Nicola Sturgeon grilled on Alex Salmond by Andrew Marr
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Nicola Sturgeon issued an ultimatum to her former friend telling Mr Salmond to appear before the committee, adding she is ready to tackle what she called “conspiracy theories” from the former Scottish first minister. Mr Salmond’s lawyers said he would only appear if the committee would publish his 21-page submission and make the document available to the public.
It comes as The Spectator newspaper has mounted a legal challenge against a decision by the Holyrood committee to veto the release of Mr Salmond’s submission containing claims about Ms Sturgeon.
The committee’s nine-strong panel were split in a crunch vote yesterday on whether to release the 21-page submission, in which Mr Salmond claims Ms Sturgeon misled the Scottish parliament and breached the ministerial code.
Those in favour of publishing were Scottish Conservatives Murdo Fraser and Margaret Mitchell, Scottish Labour’s Jackie Baillie and Scottish Liberal Democrat Alex Cole-Hamilton.
Those who opposed publishing were the four SNP members of the Committee – Alasdair Allan, Tom Arthur, Linda Fabiani and Maureen Watt – as well as independent MSP Andy Wightman.
David McKie, of the law firm Levy & McRae, had set out Mr Salmond’s requests in a letter to the committee.
He said Mr Salmond “cannot take his oath to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth” until a number of concerns were addressed, including the publication of the submission by the committee and concerns about him being “in legal jeopardy”.
The former Scottish first minister has accused Ms Sturgeon of several breaches of the ministerial code and lying to parliament over meetings between the pair in 2018 regarding harassment claims made against Mr Salmond.
Ms Sturgeon has always denied the allegations.
In Scotland’s High Court tomorrow The Spectator, whose chairman is former BBC presenter Andrew Neil, is seeking a ruling on whether Mr Salmond’s submission is legally allowed to be withheld by the Holyrood inquiry.
The publication will argue for the publication of Mr Salmond’s submission which they believe should be officially released to the public.
If the court rules in favour of The Spectator, it is expected to put pressure on the Committee to publish Mr Salmond’s submission.
Tonight, Jackie Baillie MSP, Scottish Labour member of the Committee said should the court ruling would be “crucial” to the Committee’s investigation.
The interim leader of Scottish Labour added: “If the court allows The Spectator to publish the material then the Committee should have an emergency meeting to review whether it publishes too.
“In that eventuality, it makes no sense for the Committee to tie its own hands behind its back by refusing to make use of the submission and have the chance to question Mr Salmond.”
Meanwhile, in Holyrood today, Scottish Conservative group leader Ruth Davidson claimed Ms Sturgeon was clearly in breach of the ministerial code.
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Addressing the First Minister during FMQs, she also claimed: “We have failed women, taxpayers’ money and a cover-up at the heart of Government – this whole affair stinks to high heaven and someone should take responsibility for these failings.”
Meanwhile, Jackie Baillie asked whether Ms Sturgeon should resign if she was found to breach the ministerial code, but the Scottish First Minister refused to say after being asked three times.
Ms Baillie added: “The First Minister cannot simply ignore the Ministerial Code.
“That would have deeply damaging consequences or the parliament, the government and for our democracy.”
However, the SNP leader accused Ruth Davidson and members of the Committee of having made their minds up about the First Minister’s evidence before her appearance.
The First Minister said it is “right and proper” the Scottish Government faces scrutiny.
But she added: “It really does feel to me as if there are certain people in this chamber who have already pre-judged all of this and are not interested in what I, or anybody else, has to say about it.”
Ms Sturgeon later pushed the committee to compel her predecessor, Mr Salmond, to appear.
She said: “I still hope the Committee will perhaps use the powers that are available to it to ensure that everybody relevant sits before this Committee and gives evidence, but that’s a matter for the Committee and for Jackie Baillie.
“I look forward to this opportunity and I say it again, I think if the Committee is really interested in having proper, full transparency, then it will be ensuring that everybody who has got relevant information to offer here is before that Committee and doing that fully, openly, on the record and on oath, just as I will be on Tuesday.”
Ms Sturgeon’s spokesman later hinted on the possibility of Mr Salmond being compelled to appear, and added: “Bluntly, why wouldn’t they?
“If the committee and all its members are as serious about getting to the facts and getting to the truth as they claim to be, then why on earth wouldn’t they use the powers at their disposal to compel witnesses to attend?
“They’ve previously talked about using those powers in respect of other witnesses, so it would seem to make sense that they would want to do it in this case.”
Ms Sturgeon has already submitted a written submission to the committee and is set to appear before it on Tuesday to give evidence.
The Scottish Government’s Handling of Harassment Complaints Committee was set up after the Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled the Scottish Government’s handling of complaints against the former first minister to be “unlawful” in a judicial review.
This resulted in £512,250 in legal costs being paid out to Mr Salmond’s lawyers.
Mr Salmond was separately acquitted of 13 charges including sexual assault, attempted rape and indecent assault following a trial at the High Court in Edinburgh last year.
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