Holyrood body rules that Salmond submission on ministerial code can be published

Katrine Bussey, PA Scotland Political EditorThu, 18 February 2021, 6:12 pm

A submission from former first minister Alex Salmond in which he alleges his predecessor Nicola Sturgeon broke the ministerial code can be published, a key Holyrood body has ruled.

The Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB) concluded “on balance” it would be “possible” for the document to be published.

The move could clear the way for the former first minister to give evidence to the Holyrood committee which is probing the Scottish Government’s botched handling of harassment allegations against him – which saw Mr Salmond win a £512,000 payout following a case at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

MSPs on the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints have previously decided against publishing the submission Mr Salmond made to a separate inquiry, which is considering whether Ms Sturgeon breached the ministerial code.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon denies breaching the ministerial code (Jane Barlow/PA)
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon denies breaching the ministerial code (Jane Barlow/PA)

Holyrood Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh, in a letter to committee convener Linda Fabiani, said that the SPCB, which met twice to discuss the issue on Thursday, had “collectively agreed that on balance it is possible to publish the submission by Alex Salmond on the ministerial code”.

Mr Macintosh, who was responding on behalf of the SPCB, said however that the “decision in principle to publish must now be followed by the processing of the submission in line with the committee’s evidence handling statement”.

On Wednesday evening MSPs on the committee narrowly voted against publishing, because of legal concerns over the identity of complainers in a separate criminal trial against Mr Salmond last year, where he was cleared of 13 charges at the High Court in Edinburgh.

While the former first minister’s submission to the Hamilton Inquiry has not been published as yet by the committee it has been made public online, with the former SNP leader claiming in it that the “Parliament has been repeatedly misled on a number of occasions about the nature of the meeting” he had with Ms Sturgeon at her home on April 2 2018.

Ms Sturgeon has insisted throughout that she did not breach the ministerial code which sets out how government ministers should behave.

Mr Salmond claimed that while Ms Sturgeon had told MSPs that she first learned of allegations against him at that meeting this was “untrue and is a breach of the ministerial code”.

Instead Mr Salmond claimed his former chief of staff Geoff Aberdein had “personally discussed the existence of the complaints, and summarised the substance of the complaints” in a meeting with Ms Sturgeon in Holyrood on March 29.

Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser, a member of the committee, welcomed the decision from the SPCB.

He said: “This is the right decision.

“The public deserve to know how £500,000 of taxpayers’ money was lost and why women were so badly let down.

“We must hear Alex Salmond’s side of the story to uncover what really happened.

“This welcome decision makes that possible.”

A Scottish Parliament spokeswoman said: “The Committee notes the decision of the SPCB. Mr Salmond’s submission will now be processed in line with the Committee’s statement on the handling of information, ahead of publication early next week.

“The Committee will be writing to Mr Salmond to invite him to give evidence to the Committee on February 24.”

A spokesman for the First Minister said: “The publication of this submission changes nothing as far as the First Minister is concerned, as she has always expected to be questioned on its contents.

“The only frustration is that she has still not had the chance to rebut the claims and conspiracy stories that have been levelled at her – and has lost count of how many times she has agreed to appear before the committee, only for the date to be postponed.”