PRIME minister David Cameron could have been directly responsible for former Scottish secretary and northern isles MP Alistair Carmichael being exposed as the source of a controversial leaked memo, according to his SNP opponent during the general election.
SNP candidate Danus Skene’s comments came after the Cabinet Office refused to divulge why it took seven weeks until after the 7 May election to publish the outcome of its inquiry.
In response to a Freedom of Information request from Shetland News, the Cabinet Office said that it was “in the public interest” to withhold the information as it could “seriously impact future investigations”.
Shetland News is appealing against the decision, as are other news organisations.
Meanwhile Skene said that while he had no proof, logic would suggest that the UK government decided to “hang Carmichael out to dry” after the Conservatives won an outright majority in the election.
He added that it was reasonable to assume that had the outcome been published before the election, he would have been able to overturn the 817 majority that returned Carmichael to the House of Commons.
“I will never know if I was right not go on the offensive on this matter during the election, but I took the line that it was under investigation and I had no evidence to contribute,” Skene said.
“I was also deeply cynical about the history of leak inquiries in Whitehall because they have always papered things over and I was really surprised when such a clear verdict came out of the report.
“The Cabinet Office, which conducted the inquiry, is directly answerable to Downing Street and it’s probable that Cameron himself would be responsible for signing off a report by the head of the civil service before it was published.
“It was only after the election that it became clear to the government that there was no interest in fudging this or covering it up as they did not need the Liberal Democrats to form a government, so they might as well let Carmichael hang out to dry.”
Skene suggested that Carmichael himself knew he was going to be exposed the weekend after the election when he told his Liberal Democrat MSP colleagues Tavish Scott and Liam McArthur he was responsible for leaking the memo.
“That tells me Carmichael knew there was a problem,” he said. “He had hoped it would be covered up by the report in the event of a coalition, but he knew at that point he was going to be hung out to dry.”
The inquiry found that Carmichael had authorised his special adviser Euan Roddin to leak the memo that Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon had told the French ambassador she would prefer to see Cameron elected prime minister, contrary to what she was saying in public.
The MP subsequently apologised to both Sturgeon and the ambassador, accepting that the memo had been false.
The inquiry began on 4 April shortly after the memo was leaked to the Daily Telegraph and Carmichael had denied any knowledge of it on national television.
However it did not publish its findings until 22 May, two weeks after the election. That investigation should not have taken much longer than an afternoon, Skene said.
Meanwhile Carmichael had said on the campaign trail that he would not comment on the memo until after the inquiry was completed.
Skene said there could be no justification for the delay and the Cabinet Office should not have taken a political decision that could have affected the election result.
He said this was a matter that would have to be considered by the Court of Session which is hearing an election petition crowdfunded by four Orkney constituents to have Carmichael’s victory annulled.
“The issue of justice is whether the fact that the stupid and juvenile release of this spurious memo was covered up had an effect on the election result.
“I think it is a reasonable assumption that a majority of less than 1,000 could have been affected by the fact that he managed to cover up his own lie.”
Carmichael has said he will not comment on the matter while there is a court case ongoing.