Alex Salmond: ‘Sir Nicholas MacPherson must resign’

Alex Salmond

Sir Nicholas MacPherson is one of the most senior of Whitehall mandarins.

As Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, he lords it over the most powerful department of London government.

However, he is still a civil servant and paid for by the rest of us. He is meant to be above and beyond the political battle.

Unfortunately, Sir Nicholas has chosen not to stay on that path of impartiality.

Last year, by the unprecedented publication of his views to ministers on the prospects of a formal sterling union following Scottish independence, he entered into the political arena.

I criticised Sir Nicholas heavily at the time, as I have the conduct of other Treasury officials during the referendum campaign. I believe they also crossed the line.

Sir Nicholas MacPherson
Sir Nicholas MacPherson

Now, in a bombshell report to be released today, Sir Nicholas’s behaviour over the sterling advice is being openly questioned by a House of Commons committee of Tory, Labour and Liberal MPs. For Sir Nicholas, the report makes the grimmest of reading.

They say firmly that “the advice should not have been published. It’s publication compromised the perceived impartiality of one of the UK’s most senior civil servants”.

For Sir Nicholas the chickens have now well and truly come home to roost. Remember, this is a committee made up of a majority of UK Government MPs and their language is as uncompromising as their disapproval is evident.

They brush aside the mandarin’s lame excuse that he was attempting to reassure markets. And they do so in the bluntest of fashions.

“The only purpose was to use the impartial status of permanent secretary to the advocacy of a political argument…we do not accept that this (market reassurance) was the primary reason for publishing this advice”.

It is interesting to note that reassuring the markets was also the excuse given by Sir Nicholas for the equally unprecedented and misleading briefing by one of his officials about the Royal Bank of Scotland in the final days of the referendum campaign.

It seems to be the London Treasury’s single transferable excuse for unacceptable conduct.

But then a government department, like a fish, rots from the head down.

The public administration select committee also has a pop at aspects of the Scottish Government’s white paper on independence.

However, there is no great surprise that a group of Unionist MPs take the Better Together line.

That is the normal behaviour from House of Commons committees. What is unexpected and totally devastating is the criticism of Sir Nicholas and his department.

He has made his position even weaker by some of his unrepentant statements since the referendum.

In January, he claimed that “Her Majesty’s Treasury is by its nature a Unionist institution. The clue is in the name”.

Sir Nicholas seems blissfully unaware that the present monarchy is not even a “Unionist institution”, having been established more than a century before the Treaty of Union!

However, more important than his dodgy history is his extraordinary behaviour that the House of Commons committee has finally brought to book.

Sir Nicholas’s position is untenable. He is totally distrusted by the Scottish Government. He has been openly criticised by a cross-party commons committee. He is unrepentant about his behaviour.

His time is well and truly up. My advice to him is freely available and published.

Do the honourable thing and resign. I believe that it would “reassure the markets”.

WOMEN ON TOP

Robert Burns knew a thing or two about women. He once wrote: “While Europe’s eye is fix’d on mighty things, the fate of Empires and the fall of Kings; While quacks of State must each produce his plan, And even children lisp the Rights of Man; Amid this mighty fuss just let me mention, The Rights of Woman merit some attention.”

Women are now marching into the lead in politics led by our own first minister.

I had the pleasure of having lunch with the SNP’s female candidates for the general election recently and from one glance round the room it was clear to see the wealth of talent on offer.

There were doctors, lawyers, businesswomen – a whole host of skills on show. It struck me how useful it would be to have such a strong group of women MPs representing Scotland’s interests at Westminster.

Last September we saw a very long overdue move towards equality in the world of sport when the members of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews voted overwhelmingly in favour of having female members.

In fact, I was taken aback – pleased, but taken aback – that the R and A, managed to get a Yes vote on the same day that I didnae!

Turning to culture, primary school teacher Lesley Simpson recently became the first ever female to lead one of Shetland’s famous Up Helly Aa processions.

Of course, women have always played an important role in Up Helly Aa, from making the elaborate costumes to organising the infamous all-night parties, but it is great to see them leading from the front.

And a few days ago I met Ilolo Adigwe, a talented engineer who works at Peterhead Power Station.

Having initially trained in Nigeria, Ilolo had also worked for Ineos at Grangemouth. A great example of young women moving into engineering, one of the last of the male preserves in the workplace.

Burns was way ahead of his time in promoting the rights of women. It is a cause that I am happy to champion.

THE GREAT ECLIPSE

How was your great eclipse?

In Strichen the cloud cover forced the abandonment of a grand plan to capture the event in my “astro-bucket” with a black bin liner.

On a clear day the refracted image of the sun on the water would have been spectacular and, of course, able to be safely observed.

Instead, local loon Mike Morgan came up trumps with some welding visors and we got a great and consistent view right through the clouds.

My verdict – best one I’ve seen by a distance. Much better than in 1999 but perhaps not quite the excitement of 1961, when as a lad I had my pinhole in the paper shining on to a black card!

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