SNP accused of ‘lack of scrutiny’ amid Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon crisis

Nicola Sturgeon: Expert questions ‘integrity’

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By a vote of five to four, MSPs on the committee looking into the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment complaints against Mr Salmond choose not to make its contents public. Mr Salmond had requested publication of his submission accusing his successor Nicola Sturgeon of breaching the ministerial code – which she denies – and sought assurances he would not be placed “in legal jeopardy”.

The former Scottish First Minister has accused Ms Sturgeon of several breaches of the ministerial code and lying to parliament over meetings between the pair in 2018 regarding harassment complaints made against Mr Salmond.

The Scottish Government’s Handling of Harassment Complaints Committee was set up after the Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled the Scottish Government’s handling of complaints against the former first minister to be “unlawful” in a judicial review.

This resulted in £512,250 in legal costs being paid out to Mr Salmond’s lawyers.

Mr Salmond was separately acquitted of 13 charges including sexual assault, attempted rape and indecent assault following a trial at the High Court in Edinburgh last year.

 

The decisions mean the former first minister is unlikely to appear before any future hearings of the committee raising fears the SNP Government headed by Nicola Sturgeon aren’t able to be trusted ahead of a crucial election in May.

Mr Salmond had been due to appear on Tuesday but the session was called off, with his lawyers telling the committee he would not give evidence until his concerns had been addressed.

Mr Salmond is expected to instead speak out in a televised press conference or make an alternative statement surrounding the allegations.

James Hamilton QC, an independent adviser to the Scottish Government’s Ministerial Code, is currently investigating the claims made by Mr Salmond against Ms Sturgeon.

His report is understood to be released this week. 

Committee convener Linda Fabiani said in a letter to Mr Salmond: “A majority of the committee agreed that, given the legal constraints under which the committee must operate, it is not able to publish any version of your submission on the ministerial code.

“That said, we offered you an opportunity to attend today to provide hours of evidence before the committee.

“As made clear last week, you could have commented extensively on all of your contact with the First Minister and your views on her actions and the Scottish Government’s actions.”

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She said the committee would continue its evidence-taking without further delay and would refer to other written evidence from Mr Salmond when it questioned Ms Sturgeon next week.

Those in favour of publishing were Scottish Conservatives Murdo Fraser and Margaret Mitchell, Scottish Labour’s Jackie Baillie and Scottish Liberal Democrat Alex Cole-Hamilton.

Those who opposed publishing were the four SNP members of the committee – Alasdair Allan, Tom Arthur, Linda Fabiani and Maureen Watt – as well as independent MSP Andy Wightman.

David McKie, of the law firm Levy & McRae, had set out Mr Salmond’s requests in a letter to the committee.

 

He said Mr Salmond “cannot take his oath to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth” until a number of concerns were addressed, including the publication of the evidence by the committee and concerns about him being “in legal jeopardy”.

Mr Fraser said of the decision: “It is hugely disappointing that some of my fellow committee members have failed to back my call for this vital evidence to be published – with appropriate redactions – despite much of it already being in the public domain.

“This again sums up the lack of scrutiny the SNP government will be subjected to in relation to this inquiry.

“It will constrain what we can say and what we can ask of witnesses, which is completely unacceptable.

“Today’s vote will only raise suspicions among the wider public that the SNP government have had no intention of being fully transparent with this inquiry despite what the first minister has said previously.”

 

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