What did Nicol Stephen actually say? Well, let’s quote word for word from the parliamentary official report :
“Nicol Stephen: Aberdeenshire Council will confirm that it had to ask for the Trump representatives to leave the chief planner's room during a phone call last Tuesday. This is a serious situation for the First Minister and his Government. Every step of the way, there has been contradiction, concealment and cleverness from his Government on the issue. It smells of sleaze. Will he now establish an independent inquiry to investigate what happened in those 48 hours last Monday and Tuesday, to find out why the developers were present with the chief planner on the very day that their application was called in and to examine what pressure the chief planner was put under by ministers to take the potentially prejudicial actions that now jeopardise the project? Does he understand that few people will now believe that his Government is a fair and proper body to decide the application in an open and transparent way?”
Alex Neil’s attempts at “attack being the best form of defence” will get the SNP government nowhere – the issue has run far too far for the smoke and mirrors of Alex Neil to stop this particular story running and running.
The following BBC report (see http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/north_east/7142696.stm) highlights some of the legitimate concerns that will not go away :
BBC Scotland asked the Scottish Government a series of questions surrounding phone conversations between its chief planner and the chief executive of Aberdeenshire Council over the Trump application.
Those government responses, received in an e-mail three minutes after the start of first minister's question time, stated that members of the Trump team were not in the room with the chief planner.
However, Aberdeenshire Council later said they had been.
The Scottish Government then admitted that members of the Trump organisation were in the room with the chief planner at the start of the first of two phone call conversations, but not when the discussion took place.
Here are the initial questions we asked of the Scottish Government and the responses received.
Question: Who was in the room with the chief planner when he placed the first of the two calls he made to the chief executive of Aberdeenshire council on 4th December to discuss the Trump organisation's planning application for the Menie estate?
Answer: No-one other than the chief planner and David Ferguson, head of planning decisions. The Trump organisation were not in the room.
Question: Was it appropriate for members of the Trump organisation to be in the room during this call?
Answer: The Trump Organisation were not in the room.
OK then, we now know that at the time of the first call to the Chief Executive of Aberdeenshire Council was made, the Trump people were in the room. The fundamental questions in relation to this aspect are now surely (a) why did the Scottish Government initially indicate otherwise, only “clarifying” matters when it became obvious that its version was at odds with that of Aberdeenshire Council and (b) exactly why were the Trump people in the room at the time McKinnon picked up the phone to the local authority? An independent inquiry into the whole matter, including the actions of the First Minister, is now absolutely vital.
Salmond struggled badly at FMQs this week. Alan Cochrane, Scottish Political Editor of the Daily Telegraph summed it up perfectly :
Daily Telegraph 14/12/2007
“Mr Salmond got a terrific pasting on the issue at Question Time yesterday from Nicol Stephen, for the Liberal Democrats.”
"The First Minister has failed to comply with the ministerial code. He has made inappropriate use of Scottish Government facilities, and he did not display the visible neutrality that is required of any Government minister when they are dealing with a planning matter. Astonishingly, as the First Minister, he was not even-handed, he was cack-handed. Either that is ignorance or arrogance, and ignorance is not a condition with which I associate the First Minister. [Laughter.]"