£7.1m boost for Scotland’s live venues and museums

The money is part of a £185m package announced for businesses earlier this month.

Covid-19: The money is part of a £185m package announced for businesses earlier this month. Deepblue4you via Getty Images
Covid-19: The money is part of a £185m package announced for businesses earlier this month.

The Scottish Government is to release £7.1m of coronavirus support funds to help live music venues and independent museums.

The money is part of a £185m package announced for businesses earlier this month.

A total of £4m from the Grassroots Music Venue Stabilisation Fund will go live in January.

It aims to help live music venues that were financially sustainable before the pandemic stay in business and stabilise until April.

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The Scottish Government will also top up the Museums Recovery and Resilience Fund by £3.1m to meet demand.

The money will support Scottish independent museums.

Culture secretary Fiona Hyslop said the funds “will make a marked difference in ensuring our culture and heritage sectors survive the pandemic”.

Beverley Whitrick, strategic director at Music Venue Trust, said: “We have worked closely with the Scottish Government on the funding required to sustain grassroots music venues across Scotland.

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“We are delighted that further support is forthcoming to secure these vital cultural spaces through until the spring.”

Bridge Street Social in Aberdeen is among the businesses to benefit from the fund.

JP McGivney from the venue said: “The first round for funding for Grassroots Music Venues was essential for us, and it was targeted to last only a short time.

“As restrictions have not eased, it became clear we would need further support to prevent permanent closure, so news of a second phase of this fund is very welcome.”


SNP reveals 11-point ‘roadmap’ to independence referendum

Document says 'legal referendum' will be held after the pandemic if there is a pro-independence majority following May's election.

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Mike Russell will present document to SNP's policy forum.

The SNP has revealed a “roadmap to a referendum” on Scottish independence, setting out how they intend to take forward their plans for a second vote.

Mike Russell, the Scottish Government’s Constitution Secretary, will present the 11-point document to the party’s policy forum on Sunday.

It says a “legal referendum” will be held after the pandemic if there is a pro-independence majority following May’s election.

The roadmap states any attempt by the UK Government to challenge the legality of the referendum in the courts will be “vigorously opposed”.

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A Section 30 order – part of the Scotland Act 1998 which allows Holyrood to pass laws normally reserved to Westminster – was granted by the UK Government ahead of the 2014 independence referendum.

Russell says the UK Government could either agree that Holyrood already has the power to hold a second referendum or agree to a Section 30 order – something he said would put the question of legality “beyond any doubt”.

Boris Johnson has repeatedly stated his opposition to a second independence referendum.

As the roadmap document was published on Saturday, Russell said: “I firmly believe that Scotland’s referendum must be beyond legal challenge to ensure legitimacy and acceptance at home and abroad.

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“This is the surest way by far to becoming an independent country.

“The referendum should be held after the pandemic, at a time to be decided by the democratically elected Scottish Parliament. The SNP believes that should be in the early part of the new term.”

He continued: “Today I am setting out how I believe that right can be secured, and I welcome the discussion that will take place around this idea and others.

“But what is absolutely not for discussion is the fact that if Scotland votes for a legal referendum on May 6 this year, that is what it will get.

“The SNP Scottish Government will deliver such a referendum if re-elected and the proposals I am putting forward make that very clear.”

Around 1000 party members are expected to take part in the SNP’s national assembly tomorrow, a policy forum chaired by deputy leader Keith Brown.

Opposition parties accused the SNP of putting the push for independence ahead of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Scottish Labour interim leader Jackie Baillie said: “Scotland is deep in turmoil with thousands facing a cost of living crisis and thousands more people being lost to the virus.

“It is inexcusable that at this time of acute crisis the SNP seeks to put its plan for independence above everything else.

“The people of Scotland are being badly let down by an incompetent UK Government and a Scottish Government that seeks to exploit the current crisis for its own ends.

“To turn your back on those most in need by banging the drum for another independence referendum is an act of political hubris and is truly revealing of the Scottish Government’s true priorities.”

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross tweeted: “When 100% of our focus should be on recovering from the pandemic, the SNP are charging ahead with plans for another referendum.

“We won’t let them get their way.”

Doorstep campaigning ‘not allowed under Covid rules’

Cabinet Office says leafletting not considered 'essential' activity during the coronavirus lockdown.

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Scottish Parliament election scheduled to take place in early May.

Political parties have been urged to halt their in-person campaigning during the current lockdown.

