Salmond accuses Sturgeon of using Covid briefing to 'effectively question jury result' – as it happened

Last modified: 06: 48 PM GMT+0

Scotland’s former first minister appears before MSPs investigating inquiry by Nicola Sturgeon’s government into complaints made against him


Here are the key points from a mammoth six-hour session:

  • Alex Salmond has claimed there is “no doubt” Nicola Sturgeon broke the ministerial code, but stopped short of saying she should resign. He said Scotland’s “leadership has failed”. He added: “I have no doubt that Nicola broke the ministerial code, but it’s not for me to suggest what the consequence should be.”
  • Salmond called for the lord advocate, James Wolffe, and the head of Scotland’s civil service, Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans, to resign over the handling of the complaints against him. He alleged a “malicious scheme” among senior SNP figures to damage his reputation, but said he had no evidence the current first minister was part of this. “The government acted illegally but somehow nobody is to blame,” he said. Salmond said he did not believe Sturgeon was involved in covering up complaints against him, but criticised her for using a Covid press conference to “effectively question the result of a jury”.
  • Salmond refused to apologise for his own behaviour, but pointed out that a jury had cleared him of allegations of harassment. He said: “This inquiry is not about me. I have been acquitted of all criminal charges by a jury in the highest court in the land.”
  • Salmond was highly critical of the Crown Office and urged the committee to get round its injunctions against the release of information on the handling of complaints against him. The committee had been “systematically deprived of the evidence it has legitimately sought” after “deliberate suppression of information inconvenient to the government”.
  • Salmond claimed a leak to the Daily Record newspaper, which broke news of the allegations against him, was “politically inspired”. He said: “I think it does require further police investigation – I do believe I know the identity but I’m not here to speculate on individuals that I cannot substantiate.”
  • Salmond claimed Sturgeon knew on 29 March 2018 that he was under investigation for sexual harassment by her government, four days earlier than the date she first gave to parliament, because she had agreed to meet Geoff Aberdein, his former chief of staff, to discuss it in her Holyrood office.
  • Three witnesses could confirm that Aberdein was told the name of one of the complainers and that one had sworn a statement to that effect. Sturgeon and he mentioned that complainer by name when they met at her home four days later, on 2 April 2018, contradicting Sturgeon’s statement in Holyrood on Thursday she did not believe the name had been passed to Aberdein.


Alex Salmond has suggested that weak and incompetent leadership of Scotland’s institutions could undermine the case for independence, in a bitter attack on his former allies and party.

The former first minister said huge deficiencies had been exposed in the running of the Scottish government and the Crown Office, as he blamed both institutions for forcing him to live through a “nightmare” during the last three years.

Salmond told a Holyrood inquiry he had sought independence “all my political life”. But that must be “accompanied by institutions whose leadership is strong and robust and capable of protecting each and every citizen from arbitrary authority”.

In one extraordinary allegation, Salmond said the Scottish government had failed to disclose to the police that Leslie Evans, Scotland’s chief civil servant, had met two women who had indicated they could accuse him of sexual harassment before their complaints were formally made.

Read the full report here:

Fabiani: Any final comment?

There is an underlying issue about the powers of the parliamentary committee, Salmond says. But there is a solution, he says.

“Can I suggest you serve orders to my solicitors. I’m sure you’ll get full cooperation.” This would be a way of getting round injunctions on Salmond for releasing letters, Salmond suggests.

And that’s it.


Baillie: You have been careful not to call for Sturgeon to resign. Have you forgiven her?

What happens to someone who may have broken the ministerial code is not a matter for me to say, Salmond says.

Wightman: Do you have confidence in Hamilton’s inquiry into possible breaches of the ministerial code ?

I’ve got every confidence that Mr Hamilton will discharge the duties in a proper manner.

Mitchell: If there was encouragement for women to come forward what was the motivation?

The motivation changed over time. I’ve have never suggested that the original complainants were motivated by politics. They were ill-served in being forced into a criminal process against their direct wishes.

Salmond says messages he has seen showed there was a desire for the criminal case to blank out defeat in the judicial review.

Some people wanted to give the criminal case a big shove forward.

Watt: You say you support the anonymity of complainers but you have provided evidence to the committee that has leaked into the public domain. What was your motive in not following the correct procedure?

“I refute absolutely that anything we’ve submitted to this committee puts a question mark on the anonymity of complainants,” Salmond says.


Wightman asks about the ‘witch-hunt’ email from Anne Harvey. Is it legitimate to alert the police to other potential victims?

