Half of Scots back judge-led inquiry labelled as 'only way' to find out truth of Alex Salmond affair

Almost half of Scots believe the Alex Salmond inquiry should be escalated to a full judge-led public inquiry to find the truth, a new poll has shown.

Such a move could see the ongoing Salmond affair drag on for years if politicians back public opinion.

It would be the latest in a long line of public inquiries planned or committed to by the Scottish Government which to date include inquiries into care home deaths and the Scottish Government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, if realised.

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The figures also come as the poll shows trust in Scotland’s institutions plummeting among unionist voters and Scots overall.

Lord Advocate James Wolffe is expected to give evidence to the Salmond Inquiry on Tuesday.
Lord Advocate James Wolffe is expected to give evidence to the Salmond Inquiry on Tuesday.

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Opposition politicians suggested there were “grounds” for a judge-led inquiry into the Salmond affair, with Scottish Labour saying that public opinion on the issue should be taken into consideration.

In total, 46 per cent of Scots want to see a judge-led inquiry into the scandal, with a third (30 per cent) content for it to be in the hands of Holyrood.

A quarter of Scots (24 per cent) responded don’t know.

The figures come from a Savanta ComRes poll for The Scotsman where 1,009 Scottish adults were interviewed online between March 5 and 10.

Preferences for a judicial review are split down party lines. However, a significant minority of SNP voters in 2016 back the proposal.

Three quarters of Conservative voters in 2016 want to see a judicial inquiry into the affair, with 46 per cent of Scottish Labour voters and 55 per cent of Liberal Democrat voters agreeing.

A total of 42 per cent of those who did or could not vote in 2016 also want to see a judge-led inquiry into the scandal.

The SNP is the only party where more voters want to see the issue remain in the hands of Holyrood than be passed on to a judge.

A third (34 per cent) wish to see the issue escalated, but 41 per cent are happy with a parliamentary inquiry.

This is echoed in those who voted for independence in 2014, with 43 per cent of Yes voters content with a Holyrood inquiry compared with 23 per cent of No voters.

Well over half (58 per cent) of No voters in 2014 want a judge-led inquiry, backed by 37 per cent of Yes voters.

Of those who did not vote in 2014, 43 per cent would like to see a judicial inquiry while 28 per cent would not.

Respondents were also asked whether the scandal had reduced their trust in various Scottish institutions following criticism the approach to the inquiry by some politicians was sowing distrust.

People were asked whether they had more or less trust in the Scottish Government, the Scottish Parliament, the civil service, the Crown Office and the courts.

Political rhetoric around alleged political influence on key institutions such as the Crown Office was condemned by many in the legal profession, including the Lord Advocate.

However it is the Scottish Government, Holyrood and the civil service where trust has dropped the most.

Trust in the Scottish Government has been worst hit, with 40 per cent of Scots stating they trust it less, compared with 18 per cent trusting it more and 32 per cent saying the Salmond affair had made no difference to their view.

Holyrood and the civil service are the next worst hit, with net trust dropping by -15 per cent for both institutions.

The Crown Office (net trust down 12 per cent) and the Scottish courts (down 6 per cent) are the institutions least impacted by the scandal.

Rhetoric around the failings of Scotland’s institutions from the Scottish Conservatives has cut through, with net trust dropping in each institution by at least 34 per cent, with the Scottish Government worst hit at a net change in trust of -71 per cent.

For SNP voters, it is the civil service and the Crown Office which have seen the biggest loss in trust, with a net change of -10 and -4 per cent respectively.

Both Holyrood’s inquiry into the scandal and James Hamilton QC’s investigation into the potential breach of the ministerial code by the First Minister are set to report before the May elections.

Responding to public calls for a public inquiry, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader Jackie Baillie said such a move may be the “only way to deliver justice for the women involved”.

She said: “The failings of the Scottish Government on this matter and the contempt in the way they have treated the Parliament and the committee are clearly not lost on the public.

“This committee is resolved to uncover exactly what went wrong and why the women involved were so badly failed.

“Nonetheless, the public demand for a judge-led inquiry must be considered. If the Scottish Government and those responsible for this fiasco refuse to do the decent thing in light of the findings of the committee, a judge-led inquiry may be the only way to deliver justice for the women involved.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat member of the committee, Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP, said: "The release of further legal documents after the appearance of the First Minister at the committee has provided significant new areas for the committee to explore.

"It is of paramount importance to the national interest that the facts of the matter are established, with both the parliamentary inquiry and James Hamilton's inquest into breaches of the ministerial code expected to report in the coming weeks.

"Once these are completed there will be a time for considering which further legal avenues might be appropriate."

A Scottish Conservative spokesman said: "People across Scotland are becoming increasingly disgusted at SNP cover-ups and their contempt for transparency and accountability.

"As Nicola Sturgeon's SNP Government continues to obstruct and undermine MSPs investigating the Alex Salmond scandal, there are strong grounds for a judge-led inquiry."

It is understood the Scottish Greens will wait to see the results of the inquiry before examining any other options.

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