Alex Salmond inquiry: Convener accuses Scottish Government of 'delay, prevarication and obfuscation'

Linda Fabiani, chair of the Holyrood inquiry into the handling of harassment complaints against the former first minister, has expressed anger at a lack of transparency by the Scottish Government.

Former first minister Alex Salmond. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
Former first minister Alex Salmond. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

The SNP MSP said she was frustrated at having to continually write to government, and others who are giving evidence including Alex Salmond, to seek answers.

Her statement comes as the committee publishes two more letters demanding information from Deputy First Minister John Swinney and for a written statement from Mr Salmond.

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It also comes a day after the committee wrote to the government giving it until tomorrow to release the legal advice it received prior to losing a judicial review of its handling of complaints.

Convener of the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints Linda Fabiani.

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Ms Fabiani said: “Week after week the committee is in a position where it is clear to us that the evidence being shared with the committee lacks detail and indeed usefulness. This is both deeply problematic and deeply disrespectful.

“I have, on multiple occasions, made it clear exactly what evidence the committee wants to see. There is no doubt that we have received a large amount of information, but we are receiving very few clear answers.

“I am in a position today where I am, yet again, writing letters to express my frustration at the delay, the prevarication and obfuscation. But this goes beyond frustration. This must end and we will complete our work and do the job given to us by the nation’s Parliament.”

In her letter to Mr Swinney, she says it is “unacceptable” that despite a request for a “timeline or written submission giving information on the process undertaken by the Scottish Government in investigating the complaints", none had been received.

She also asks why new information, disclosed on November 6, that the private secretary to Nicola Sturgeon when she was Deputy First Minister, had met twice with one of the complainers against Mr Salmond, had not been given to the committee before.

“The committee wants to know why this is the first time this information has been given to the committee, including why it did not feature in the Scottish Government’s chronology of events relating to the development of the Scottish Government’s harassment policy," she writes.

"The interaction between other officials and the complainants was referenced so the committee fails to understand why this interaction was never mentioned.”

In her letter to Mr Salmond, Ms Fabiani says she is "writing again to impress upon you the urgency of this matter” and asks him to provide the committee with a written statement prior to him giving oral evidence next month.

“Your written submission remains outstanding, and has been requested numerous times, most recently in my letter of 6 November," she writes.

“The committee requires sufficient detail on your account of the complaints handling phase, the judicial review and the ministerial code phase in an initial submission."

Reacting to Ms Fabiani's statement, Scottish Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser, who sits on the committee, said: “The First Minister promised Parliament she would co-operate fully with this vital inquiry.

“We find ourselves in a situation where even the SNP committee convener doesn’t believe that to be the case and is once again heavily criticising the SNP Government for failing to keep their promises. The SNP must be fully transparent with the committee otherwise it will only look like they have something murky to hide.”

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie, who also sits on the committee, accused the Scottish Government of "obstruction and a culture of secrecy” as she revealed that five Parliamentary Questions surrounding the First Minister’s meeting with Geoff Aberdein – Mr Salmond's chief of staff when he was first minister – have been returned with no answers.

The questions submitted by Ms Baillie sought to uncover when the meeting was placed and then removed from the ministerial diary, where it took place, what was discussed, and if there were any prior meetings between Nicola Sturgeon, or her chief of staff Liz Lloyd, and Mr Aberdein.

Ms Sturgeon had previously stated she first heard about allegations regarding Mr Salmond at a meeting with him at her home on April 2, 2018, but later revealed she had “forgotten" about a meeting a few days previously with Mr Aberdein, in which there was mention of the allegations.

In response to four of the questions, the Scottish Government simply stated that it “holds no information”.

Ms Baillie said: “This is just the latest example of the pervasive culture of secrecy in the Scottish Government and the lengths to which they will go to protect the reputation of the First Minister.

“By failing to answer these legitimate and necessary questions, the Scottish Government has displayed a contempt for transparency and utter disdain for the work of the committee. This is symbolic of the obstruction that the committee has faced and the toxic political culture that the SNP Government has created and nurtured.

“Try as they might, the truth will out and I will use everything at my disposal to ensure that this sordid episode in Scottish political history is exposed.”

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