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Salmond inquiry: When five and four add up to nothing…

Former first minister Alex Salmond is expected to hold a press conference in the near future.
Former first minister Alex Salmond is expected to hold a press conference in the near future.

Key evidence to the Alex Salmond inquiry will not be published after MSPs were left divided over the decision.

A majority of committee members voted against releasing the submission from the former first minister, making it even less likely he will give evidence in person.

Mr Salmond had been due to appear on Tuesday in front of the Holyrood inquiry investigating the Scottish Government’s botched handling of complaints against him.

But the committee and Mr Salmond could not agree on a number of proposed conditions, including the publication of evidence.

The MSPs instead met in private on Tuesday morning, with members voting by five to four against publishing the evidence.

Salmond inquiry vote
Murdo Fraser MSP.

Murdo Fraser’s proposal to publish the evidence with appropriate redactions was backed by Jackie Baillie, Alex Cole-Hamilton, and Margaret Mitchell but rejected by Alasdair Allan, Tom Arthur, Linda Fabiani, Maureen Watt and Andy Wightman.

Legal obligations

Revealing the decision, a Scottish Parliament spokeswoman said: “The default position for the committee has always been that it would publish as much information as possible.

“However, the work of this committee must respect relevant legal obligations, including court orders made in relation to a judicial review and a criminal trial, which are aimed at protecting the anonymity of complainers.

“Whilst the issue of publication is ultimately a matter for the SPCB (Scottish Parliament Corporate Body), the majority of the committee is in agreement that it cannot publish given the legal constraints on it.”

She added that the committee “would have been able to publish Mr Salmond’s submission” but the fact the full submission is already “readily accessible” had made it “impossible for the committee to make the redactions needed” to meet its legal obligations.

“This is clearly regrettable and something outwith the committee’s control, but the committee will not breach its data protection obligations or the court orders. This reasoning has been made clear to Mr Salmond on numerous occasions.”

Salmond inquiry vote
Alex Salmond with Nicola Sturgeon.

During talks with the former first minister, the spokeswoman said there were also “a number of conditions to his appearance that the committee simply could never meet, including waiving threat of all legal prosecution”.

On Monday it emerged that Mr Salmond  would not be appearing for his scheduled evidence session on Tuesday.

Lawyers for Mr Salmond said their client would be unable to “take his oath to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth” until a number of concerns are addressed, including the committee not intending to publish Mr Salmond’s submission on the ministerial code and clarification over legal concerns.

Labour committee member Jackie Baillie said: “The decision not to publish this vital evidence is, in my view, a blow to the credibility of the committee, and, by extension, to the parliament itself.”

Murdo Fraser said: “It is hugely disappointing that some of my fellow committee members have failed to back my call for this vital evidence to be published – with appropriate redactions – despite much of it already being in the public domain.

“This again sums up the lack of scrutiny the SNP government will be subjected to in relation to this inquiry. It will constrain what we can say and what we can ask of witnesses, which is completely unacceptable.

“Today’s vote will only raise suspicions among the wider public that the SNP government have had no intention of being fully transparent with this inquiry despite what the first minister has said previously.”

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