Alex Salmond probe stand-off leaves Scotland in 'constitutional crisis'

Scotland is facing a "constitutional crisis" over the stalled inquiry into the Scottish Government's handling of complaints against Alex Salmond, according to Labour leader Richard Leonard.

Tuesday, 6th October 2020, 7:00 am
Alex Salmond won a judicial review against the Scottish Government
Alex Salmond won a judicial review against the Scottish Government

Mr Leonard has compared the SNP Government at Holyrood to the Tory governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major in the 1980s and 1990s over the way they "rode roughshod" over Parliament.

The head of the probe, SNP MSP Linda Fabiani, announced last week the specially convened Holyrood committee had halted its inquiry amid frustration over the lack of information being provided by several key figures. These included Mr Salmond, SNP chief executive Peter Murrell and the Government itself.

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Ministers insist they have “co-operated fully” with the probe, which has been established after Mr Salmond won a judicial review against the Government over its handling of the probe at a cost of more than £500,000 to taxpayers a year back in January.

But Mr Leonard says in a column for The Scotsman the prospect of a Commons committee at Westminster facing such obstruction from the Government of the day would be "taboo" and claims the situation is serving to undermine devolution.

"Next Sunday marks the 20th anniversary of the death of Donald Dewar, whose greatest legacy is the Scottish Parliament," he said.

"On the day the Scottish Parliament first met in 1999, he proclaimed: ‘This is about more than our politics and our laws. This is about who we are, how we carry ourselves.'

"Yet, two decades on from what was universally accepted across the chamber as a founding principle of Scottish devolution, SNP ministers are now behaving in a way that is bringing it into disrepute.

"The Scottish Government’s supremely arrogant conduct has precipitated a constitutional crisis in the making."

The Holyrood inquiry had been scheduled to hear from more witnesses today.

But Ms Fabiani revealed last week that requested responses were still outstanding from the Scottish Government, Mr Salmond himself and Mr Murrell - Nicola Sturgeon’s husband - which has resulted in the committee’s public evidence sessions being put on hold.

"The Thatcher and Major governments in the 1980s and early to mid-1990s routinely rode roughshod over the public’s right to know and swept scandals and abuses under the carpet," Mr Leonard adds.

"The Scottish Government’s conduct over the Salmond and care homes inquiries shows no shame and is all-too reminiscent of the behaviour displayed by the Tory governments of the Thatcher and Major era."

Ms Sturgeon last week rejected claims that her Government was "obstructing" the inquiry and told MSPs that she would face the committee "any time".

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We have co-operated fully with the committee since the beginning of its inquiry, we have answered directly every question asked by the Committee, and any suggestion of obstruction is unwarranted.

“We have already provided the Committee with over 1,000 pages of relevant material, and Government witnesses have provided more than ten hours of oral evidence. We also intend to initiate legal proceedings seeking to allow the release of further documents.

“As the committee has recognised, the inquiry involves sensitive information. We are providing the relevant information requested so far as is possible given the confidentiality, data protection and legal restrictions that apply and will continue to do so.”

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