Alex Salmond calls for resignations at top of Scottish Government and SNP for 'malicious scheme'
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In a marathon six-hour session on Friday in front of the Holyrood committee that is investigating how the Scottish Government lost a judicial review over its handling of sexual harassment allegations against him, Mr Salmond said the leadership of Scotland’s institutions had “failed”.
However, while he claimed there was “no doubt” Nicola Sturgeon had broken the ministerial code, he said it was not his position to say the First Minister should resign.
Mr Salmond also said while he had no “documentary evidence” to suggest she was involved in the “plan” to tarnish his reputation, he repeatedly contradicted Ms Sturgeon’s statements in Parliament over when she first knew of the allegations against him.
Mr Salmond’s long-awaited appearance at the committee saw him lay out his belief, as previously put forward in his written evidence, the government had failed to abide by its procedures and that its refusal to settle the harassment case before the judicial review was as a result of a hope that a criminal trial would overtake events.
Last March Mr Salmond was cleared of 13 charges of sexual assault and harassment at the High Court in Edinburgh.
He had previously defeated the government in the Court of Session over its handling of two sexual harassment complaints against him, which saw him awarded more than £500,000 of taxpayers’ money.
The court ruled the Scottish Government's investigation unlawful and said it was “tainted by apparent bias” after it emerged the investigating officer had prior contact with the women who made complaints. It has since come to light the government was warned it would not succeed in defending the judicial review by external legal counsel.
As a result, Mr Salmond told MSPs on the committee the Lord Advocate James Wolffe and the Permanent Secretary of the civil service, Leslie Evans, should resign.
He also said the leaking of the complaints against him being investigated by the Scottish Government to the Daily Record newspaper was “politically inspired” and a police investigation should be opened to determine who the leak was.
In his written evidence, he claimed there had been a “deliberate, prolonged, malicious and concerted effort among a range of individuals within the Scottish Government and the SNP to damage my reputation to the extent of having me imprisoned” and named SNP chief executive Peter Murrell and the party’s chief operating officer Sue Ruddick, among others.
Asked why people would conspire against him, Mr Salmond said he believed there was a recognition he would win his judicial review, and a decision was made to pass the complainers’ names to the police to prevent that happening.
"I think it came to be believed among some people that the loss of the judicial review would be cataclysmic, not just for Leslie Evans and senior officials and special advisers, but for Nicola Sturgeon herself, and I think unfortunately, people came to the belief that the police process would somehow assist in not losing the judicial review, or making sure the loss would be swept away in the inevitable publicity of the criminal trial,” he said.
"And if I’d been convicted of any offence in the criminal trial, that would have been the case.
"I think the people responsible for the disaster of the judicial review, in terms of the Scottish Government and Crown Office and in terms of the overall approach, should resign. The people I’ve named, they should all be considering their positions.
"To my knowledge Cabinet ministers thought she [Leslie Evans] should have resigned on January 8, 2018. She should have considered her position then.”
Pressed on if Ms Evans should resign, he said: “Yes, she should. The Lord Advocate should be considering his position on this and a range of other issues.
“There’s an argument as to whether it’s an institutional failure.
"People have said there’s something wrong with them, that Scotland is almost a failed state. That’s not a view I take.
"The institutions are fundamentally sound, but there has to be some form of political responsibility, they have to be refreshed from time to time. When an issue like this arises, then people have to take the consequences.
“The Scottish Government needs new leadership and so does the Crown Office. The other people I named should be facing the consequences as well.”
However, Mr Salmond stopped short at calling for the resignation of Ms Sturgeon, who is due to give evidence to the committee next week, saying it was “not for me” to decide if she should go.
Questioned by Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton, Mr Salmond said he did not believe Ms Sturgeon had been involved in a "cover-up" of complaints against him.
“I've seen it pursued on the committee that somehow Nicola Sturgeon was covering up – that's not the case, my charges against Nicola Sturgeon don't include that,” he said.
Mr Salmond added: "I believe the First Minister has broken the ministerial code and that’s a finding to be discussed by this committee and James Hamilton QC, but it’s not the case that every breach results in resignation.
“Everything I’ve said can be backed up by documentary evidence, so as I don't have documentary evidence which suggests the First Minister has text messages or any other piece of information I haven’t made that accusation.”
