Alex Salmond inquiry: Convener raps knuckles of former First Minister for public release of evidence
Alex Salmond has been criticised by the convener of an inquiry into the Scottish Government’s botched handling of harassment allegations against him, for making his evidence public and snubbing the committee’s invitation to attend in person next week.
SNP MSP Linda Fabiani has written to the former First Minister to express her “disappointment” about his actions, and to re-issue a request for him to appear before the inquiry committee.
Mr Salmond had said it would “send a very bad message” if he were to travel to the Scottish Parliament to attend the inquiry in person given the tightening of Covid-19 regulations.
However Ms Fabiani said that while "there is rightly a strong presumption against committees meeting in person, the Presiding Officer has recognised that there may be a very small number of circumstances where committee business cannot be effectively undertaken by any means other than meeting in person. Decisions on this are at the discretion of the convener and my judgement is that this evidence session is one of those exceptional circumstances.”
She added: “I was particularly disappointed to receive such a definitive response from you without you having engaged at all with the Clerk to the Committee to explore the options for allowing you to give evidence in a safe and secure way. It is clearly both your preference and the Committee’s preference that you are given the opportunity to answer the Committee’s questions in depth and in person."
Ms Fabiani said that Mr Salmond's suggestion to wait until February 16 to appear would also derail the committee’s timescales and did “not take into account the need to give the Scottish Government time to respond to the report “before the election purdah rules come into force”.
In her letter she offers Mr Salmond the opportunity to attend remotely, which has been taken up by other witnesses during the course of the inquiry.
The Holyrood inquiry is examining the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment complaints against Mr Salmond which led to a £500,000 legal bill after a judicial review was conceded on the grounds of “apparent bias”. Mr Salmond was also acquitted of sexual offence charges in a high-profile trial in Edinburgh last year.
Committee members had hoped to interrogate both Mr Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon in person in the coming weeks.
On his demand that the committee can assure him he would be protected from prosecution from the Crown Office before he gives evidence, Ms Fabiani writes: “I am very clear that evidence to the Committee, under oath or solemn affirmation, must comply with the relevant legal obligations. This includes respecting Lady Dorrian’s orders and not sharing confidential information from the criminal trial."
She then raps Mr Salmond for releasing his written evidence to the committee into the public domain before committee clerks had made sure it was legally compliant.
"I was extremely unhappy that you did not allow time for the Committee clerks to go through the complex process of ensuring your submission to James Hamilton, which you also submitted to the Committee as evidence, was compliant with the Committee’s legal obligations and therefore publishable. Sharing it more widely, with the result that it is now in the public domain, did not respect the Parliamentary process.”
Mr Salmond has been asked for comment.