Yes, says Salmond.

Wightman says there is nothing we have heard to show there was an effort to remove you from public life.

Salmond cites six instances including meetings between Sturgeon and the permanent secretary in November 2017 and then a dramatic change in government complaints policy led by the permanent secretary.

And why else pursue the judicial review, Salmond asks.

Wightman: what evidence do you have that the government was told it would lose the case?

I have absolute reason to believe that on 31 October the government had advice that on the balance of probability it would lose. Go and get the documents, Salmond urges.

The Crown Office has given discretion to release information to the ICO, it should do the same for the committee, Salmond says.


Allan: Do you realise we require evidence of your claims?

Salmond cites evidence from Allison and Harvey that he has brought forward. He also mentions the text messages, from Murrell. And the “lost the battle but not the war” message from the permanent secretary.

But there is documentation from August 2018 to January 2019 that is missing. You are not helpless in this matter, Salmond says.

You are a committee of the Scottish parliament, you have a duty to investigate for the people of Scotland, Salmond says.

“The degree of effort of the Crown Office prevent this committee from seeing evidence goes beyond any imagination,” Salmond says.


Baillie wants to check the timeline on when Salmond was told complaints were made against him March 2018.

It was a government matter, Salmond said. I would have gone to the permanent secretary and that was what I was asking Sturgeon to do. The WhatsApp messages should I believed this was the legitimate thing to do.

Is there a requirement under the ministerial code for Sturgeon to report to the permanent secretary a request to intervene?

Yes, Salmond says. He says his counsel Duncan Hamilton was at that meeting.

Why did Sturgeon wait till June 2018 to tell the civil service?

That’s a question for her, Salmond said.

If you mislead parliament is it a resignation matter?

The generally applied position is that if you have knowingly misled parliament then you would resign, Salmond says.


McMillan: What was said in the meeting 2 April?

Salmond says WhatsApp messages show he asked for Sturgeon to intervene and that he suggestion mediation. That was the right thing to do, but she changed her mind.

She said she wanted to help and that the permanent secretary would get involved. That was why I was disappointed when she said she would not help, Salmond said.

McMillan: Is is reasonable for political parties to reach out to staff members about complaints over harassment?

I do, but that is not what I was suggesting [when complaining of a fishing expedition against him]. Many people who worked for me did not get that message, Salmond said. This took place after the police investigation started, he adds, citing the date of emails from SNP.

The police should be left to get on with it, they should not be pressurised, Salmond says.

That is out of order but the information I would like to bring this committee goes way beyond that, Salmond adds.


Fraser: You have cited four SNP official as being involved in a conspiracy against you. Do you believe Sturgeon played a role?

I have only made statements that are backed up by documentary evidence, Salmond says.

Fraser: who should resign?

The people I have named all should be considering their positions, including the permanent secretary, Leslie Evans.

Fraser: The Lord Advocate?

He should be considering his position. The institutions are sound, but people have to take responsibility. The Scottish government needs new leadership.

Fraser: If the first minister has broken the ministerial code should she resign?

I have no doubt Nicola has broken the ministerial code, but it’s not for me to suggest the consequences, Salmond says


Fraser: Why do you believe there was a conspiracy against you?

The loss of the judicial review was regarded as cataclysmic for the government and Sturgeon, Salmond says. This would have swept aside in publicity if I had lost the criminal case, Salmond said.

Salmond cites evidence from Anne Harvey, principal assistance to the SNP’s chief whip in Westminster, who said she did not want to take part in a “witch hunt”.

He also cites messages from Sue Ruddick, chief operating officer of the SNP, in which she talks about “getting another complainant back in the game,” Salmond says.

Salmond says: “There’s much more evidence that I would dearly love to provide to this committee.” But he says he is being prevented from doing so by legal injunctions.

Fraser: Sturgeon has one version of events and you have another, where is the evidence to support your version?

The people who turned up to the knew, Salmond says.

Salmond said either deliberately misled parliament about the meeting on 29 March, or it was forgotten about. Both involve a breach of the code, he says.


Fraser asks more about the meeting 2 April. Sturgeon has said the claims you are making are untrue. Are you a liar and a fantasist?

The key thing is the evidence, Salmond says. The meeting on 29 March in the Scottish parliament was arranged to inform Nicola about complaints against me, Salmond says.

If the meeting and subject matter admitted, it makes it difficult to argue that the meeting 2 April was a party matter, Salmond says.

