Alex Salmond could be required to give evidence to the Scottish Parliament harassment inquiry remotely
Alex Salmond could be required to give evidence to the Scottish Parliament harassment inquiry remotely if he refuses to appear in person on the date requested, committee convener Linda Fabiani has warned.
The former first minister has been called to give evidence to the committee looking into the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment complaints against him on Tuesday 19 January.
In a letter to convener Linda Fabiani, Salmond's lawyer, David McKie, had said the presiding officer had advised against in-person meetings at present “on health and safety grounds” and suggested Salmond appear on 16 February instead.
McKie also suggested Salmond could not give evidence because the committee had not yet got the agreement of the Crown to release documents from the judicial review and the criminal case against him, which limited what he could say legally.
He wrote: “Additionally, we await confirmation that our client will be able to speak to documentation and give evidence under oath without fear of prosecution by the Crown Office.
“As you know, the crown have written indicating that disclosure to the committee of relevant documents would constitute a criminal offence.
“You have been on notice for some considerable time now of the importance of obtaining a number of these documents which, in our client’s view, is essential to allow the committee to fulfil its remit and also to enable him to give as full an account as he can to help you fulfil that remit.
“There appears to have been no proper attempt to recover that material from the Inquiry, or explanation as to why it has not been obtained.
“The Inquiry has had months to recover it and the government has had months to produce evidence which they undertook to produce in assurances given by the First Minister from the outset.
“It is therefore not fair to our client or indeed to the public to expect our client to give evidence in such circumstances and until such issues have been exhausted in full.”
However, in a response to Salmond, Fabiani pointed out that Salmond’s proposed timescale would not leave enough time for the committee to finish the inquiry and for the Scottish Government to respond before it goes into purdah – the period ahead of an election where public bodies must avoid making political statements that could affect the election result.
The “clear preference” of the committee was to finish taking oral evidence in January, she said.
Fabiani called on him to reconsider his refusal to appear in person on Tuesday and warned that if he didn’t, he might have to give evidence remotely.
She wrote: “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 [to appear on 19 January] 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.”
Fabiani suggested the material from the trial was of more importance to Salmond than to the committee.
“I understand why this evidence from the criminal trial is central to you as an individual. However, the Committee must make progress,” she wrote.
Fabiani also took issue with the fact that Salmond had released the submission he sent to James Hamilton, who is leading a separate inquiry into whether Nicola Sturgeon broke the ministerial code, to the media before the committee clerks had time to check it was legally publishable.
“Sharing it more widely, with the result that it is now in the public domain, did not respect the Parliamentary process,” she said.
There have been calls this week for Deputy First Minister John Swinney to request that the Hamilton inquiry be broadened after Salmond suggested that Sturgeon had broken the code by giving false information to parliament.
That was not part of the remit of that inquiry, which was to look at whether Sturgeon breached the code by failing to disclose meetings she had with Salmond or by trying to influence the Scottish Government investigation in any way.
However, Hamilton has now written to Swinney to say that he will consider this wider remit.
Hamilton wrote: “Having considered the evidence submitted to me by various participants, and the issues raised on this topic, I consider that the issue of reporting of meetings by the First Minister to the Parliament on a broad view appears to be within the scope of the remit but even on a narrower view is so closely connected to the remit that I am minded to include this within the scope of my report.
“I also wanted to note that I consider the allegations made by Mr. Salmond concerning whether or not the First Minister should have intervened to arrange a process of mediation to be within the scope of the remit set out above.”