The Cabinet Office said leafletting and door-to-door campaigning was “not considered (an) essential or necessary activity”.

Scottish Parliament elections are due to take place in May, along with those for Mayor of London, the Welsh Parliament and local authorities in England.

Many of these were postponed from May 2020 due to coronavirus, and Cabinet Office minister Chloe Smith said the Government is reviewing how this year’s polls can be “successfully delivered in a Covid-secure way”.

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In a letter to members of the Parliamentary Parties Panel, she wrote: “The Government’s view is that (the) restrictions do not support door to door campaigning or leafleting by individual political party activists.

“It is widely accepted that voters can continue to get campaigning information remotely. In order to reduce transmission of Covid-19 infection, door to door campaigning at this point in time is therefore not considered essential or necessary activity.

“I hope that you will all agree that it is essential that we reduce the infection rate, protect the NHS and save lives.

“I would ask that all parties follow this advice, and ensure that your supporters are aware of this position.”

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Last Sunday, Sir Ed Davey of the Liberal Democrats defended his party for continuing to carry out door-to-door leafleting during the pandemic, adding that it is “compliant with the guidance”.

Asked if it was an appropriate action to take following the Government’s stay-at-home message on BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Sir Ed said: “Yes. If it is compliant with the guidance, absolutely.”

Pushed further on whether it is compliant with the stay-at-home guidance, the party’s leader said: “The guidance says there is an exemption for volunteer organisations, we’ve taken legal advice on that, and the advice we’ve given to all our councillors and volunteers is they need to wear a mask, they need to socially distance, they need to sanitise their hands.

“We’re taking all the sorts of precautions that Amazon takes, that Royal Mail takes.”

MSPs back bill enshrining rights for local councils into law

Former Green MSP Andy Wightman has brought forward a Member's Bill at Holyrood.

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Holyrood: MSPs have backed.

MSPs have backed a bid to enshrine protections for local councils into Scots law – even though they questioned what impact the legislation will have.

Former Green MSP Andy Wightman has brought forward a Member’s Bill at Holyrood which seeks to incorporate the European Charter of Local Self-Government into Scots law.

The charter, created in 1985, sets out a number of rights for local government, making clear they have a right to be consulted on issues which concern them, and should be able to set local taxes to raise part of their income.

The charter also states councils should have “sufficiently diversified and buoyant” sources of finance to be able to afford the services they provide and to keep pace with increased demand, and it makes clear that cash for local authorities, as far as possible, should not be earmarked for specific purposes.

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But with the Scottish Government insisting it is “already bound to adhere to the principles set out in the Bill”, MSPs on Holyrood’s Local Government Committee questioned what impact Mr Wightman’s proposals will have.

Their report said: “The prospect of the Bill having much financial impact, either on councils or on central government, or of it leading to a step-change in the way councils work and provide services, has been doubted.”

However MSPs heard some in the sector feel the European Charter of Local Self-Government (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill could be “potentially transformative in terms of the constitutional and working relationship between the state and local government”.

The committee said it does not agree with Mr Wightman that local government in Scotland has been “neglected” under devolution.

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But it added: “We agree that there is room for a levelling-up in the relationship between Holyrood and the local government sector.
“Incorporating the charter into Scots law is not a magic wand and some expectations expressed in evidence about what the Bill may achieve could be seen as unrealistic.

“But we agree that passing the Bill creates the opportunity and space for local and central government to recommit together to an effective, respectful and inclusive working partnership.”

Committee convener James Dornan said: “Across the political divide, there is a strong consensus that we need to have a successful local government sector in Scotland that can meet the needs of the communities it serves.

“Whilst this legislation is certainly not a panacea, the committee all agreed that it could have a positive impact in helping to reinforce the status of local authorities.”

Alison Evison, president of local government organisation Cosla, welcomed the report and described the committee’s backing of the Bill as “great news”.

She added the legislation “would mean that Scotland would no longer be one of the last remaining jurisdictions in Europe not to have given the charter the direct legal standing it deserves”.

She said: “I was particularly pleased that the committee thought that the Bill would act as a spur for local and central government to co-operate effectively – this has long been the position of Cosla and that can only be good news for our communities.”


Salmond urged to give evidence as order issued for documents

MSPs took the unprecedented step of issuing a notice to the Crown Office under part of the Scotland Act, demanding a number of documents.

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Alex Salmond: Given a deadline to appear before MSPs.

Alex Salmond has been given a deadline by which to appear before MSPs probing the Scottish Government’s botched handling of harassment complaints against him.