There was nothing improper in the intervention I was hoping Sturgeon to make, Salmond says. Mediation should have been part of the policy, he said.


Did the name of the complainant come up in the discussion on 2 April?

I think it did, Salmond says. It was already known, he says.

Sturgeon told parliament on Thursday that she didn’t believe the name of the complainer had been passed to Salmond.

Salmond later says Sturgeon changed her stance on assisting him in WhatsApp messages.

He says he did not recall Peter Murrell returning to his home during the meeting with Sturgeon on 2 April.

Would you have expect to Murrell know about it?

Peter’s non-appearance was not a surprise, Salmond says.


Cole-Hamilton asks about the 2 April meeting and whether this was the first time Sturgeon had heard about the investigation against Salmond.

Salmond says he discussed the situation, the meeting was for that purpose. Sturgeon expressed no surprise, he says. Sturgeon gave every indication that she would assist him.

“I felt the mediation proposal was the proper thing to ask for,” he says.


Cole-Hamilton asks: why would Sturgeon think you were going to resign from the party?

On the 7 March I had been told by the permanent secretary that an investigation had been launched against me. What purpose could resignation from the party have achieved, he says. Resignation from the party never entered his mind.

“I had not indicated to anyone that I was about to resign from the SNP,” he says.


Cole-Hamilton asks about about a crucial meeting involving Sturgeon and Salmond’s chief of staff, Geoff Aberdein, on 29 March and another meeting on 2 April 2018 at Sturgeon’s home involving Salmond.

Salmond says he had been to Sturgeon’s house only six times. Salmond says Aberdein had told him in advance about the 29 March meeting.

He told me the next day that the meeting on 2 April was on, Salmond says.

Salmond says he did not know if Sturgeon knew of complaints against him before 29 March, but she did know on 29 March. (Sturgeon failed to disclose this meeting to parliament, and later said she had forgotten about it.)


The session is resuming. Salmond was asked about Peter Murrell’s texts (see earlier).

Salmond says those texts showed there was an effort to pressurise the police.

“What they speak to is behaviour, which I would never have countenanced with people I’ve known in some cases for 30 years,” Salmond says.

Salmond points out that the government had previously denied there was any evidence that Murrell had tried to apply pressure on the police.

He compared it to another message in which the the permanent secretary said “we’ve lost the battle but not the war” after the government lost the judicial review.


PA also has a fuller version of Salmond’s answer to Wightman’s questions about the grounds for judicial review he was advised would have the highest chance of success.

Salmond said “procedural unfairness” was among them, adding:

One of the strongest arguments, and I’m not competent to judge the strongest argument, but certainly as put to me one of the strongest arguments was the nature of the investigating officer [Judith Mackinnon].

I’m not talking here about the prior involvement that was subsequently discovered, but the nature of how the investigating officer conducts his or her activities.

It means that in this procedure - totally different from fairness at work and totally different from elsewhere - the investigating officer basically presents the case for the prosecution before the defendant is even informed about the procedure.

And then the person who is being complained about, instead of being able to present their own case, has to give that case to the same person, to the investigating officer, to present on his or her behalf.

And that, my legal team told me, is not something that the courts take kindly to.


While we wait for Salmond to clear his throat, PA has this update:

Salmond was invited to give more details on his claim that a witness was allegedly told by a special adviser that they would “get him” in a criminal case.

He said:

We have got the statement and I would have to consult the person concerned.

The reason for it being there is it demonstrates that in November of 2018, the hope was, on the part of that special adviser and others, that the judicial review would be overtaken by the criminal case.

And what substantive evidence beyond that statement we have for that lies in the whole question of sisting.

The idea that if the criminal case had been advanced, then the civil case wouldn’t have gone ahead pending the outcome of the criminal case.

And many people seemed to invest a great deal of hope that the criminal case would ride to the rescue and let the cavalry over the hill, and somehow the civil case would never be heard.


Mitchell asks Salmond about a text by Peter Murrell, Sturgeon’s husband and chief executive of the SNP in which he talks about it being “good time” to pressure the Metropolitan police to investigate Salmond. In another text, Murrell said: “The more fronts he is having to firefight the better for the complainers.” Murrell later said the message was out of character and reflected the stress he was under. Would that be your reading?

Salmond is allowed a break to clear his throat from a cough, before answering.


Watt asks more about the timing of the government’s decision to concede the judicial review. Wasn’t it right for the government to take its time to concede?

Salmond says the government should allow parliament to see the external legal advice on the judicial review.

