Posts Tagged ‘non-denial denial’

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

04/04/2015, 10:33:09 AM

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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