The French ambassador’s Sturgeon statement looks like a non-denial denial

by Atul Hatwal

Diplomats weigh their public statements carefully. Words are parsed for intent, implication and likely inference. Which is why the French ambassador’s response to the Telegraph’s Sturgeon scoop is so interesting.

“While the ambassador and the first minister, some time ago, have discussed the political situation, Ms Sturgeon did not touch on her personal political preferences with regards the future prime minister,”

At face value, this seems like a denial. But the words have been very carefully chosen. The key phrase is “did not touch on her personal [emphasis added] political preferences.”

Why use the words “her personal”?

Why draw a clear, albeit implicit, distinction between Nicola Sturgeon’s views as a person and her views as the leader and representative of the SNP?

Surely it would have been simpler for the ambassador’s spokesman to say that there was no discussion on preferences for PM or the outcome of the election. That would have been a categorical and water-tight denial.

The words “her personal” are utterly extraneous, unless they are there for a specific reason.

The statement makes it clear that the “political situation” (in other words the election) was discussed and it would have been extraordinary if the ambassador had not asked Nicola Sturgeon for her views on the result and the SNP’s preferences. She simply would not have been doing her job, and so far noone has suggested that the French ambassador, Sylvie Bermann, is incompetent.

Following the meeting, it is entirely plausible that a Foreign Office official, drafting a short contemporaneous account intended for internal consumption, would assume Nicola Sturgeon was speaking in her capacity as leader of the SNP  – the FCO memo seen by the Telegraph states, “She’d rather see David Cameron remain as PM (and didn’t see Ed Miliband as PM material.)” – after all, why else would she be meeting the French ambassador?

Just as it’s plausible that a French diplomat looking for a way out of a sticky situation could willfully interpret the memo differently, and take the meaning of the wording, “She’d rather see” to refer to Nicola Sturgeon’s personal views. This would then allow an ambassadorial denial of the story without calling the British Foreign Office liars.

Such semantics might seem esoteric, but this is the stock in trade of senior diplomats. And right now, the French ambassador’s statement looks like a non-denial denial.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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6 Responses to “The French ambassador’s Sturgeon statement looks like a non-denial denial”

  1. Michael says:

    “She’d rather see David Cameron remain as PM (and didn’t see Ed Miliband as PM material.)”

    this is hardly surprising, I have yet to meet anyone who thinks Ed as more suitable as PM, even his cabinet colleagues are lukewarm with their endorsements. In May the voters will be voting Labour not Miliband

  2. Tafia says:

    The French Ambassador and the French Consul who were both present deny that that was said, have checked the notes taken by the two of their clerks that were present and used by translators for the french governments record of official minutes and it’s not in there either. Sturgeon;s civil servants notes etc als apparently do not have that being said.

    This smacks of the Telegraph trying to do what they attempted to do with Galloway and ended up being sued for a fortune for. Interestingly, in that instance the Telegraph tried to use the defence that they could publish what they liked – they didn’t actually need to check it was real because that would take far to long. That defence was utterly rubbished by the High Court who stated they they have a legal duty to check that what they claim is fact is actually fact – even if it comes via a third party.

    Sturgeon has done the right thing calling for an immediate public inquiry – this will force the Telegraph to had over the memo and the name of whoever gave it to them. You’re looking at the Official Secrets Act and all kinds here as theseminutes (and any comments on them) are officially usually at least SECRET and most of the time a lot higher so somebody is looking at being imprisoned whether its’ true or more likely false.

    Interestingly, Sky TV interviewing people at random in the streets of Glasgow couldn’t find one who thought it was in the slightest true and more tellingly believed it was a Labour smear campaign – so it looks – in scottish voters eyes anyway – that Labour are so badly thought of in Scotland that they have become desperate.

    Interestingly, one commentator has already pointed out the Miliband earlier today regurgitating it on TV as fact, has put himself in the position of facing action by Sturgeon if it turns out not to be.

  3. Tafia says:

    The Foreign & Commonwealth Office now publicly stating such a memo does not exist.

    “We are not aware of such a document”.

    So now it seems no one even wrote a memo.

    Where are we now? The ambassador, the consul, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and the Foriegn Office, all refute the story. The F.O. the only civil servants involved, even denies that the memo exists or ever existed.

  4. Tafia says:

    Seems now that this emanates from Carmichael’s Scottish Office.

    We know what the SNP’s new first insistance will be for a C & S arrangement will be if true – his immediate transfer to some mind-numbingly boring and dead end civil service job and the devolution of the Scottish Office to Holyrood do that it, it’s workings and it’s staffing are decided in Scotland.

  5. Tafia says:

    That’s provided he doesn’t lose his seat to the SNP anyway and the LibDems also remain part of a rainbow coalition.

  6. uglyfatbloke says:

    It is beginning to look quite possible that Carmichael may well lose his seat. In other elections that would be a big deal given the size of his majority and the fact that he is a secretary of state., but since the O& S result won’t be declared until after just about everywhere else it’d hardly be news at all.
    Is his office guilty of fabricating the memo? Quite possibly, though it may have been done ‘in house’ at the Telegraph. Either way, surely there should be prosecutions?

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