Salmond points out that investigator Judith Mackinnon had been open about having prior contact with the complainants. So why is this only coming out now, he asks.

The only reason I was looking to go to arbitration was to avoid a “cataclysmic” outcome for the government, he says.


Salmond says there was widespread knowledge in the government by November 2018 that the judicial review was going to go against the government.

Pausing the judicial review at that stage would have been embarrassing for the government but it would have allowed it to avoid huge costs, he says.


Baillie asks whether Sturgeon breached the ministerial code by pursuing the judicial review, despite knowing that the permanent secretary had prior contacts with the complainants.

Yes, says Salmond.


Baillie asks whether documents disclosed to the committee had not been disclosed to Salmond before.

Salmond says there were about 40 documents he had not seen, which is a “spectacular” failure to comply with the government’s duty of candour.

He mentions specific meetings between the permanent secretary and the complainants.

Baillie: did the permanent secretary comply with the civil service code?

No, says Salmond.


McMillan: do you agree that the government only conceded the judicial review on one ground?

Salmond points out that the government collapsed the case. “The victory was as comprehensive as you can get in legal terms. The permanent secretary’s portrayal of it was at variance with reality,” Salmond says.


Wightman invites Salmond to say more about his claim that someone in the government wanted to ‘get him’ in the criminal case.

Salmond points out that he is prevented from disclosing government documents about ‘sisting’ or pausing the judicial review. He says the committee has only been allowed to see one document on this, despite multiple government meetings about it.

Wightman what grounds for judicial review were you advised had the most chance of success?

Procedural unfairness was one of the strongest arguments. How the investigating officer presented the complaint before approaching him, was not something the courts would take kindly to, Salmond says he was told.

He also mentions access to witness statements.

This procedure would have fallen on innumerable grounds, Salmond says.

But despite defeat in judicial review in January 2018, the permanent secretary put out a press release saying the other grounds were not tested.

Allan cites a former government legal adviser who said arbitration would not have been appropriate in this case.

Salmond suggests the government could have avoided paying out £630,000 if it taken his offer of going to arbitration.

Salmond said the record of this case showed the government got better legal advice from external lawyers than its own lawyers.


Allan asks: what solutions should there be to dispute resolution?

Salmond says mediation should have been available in the complaints procedures. The fact that it is available to current ministers but not former is unjustified, he says.

Mediation is not sweeping the matter under the carpet, he adds.


Allan: What’s the difference been legal privilege in Westminster and Holyrood?

Legal privilege should be applied to the Scottish parliament, Salmond says. Parliament representing the people is the ultimate authority, he says.

It is a surprise that the Crown Office adopted a different stance on the evidence to this committee from the stance on publication of evidence published in the Spectator, Salmond adds.

Salmond points out that that his legal team moved to protect the anonymity of complainants in October 2018. The government didn’t turn up to that hearing.

It is “passing strange” that the Crown Office has adopted the attitude it has, Salmond says.


Mitchell: has there been any sanction against the government’s decision to carry on with the judicial review?

People make mistakes, Salmond says, but in terms of the Richter scale of mistakes this is a very big one.

Leslie Evans, the permanent secretary, claimed ownership of the policy, Salmond says. It was unlawful policy and tainted by bias, Salmond says, citing the judicial review.


Fraser: if this had happened under your watch who would you hold responsible?

The decision not to accept arbitration when they knew how weak the case was, and the decision to carry on clocked up a huge bill.

That can’t just be the lord advocate but also the permanent secretary and the first minister.


Fraser: was the government assisting your legal team in October 2017?

It was clear to everyone that there were missing documents, Salmond says. The government’s pleadings to the court were misleading.

It must be unprecedented for the counsel to the government to threaten to resign over a legal case.


Fraser asked when did you first become aware there had been prior contact between the investigators and complainants?

Salmond suggested it was early 2018. How could complaints come in under a policy before it was introduced, he asks. It was just before Christmas 2018 that Salmond learned of prior involvement of the permanent secretary to the Scottish government, Leslie Evans.


Fraser asked Salmond to characterise the strength of legal advice he received over the judicial review.

“I was told that I had a very high probability of success,” Salmond says.

Salmond says he warned the first minister’s office that the grounds for judicial review were strong. In response the government said it was confident it acted lawfully. There was no substantive reply, Salmond says.

He was advised to take it to judicial review, Salmond says, but he wanted to pursue arbitration first. That was rejected by the government.