However, he undermined statements made by the First Minister by emphatically telling the committee that she knew of the complaints made against him on March 29, 2018 after his former chief of staff, Geoff Aberdein, attended an organised meeting in the Parliament with her to discuss the issue – a meeting Ms Sturgeon had said she’d forgotten.
He said that others also knew of the March 29 meeting, including his legal representative Duncan Hamilton and a former head of press for the SNP, Kevin Pringle.
He also said the meeting arranged at her home on April 2 was organised to discuss them and was purely government business – not party business as Ms Sturgeon has claimed.
“I did not just pop in,” he said. “My home is 200 miles from Glasgow.”
Mr Salmond also said the name of one of the complainants had already been told to him by Mr Aberdein, who had been alerted to the name two weeks before the April meeting by a senior government official – a statement in direct contrast to Ms Sturgeon’s claim at First Minister’s Questions that that had not happened.
However, he refused to use the word conspiracy and said: “It’s the easiest thing in the world to say something’s a conspiracy theory, but the way I’ve described it as a malicious scheme or plan, involving the people I’ve named, is because there’s substantial documentary evidence that establishes that.
"The only question is how much documentary evidence this committee is allowed to see.”
He went on to claim the committee has been "systematically deprived of the evidence it has legitimately sought" in its inquiry, later adding there was "deliberate suppression of information inconvenient to the Government".
He said his ability to give evidence had been "severely hampered" by the Crown Office, adding the "threat of prosecution made to me if I offered that evidence is, in my estimation, both extraordinary and unwarranted”.
The committee redacted parts of his written evidence previously published after the Crown Office raised concerns – something he said would not have happened at the House of Commons.
Mr Salmond claimed the “failures of leadership” surrounding the investigation into his conduct were "many and obvious".
“The Government acted illegally, but somehow nobody is to blame,” he said.
"Scotland hasn't failed, its leadership has failed. The importance of this inquiry is for each and every one of us to help put this right.
"This inquiry is not about me. I have already established the illegality of the actions of the Scottish Government in the Court of Session, and I have been acquitted of all criminal charges by a jury in the highest court in the land.
"The remit of this inquiry is about the actions of others, whose investigation into the conduct of ministers, the Permanent Secretary, civil servants and special advisers. It also requires to shine a light on the activities of the Crown Office."
He said the previous two years and six months – during his investigation and criminal trial – had been a "nightmare", but "we can't turn that page, nor move on, until the decision-making which is undermining the system of government in Scotland is addressed".
But when asked by Alex Cole-Hamilton if he wanted to apologise to the women involved for “the behaviours that you have admitted to, some of which are appalling”, he said: “In my statement I pointed out the Government's illegality has had huge consequences for a number of people, and specifically mentioned the complainants in my opening statement.
"Over the last three years, there have been two court cases, two judges and a jury, and I'm resting on the proceedings of these cases.”
Responding to Mr Salmond’s evidence, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “Devastating evidence has revealed SNP cover-ups, costly mistakes and terrible errors of judgement. The number of accusations of misleading Parliament and breaking the ministerial code are extraordinary. The entire leadership of the ruling party of government are on the ropes.”
And Scottish Labour interim leader and committee member Jackie Baillie said the testimony “poses serious questions for Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Government”.
She said: “Mr Salmond’s allegation that the name of a complainant was made known to his former chief of staff prior to a meeting between him and the First Minister is nothing short of explosive.
“Not only would the act of making the name of a complainant known be a grave failure to protect the person in question, the First Minister’s response to this allegation yesterday may have misled Parliament and so broken the ministerial code.
“Mr Salmond’s claim that the leak of documents to the Daily Record was ‘politically inspired’ is incredibly serious and demands investigation by the police. The claim that during the civil and criminal cases the Crown Office was not made aware of vital documents that have since been passed to the committee by the Scottish Government beggars belief.
“It is clear that Mr Salmond believes the First Minister has failed to follow the ministerial code on multiple occasions and that the Permanent Secretary has failed to follow the civil service code. The First Minister and the Lord Advocate have big questions to answer when they come before the committee next week.
“Mr Salmond was correct when he said that this investigation was not about him – it is about the women who were so catastrophically failed, and this committee is determined to discover who is responsible for this failure, however inconvenient that truth may be.”