Spectator asks judge to allow fuller release of Alex Salmond claims

Severin Carrell Scotland editorWed, 10 February 2021, 4:44 pm

<img src="https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/YPzS_pXTTfoO_TLFVaUh4g–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://s.yimg.com/uu/api/res/1.2/JMZZU9nIVGMdJ5_ba2I.Gg–~B/aD02MDA7dz0xMDAwO2FwcGlkPXl0YWNoeW9u/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/927dbdcc295e0063c122b90d71718e98&quot; alt="<span>Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian
Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

The Spectator magazine has launched a court action in an attempt to publish more details about Alex Salmond’s allegations that former Scottish National party colleagues conspired against him.

The magazine will ask Lady Dorrian, Scotland’s second-most senior judge, on Thursday to amend a court order she imposed during Salmond’s trial last year on 14 counts of sexual assault and an attempted rape, where the former first minister was acquitted of all charges.

Their legal action came to light as Nicola Sturgeon, Salmond’s successor as SNP leader, clashed with Conservative and Labour leaders over her private meetings with Salmond where they discussed harassment claims against him.

Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Tory leader, said Sturgeon was clearly in breach of the ministerial code by failing to notify civil servants she was meeting Salmond. Sturgeon’s written evidence about those meetings “utterly contradicted” what she had first told parliament about them, Davidson said.

She and Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour’s acting leader, said Sturgeon should quit if she was found to have broken the ministerial code.

“We have failed women, taxpayers’ money and a cover-up at the heart of government, and this whole affair stinks to high heaven,” Davidson said. “Someone should take responsibility for these failings. Shouldn’t it be you, first minister?”

Questioned by Baillie during first minister’s questions, Sturgeon refused three times to confirm she would resign if found to have breached the ministerial code. She insisted she had acted honourably throughout the process.

“All along I was determined I would do nothing to intervene in, or compromise the confidentiality and the independence and integrity of, a process that was kicked off because women – who’s voice frankly has been too often lost in this whole process – because women came forward with complaints,” she told MSPs.

It is thought the Spectator wants to publish more details about Salmond’s submission to a long-running Holyrood investigation on the Scottish government’s botched internal inquiry into allegations he sexually harassed two female officials.

The Holyrood committee is in crisis after a deep split on Tuesday over how to handle Salmond’s submission. After a tense four-hour meeting, the committee voted five to four against releasing Salmond’s written statement.

There are suggestions the magazine, published by the veteran editor and broadcaster Andrew Neil, also wants to publish a submission to the Holyrood inquiry from Salmond’s former chief of staff, Geoff Aberdein. The committee has been told by the parliament’s lawyers it cannot publish Aberdein’s submission for legal reasons.

It is understood the Spectator will argue there is a strong public interest in disclosure under article 10 of the European convention on human rights, given the significance of Salmond’s allegations about Sturgeon’s government and party.

Baillie, a committee member who voted to publish Salmond’s document in heavily redacted form, said the Spectator’s legal action could prove critical to the committee’s investigation.

Salmond refused his second witness date on Tuesday this week after claiming it was too legally difficult for him to appear if the committee was unable to refer to his submission.

He had also asked for an indemnity against prosecution in case he gave out legally-restricted information; the parliament said it was impossible to give him that assurance.

The standoff has led to speculation he will refuse to give evidence to the committee. With time quickly running out before Holyrood is dissolved in time for May’s Scottish elections, MSPs on the committee believe their inquiry is on the brink of collapse.

Baillie said that if the court ruled in the Spectator’s favour, her committee should hold an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss its ramifications for their investigation.

“The credibility of the committee and its work hangs in the balance. If the Spectator’s legal challenge is successful, then the committee must seize the opportunity to question Mr Salmond,” she said.