The inquiry into the Scottish Government’s handling of complaints against Alex Salmond plans to invite Nicola Sturgeon’s husband and chief executive of the SNP to give evidence in front of MSPs.
The committee has said it will start hearing witnesses after the summer recess with permanent secretary Leslie Evans likely to be the first to appear in front of MSPs.
At the first meeting of the inquiry since Mr Salmond’s acquittal from all charges including attempted rape and sexual assault following a trial at the High Court in Edinburgh in March, MSPs laid out how they expect the inquiry to be handled.
Personal phone records of senior civil servants and Nicola Sturgeon, as well as internal emails from the SNP and evidence Mr Salmond was to use during the judicial review which led to a £500,000 pay out to the former First Minister could be examined by the committee as part of their evidence gathering.
Witnesses, which are likely to include both the current and former First Minister, could also be asked to give evidence under oath to underline the importance of the inquiry.
As well as Mr Salmond, Ms Sturgeon and Ms Evans, the committee confirmed its plans to invite the CEO of the SNP and husband of the First Minister, Peter Murrell, the Lord Advocate James Wolffe, and deputy First Minister John Swinney.
The former chief of staff to Mr Salmond, Geoff Aberdein and the current First Minister's chief of staff Elizabeth Lloyd will also be invited to take part alongside former permanent secretaries, staff trade unions, and senior civil servants.
Members of the committee also said they would examine the “culture” of the Scottish Government going back as far as 2008 when the first complaint against Mr Salmond was received.
The inquiry is also likely to meet weekly from August, potentially in the main parliamentary chamber at Holyrood as well as virtually, after MSPs said they must undertake a “fresh and fluid inquiry”.
Meeting virtually today, members of the committee expressed frustration at the length of time it was taking for the Scottish Government to respond to information requests.
Convener Linda Fabiani said the committee had agreed a timetable for the Scottish Government to provide written evidence.
Evidence on the development of the government’s procedure for handling complaints was received by the deadline of June 22, with written evidence on the judicial review and the government’s handling of specific complaints involving Mr Salmond by mid-July and the end of July respectively.
Deputy convener of the committee, Margaret Mitchell, said: “A lot of the information that we have sought has been from the Scottish Government and I think it has been a frustration that indeed a lot of the deadlines that we have set have not been met, so I think it is entirely appropriate that the committee hears from the permanent secretary as the first witness and we hear exactly the reasons why that should be and anything else she has to say.
The Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton echoed the concerns and said the committee felt like an “afterthought” for the Scottish Government with requests for information not taken as “seriously as it might”.
He said: “It is not an optional requirement, we could compel the government to act in that way. I hope we don’t have to and we have better cooperation going forward but we’re not asking them to reinvent the wheel here.”
Deputy leader of the Scottish Labour Party, Jackie Baille, called for the committee to sit in the main chamber at Holyrood given the impracticalities of finding space given social distancing.
She said: “I don’t think the work of this committee can be conducted on a virtual basis, although we’ve managed admirably so far, I do think there is a need to meet in person and I would certainly favour a program of weekly meetings or whatever frequency you determine is suitable.
“I would favour us making a bid for time in the chamber to allow us all to be present together along with the class to ensure that there is complete transparency and engagement with what the committee does.
Conservative MSP Donald Cameron called for the committee to take sworn evidence with witnesses taking an oath before appearing before the committee.
He said: “It seems absolutely imperative that the evidence we get is as accurate as can be and we need the opportunity to test both its credibility and its veracity not least because we are likely to get conflicting versions of events and there will disputed areas of fact.
“Secondly, we are as has been said dealing with very serious matters involving the highest echelons of the Scottish civil service and the conduct of very senior ministers past and present.
“Taking sworn evidence underscores the gravity of the subject matter of this inquiry and will ensure we get the best possible evidence.”
A Scottish Parliament spokesperson said: “At its meeting today, the committee agreed to invite the permanent secretary to give evidence to the committee in mid-August.“The committee also agreed a list of potential witnesses to invite written evidence from at this stage. This list will be published shortly.
“Over the summer the committee will be gathering evidence as it begins its inquiry. Letters inviting written evidence will be published when they are issued and submissions to the inquiry will be made available on the Parliament’s website.”