Alex Salmond inquiry: Former first minister pulls out of committee appearance

Alex Salmond has withdrawn from a planned appearance in front of the Scottish Parliament’s harassment complaints committee following a dramatic day in the corridors of Holyrood.

Alex Salmond has confirmed whether he will attend a session of the harassment complaints committee tomorrow.
Alex Salmond has confirmed whether he will attend a session of the harassment complaints committee tomorrow.
Alex Salmond has confirmed whether he will attend a session of the harassment complaints committee tomorrow.

The former first minister confirmed tonight he would not give evidence to the committee in person on Wednesday following the decision to delete, redact and republish his revised submission on the potential ministerial code breach by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

His decision came as the Scottish Parliament was threatened with criminal proceedings by the Crown Office if it did not redact Mr Salmond’s key evidence.

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It is understood Mr Salmond has offered this coming Friday as an alternative day to appear in front of the committee, with the refusal to attend on Wednesday due to the legal difficulties arising from the decision to redact his evidence on the ministerial code.

This offer will be discussed at Wednesday’s private meeting of the committee.

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In a letter from his legal team to the committee seen by The Scotsman, Mr Salmond’s team said the redactions to his evidence have “created a significant legal impediment to his oral evidence”.

It states: “As we made clear, a substantial part of [our] client’s evidence was deleted without reference to him, which has created a significant legal impediment to his oral evidence.

"That impediment requires careful consideration and reflection as well as legal advice.”

The letter adds that committee convener Linda Fabiani rejected the suggestion of a meeting on Wednesday to discuss the scenario, labelling it unproductive and promising written guidance on the potential parameters of his evidence instead.

Responding, Mr Salmond’s legal team state: “As it happens, no such written guidance has been sent to us in spite of the fact that we have been asking for this for months.

“Neither we nor our client can see how a meeting to discuss the parameters of his evidence could be anything other than productive or helpful.

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"It is now clearly impossible for him to attend tomorrow in these circumstances, but he remains willing to attend on Friday. He accepts that is entirely in the hands of the committee to whom he has asked that we copy this correspondence.”

A Scottish Parliament spokesperson said: “Mr Salmond has informed the committee that he will not be attending tomorrow’s meeting to give evidence. The committee will instead meet in private to discuss the implications of Mr Salmond’s response and the next steps for its work.”

The decision has led Alistair Bonnington, one of Ms Sturgeon’s former lecturers and a former honorary professor of law at the University of Glasgow, to label the Crown Office as the “lickspittle arm of the current SNP Government”.

In an opinion piece for The Scotsman, Mr Bonnington said the intervention by the Crown showed “things have gone horribly wrong in Scotland’s constitutional system”.

He said: “Recent events make it impossible for my respect for the Scottish Crown to continue. I look on in horror at the present degeneration of the Crown into what appears to be a lickspittle arm of the current SNP Government.

"I regret to say that I cannot see any other explanation than that this communication was at the direct command of the cabal currently at the head of the Scottish Government.

"In my view, the Crown's weird intervention in the Salmond inquiry makes it plain that things have gone horribly wrong in Scotland's constitutional system.

"To put things right may well require the scalps of many of today's Stalinist inner circle in Scotland's Government”.

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Non-publication of Mr Salmond’s evidence was previously understood to be the final hurdle stopping the former leader of the SNP from giving evidence.

The issue was thought to have been overcome when the Scottish Parliament’s Corporate Body (SPCB) overturned two votes by the harassment complaints committee to publish the evidence.

However, the Crown Office’s intervention and Parliament’s resulting redactions led to a warning from Mr Salmond’s legal team that the move could lead to his withdrawal.

In a letter to the committee, David McKie of Levy and McRae warned convener Linda Fabiani that the redactions could “have a material bearing on whether he is able to attend tomorrow”.

It continued: “As matters stand, we have advised him that the apparent intervention from the Crown suggests that there has to be a material risk to him in speaking to his submission. He cannot be placed in legal jeopardy.”

In response, the Scottish Conservatives and Scottish Labour demanded the head of the Crown Office, James Wolffe QC, give an urgent statement to parliament on the fiasco on Wednesday.

Jackie Baillie, the interim leader of Scottish Labour, said Mr Wolffe and Crown agent David Harvie must appear in Holyrood and called for the publication of the letter from the Crown to the SPCB.

She said: “Too much time and money has been spent on this sordid tale. The committee must be able to get on with its work, unobstructed and without information being inappropriately withheld.”

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The harassment complaints 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.

Ms Sturgeon is expected to give evidence next week.

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