Analysis: Is the Alex Salmond inquiry just a waste of everyone's time?

Holyrood’s inquiry into the botched handling of harassment complaints against former first minister Alex Salmond is making Scotland’s major institutions feel and sound broken.

Nicola Sturgeon announced the parliamentary inquiry into the botched handling of harassment complaints by the Scottish Government in January 2019.

We are more than two years, a criminal trial and a global pandemic on from when the inquiry was announced in 2019, yet it feels like little has been accomplished.

With Mr Salmond now refusing – again – to appear in front of the committee on tomorrow and Peter Murrell performing verbal gymnastics in full view of his garden’s magpies, one wonders why the committee has bothered.

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We know, of course, the Scottish Government’s internal machine implemented a flawed procedure, but that was clear from the moment the judicial review action was conceded.

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In addition, we know the women at the heart of the process still do not have closure and were failed through incompetence at almost every stage of the process.

The First Minister is still in the dock for a breach of the ministerial code, either for conspiracy, for forgetfulness or for failing to intervene in a process designed to avoid the involvement of ministers.

We still lack any hard evidence in favour of the conspiracy charge, though any chance of it being published has been nullified by Scottish Parliament lawyers and the overriding moral requirement – whether incidents are proven or not – to keep alleged sexual harassment victims anonymous.

We also know the SNP has been torn apart by those loyal to Mr Salmond and those still wedded to the First Minister, with neither side willing to admit defeat in a battle for the hearts of their supporters.

The questions as to why the process went so horribly wrong and the opportunity for lessons to be learned have been discarded.

Instead, they have been replaced by a failure to be forensic in favour of rhetoric and political fervour.

This is not the fault solely of the committee, though it must take some of the blame.

The Scottish Government has been obstructive since the very start. The failure to publish the legal advice it received in connection with the judicial review is a political one, not a moral one, certainly not a legitimate legal one, and was carefully calculated.

It is the institution, rather than any one individual, which has shirked transparency in favour of secrecy and ditched accountability in favour of legally couched faux-immunity.

However, given the criminal nature of the investigations before the committee began its work in earnest and the court orders at play, it is hard to see how an open and public inquiry could ever have examined the heart of the issues.

A committee tied down by those orders may never have been able to explore the issues in the depth required, but that is not a sufficient excuse for the farce that has played out.

In hindsight, perhaps a judge-led inquiry could have avoided some of the political gamesmanship.

Nicola Sturgeon’s appearance next week will be a must watch, but is unlikely to unearth anything fresh unless the First Minister or the inquiry has a surprise hidden up their sleeve.

It will be the beginning of the end of a period that for Scotland has exposed the worst of its institutions and the murky underbelly of its politics.

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