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Alex Salmond could testify before MSPs next week after legal ruling

Alex Salmond legal ruling
Former first minister Alex Salmond.

Alex Salmond could appear before MSPs next week after it was claimed that a legal ruling has paved the way for key evidence to be published.

The former first minister is understood to be poised to resubmit documents to the committee investigating the way the Scottish Government handled harassment allegations against him.

The MSPs will then have to decide whether to publish the submissions, with Mr Salmond believed to be willing to appear before them next week if they do.

It could set up an explosive week in Scottish politics, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also scheduled to give evidence.

Mr Salmond was expected to appear before the Holyrood committee on Tuesday this week but declined to do so after it failed to publish the evidence he submitted.

Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon.

The committee was split, voting by five to four against disclosing the details, citing legal concerns over orders to protect the anonymity of complainers.

But a judge has now amended a court order that prevents the publication of information likely to identify any of the accusers to clarify its scope.

The Scottish Conservatives and Scottish Labour have claimed this paves the way for Mr Salmond to testify before the committee.

Sources close to the former first minister also described it as a “step forward”, and confirmed it is likely he would appear next week if the committee now agrees to publish the documents.

High Court hearing

The committee was set up after Mr Salmond received a £512,000 pay-out following the Court of Session civil ruling that the Scottish Government’s handling of the complaints was “unlawful” and “tainted by apparent bias”.

Judge Lady Dorrian told a hearing at the High Court in Edinburgh on Thursday she would add “as such complainers in those proceedings” to the contempt order relating to the criminal trial.

The former first minister was cleared of 13 charges, including sexual assault, indecent assault and attempted rape, following a trial at the same court last year.

The High Court in Edinburgh.

The Spectator magazine – which published the evidence submission the committee declined to – applied to the court to vary the terms of the order.

Ronald Clancy QC, acting for the magazine, argued the order is having a “significant influence” on how the committee is operating.

He said: “There is a reasonable inference that the terms of the order have influenced the committee’s decision on what can and cannot be published.”

Advocate depute Alex Prentice QC, for the Crown, said: “The order in this, in my submission, advances the purpose for which it was applied.”

However, he said he did not oppose the change to the wording “for greater clarity”.

Lady Dorrian announced the change to the order and said she would make a written submission on her reasons for doing so, which will be published by the beginning of next week.

Murdo Fraser MSP.

Emergency committee meeting

Scottish Conservative committee member Murdo Fraser said: “We have been saying from the outset that our committee will not be able to do its job properly unless we are able to question Alex Salmond in person.

“While we await the full details of the revised order and what implications it will have, I am satisfied that we now have grounds to compel Salmond to attend.”

Fellow committee member Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour’s interim leader, said: “This decision presents the committee with the opportunity to publish the evidence and question Mr Salmond – we must seize that opportunity with both hands.

“I have called for an emergency meeting of the committee tomorrow and I hope that colleagues will allow publication of the evidence and invite Mr Salmond to attend in person.

“Failure to seize this opportunity would be most unfortunate for the credibility of the committee and its work.”

On social media, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service said: “The court order preventing the publication of the identity of complainers in HMA v Alex Salmond remains in place.”

It added: “The order has been varied but the purpose remains in ‘preventing the publication of the names and identity and any information likely to disclose the identity of the complainers in the case of HMA v Alexander Elliot Anderson Salmond, as such complainers in those proceedings’.”

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