t being paid to do so) has the time to sit and listen to hour after hour of self-serving evasion, doublespeak, circular reasoning, non-sequiturs and torturous appeals for pity masquerading as ‘testimony.
If politicians and civil servants generally were made aware that inquiries of this kind had the power to keep them in situ until they answered the questions put to them honestly and understood that they would be punished heavily if they didn’t, we might reasonably expect to see some improvement. But how can they be persuaded that telling ‘the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’ is not optional? Truth serum? Thumbscrews? The possibility that Baroness Hallett will, eventually, produce an excoriating report does not seem to have troubled some witnesses any more than the near-certainty that they have committed perjury. 

But worse - much worse - than the fate awaiting those found to have craftily misled the inquiry or clumsily lied under oath is the continuing distress of the families who lost loved ones for no good reason - citizens who suffered grievously and were entitled to expect answers. Instead, they’ve been left with more questions.
As Jamie Dawson observed during his final questions, the people of Scotland deserve better.


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