On receipt of an official government memo, leaked by a senior civil servant, the Daily Telegraph newspaper published on 3 April an account of a meeting between Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and the French Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Sylvie Bermann. According to this document the First Minister was purported to have said that she would prefer to see David Cameron remain in Downing Street after the general election, and that she did not see Ed Miliband as “Prime Minister material.” Immediately upon the publication of the paper both Her Excellency Sylvie Bermann and Nicola Sturgeon denied that these things were said in their discussion. What was known for sure from the first was that this leak came from the Scotland Office; the headquarters of the British administration in Scotland (based in London and Edinburgh).
By the following morning Sir Jeremy Heywood, Cabinet Secretary, had ordered a full leak inquiry; not so much to save the reputations of the First Minister of Scotland and the French Ambassador, but to discover who had leaked official secrets. Almost seven weeks after the launch of the investigation it had become clear that the leak came from the higher echelons of the Scotland Office.
Throughout the general election campaign Alastair Carmichael, the Secretary of State and standing MP for Orkney and Shetland, denied that he was the source and claimed repeatedly that the first he heard of the serious breach of official protocol was when he read of it in the Telegraph. As the noose of the Heywood Inquiry tightened about his neck he decided to come clean in a letter – dated 22 May 2015 – stating that he took full responsibility for the leak, and acknowledged that its contents were a fabrication. The source of the lie and the leak was none other than the chief Minister of the British state in Scotland.
As we understand it, this admission may now mean that both Alastair Carmichael MP and the Daily Telegraph journalist concerned are in breach of Section 5 of the Official Secrets Act (1989), a criminal offense which carries a penalty of up to two years imprisonment. There are of course a number of other concerns which arise from his actions.
Outside of Scotland and the United Kingdom this incident has caused embarrassment to a foreign diplomat; an ambassador of one of Britain’s allies and closest trade partners. It is likely that this sullying of Sylvie Bermann’s reputation in an attempt to gain political points at home will cost Britain abroad. Jobs in Scotland and all over the UK rely on trade agreements made at diplomatic levels. It is never a good idea to implicate foreign diplomats in cheap political lies and dirty tricks. With David Cameron looking for closer friendships in Europe as he approaches his economically and politically suicidal referendum on the EU this incident is likely to cost him some trust points in Paris.
At home in Scotland this fiasco should make us think about what was actually going on in the Scotland Office when the decision was made to tell blatant lies about the First Minister during a general election campaign when the Union was losing ground to the First Minister’s Scottish National Party. Was this the initiative of Carmichael, or was he instructed to do something by his superiors in the British government? At present this question will have to remain speculation, but it is not beyond the realm of possibility that London would interfere in Scotland.
From his leaking of the document to his election as MP for Orkney and Shetland Alastair Carmichael knew that he had lied, and he continued to deny his actions. What this means is that those who elected him, his constituents, did so without informed consent. Scotland has shown itself to the whole world as a bright shining light of democracy, but this democracy falls flat on its face when the voters are deceived. People on Orkney and Shetland elected this man in good faith while he was lying to them and to the whole country. He now stands guilty, by his own admission, of libel and in possible criminal breach of the Official Secrets Act. We feel that it is important that the competent legal authorities investigate his actions fully, and that he tender his resignation as a Member of Parliament and make way for a better representative.
The Butterfly Rebellion