Alex Salmond inquiry: Date agreed for former first minister's appearance but final decision on publication of evidence to be made tomorrow

Alex Salmond’s appearance in front of the harassment complaints committee is still up in the air after the Holyrood inquiry deferred the decision on whether to publish the former first minister’s evidence on the ministerial code to the Scottish Parliament’s Corporate Body (SPCB).

Alex Salmond is set to appear in front of the harassment complaints committee next week
Alex Salmond is set to appear in front of the harassment complaints committee next week

Mr Salmond’s evidence had initially been blocked from being published due to legal concerns – an issue the former first minister’s legal team believed had been overcome by the judgement by Lady Dorrian on Thursday last week, along with resubmitted evidence.

The non-publication of evidence is understood to be the main hurdle stopping Mr Salmond from appearing in front of the committee, though in a letter to the committee today he offered Wednesday next week as a possible date for his appearance.

That date – February 24 – was agreed to by the committee, which now expects Mr Salmond to give evidence on at least his submissions that have been published.

During a more than two-hour long meeting of the Salmond inquiry, MSPs voted along the same lines as before Lady Dorrian’s judgement on the publication of Mr Salmond’s ministerial code submission.

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That decision came after legal advice from parliamentary lawyers who stated the scope of the order had not changed.

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The four SNP members, plus independent Andy Wightman, voted against publishing the submission. However, six MSPs, including the convener Linda Fabiani, voted for the decision to be referred to the Scottish Parliament’s Corporate Body.

That group of MSPs who decide on the corporate aspects of the Parliament, including staff costs and facilities, will meet on Thursday morning at 9:30am and make the final decision.

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The cross-party body includes current or former MSPs from each major party, including Jackson Carlaw, Liam McArthur, David Stewart, Sandra Wight and Mr Wightman.

The decision was made mainly due to the fact the Scottish Parliament does not have parliamentary privilege and would be liable to criminal action should the submission breach Lady Dorrian’s court order.

It is understood concerns around potential legal risk to the SPCB is what led to the decision being deferred.

However, the same parliamentary lawyers advise both the committee and the SPCB, so the advice is likely to be similar to that provided to the inquiry.

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The submission is also still available to read on The Spectator’s website.

It is also understood the committee expects the vast majority of Mr Salmond’s other submissions to be published, albeit with minor redactions, although no final decision has been made on the matter.

A Scottish Parliament spokesperson said: “The committee tonight considered the detail of Lady Dorrian’s ruling and its impact on the committee’s decision not to publish Mr Salmond’s evidence on the ministerial code.

"The majority of the committee is clear that the judgement has no impact on its previous decision and understanding of its legal obligations and its decision on the publication of the submission from the former first minister on the ministerial code. The scope of the order has not changed.

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“However, the committee is keenly aware that publication is for the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body and has tonight agreed to refer this to the SPCB for a decision on its publication.

“The committee is pleased to hear that Mr Salmond is willing to give evidence next Wednesday. He can, as a minimum, give evidence on all of his published submissions and records. As such, the committee plans to write to him tomorrow to invite him to attend next Wednesday.”

The committee is examining the botched handling of harassment complaints against Mr Salmond by the Scottish Government, which led to a £500,000 legal bill after the government conceded a judicial review challenge on the grounds of the process being “tainted by apparent bias”.

Mr Salmond was also acquitted of sexual offence charges in a trial last year.

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Ms Sturgeon is set to give her evidence to the committee in the first week of March.

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