Andrew Neil shames SNP as party blocks publication of Salmond claims against Sturgeon

Peter Murrell gives opening statement at Alex Salmond inquiry

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A government committee investigating the botched handling of complaints against Alex Salmond have voted to not publish his submissions, despite a court ruling. The former Scottish First Minister made a submission on the Scottish Government ministerial code to the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints, in which he claims Ms Sturgeon broke the code. 

In the submission, Mr Salmond accused Ms Sturgeon of several breaches of the ministerial code and lying to parliament over meetings between the pair in 2018 regarding harassment claims made against Mr Salmond.

Ms Sturgeon has always denied the allegations and branded the claims “conspiracy theories”.

The decision comes despite a court case involving the Spectator magazine – which published his submission with redactions last month – who applied to the Court of Session to vary the terms of an order.

Ronald Clancy QC, who acted for the magazine, claimed the order is having a “significant influence” on how the committee is operating.

He added there is a “perfectly legitimate public interest” in publishing Mr Salmond’s submission and another unpublished submission, but said the committee’s position is redaction will not avoid the risk of jigsaw identification.

Lady Dorian ruled in the Spectator’s favour, and said: “If it is felt that decision is wrong, the remedy is to approach the committee.”

However, after a two-hour meeting last night, the Holyrood Harassment Complaints Committee concluded they would not publish due to legal concerns over the identity of complainers in Mr Salmond’s criminal trial last year, where he was cleared of 13 charges at the High Court in Edinburgh.

Nationalist MSPs Alasdair Allan, Tom Arthur, Linda Fabiani and Maureen Watt along with independent MSP Andy Wightman opposed publishing the submission.

Those in favour of publishing were Scottish Conservatives Murdo Fraser and Margaret Mitchell, Scottish Labour’s Jackie Baillie and Scottish Liberal Democrat Alex Cole-Hamilton.

However, six MSPs voted for the decision to be referred to the Scottish Parliament’s Corporate Body. 

The cross-party body includes MSPs from each major Scottish political party, including Jackson Carlaw, Liam McArthur, David Stewart, Sandra Wight and Andy Wightman and they will make the final decision.

Last night, Andrew Neil, Chairman of Spectator Magazine which launched the case, said: “After last week’s Court ruling in the Spectator case there is no legal impediment to publishing the Salmond submission yet still the SNP-majority Inquiry won’t do it.”

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He branded the move “remarkable and shameful.”

A Holyrood spokeswoman said last night said: “The Committee tonight considered the detail of Lady Dorrian’s ruling and its impact on the Committee’s decision not to publish Mr Salmond’s evidence on the ministerial code.

“The majority of the Committee is clear that the judgment has no impact on its previous decision and understanding of its legal obligations and its decision on the publication of the submission from the former first minister on the ministerial code.

“The scope of the order has not changed.

“However, the committee is keenly aware that publication is for the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body and has tonight agreed to refer this to the SPCB for a decision on its publication.” 

The Committee also invited Mr Salmond to give evidence on February 24.

He had refused to do so in previous weeks due to the fact his initial submission had refused to be published.

However, in a letter to the harassment complaints committee today he offered Wednesday next week as a possible date for his appearance.

Mr Salmond’s lawyers also noted the judgement by Lady Dorrian in the Spectator Case along with resubmitted evidence, boosted the chances of him giving evidence.

A Holyrood spokeswoman, added: “The committee is pleased to hear that Mr Salmond is willing to give evidence next Wednesday.

“He can, as a minimum, give evidence on all of his published submissions and records.

Peter Murrell gives opening statement at Alex Salmond inquiry

“As such, the committee plans to write to him tomorrow to invite him to attend next Wednesday.”

Nicola Sturgeon is also expected to appear to give evidence at the committee, but has also been postponed due to the ongoing legal matters.

A spokesman for First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “She hopes the committee can resolve its issues with Mr Salmond quickly so that she can finally answer the questions that are being put to her, and get on with the job of supporting the country through the pandemic.”

The Scottish Government’s Handling of Harassment Complaints Committee was set up after the Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled the Scottish Government’s handling of complaints against the former first minister to be “unlawful” in a judicial review.

This resulted in £512,250 in legal costs being paid out to Mr Salmond’s lawyers.

Mr Salmond was separately acquitted of 13 charges including sexual assault, attempted rape and indecent assault following a trial at the High Court in Edinburgh last year. 

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