Friday, 10 May 2013

Salmond Accused - A Triumph of Rhetoric over Substance

A recent article in the Scotsman contained a headline that screamed: 'Salmond accused of ‘false statements’ about detention of You’ve been Trumped film-maker Anthony Baxter.'

Shock, horror! Mr Salmond is accused of "making false statements", "grossly distorting the facts", "hiding behind an utterly discredited report by a Grampian police officer" and now making a "sudden intervention" regarding the arrest, detention and release without charge of film maker Anthony Baxter and a colleague in July 2010.

Before going to the shed to get your pitchforks and heading down to Bute House to lynch the First Minister, perhaps you should read the Scotsman article again to see through The Scotsman's "any chance to bash Salmond" perspective.  One has to read it at least twice to discern any actual facts.
Let's consider the last accusation first. What's brought about Mr Salmond's dramatic "sudden intervention"?

Oh, some of his constituents wrote to him as their constituency MSP after seeing the film and he has fairly timeously replied to them.  So we're actually talking about humdrum, routine MSP's constituency business responding to constituents' letters.  Hardly the histrionic "sudden intervention" alluded to in the article.

Is Mr Salmond "hiding behind an utterly discredited report by a Grampian police officer"?  It may surprise you to learn that, on receiving a letter about an issue from constituents, MPs and MSPs do not don the deerstalker and Inverness cape, cry "The game's afoot!" and set about investigating the case, dispatching any alleged miscreants en route to the truth.

They ask the department(s) or agency(ies) concerned for a response.  They then consider that response and, if it appears sound, forward it to the constituent with a covering letter.  I myself have drafted more than a few responses to Parliamentary enquiries in my time, it's no big deal.

So Mr Salmond has done what every MP and MSP does.  He's hardly "hiding behind" Chf. Constable McKerracher.  Of course, if the constituents to whom he is responding are not content with the response, they are at liberty to point out any apparent holes or inconsistencies in the response and ask their MSP to dig deeper.  That is the normal course of correspondence with an MP or MSP.

So now we come to the alleged "false statements" and "gross distortion of facts".  This seems to centre around the fact that Chf. Con. McKerracher thought Mr Baxter considered the matter of his arrest, detention and release closed.

Did Messrs Baxter and Phinney personally make a formal police complaint to the Chf. Con. about their arrest and detention at the time in July 2010 or shortly afterwards?  It appears they did not.

In September 2010, the NUJ wrote to Chf. Con. McKerracher about alleged targeting of journalists.  Chf. Con. McKerracher investigated the issue and responded to the NUJ in December 2010 conceding that the constables could have handled the situation better, reporting that they had been counselled and assuring the NUJ that journalists were not being targeted.

Did the NUJ or Messrs Phinney and Baxter respond to the Chf. Con. following his letter expressing any dissatisfaction with his actions or conclusions?  It appears not.  I think it's therefore quite fair for Chf. Con. McKerracher to conclude that Messrs Baxter and Phinney considered the matter "closed", and for Mr Salmond to communicate Chf. Con. McKerracher’s views to his constituents.

So, all in all, a non-story.