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Alex Salmond poised to testify amid storm of controversy

PICTURE ADVISORY. Editors of newspapers printed or that have editions circulating in Scotland and all Internet subscribers or broadcasters whose content is visible in Scotland are advised to seek legal advice before publication of this photograph as, under Scottish Law, the use of a picture of an untried person may be held to be in Contempt of Court. Former Scottish first minister Alex Salmond arrives at the High Court in Edinburgh for the tenth day of his trial over accusations of sexual assault, including one of attempted rape. PA Photo. Picture date: Friday March 20, 2020. See PA story COURTS Salmond. Photo credit should read: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
PICTURE ADVISORY. Editors of newspapers printed or that have editions circulating in Scotland and all Internet subscribers or broadcasters whose content is visible in Scotland are advised to seek legal advice before publication of this photograph as, under Scottish Law, the use of a picture of an untried person may be held to be in Contempt of Court. Former Scottish first minister Alex Salmond arrives at the High Court in Edinburgh for the tenth day of his trial over accusations of sexual assault, including one of attempted rape. PA Photo. Picture date: Friday March 20, 2020. See PA story COURTS Salmond. Photo credit should read: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

Alex Salmond is poised to finally testify before MSPs amid a storm of controversy over the publication of his evidence.

The former first minister has been invited to appear on Friday at the inquiry investigating the way the Scottish Government handled harassment allegations against him.

It sets up a blockbuster few days at Holyrood, with Nicola Sturgeon due to have her say as the committee’s final witness next Wednesday.

The committee has also decided to urgently seek guidance from the High Court about legal restrictions related to a decision to “censor” Mr Salmond’s evidence a day after it was published this week.

And the MSPs have agreed to use parliament’s powers to try to get the Crown Office to release further evidence in the case.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon with Alex Salmond whilst on the General Election campaign trail in Inverurie

After weeks of wrangling, Mr Salmond had been due to give evidence on Wednesday but pulled out on Tuesday after the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB) decided to take down his submission and redact parts of it.

The document included explosive allegations that senior figures in the SNP and Scottish Government set out to ruin his reputation, and even have him jailed.

The move to redact the submission followed concerns raised by the Crown Office, but it triggered a huge row.

A spokesman for Mr Salmond described it as “unprecedented and highly irregular”, and said his legal team had been instructed to write to Lord Advocate James Wolffe to demand an explanation.

“In light of this astonishing decision to intervene at the 11th hour and in light of the timing, Mr Salmond asked the committee to defer his evidence by 48 hours to enable his legal team to consider the full implications of this extraordinary intervention,” he added.

Lord Advocate James Wolffe.

Mr Wolffe was subsequently called to parliament to answer an urgent question on whether he was consulted on the move by the Crown Office.

The lord advocate said: “No I was not. The decisions in relation to this matter were made by senior professional prosecutors, acting independently, as they always do, and without reference to the law officers.”

Ms Sturgeon had earlier used her daily coronavirus briefing to reject claims that the government had any role in influencing the decision of the Crown Office to raise concerns with the SPCB.

“The decisions the Crown Office takes in relation to enforcing or upholding the law… are taken independently by the Crown Office, independent of government,” she said.

“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.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

The first minister also questioned Mr Salmond’s decision to withdraw from his committee appearance on Wednesday.

“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.”

A Scottish Parliament spokeswoman confirmed the inquiry committee had invited Mr Salmond to appear on Friday.

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.”

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 spokeswoman added: “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.”

 

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