Linda Fabiani, the convener of the specially established committee, wrote to the former first minister after he refused to come to Holyrood and answer questions from them on February 2 – citing health and safety concerns in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

It comes as MSPs on the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints took the unprecedented step of issuing a notice to the Crown Office under part of the Scotland Act, demanding a number of documents.

The notice, formally issued by Holyrood chief executive David McGill, states that the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) “may hold documents relevant and necessary for the committee to fulfil its remit”.

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The committee is seeking the release of documents detailing text or WhatsApp communications between SNP chief operating officer Susan Ruddick and Scottish Government ministers, civil servants or special advisers from between August 2018 and January 2019, that may be relevant to the inquiry.

It also wants to see any documents linked to the leaking of complaints to the Daily Record newspaper in August 2018.

It is the first time ever a Holyrood committee has issued such a notice, and Fabiani said: “Throughout this inquiry, the committee has been determined to get as much information as possible to inform its task.”

She said MSPs on the committee had agreed to use “powers under Section 23 of the Scotland Act to require the Crown Office to produce a number of documents”.

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The committee convener added: “This is a step that hasn’t been taken lightly, and is a first for this Parliament, but which the committee felt was needed as it continues its vital work.”

The Crown Office has been given till 5pm on January 29 to respond to the notice – which was was issued as Fabiani wrote to the former first minister in a bid to agree a date for him to give evidence.

A letter from Salmond’s lawyers cited “health and safety grounds” in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic as a reason for his reluctance to appear at Holyrood on February 2.

Fabiani has now told the ex-SNP leader that if he is not available then – and cannot attend on alternative dates that week – then the “committee regrets that it will not be able to take oral evidence from you”.

In these circumstances, she said Salmond would be “free to submit further written evidence”.

She described Salmond as being an “important contributor” to their inquiry and that the committee “would very much like to find a date within its increasingly short timescales when you are available”.

Salmond has been given the option of giving evidence to the committee either in person in the Parliament, or by appearing remotely, on either February 2 or February 3.

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Alternatively a session where both Salmond and the committee members all take part virtually could be arranged for either February 1 or February 4 – although Fabiani stressed this was “not the committee’s preferred format”.

The committee was set up after the Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled the Scottish Government’s handling of complaints against the former first minister to be “unlawful” resulting in a £512,250 payout to Salmond.

And it has again urged the Scottish Government to wave legal privilege and release the advice it received from lawyers regarding the case.

Fabiani, in a letter to Deputy First Minister John Swinney, said this was “central” to the committee’s scrutiny of the judicial review process.

She told him: “It is also imperative that this advice is published and that the Scottish Government waives legal professional privilege to enable the Committee to scrutinise the First Minister on the judicial review during her evidence session and to refer to the detail of the advice in the Committee’s final report.”


Fast-spreading coronavirus variant ‘may be more deadly’

Prime Minister says there's evidence the UK variant of Covid-19 is causing more deaths.

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There is “some evidence” that the new UK variant of coronavirus may be more deadly than the original strain, the Prime Minister has said.

Mathematicians have produced early findings by comparing death rates in people infected with either the new or the old versions of the virus.

However, Boris Johnson said evidence showed vaccines being rolled out across the UK were working against the variant, which first emerged in the south of England.

Its fast-spreading nature significantly contributed to the decisions to put Scotland and the other UK nations back into lockdown.

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More than 600 coronavirus-linked deaths have been registered in Scotland over the past ten days, while 1480 new cases of Covid-19 were reported on Friday, with 2053 people currently in hospital with the virus.

In England, there are currently more than 38,000 people in hospital, with 1401 deaths recorded on Friday.

The Prime Minister told a Downing Street press conference: “We’ve been informed today that, in addition to spreading more quickly, it also now appears that there is some evidence that the new variant, the variant that was first identified in London and the south-east, may be associated with a higher degree of mortality.”

But he insisted the vaccines being rolled out across the UK still appeared to work on the variant.

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Johnson said: “All current evidence continues to show that both the vaccines we’re currently using remain effective both against the old variant and this new variant.”

Scientists are concerned the mutant coronavirus strain which emerged in south east England may be more deadly than the original.

The UK’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said the coronavirus variant which emerged in Kent is “a common variant comprising a significant number of cases” and transmits between 30% and 70% more easily than the original virus.

He told a Downing Street press conference on Friday that among people who have tested positive for Covid-19, there is “evidence that there is an increased risk” of death for those who have the new variant compared with the old virus.

