Harassment committee ‘frustrated’ by lack of evidence and ‘obstruction’
The Holyrood committee looking into the handling of harassment complaints against Alex Salmond has said it is “frustrated” by the lack of evidence and “obstruction” it is encountering.
The cross-party committee is taking evidence from Scottish Government civil servants and ministers as well as former senior civil servants, the SNP and Salmond himself about events that led up to the Scottish Government having to pay out more than £500,000 in costs after a judicial review found the handling of the complaints was “tainted by apparent bias”.
The Scottish Government has repeatedly refused to waive legal privilege to allow the committee to see what legal advice it was given in the run up to the court case and has withheld documents relating to the case.
Salmond has said he is keen to provide the committee with as much material as he is legally allowed to, but his solicitor has warned that this is limited by restrictions put in place by the Crown Office.
The committee had set a deadline of 23 September for release of the judicial review documents.
Committee convener Linda Fabiani MSP said: “The committee continues to be completely frustrated with the lack of evidence and, quite frankly, obstruction it is experiencing.
“We had hoped to be in a position to hear further oral evidence, but with responses still outstanding from the Scottish Government, chief executive of the SNP and the former first minister, all of this means that we simply cannot proceed at this stage.
“We have no choice but to meet in private again next week (6 October) to review the evidence we have received to date.
“But I would urge all those we have approached to engage productively with the committee so it can get on with the task in hand.”
Scottish Labour deputy leader and committee member Jackie Baillie said: “Quite frankly, the Scottish Government and others are treating this committee as a laughing stock.
“It is all too clear that the government’s commitment to transparency was little more than a bad joke and that they are determined to prevent the committee from executing its vital task.
“The Scottish Government and, indeed, many others involved in this affair have demonstrated contempt for this committee and its aims.
“The secrecy must end and the Scottish Government and others must stop treating elected representatives as annoyances.”
The Scottish Conservatives said if the documents were not released, Nicola Sturgeon had “misled parliament” because she had repeatedly promised that the Scottish Government would cooperate fully with the inquiry and provide whatever materials it requested.
Scottish Conservative spokesman Murdo Fraser said: “The SNP have treated the Salmond inquiry with contempt.
“They act like requests for key documents are beneath them.
“Nicola Sturgeon has undoubtedly broken her promise to release all materials that the inquiry requested.
“She made that commitment on January 17 but if she won’t release these documents, she has misled parliament.
“It now appears that this inquiry will be a whitewash.”