Alistair Carmichael on Channel 4 News a few weeks ago:
Now at least we know why he was struggling to keep a straight face.
Here’s what we now know:
1. A civil servant (still unnamed) in the Scotland Office wrote a memo ostensibly summarising a conversation between himself and the French Consul-General, regarding a meeting between the First Minister and the French ambassador.
2. For reasons which remain unclear (and, it seems likely, always will), the civil servant arrived at a conclusion about the meeting which was in conflict with the subsequent accounts of all three other people involved – namely that the First Minister had expressed a preference for a Conservative government.
3. It was noted in the civil servant’s memo that his/her understanding was suspect, and possibly the result of something having been “lost in translation”, though as far as is known both the meeting between the FM and the ambassador and the conversation between the civil servant and the Consul-General were conducted wholly in English.
4. Euan Roddin, a special adviser to the then Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael, suggested leaking this memo to the press in order to damage the First Minister and the SNP before the election. Mr Carmichael agreed with this plan and authorised the leak to the Daily Telegraph journalist Simon Johnson.
5. Simon Johnson ran the story in the paper’s 4 April edition, extraordinarily doing so without having sought any sort of confirmation, denial or any other response from the First Minister. (The Daily Mail also published it, seemingly having lifted it from the Telegraph.)
6. A long parade of senior Unionist politicians – chiefly Labour ones, going all the way up to Ed Miliband, Jim Murphy and Kezia Dugdale – party activists and journalists immediately and repeatedly propagated the smear. (Labour had a video comment prepared and ready before 11pm on the evening of the 3rd.)
To the best of our knowledge, none have yet retracted their comments or apologised, with the exception of former Tory MP Louise Mensch.
7. As soon as the story was published, however, it was comprehensively and publicly denied by all parties – the First Minister, the ambassador and the Consul-General. This did cause a few Labour figures to delete some of their tweets in an attempt to cover their tracks.
8. It was announced on 4 April that Sir Jeremy Heywood would conduct an inquiry into the incident on behalf of the UK government.
9. As the story began to fall apart in the face of consistent on-the-record denials from every named person present at both the meeting and the conversation, Alistair Carmichael appeared on Channel 4 News (the video at the top of this page), claiming that he’d known nothing of the leak until asked about it by the Telegraph. This, we now know by his own admission, was a flat-out lie.
Carmichael stood by and allowed an inquiry to be conducted – whose costs have been reported at £1.4m by one Welsh Labour MP quoting a “usually reliable source”, though no official figure is yet available – despite already knowing full well who had been responsible, namely himself and his special adviser. Indeed, he even told the Daily Record on 5 April that he knew.
10. Carmichael was narrowly re-elected as MP for Orkney and Shetland on 7 May, with his majority slashed from almost 10,000 to just over 800.
Since the publication of the Heywood inquiry’s conclusions, Carmichael has conceded on BBC Radio 4 that had he still been Secretary of State for Scotland he would have had to resign as a result of its findings.
The Telegraph, meanwhile, has published a highly misleading article about the report, claiming that the memo was found to have been “recorded accurately”. This is a massive distortion of the truth – the report states that the civil servant made an honest error in his account, recording what he believed to have been said.
However, Alistair Carmichael’s letter of apology to the First Minister had already expressly stated that “the details of that account are not correct”.
The Telegraph’s utterly dishonest reporting is a matter for it and its readers. Alistair Carmichael, however, abused an office of state in an attempt to undermine the democratically-elected leader of Scotland and her party, then told a direct lie about it which led to the wasting of a large amount of taxpayers’ money, and also to a delay which may well have materially affected the outcome of an election.
We suspect (and hope) that we haven’t seen the last development in this affair.