Salmond’s total costs were £591,689.37 and he recouped £512,252 from the Scottish government.

The government tried to insist there were no documents to disclose. Even the government’s counsel objected to this, Salmond says.


Fabiani resumes the second session with a question to Salmond about how he thought the judicial review was handled?

I can’t think of any worse, in terms how it approached, Salmond said.

No prior involvement in an investigation is fundamental, so it was deficient from the start, he says.

The prior involvement of the investigator with the complainants was not disclosed, despite the duty of candour, Salmond said. The pattern of non-disclosure goes right through the judicial review to the current hearing, Salmond says.

There has been deliberate suppression of information inconvenient to the government, he added.


Salmond repeatedly called an anti-harassment policy drawn up by Sturgeon’s government, which covered former ministers for the first time, an “abject disaster”.

When asked if he thought former ministers should have been included in the new policy, Salmond told the inquiry:

I would like to say about Fairness at Work, it was developed with the unions over an 18-month period.

It was carefully considered, and above all, it was lawful. The policy which you’re examining as part of your inquiry, it was the exact opposite. It was rushed through, and it was unlawful, and was an abject disaster.

If you are going to apply a retrospective policy, then get a legal base for it.

And if you’re going to apply any policy, then do it in comprehensive, full discussion with the trade unions - as you found in this committee, that did not happen in this case.

In my experience, it happened in every workplace policy, but somehow not in this policy.


Salmond accuses Sturgeon of using Covid briefing to 'effectively question jury result'

While we wait for the session to resume at around 3pm, PA has this speedy take on part one:

Alex Salmond has said there is a failure of leadership in Scotland as he attacked Nicola Sturgeon and claimed there has been a “calculated and deliberate suppression of key evidence” to a Scottish parliamentary committee.

In his opening statement to a Holyrood inquiry into the Scottish government’s unlawful investigation of sexual harassment claims made against him, Scotland’s former first minister accused his successor Nicola Sturgeon of using a Covid press conference to “effectively question the result of a jury”.

He is testifying on the botched government investigation which was found to be “tainted by apparent bias” after it emerged the investigating officer had prior contact with two of the women who made complaints.

He will face questions about his claims current first minister Sturgeon misled parliament and breached the ministerial code.

Salmond told MSPs that the leadership of Scotland had failed, and the Scottish government’s actions are no longer true to the principles of openness, accountability and transparency.

He said:

I watched in astonishment on Wednesday when the first minister of Scotland – the first minister of Scotland – used a Covid press conference to effectively question the results of a jury.

The government acted illegally but somehow nobody is to blame.

Scotland hasn’t failed, its leadership has failed. The importance of this inquiry is for each and every one of us to help put this right.”

The former first minister told the committee:

This inquiry is not about me, I have already established the illegality of the actions of the Scottish government in the court of session, and I have been acquitted of all criminal charges by a jury in the highest court in the land.

These are both the highest courts in the land, the highest criminal court and the highest civil court.

The remit of this inquiry is about the actions of others, whose investigation into the conduct of ministers, the permanent secretary, civil servants and special advisers.

It also requires to shine a light on the activities of the Crown Office.

He went on to claim that the committee in its inquiry has been “systematically deprived of the evidence it has legitimately sought”.

Salmond rejected calls from his successor Sturgeon that he should provide evidence to back up his claims of a conspiracy.

He stressed it was the Scottish government which had been “found to have acted unlawfully, unfairly and tainted by apparent bias” by the Court of Session.

He said:

I note that the first minister asserts I have to prove a case, I don’t. That has already been done. There have been two court cases, two judges, one jury.

In this inquiry it is the Scottish government, a government which has already admitted to behaving unlawfully, who are under examination.

He said the previous two years and six months – during his investigation and criminal trial – had been a “nightmare”, but “we can’t turn that page, nor move on, until the decision-making which is undermining the system of government in Scotland is addressed”.

Questioned by Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton, Salmond said he did not believe Ms Sturgeon has been involved in a “cover-up” of complaints against him. He said:

I’ve seen it pursued on the committee that somehow Nicola Sturgeon was covering up – that’s not the case, my charges against Nicola Sturgeon don’t include that.

Cole-Hamilton added: “I want to ask, laying aside the charges of which you have been acquitted, and the allegations that you deny, of the behaviours that you have admitted to, some of which are appalling, are you sorry?”

Salmond replied:

In my statement I pointed out the government’s illegality has had huge consequences for a number of people, and specifically mentioned the complainants in my opening statement.