Vallance said: “(For the original version of the virus), if you took a man in their 60s, the average risk is that for a thousand people who got infected, roughly 10 would be expected to unfortunately die … with the new variant, for a thousand people infected, roughly 13 or 14 people might be expected to die.

“That’s the sort of change for that sort of age group.”

His comments come after Professor Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College London, told Robert Peston: “It is a realistic possibility that the new UK variant increases the risk of death, but there is considerable remaining uncertainty.

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“Four groups – Imperial, LSHTM (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine), PHE (Public Health England), and Exeter – have looked at the relationship between people testing positive for the variant vs old strains and the risk of death.

“That suggests a 1.3-fold increased risk of death.

“So for 60-year-olds, 13 in 1,000 might die compared with 10 in 1,000 for old strains.

“The big caveat is that we only know which strain people were infected with for about 8% of deaths.”


Scotland would match Westminster’s £500 Covid-19 payments

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she would welcome the introduction of the payment.

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Sturgeon: Would 'welcome' the move.

The Scottish Government would replicate a £500 payment to everyone confirmed with Covid-19 if Westminster introduces the move south of the border, the First Minister has confirmed.

Nicola Sturgeon said she would welcome the introduction of the payment, as the additional cash it would generate for Scotland could allow for a similar scheme to be set up.

Reports had suggested the UK Government was considering the move, but Downing Street said on Friday there are currently “no plans” to introduce it.

The prospect of a payment for everyone testing positive for the disease comes amid concern the rate of compliance among those required to self-isolate is too low.

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Currently, only those on a low income are eligible for a £500 support payment if they are required to quarantine – with Sturgeon saying the Scottish Government would struggle to resource any expansion to more people without additional funding.

The First Minister said: “In a financial sense we are doing everything we can, though we continue to look at how we can do more, how we can stretch our resources.

“But we are pretty much doing what we can within the resources available to us.”

If additional money is made available to Scotland because such a scheme is set up by Westminster, she said “we would seek to match that”.

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Sturgeon, speaking at her regular coronavirus briefing, added: “We will see whether that transpires or not, but any extra resources for self-isolation we would use to support self-isolation.”

Her comments came as a leading lawyer said “greater support” for those needing to self-isolate is more important than stricter enforcement of lockdown measures.

John Scott QC, who has been charged with scrutinising Police Scotland’s use of new powers to deal with coronavirus, said: “Enforcement alone can’t address something like the situation we are in.

“Short of perhaps a country that isn’t a democracy, it requires public buy-in, it requires public confidence, the public have shown that they are perhaps better equipped to understand things than some of the politicians.”

Speaking at a meeting of the Scottish Police Authority, he added: “Higher levels of support remain more important than higher levels of fine.”

He highlighted issues raised by Professor Stephen Reicher of St Andrews University, who is a member of the advisory body Sage.

Prof Reicher pointed to places like New York, where comprehensive support for people to be tested and to self-isolate has been put in place.

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Scott said: “Just as this meeting has been going on, I’ve seen that Professor Reicher has tweeted about New York and the support that people get for isolation and that includes, for example, walking your dog, so there’s about 80% compliance there.

“Whereas here, we’re struggling with people who don’t want to get tested because they’re frightened of the financial implications of a positive test and they don’t want to put themselves in that position.

“Greater support is more important than greater enforcement, and more politicians should be honest about that and the media should be more honest about that as well.”


Business survival ‘must be top of budget agenda’

The number of businesses showing signs of financial distress is continuing to rise.

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Business leaders are urging the Scottish Government to put the survival and recovery of companies at the top of their agenda for next week’s budget.

Figures show the number of businesses showing signs of early financial distress continue to rise sharply.

Meanwhile, those excluded from help are stepping up demands for the UK Chancellor to step in.

There has been additional support for different sectors – on Thursday the Scottish Government made £1m available to help childminders.

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But those affected say promised grants are taking too long to come through and some who have received help said it does not go far enough.


Sarwar: Increase in child poverty ‘is a national disgrace’

The Scottish Labour leadership candidate cited analysis by the End Child Poverty campaign.

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Child Poverty: A 'national disgrace'.

Rising child poverty is a “national disgrace”, Scottish Labour leadership candidate Anas Sarwar has said.

The Glasgow MSP cited analysis by the End Child Poverty campaign that showed an increase of 20,181 children living in poverty over four years.

