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Viewpoint / Opinion: Will Tavish pay for Carmichael’s lie?

So, the two election court judges have cleared our MP Alistair Carmichael of breaking the law when he lied on camera during the General Election campaign.

The decision should come as no surprise. The law was not designed to make it easy for people to turn round an election result; in fact it is remarkable this case got as far as it did.

In a healthy democracy, politics ought be kept out of the law courts. Electoral law is not the way to resolve an episode ultimately more about moral shortcomings than legal ones.

The Orkney Four had to stretch the technicalities of the Representation of the People’s Act to bring Carmichael to court to begin with; then they faced the even steeper hurdle of raising the extraordinary sum a case like this involves.

That they managed to surmount those obstacles is partly down to the power of social media. Comments on Twitter helped them marshal the legal arguments, while crowdfunding site Indiegogo enabled more than 8,000 people to provide the funds.

This costly action at least shone some light on the Cabinet Office investigation into the leaked memo about Nicola Sturgeon – something the civil service itself has refused to do.

Evidence to the court unearthed that Carmichael only admitted he sanctioned the leak on 12 May – five days after the election – after telephone records proved that his special advisor Euan Roddin had leaked the inaccurate memo to the Daily Telegraph.

The judges found that, whilst he had not broken the law, the MP had lied in the hope that he wouldn’t get caught – and when he was caught, the ballot papers had already been counted.

His approach to the Cabinet Office inquiry “demonstrated a lack of candour and co-operation on his part”, Lady Paton and Lord Matthews stated, but it’s still not entirely clear why he was able to get away with hiding behind the inquiry until after the election.

At the time of his confession he apologised to Sturgeon and the French ambassador. We have yet to see evidence of an apology to his constituents, despite his claim that he gave one.

As a result he has left a large part of his electorate feeling duped, and has lowered his own and his party’s reputation within the isles.

Yet in his statement following Wednesday’s judgment, humility was notable by its absence – as was any reference to working to restore constituents’ faith in him.

Once again all we hear is that this was a politically motivated campaign by nationalist demons.

It is regrettable that much debate surrounding this case has been viewed through a narrow Yes-No prism as part of the ongoing indyref hangover.

If Carmichael truly believes that disgruntlement with his conduct goes no further than a cadre of SNP activists then he is deluding himself.

Critics of the petitioners deploy variations of the “politicians are all at it” argument. Had Carmichael been found guilty, they say, the benches of the House of Commons and Holyrood would soon empty.

Maybe they have a point. But surely we ought to strive for better behaviour in politics. When SNP politicians tell lies they should be upbraided for it too. And Tory PM David Cameron told voters an altogether more serious lie during the same campaign when he pledged not to cut child tax credits – before trying to do precisely that after winning the election.

Ideally this should never have gone to the courts. Having confessed, Carmichael should have stood down and presented himself to the electorate to decide whether they wanted him back.

Given the 14 years’ hard graft he put in as a good constituency MP, he may well have won the re-run.

That will never happen, as he has made clear he won’t resign. Nor is he likely to stand again in 2020, so if the ballot box is the only place where people can pass judgment, that is likely to happen next May.

Tavish Scott is clearly aware of this and is already campaigning desperately hard to retain people’s confidence in the Liberal Democrats. Our MSP should not be having to answer for the actions of his Westminster colleague, but that is his fate.

Could it be that Carmichael goes down in history not as the Northern Isles MP who held the highest office in government as secretary of state for Scotland, but instead as the man who precipitated the end of more than half a century of Liberal domination of this constituency?

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