Alex Salmond may not attend harassment committee on Wednesday
Doubt has been cast on whether Alex Salmond will appear before the committee investigating the Scottish Government’s botched handling of complaints made against.
The former first minister had agreed to give evidence following the publication of his submissions to the committee.
In one of these submissions he accused the government and SNP, including party chief executive Peter Murrell, of a “malicious and concerted attempt” to damage his reputation.
Nicola Sturgeon has said allegations of a “conspiracy” are “not true”.
But a row has erupted over the publication of a separate submission relating to whether Sturgeon breached the ministerial code. After being contacted by the Crown Office, the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB) removed then republished a redacted version of that submission.
Salmond's lawyers have written to the parliament seeking the legal justification for these redactions.
The letter said: "After publication of his submissions yesterday we concluded not unreasonably that the issue was resolved, partly to our client’s satisfaction and certainly to allow him to fulfil his oath.
"Your email potentially – and fundamentally – changes that. We therefore require to see URGENTLY the legal basis for the proposed redactions in order that we can properly advise our client and make further representations. These could have a material bearing on whether he is able to attend tomorrow.
"As matters stand, we have advised him that the apparent intervention from the crown suggests that there has to be a material risk to him in speaking to his submission. He cannot be placed in legal jeopardy."
The submissions were published after the SPCB concluded it would be “possible” to do so, despite the committee itself twice voting against publication.
In the other submission, which has not been altered, Salmond said: “[I] am very clear in my position that the evidence supports a deliberate, prolonged, malicious and concerted effort amongst a range of individuals within the Scottish Government and the SNP to damage my reputation, even to the extent of having me imprisoned.”
He was also highly critical of the Crown Office, who he accused of blocking material which would be relevant to the committee’s inquiry. He said: “Refusing to allow the committee to see that material both denies me the opportunity to put the full truth before the committee and the public, and makes it impossible for the committee to complete its task on a full sight of the relevant material.
“The only beneficiaries of that decision to withhold evidence are those involved in conduct designed to damage (and indeed imprison) me.”
The parliamentary inquiry is looking into the conduct of the government following two harassment complaints made against the former first minister, which led to the process being deemed “unlawful” and over £500,000 being paid in legal expenses.
Salmond said despite losing the judicial review, the government was “unable and unwilling to admit the truth even after a catastrophic defeat, the terms of which they had conceded to the Court of Session”.
He said Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans had damaged the reputation of the civil service.
He said: “Despite her protestations to the contrary, the Permanent Secretary was chiefly responsible for the pursuit of an unlawful policy which has cost the Scottish people millions of pounds.”
He concluded his submission stating: “The real cost to the Scottish people runs into many millions of pounds and yet no one in this entire process has uttered the simple words which are necessary on occasions to renew and refresh democratic institutions – ‘I resign’.”
Speaking to the BBC yesterday, Nicola Sturgeon insisted the claims made by Salmond were without evidence.
She said: “He appears to be suggesting some kind of conspiracy or concerted campaign against him, without a shred of evidence.
“This is his opportunity – because the burden of proof of that lies on him – to replace the insinuation and assertion we have heard over several months now with evidence.
“I don't believe he can do that, because I know what he is claiming about a conspiracy is not true.
“If he can't substantiate it, it's time for him to stop making these claims – because it's not fair to women first and foremost who came forward with complaints, or the other people who have given years of loyal service to Alex Salmond who he appears to be directing those claims to.”
The First Minister is set to appear before the parliamentary committee next week.