Almost a quarter (24%) of Scotland’s children – a total of 220,686 kids – were living in poverty in 2018-19, up from 200,505 (22%) in 2014-15, according to the figures.

The analysis of poverty statistics by the coalition of charities found an additional 5,677 children in Glasgow were living in poverty, with increases of 1,603 in Fife, 1,150 in Edinburgh and 1,032 in Aberdeen.

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Sarwar warned that the coronavirus pandemic will exacerbate the problem, and pledged that Scottish Labour under his leadership would aim to end child poverty.

He said Holyrood must act as a “Covid recovery parliament” for the next five years, tackling child poverty and bringing communities together, rather than focusing on “old politics of division”.

Sarwar said “Tory austerity has led to a huge increase in child poverty in Scotland, with the SNP passing those cuts on to our communities.

“It is a national scandal that the last four years has seen 20,000 more children living in poverty.

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“The coronavirus pandemic will have added to this crisis.

“This shows why the next term of the Scottish Parliament must be a Covid recovery parliament that focuses on rebuilding our country.

“Labour’s opponents want to return us to the old politics of division.

“We need to rebuild Scottish Labour so that our movement can work to tackle child poverty and rebuild our nation, with an aim to end child poverty.”


Government advised ‘not to investigate harassment claims’

Former First Minister Alex Salmond was awarded over £500,000 after the investigation was ruled to be "tainted by bias".

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Salmond: Awarded over £500,000.

Police Scotland advised the Scottish Government not to launch investigations into potentially criminal allegations of harassment, warning staff were not trained to investigate or “engage with victims”.

Deputy Chief Constable Fiona Taylor also said the Government asked Police Scotland “a number of hypothetical questions” about its harassment policy that appeared to be about a “specific set of circumstances”.

The communication with police occurred during the period the Scottish Government was drafting a complaints policy that included current and former ministers – prompting allegations from Scottish Labour it was “war-gaming” for action against Alex Salmond.

In written evidence to the Holyrood inquiry into the Government’s botched investigation of harassment claims against the former first minister, Ms Taylor said the force recommended referring complainants to support services rather than investigating the allegations.

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Potential victims would then have been able to decide whether to report any allegations to the police.

After multiple women came forward in the wake of the MeToo movement in 2017 with concerns about Salmond’s alleged behaviour, the Scottish Government instead launched an investigation that was subsequently found to be unlawful.

The Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled the investigation was “tainted by apparent” bias due to prior communication between investigating officer Judith Mackinnon and two of the women who came forward, resulting in a £512,250 payout to Salmond.

Scotland’s most senior civil servant, permanent secretary Leslie Evans, also had contact with complainants.

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Asked about the police’s input in the Government’s updated harassment complaints policy, Ms Taylor said they advised on December 6 2017 that “where criminality was suspected, individuals should be directed to support and advocacy services, to enable them to make informed decisions about whether or not to report matters to the police”.

The Government continued to ask the police questions about the criminal justice process between December 2017 and August 2018, Ms Taylor added.

She wrote: “The hypothetical questions suggested more than one victim of potential criminality and as such, it was stressed that – without knowledge of the detail – any risk that a suspect might present could not be properly assessed or mitigated.

“It was highlighted that [Scottish Government] staff were not trained to undertake such investigations, or to engage with victims.

“No details of potential victims or perpetrators were provided by SG and, throughout the contact, Police Scotland encouraged SG to refer victims to appropriate support services.”

When Ms Evans was asked about involving the police in any complaints during a committee evidence session in August, she said: “We took advice from Police Scotland because we wanted to ensure that the procedure was appropriate and sympathetic, and that it was effective in terms of encouraging people to use it.”

She also told the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints: “The police’s view, which we adhered to and which is reflected in the procedure, is that the process must be led by the victim – by the people who are bringing concerns or complaints.

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“If they wish to go to the police, they are at liberty to do so at every stage in the operation.

“However, as our investigation… reached its conclusion, the Scottish Government decided – informed by legal advice – that three of the complaints should be referred to Police Scotland.”

Following the submission by Police Scotland, Scottish Labour interim leader and committee member Jackie Baillie said: “From the timeline provided by the Deputy Chief Constable it seems obvious that the Scottish Government was attempting to stress-test their procedure ahead of taking action against Salmond by war-gaming what the Deputy Chief Constable refers to as ‘hypothetical questions’.

“It is also clear that the Scottish Government referred complaints to the police via the Crown Agent, against the wishes of the women involved, and despite the police encouraging the Government to refer complainants to support services as a first port of call.”


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