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20 November 2020
Scottish Government accused of 'unacceptable' behaviour by harassment committee

Scottish Government accused of 'unacceptable' behaviour by harassment committee

The Scottish Government has been accused of “unacceptable” behaviour by the convener of the committee investigating the handling of harassment complaints against Alex Salmond.

Linda Fabiani expressed her frustration to John Swinney in response to a decision not to allow Scottish Government officials to give evidence to the committee next week.

Fabiani once again accused the government of “continual delays and obfuscation” and said Swinney’s latest decision “only adds to that frustration.”

Swinney wrote to Fabiani on Thursday saying that he had decided not to allow two senior civil servants who were closely involved with the Scottish Government’s botched probe into Salmond to appear before the committee on Tuesday.

It was expected that Judith MacKinnon and Gillian Russell would appear on 24 November to discuss details of the procedure, which was ultimately found unlawful by judicial review and resulted in the Scottish Government paying over £500,000 in legal costs to Salmond.

Swinney said that to allow them to appear at the scheduled meeting would bring “unacceptable risk” of legal issues surrounding the identification of complainers.

He blamed the delay on Salmond’s legal team, who he said were taking longer than expected to release documents which related to the government’s planned submission.

Swinney wrote: “Without the timeline and statement to accompany documents, there is a serious risk that the Scottish Government would, in providing our staff to give evidence to the committee, inadvertently breach either the undertaking or the court order preventing jigsaw identification of the complainers.”

Supplying written evidence to the committee in the meantime would also not be possible, he added.

Responding on the same day, Fabiani reminded Swinney that the government is now four months late in providing the evidence the committee asked for.

She also repeated that it was not necessary in the committee’s view for the government to seek documents that are currently under legal protections in order to give evidence.

She added that “it is the Scottish Government which has put its own employees in this position”.

Fabiani said: “Given all of this, I find it unacceptable that you are now writing to the Committee to say that the Scottish Government does not agree to two of its civil servants giving evidence to the Committee at its meeting next Tuesday because the Scottish Government has not produced a timeline and statement to accompany documentation.

“While the  Committee appreciates that no witness should be put in a position where they might inadvertently breach a court undertaking or court order, it is the Scottish Government which has put its own employees in this position.

“I have previously made clear my, and the Committee’s frustration at the continual delays and obfuscation we seem to be facing and your correspondence has only added to that frustration.”

Scottish Conservative spokesperson on the Salmond inquiry, Murdo Fraser, said: “This is yet further confirmation that the SNP Government are doing everything they can to shut down this inquiry.

“They continue to block the vital work of this committee at every turn and are evading any sort of scrutiny.

“The public deserve to know why £500,000 of their money was wasted but the idea of being transparent is completely non-existent at the heart of this SNP Government.”

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