Libby BrooksThu, 18 February 2021, 10:54 pm
Holyrood’s governing body has agreed to publish evidence from Alex Salmond in which he repeatedly accuses Nicola Sturgeon of breaking the ministerial code, after a committee investigating the Scottish government’s handling of harassment allegations against the former first minister twice voted against publication.
The decision clears the way for Salmond to give evidence in person and under oath before the Holyrood inquiry. He had refused to attend last week after the committee of MSPs reached crisis point, splitting 5-4 and largely along party lines over publication of the evidence.
Following a second split vote on Wednesday, the committee agreed to refer the matter to the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB) for a final decision, while it repeated its invitation to Salmond to appear next week.
A redacted version of the submission has been published elsewhere in the media. Salmond insists it is an essential part of his case alleging that Sturgeon lied to parliament. The current first minister has consistently denied her predecessor’s allegations and is scheduled to appear before the inquiry in the first week of March.
The inquiry is considering the Scottish government’s botched handling of sexual harassment allegations against Salmond made by civil servants in 2018. A judicial review of the process, brought by Salmond and costing the taxpayer substantially more than £500,000, found the investigation to be unlawful and “tainted with apparent bias” in January 2019.
In a letter to the inquiry committee on Thursday, Holyrood’s presiding officer, Ken Macintosh, wrote: “Following two meetings of the SPCB today, at which a range of opinions were aired, the SPCB collectively agreed that on balance it is possible to publish the submission by Alex Salmond on the ministerial code.”
A spokesperson for the inquiry committee said the submission would now be processed in line with evidence-handling rules – which may mean segments are redacted – and published early next week.
Following the decision, the chief executive of Rape Crisis Scotland, Sandy Brindley, wrote to Macintosh seeking “urgent reassurances” that parliament intends to uphold the contempt of court order which protects the anonymity of the complainers in Salmond’s criminal trial on 14 counts of alleged sexual assault, including an attempted rape, of which he was acquitted last year.
Questioning whether there was a sound legal basis for the decision, Brindley added that the treatment of the complainers from the trial had been “intolerable, particularly online”.
“They have been hounded, identified online and had threats made against them. I am clear that if the parliament publishes anything which could lead to the identification of any of the complainers you will be directly responsible for putting their safety at risk.”
The SNP MSP George Adam said the public would be utterly bewildered that the corporate body of the national parliament had “ignored clear legal advice” and decided to publish information “which it knows could jeopardise the court-ordered anonymity of complainants in a sexual offences case”.
Opposition MSPs on the inquiry disputed this interpretation, and welcomed the move. The Scottish Conservative committee member Murdo Fraser said: “We must hear Alex Salmond’s side of the story to uncover what really happened.”
Scottish Labour’s Jackie Baillie said: “From the very outset of this process I have been clear that I believe the committee has the right to consider any evidence that may be relevant to its work, and I am glad that the Scottish parliament’s corporate body has agreed.
“This committee is duty bound to get to the bottom of this sorry affair that frittered away over £500,000 of public money and which let down the women involved so badly.”
After a court challenge by the Spectator magazine last Thursday, the senior Scottish judge Lady Dorrian agreed to amend a court order she imposed on what could be reported about Salmond’s criminal trial.
In her written reasoning, which was published on Monday, Dorrian said it was not for the court “to interfere with … or to seek to direct the committee in any way”.