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Salmond inquiry: MSPs launch unprecedented legal action

Salmond documents
Former first minister Alex Salmond.

A committee investigating the Scottish Government’s handling of allegations against Alex Salmond has taken unprecedented legal action to obtain key evidence.

The MSPs have moved to invoke Section 23 of the Scotland Act to force prosecutors to hand over several documents from senior SNP and Scottish Government figures.

It is the first time a Holyrood committee has used the powers.

They are seeking messages sent by SNP chief operating officer Susan Ruddick, as well as civil servants and special advisers, between August 2018 and January 2019.

The committee is also asking to obtain documents relevant to the leaking of the allegations against Mr Salmond to a national newspaper in August 2018.

Committee convener Linda Fabiani.

‘Step hasn’t been taken lightly’

Convener Linda Fabiani said: “Throughout this inquiry, the committee has been determined to get as much information as possible to inform its task.

“It was today agreed that the committee will use its powers under Section 23 of the Scotland Act to require the Crown Office to produce a number of documents.

“This is a step that hasn’t been taken lightly, and is a first for this parliament, but which the committee felt was needed as it continues its vital work.”

The committee has given the Crown Office until January 29 to hand over the documents.

It has also written again to the Scottish Government, asking for the release of the legal advice from its external counsel.

Salmond documents
Murdo Fraser MSP.

‘Level of obstruction has been extraordinary’

Murdo Fraser, a Conservative member of the committee, said: “The Scottish Parliament has twice called for the legal advice to be published and yet the committee is once again having to demand that it is released.

“The committee has consistently been blocked from performing its remit by SNP ministers. The level of obstruction has been extraordinary.

“We have escalated our requests to seek further documents from the Crown in an effort to uncover how the government let down women so badly and lost more than £500,000 of taxpayers’ money.”

‘Web of secrecy’

Labour committee member Jackie Baillie said: “This unprecedented action is necessary to cut through the web of secrecy that the Scottish Government has woven and to allow the committee to live up to its remit.

“At every turn, the SNP government has sought to hide vital material from the committee in a vain effort to leave it a toothless entity; a talking shop without power.

Scottish Labour MSP Jackie Baillie.

“Enough is enough – the secrecy must end. The committee must receive the documents requested forthwith so that the truth of this sorry affair can be uncovered.”

Meanwhile, the committee has written to Mr Salmond to tell him that its timetable means it cannot take evidence from him any later than the week of February 1.

“The committee cannot risk being in a position where it has insufficient time to report to parliament and, given the complexity of this matter and the importance of deliberating and agreeing recommendations for change, there is no scope to once again push back oral evidence dates to accommodate your request of February 9,” it said.

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