Is there another layer to the Frenchgate saga, one that carries much more danger for the British government and the credibility of the state? Politically, the defenestration of Carmichael costs the current government nothing, but if it were the new Scottish Secretary dangling from an open window, the Tory mandate in Scotland really would be threatened.
David Mundell, still the sole Conservative member, was deputy to Carmichael at the time. There are only two of them in the Scotland Office and in the absence of colleagues, they necessarily spend a lot of time together sharing office accommodation in Melville Crescent in Edinburgh and at Dover House in London as well as the Commons.
Do they communicate? Of course they do. They fought together during the indyref and their parties combined to form the Coalition. Apart from normal professional exchanges, they were pulled together by their beleaguered status in Scotland. They have an amicable relationship.
You see where I’m going…is it credible that Mundell was kept in ignorance of the memo and the leak and can therefore be absolved of all culpability? I’m not asking for the usual partisan get-into-them approach but a detached rational perusal of events.
The FM met the Ambassador in February. The leak occurred at the beginning of April, a period of at least five or six weeks – allowing a few days for the memo to be compiled – in which the toxic package was kept locked in a government safe (at least metaphorically).
Carmichael, and the Civil Servant who wrote it, as well as the special adviser, all knew this. Did Mundell? Or did all three deliberately keep him out of the loop for weeks on end, even as the intrigue of the election gripped them and dominated their departmental discussions? In a moment over coffee or on the flight south, did Carmichael never reveal anything and instead bite his lip to keep secret his plot to release the memo during the actual campaign? If so, why? If it was a damning blow against the SNP, why not share the contents? Indeed, how likely is it that a report on a fairly important issue of SNP relations with a foreign government wouldn’t naturally cross Mundell’s desk as a matter of course? What else is there for them to do all day?
It is to me inconceivable that the only two politicians in the Scotland Office didn’t share this crucial piece of political intelligence since it suited them both to a tee. It is my firm belief that for the last five years the source of leaks to the Scottish media from ‘government sources’ has been David Mundell, so he is well versed in the dark arts of feeding out material to the Press. He may even have advised using the Telegraph whose Scottish political correspondent Simon Johnson is the classic London toady (so much so that, like his boss Cochrane, he didn’t exercise basic journalistic practice by checking with the principals for their reaction).
At the very least, knowing of the memo, if he was unaware of the plan to leak, Mundell would most certainly have known the source once it appeared in the Telegraph. Yet he did, and said, nothing. That is complicity.
The role of Mundell is ignored in the Heywood inquiry and probably for a very good reason – he is guilty of being party to the leak. If his thumbprints were discovered, he would be toast…the last Tory MP and the only credible candidate for Scottish Secretary discredited and facing political ruin…a calamitous event for a government already devoid of mandate in Scotland. An English Tory might stand in or perhaps the newly ennobled Thatcherite chancer Dunlop could step in – both ruinous moves for the British credibility.
Carmichael of course will know how much of this is true and keeping it confidential may be his price for retaining broad official support. Don’t think the Civil Service won’t work a deal to keep Mundell in the clear – after all it took until after the election to reveal the truth (at Carmichael’s insistence?) and it came out on Bank Holiday Friday. And here’s another thought, supposing the leak hadn’t caused an international incident in which a friend and ally had to be appeased with a body…would the entire incident have been elided away by official obfuscation?
Carmichael may be forming a human shield for Mundell and what remains of the Union.by