Alex Salmond rebuked by Holyrood inquiry chair over lack of ‘respect’

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ALEX Salmond has been accused of disrespecting the Holyrood inquiry into his legal fight with Nicola Sturgeon’s Government, leaving its convener “extremely unhappy”.

In a stinging letter to the former First Minister, SNP MSP Linda Fabiani criticised him for failing to ensure his public charge-sheet against his successor was legally acceptable.

She told him: “I was extremely unhappy that you did not allow time for the Committee clerks to go through the complex process of ensuring your submission… was compliant with the Committee’s legal obligations and therefore publishable [by the inquiry].

“Sharing it more widely, with the result that it is now in the public domain, did not respect the Parliamentary process.” 

Ms Fabiani also gave short shrift to Mr Salmond’s request for a month’s delay in his oral evidence session, originally pencilled in for next Tuesday, saying he may have to testify online instead.

Mr Salmond made the submission in question to the independence advisor on the Scottish ministerial code, James Hamilton, then also shared it with the  inquiry.

In it, Mr Salmond accused Ms Sturgeon of repeatedly misleading parliament – both the chamber and the committee – over controversial meetings with and about him in 2018.

 Alex Salmond accuses Nicola Sturgeon of giving ‘untrue’ evidence to Holyrood inquiry

The First Minister insists she did not mislead parliament and so break the ministerial code, which would be regarded as a resignation offence.

Mr Hamilton this week confirmed he was “minded” to include Ms Sturgeon’s disputed statements to parliament in his ongoing inquiry into whether there was any breach.

The inquiry is looking into the Scottish Government’s botched probe into sexual misconduct claims levelled against Mr Salmond in 2018 by two civil servants.

Mr Salmond had the probe set aside in a judicial review by showing it was “tainted by apparent bias”, a Government flaw that left taxpayers with a £512,000 bill for his costs.

On Tuesday, the inquiry invited Mr Salmond to appear before it in person next week, on January 19, after experiencing problems with virtual hearings.

The next day, Mr Salmond’s lawyer said his client, who has asthma, had declined the invite as he did not want to attend amid the pandemic and its tighter rules and for legal reasons.

He suggested February 16 instead.

Besides the health concerns, Mr Salmond has long argued he should be able to present evidence obtained for the defence of his 2020 criminal trial to the inquiry.

The Crown Office has warned this could lead to his prosecution, as the files are confidential.

Mr Salmond has urged the committee to seek the material from the Crown itself, and has sought an assurance that he will be able to tell the whole truth without fear of prosecution.

 When will curtain fall on Salmond-Sturgeon psychodrama? Opinion, Alison Rowat

In her letter to Mr Salmond, Ms Fabiani took issue with his demands.

She said: “I was disappointed to receive yesterday’s response from your legal advisers, following my invitation to you on 12 January. 

“The Committee has and will continue to ensure that Covid restrictions are fully reflected in the way we operate.

“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.” 

Ms Fabiani then said she was “particularly disappointed to receive such a definitive response” without Mr Salmond checking first about safety with the inquiry clerks.

“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.”

She said Mr Salmond’s suggested timescale did not take into account the inquiry’s need to report before the pre-Holyrood election purdah period began in a few months, and the need to give the Scottish Government time to respond.

 Nicola Sturgeon says ministerial code probe can check if she misled parliament

She said: “Of course I understand that you may feel unable, or reluctant, to travel from your home whilst the current restrictions are in place, and it is also clear that we cannot assume the restrictions will be lifted in time for your proposed alternative date.  

“If you do not wish to reconsider the Committee’s proposal and to discuss with us in detail the possible arrangements, an alternative format may have to be considered by the Committee which may not align with your preference to appear in person – for example, the  option of  MSPs attending the meeting in person and you appearing remotely.

“The Committee has done this twice already during this inquiry and it was certainly more effective than an entirely remote session.”

She also said that, contrary to his complaints, the inquiry had sought material from the Crown and from the judicial review with some success, but not everything was available.

“There will always be more information to pursue in any inquiry, and there is certainly more detail the Committee would wish to have seen.

“I understand why this evidence from the criminal trial is central to you as an individual.

However, the Committee must make progress.”

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