A Conservative MSP has been ejected from the Holyrood chamber for claiming Nicola Sturgeon “lied” to parliament over the Salmond inquiry.
Oliver Mundell was ordered to leave after refusing to apologise for his remarks, which were made amid a furious row over the failure of key witnesses to hand over material to the investigation.
Mr Mundell raised a point of order at Holyrood, quoting Ms Sturgeon when she told MSPs in January that the Salmond inquiries would be able “to request whatever material they want”.
He added that Ms Sturgeon went on to “undertake” that her government would provide whatever was requested.
Not to be outdone, Murdo Fraser says it appears the inquiry "will be a whitewash", and that Nicola Sturgeon "misled parliament" when she said govt (& SNP) would provide "whatever material" members requested – govt is arguing it should not have to hand over privileged legal advice pic.twitter.com/iSYjKz9462
— Philip Sim (@BBCPhilipSim) September 29, 2020
The MSPs have also been frustrated by the lack of evidence provided by Mr Salmond and Peter Murrell, Ms Sturgeon’s husband, who is also the SNP chief executive.
Addressing Holyrood’s Presiding Officer, Ken Macintosh, Mr Mundell sought an explanation from Ms Sturgeon as to “why she lied to parliament”.
Mr Macintosh said the use of words “like lie” were not appropriate in the chamber.
The Presiding Officer suggested Mr Mundell, MSP for Dumfriesshire, could raise his point in other ways at parliament and could attend the committee charged with investigating the botched Scottish Government internal inquiry into harassment claims made against Mr Salmond.
Mr Macintosh asked Mr Mundell to “apologise for using the term liar in the chamber… lied in the chamber”.
Mr Mundell answered that he could “apologise to you personally, Presiding Officer”, before adding: “But in this case I do feel it is the appropriate word and I can’t find anything else that would express the sentiment.”
The Presiding Officer told Mr Mundell that did not amount to an apology and gave him the chance to rephrase his remarks in language “that expresses his view about the accuracy of comments without personalising and making pejorative terms which are disrespectful to other members”.
Mr Mundell replied: “With due respect, Presiding Officer, I think it is disrespectful to the parliament for the first minister to make a promise and not to keep it. And I can’t withdraw the word, no.”
Mr Macintosh said he had to ask Mr Mundell to leave the chamber, which the Tory MSP did.
The incident occurred as Salmond committee convener Linda Fabiani made a plea to Scotland’s highest court asking for the release of all evidence relating to the botched investigation of the former first minister.
Ms Fabiani made the call the day after releasing a strongly worded statement saying the investigation “cannot proceed” until it receives the documents it needs.
Ms Fabiani said the inquiry had faced repeated “obstruction” and was waiting for information from Mr Murrell, Mr Salmond and the Scottish Government.
The committee was set up after the Scottish Government was successfully challenged in the courts by Mr Salmond. After judicial review, it was found the government’s internal investigation into claims against the former first minister was tainted with apparent bias.
In an attempt to bypass legal wrangling and disagreements between Mr Salmond’s lawyers and the Scottish Government, Ms Fabiani has appealed directly to the Court of Session to access the “essential” evidence.
Both sides have offered to begin legal proceedings to release evidence used in the judicial review that ruled the government’s investigation into the sexual harassment claims was unlawful.
But although Ms Fabiani said the Government and Mr Salmond have publicly stated their willingness to release documents relating to the case, she told the court “the parties differ in terms of their understanding of what access can be provided”.
The Scottish Government’s “previous refusal to provide documentation” has delayed the committee’s inquiry, Ms Fabiani added.
She has therefore written to the principal clerk at the Court of Session in Edinburgh asking for the release of all evidence lodged during the legal challenge.
Ms Fabiani has also requested both sides’ pleas, all affidavits, interlocutors, judicial decisions and any details of requests for disclosure of documents by either side, the recovery of information and details about the expenses involved in the legal challenge.
Pledging to comply with all relevant legal restrictions, she wrote: “We consider that having sight of some of the court documents is essential to enable the committee to meet the terms of its remit.”
Ms Fabiani said the inquiry had been repeatedly frustrated by the refusal of witnesses to provide evidence and urged them to “engage productively” so the committee can proceed with its inquiry.
In a new letter to Deputy First Minister John Swinney, the committee convener expressed “frustration” at the Scottish Government’s previous refusals to hand over evidence, adding that the Government has delayed the inquiry.
She also called for Mr Swinney to reconsider his refusal to waive legal privilege and “release details of when and what legal advice was made available during the judicial review without any further delay”, citing numerous examples where the government has previously done so.
Ms Fabiani wrote: “Such disclosure is necessary to enable this committee to properly discharge the constitutionally important functions of the Parliament: to promote the public interest by ensuring that the First Minister and Scottish Government are held to account for their actions in dealing with complaints about the former first minister and to maintain public confidence in the conduct of government litigation having due regard to the public purse.”
The committee has also set Mr Salmond a deadline of Friday October 2 for a submission of all evidence currently available to him.
Scottish Government ‘cooperating fully’
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government is cooperating fully with the committee, and strongly rejects any suggestion of obstruction.
“We have already provided the committee with more than 1,000 pages of relevant material, responding directly to the questions asked by the committee, and government witnesses have provided many hours of oral evidence.
“As a further example of our commitment to provide all possible material to the committee, we intend to initiate legal proceedings seeking to allow the release of further documents.
“Where further information or clarification has been required by the committee, we have followed up quickly in writing, including to correct inaccurate assertions that documents had not been provided when they had, in fact, already been submitted.
“As the committee has recognised, the inquiry involves sensitive information. We are providing the relevant information requested so far as is possible given the confidentiality, data protection and legal restrictions that apply and will continue to do so.”