Nicola Sturgeon has described claims the Crown Office intervened in the Alex Salmond inquiry for political reasons as a “dangerous conspiracy theory”.
The first minister said it was “downright wrong” to suggest the government had any role in a bid to censor Mr Salmond’s evidence to a Holyrood committee.
And she accused her predecessor and one-time mentor of attempting to avoid scrutiny of his own allegations, saying Mr Salmond had no “good reason” to postpone his inquiry appearance on Wednesday.
It was later confirmed that the committee investigating the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment allegations against Mr Salmond would invite him to testify on Friday instead.
The former SNP leader pulled out of his scheduled committee appearance after the parliament redacted evidence it had published from Mr Salmond on Monday night.
The submission was censored after the Crown Office raised legal concerns with the parliament over the contents of the document.
A spokesman for Mr Salmond described the move as “unprecedented and highly irregular”, while the SNP’s political opponents suggested the “separation of power between the Crown Office, the first minister and the civil service is now indistinguishable”.
This isn’t about Sturgeon v Salmond anymore.
This is about the institutions of Scottish democracy. The separation of power between the Crown Office, the First Minister & the Civil Service is now indistinguishable.
How can public have confidence in the integrity of government?
— Jackson Carlaw MSP (@Jackson_Carlaw) February 24, 2021
Asked about such claims at her daily coronavirus briefing, Ms Sturgeon said: “The decisions the Crown Office takes in relation to enforcing or upholding the law… are taken independently by the Crown Office, independent of government.
“Any suggestion, any suggestion at all, that these decisions are in any way politically influenced, are downright wrong.
“But I would suggest that they go further than that, that they actually start to buy into what is a false and quite dangerous conspiracy theory that has no basis in fact.”
The first minister also questioned Mr Salmond’s decision to withdraw from his committee appearance, although he could now reschedule for Friday.
I sometimes think the preference of Mr Salmond is to continue to make those claims without ever subjecting them to the proper scrutiny of the parliamentary committee looking into them.”
“Alex Salmond has had the opportunity, had the opportunity today, to be in front of the committee and to try to substantiate those allegations,” Ms Sturgeon said.
“Now, he has declined that opportunity today, I don’t think with any good reason, and I hope he comes to the committee in early course so that he can say what he wants, put forward any claims that he wants, and crucially bring forward the evidence.”
However, Ms Sturgeon added: “I sometimes think the preference of Mr Salmond is to continue to make those claims without ever subjecting them to the proper scrutiny of the parliamentary committee looking into them.
“So I hope he proves me wrong on that by getting himself in front of the committee in early course.”
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the Scottish Parliament confirmed that the inquiry would invite Mr Salmond to give evidence on Friday.
She said: “There was unanimous agreement in the committee that it wants to hear from Alex Salmond.
“His evidence has always been an important part of the committee’s work and as such the committee agreed that it would invite Mr Salmond to give evidence in person on Friday.
“The first minister will then give evidence as the final witness to the inquiry on Wednesday.
“The committee remains determined to complete its task set by the parliament and today agreed further actions in order to help them complete this work.”