THE Scottish Parliament is suffering a “crisis of credibility” over its censorship of evidence to the Alex Salmond inquiry, an MSP has warned.
Labour’s Neil Findlay said the Lord Advocate and Holyrood’s management body should face urgent questions about the latest twists in the Salmond affair.
He also suggested the Lord Advocate, as both a member of the Government and head of the Crown Office, was conflicted in the matter.
A senior SNP councillor also warned Nicola Sturgeon the “madness” was “jeopardising the cause of independence”.
It followed the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB), Holyrood’s cross-party management group, agreeing to censor evidence from Mr Salmond earlier.
The SPCB last week agreed that the submission, in which the former First Minister accuses Nicola Sturgeon of misleading parliament, could be published.
It was put on the parliament’s website last night.
However the Crown Office, which is heavily criticised in some of Mr Salmond’s other evidence, raised “grave concerns” it might breach a court order related to his criminal trial.
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The SPCB then held an emergency meeting this morning and agreed to withdraw Mr Salmond’s submission and redact it “in line with representations from the Crown Office”.
This led to five of the 33 sections being deleted and replaced with purple bars.
Mr Salmond’s lawyers have said their client, who is due to testify to MSPs tomorrow, may now withdraw, and demanded to see the grounds for the changes.
The inquiry is looking at how the Scottish Government bungled a probe into sexual misconduct allegations made against Mr Salmond by civil servants in 2018.
He had the exercise overturned in a judicial review in January 2019, showing it had been unfair, unlawful and “tainted by apparent bias”.
He was later charged with sexual assault but cleared of all counts at a High Court trial last March.
The Government’s mistakes left taxpayers with a £512,000 bill for his legal costs.
After his victory in the civil case, Mr Salmond was charged with sexual assault but cleared on all counts at a High Court trial last March.
Raising a point of order at the start of chamber business just after 2pm, Mr Findlay said: “I reluctantly rise to make an urgent request.
“Last night we saw the publication by this parliament of evidence that had been submitted to the committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints [the Salmond inquiry].
“That evidence has now been withdrawn at the insistence of the Crown Office and the Lord Advocate, who is a member of the Government, the very Government who he presumably advised to pursue the original flawed court case that result in it collapsing and a million pounds of public money being lost.
“Presiding Officer, this is a crisis for the credibility of this parliament, and we as members and the pubic we represent must hear from the Lord Advocate the reasons for this decision.
“We must make time today for this member of the cabinet to come before is to answer urgent questions from members on this crisis of credibility.
“This cannot simply be just allowed to pass.”
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Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh, who chairs the SPCB, said the decision to redact the evidence had been taken by the SPCB, not on the insistence of the Lord Advocate.
He said it would be a matter for the cross-party bureau, which deals with timetabling business in the chamber, to decide on the Lord Advocate appearing to take questions.
Mr Findlay then suggested a member of the SPCB could be questioned instead.
He said: “We need someone to come and explain to use what has happened, because members who don’t sit on the Corporate Body have no idea what happened in that regard.
“So can we have someone from the Corporate Body come and take questions from members on that, because we simply cannot allow this to pass without members interrogating that decision and finding out for themselves, so we can reply to people in our constituencies who are asking that very same question.”
Mr Macintosh replied: “I would suggest to Mr Findlay that if he has questions for the Corporate Body he can raise them, he can write to me directly or to members of the Corporate Body.
“As with any other body in this parliament, members elect members to committees, they elect members to the Corporate Body and they ten entrust them to take decisions on their behalf.
“The Corporate Body will share information with members as it is fit and proper to do so, and where it can do so.
“That is the trust we have given to every other committee of this parliament.”
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On Twitter, Chris McEleny, the former SNP council group leader in Inverclyde, appealed to the First Minister to stop the damage being done by the turbulence.
He said: “Our independence that has for so long been in sight is now within our grasp. Stop this madness that your officials & staff are responsible for which is ruining the hard earned reputation of our Parliament & jeopardising the cause of independence.”
A message to @NicolaSturgeon
Our independence that has for so long been in sight is now within our grasp.
Stop this madness that your officials & staff are responsible for which is ruining the hard earned reputation of our Parliament & jeopardising the cause of independence.
— Christopher McEleny (@ChrisMcEleny) February 23, 2021
Labour MSP leader Jackie Baillie, who sits in the inquiry, later demanded to see the Crown Office’s letter to see if it threatened parliament with contempt of court action.
She said: “Given that the Lord Advocate is in charge of the Crown Office and a member of the Government, he should be invited to come before Parliament and make an urgent statement, along with the Crown Agent David Harvie.
“And – given the significant public interest – I have asked the Presiding Officer to publish the letter from the Crown Office to the Parliament, so that we can better understand the restrictions placed on the Corporate Body.
“Too much time and money has been spent on this sordid tale. The committee must be able to get on with its work, unobstructed and without information being inappropriately withheld.”
A Scottish Parliament spokesperson said: “The SPCB agreed to republish the submission in redacted form in line with representations from the Crown Office.
“We cannot comment any further on the redactions as the Crown Office has advised that its correspondence on this matter must be kept confidential.”