A LEGAL petition seeking to annul the election of Alistair Carmichael as northern isles MP following his admission last week that he lied about leaking a private government memo during the election campaign was lodged with the Court of Session on Friday afternoon.
In just four days a crowd funding campaign has seen almost 3,000 people raise close to three quarters of the £60,000 target to challenge the election result in the courts.
Meanwhile a veteran Labour MP plans to call the head of the civil service before politicians to explain why the results of the Cabinet Office inquiry into the leak were not released until two weeks after the election.
Campaigners in Orkney and Shetland who are staging their second protest on Saturday afternoon in Lerwick and Kirkwall town centres are angry that the electorate were kept in the dark about Carmichael’s involvement in the leak until after he was voted back in by a narrow margin.
They are trying a unique approach to using The Representation of People Act 1983 as the only route available to force the 7 May election result to be overturned.
Two senior judges Lord Eassie and Lady Paton will hear legal arguments before deciding whether the case deserves to be heard in the first place, a process which is likely to take several months.
Spokeswoman for The People vs Carmichael campaigners, Orkney activist Fiona MacInnes, said: “There’s a large groundswell of opinion now forming that Alistair Carmichael should step down and allow the people of Orkney and Shetland to make a choice about whether they want to place their trust in him again.
“I think that is the only way to resolve this very difficult and upsetting period in Orkney and Shetland’s electoral history.”
Professor James Chalmers of Glasgow University described the legal challenge as “a big punt”, pointing out it posed several legal complications that would require the complainers to prove the law could be used in this way for the first time.
Meanwhile veteran Labour MP Paul Flynn, who has already said that Carmichael should step down, intends to take the matter to the public administration select committee in the House of Commons as soon as possible.
Shortly after the Daily Telegraph reported the leaked memo that Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon had told the French ambassador she secretly wanted a Tory government to be elected, Flynn wrote to the civil service head Sir Jeremy Heywood calling for the inquiry he had started on 4 April to be completed before the general election.
Heywood replied that the inquiry was “a matter of the highest priority” and would be treated with “appropriate urgency”.
Shetland News asked the Cabinet Office when Carmichael admitted his involvement in the leak, but they refused to comment on “internal process”, save to say that it was “done as quickly as possible”.
On Friday Flynn told Shetland News that he intended to “drag” Heywood before the public administration select committee of which he is a long standing member to ask him why the inquiry took so long to complete.
“If he was doing his job as an independent civil servant acting in the public interest investigating the peddling of myths and fables which were extremely damaging to the SNP, why did he fail to carry out the investigation and get it into the public domain before the election took place?”
The Welsh MP, who authored the popular guide for Westminster politicians “How To Be An MP”, said he doubted there was a legal process whereby Carmichael could be recalled, despite his admission that the leak had been a serious breach of protocol and accepting the memo’s contents had been incorrect. However he did believe that he should be censured and stand down.
“This is a very unusual case in that (Carmichael) managed to put forward a lie that got a lot of currency and was broadcast throughout the country that was designed to win people to his banner and the banner of the anti-SNP parties and then he promoted it by a lie on Channel Four.
“He said last week that it was a resigning issue, but if it was a resigning issue as a minister he should be resigning as an MP because he set out an entirely false case to his constituents in claiming his opponents were out to get a different result than the one they said they wanted.”
Flynn said Carmichael was probably “an amiable and effective” MP, but he should be made an example of for his behaviour.
“I am sure he has done nice things and greatly helped people in his constituency, but this is one of those sins against the Holy Ghost, it’s a very serious thing to go along into an election on a false premise,” he said.
Shetland News posed a series of questions to Carmichael via email after he cancelled an arrangement to be interviewed on camera in his Lerwick constituency office on Thursday.
The questions concerned the timing of his admission to the Cabinet Office that he had authorised the leak and why he had waited until two weeks after his election to come clean.
On Friday Carmichael responded via email: “As you are aware there is a prospect of legal action being taken against me so I am afraid I am unable to assist you with the bulk of your questions.”
Earlier in the week he had explained on BBC Radio Orkney why he had not opened up earlier about his involvement in the leak.
“The truth of the matter is that once there was an investigation in train I think it was the right thing to allow that investigation to go ahead. I co-operated with it fully as did my special adviser.”
This week his Liberal Democrat colleague Tavish Scott MSP said he was informed three days after the election on 10 May that Carmichael had owned up to the leak, 12 days before it was made public.