AS the House of Murrell crumbles, it is reasonable to assume the shredder has been kept busy and the delete button is red-hot. It is entirely appropriate that a regime which so often used dissembling as a political weapon should founder on that rock.

There are some episodes, however, which should not be obliterated from history. Indeed, if there is to be a new start, what better signal than to open some old inquiries in which the departed and departing were key witnesses to matters with truthfulness at their core?

Reviews of cold cases are in vogue so, in that spirit, I will forego schadenfreude, in order to revisit one particularly squalid episode from the Murrell-Sturgeon hegemony. I was prompted to do so by a new blog from Andy Wightman, the former Green MSP, to mark the second anniversary of a report on what became known as “the Salmond affair”.

Wightman was one of nine MSPs appointed by the Scottish Parliament to a “Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints”. In the end, their painstaking work was wrecked by the leaking of key aspects of the committee’s report within minutes of them being agreed.

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The majority on the committee, including Wightman, found that in probability, Sturgeon misled it on a number of key questions and was in breach of the Ministerial code. They also found the Scottish Government’s obstructiveness “a wholly unacceptable response to the accountability that is meant to exist by the executive to Parliament”.

For Wightman, an individual of impeccable integrity, it was a deeply hurtful affair which he has now analysed in forensic detail. Within minutes, he and other non-SNP members of the Committee were smeared with the allegation that one of them had leaked the report in order to discredit Sturgeon.

Wightman writes: “I remain hurt and angry at having these false allegations made against me”. For that reason alone, this remains a current story rather than an ancient one. An official inquiry subsequently cleared Wightman and his fellow MSPs of responsibility. Scandalously, the true culprits have never been pursued or punished. What better time?

As Wightman points out, the obvious starting point with any leak is “Cui bono?”. Who gains? There was no doubt about the answer. Premature release of the committee majority’s conclusions allowed a carefully orchestrated rubbishing of them to proceed, led by Nicola Sturgeon in person.

It is reasonable to surmise that her departure might have come two years ago, greatly to Scotland’s advantage, if the operation had not been such a complete success, swallowed whole by much of the Scottish media which was so excited about the claim of a “leak” that it did not trouble to ask the critical question, “Cui bono?”. Who gains?

HeraldScotland: Andy WightmanAndy Wightman (Image: free)

The vehicle for the leak – or let us call it more accurately, the plant – was James Matthews of Sky News. Wightman chronicles how, 13 minutes after the most damaging conclusions of the report were agreed in the committee by a majority of 5-4, Matthews tweeted: “Exclusive: First Minister Nicola Sturgeon misled Parliament, concludes Holyrood harassment committee”. The committee was still sitting as Matthews tweeted.

As the story broke, Matthews alone doorstepped Sturgeon at her home. “Was he there on his own initiative or had he been tipped off?”, asks Wightman rhetorically. And of course, she obliged with an indignant denunciation of “opposition members of this committee (who) made their minds up about me before I uttered a single word of evidence”.

The operation was off and running. Wightman writes: “This was followed the next day by Alasdair Allan, Maureen Watt and Stuart McMillan, with their faux outrage and accusations, trashing the committee’s reputation. Social media was awash with condemnation of myself and my opposition colleagues. The narrative was established that we were partisan and had debased Parliament by leaking sensitive information”.

Allan, Watt and McMillan were obscure Sturgeon loyalists who had been placed on the committee. They signed a statement which proclaimed: “For the opposition, this was never about the truth. It was never about the evidence and, shamefully, it was never even about the women. All of these are being sacrificed in pursuit of political ends”.

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Wightman writes: “The plan was a success. The reputation of myself and my opposition colleagues was in the gutter. Un-evidenced claims that one of us had been the source of the leak became alleged established fact. The Committee’s reputation was in tatters and its conclusions derided”.

His own “best assessment” is that information supplied by an SNP member of the committee was transmitted to the media via special advisers. Like others involved in this operation, they have never been called to account for the lies, deceit and denigration that it depended on.

Wightman was a stranger to this dark world of ruthless mendacity. Weary of politics in general and the Greens in particular, he is no longer an MSP and that is Scotland’s loss. But it does not mean he has either forgiven or forgotten. The names Allan, Watt and McMillan will live particularly long in his memory.

He subsequently asked the Scottish Government’s Ethical Standards Commissioner to investigate his own complaint against the three SNP MSPs but this was refused “on the basis that because the conclusions of the Committee were in the public domain as a result of the Sky News report, they could no longer be considered confidential and so were not covered by the confidentiality provisions of the Code of Conduct”.

It would be insulting to the Jesuits to describe that get-out clause as Jesuitical. It encouraged me to look at the the Ethical Standards Commissioner’s website where I found a rather odd turn of phrase. The Commissioner, Ian Bruce, and his team “have been working to restore the governance of, and confidence in, the work of the office”.

I don’t know why confidence had to be “restored”, but if Mr Bruce is still pursuing this mission, he could do worse than re-open the cold case of the Holyrood Harassment Committee and the “leak” that saved Sturgeon.