Over the last three years, there have been two court cases, two judges and a jury, and I’m resting on the proceedings of these cases.

Labour’s Jackie Baillie asked the former first minister if the name of one of the complainers had been shared at a meeting his then chief of staff, Geoff Aberdein, had been present at.

Salmond said it had, adding: “My former chief of staff told me that.”

The former first minister also claimed a leak to the Daily Record newspaper which broke news of the allegations against him was “politically inspired”, as he called for police to act. He added:

I think it does require further police investigation - I do believe I know the identity but I’m not here to speculate on individuals that I cannot substantiate.

Salmond, who was acquitted of 13 charges of sexual assault in the criminal trial, was awarded a 512,250 payout after he successfully challenged the lawfulness of the government investigation into harassment claims made against him.

Sturgeon has previously insisted there is “not a shred of evidence” that there was a conspiracy against Mr Salmond and she has denied lying to parliament.

The current first minister is scheduled to appear before the committee to give evidence next Wednesday.


Fabiani asks Salmond how he would have dealt with a complaint against a former minister.

I would not have introduced a new policy to deal with it. Any response should have been done with proper consideration. “You would not invent a policy to meet a complaint,” Salmond says.

If there was a complaint against the first minister, the deputy first minister would have dealt with it. But no such complaint was made in his time in office, Salmond says.

Fabiani suspends the hearing for 20 minutes.


Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser asks about the role of the Crown Office, the prosecution service in Scotland. Would the Crown Prosecution Service in England request a redaction of documents to a parliamentary inquiry?

Parliament is there to serve the people, the prosecution service should not be interfering in the activities of the parliament, Salmond says.

Some of my evidence is published in reputable journals, Salmond says in reference to the Spectator. It is intolerable that I can’t discuss that evidence to parliament.

The policy wasn’t “botched” it was unlawful, Salmond adds.

The SNP’s Stuart McMillan asks why Salmond thought the FAW policy was robust. Housden told the committee that it was right for former ministers to be included in the procedure, do you agree?

That change should have been applied to existing policy, Salmond repeats. If Housden had been permanent secretary at the time, it would have been done properly, Salmond says.

FAW was carefully considered and above all it was lawful. The new policy was the opposite, it was rushed through and a disaster, Salmond says.

Former ministers should not have been included in the way it was done. Why was there an extraordinary rush? Salmond asks.

Was the #MeToo movement the genesis of the new procedure?

There were a range of issues raised at the time, but not the behaviour of former ministers.

The first minister had a role in the policy until December 2017, Salmond says. Thereafter the permanent secretary (Leslie Evans) took on the policy, Salmond says.

Why is the first minister informed about complaints against current ministers but not former ministers, Salmond says?

Did you ever intervene on behalf of a former minister?

The first minister is duty-bound to intervene if her government is likely to behave in an unlawful fashion. I had no idea where this policy had come from. I assumed there was some error in it.


Baillie asks how was it confirmed that the government leaked the document to the Daily Record?

The Daily Record confirmed to a documentary that it had been leaked a copy of the document, Salmond says. I didn’t have an interest in leaking the document. The police had refused a copy of the report, so they could not have leaked it.

The first minister’s office had access to the document. Civil servants seldom leak, and if they do leak they don’t leak to the political editor of the Daily Record, Salmond says.

The Crown Office has pursued police inquiries on other leaks. But there has been nothing from the Crown Office on this. Why the disparity? Salmond asks.

Baillie asks: why are you confident of the identity of the leaker?

There absolutely should be a police investigation. They broke the law, Salmond says.


Labour’s Jackie Baillie raises the issue of confidentiality of complainers. Was the name of a complainer shared at a meeting with your former chief of staff.

There are three other people who know that to be true, says Salmond.

How were you notified of the Daily Record story about complaints against you in August 2018?

Salmond suggests he was informed on the day of publication. The next day the Daily Record published part of a leaked government document. The ICO investigated and said it was “sympathetic” to the view that the criminal leak came from the Scottish government. But they could not investigate fully.


Allan asks about the timeline on the introduction of the new complaints procedure.

Salmond points out that civil servants were working on a policy to cover former first ministers in November 2017. That was a significant departure from policy, Salmond says.

Why did it emerge then, Salmond asks.

Allan asks: do you feel it right that former ministers should be held to account?

There is a huge difference between considered legislation, currently going through the Scottish parliament, and the spatchcock procedure over a matter of weeks introduced against former ministers.

It was “tainted by apparent bias”, Salmond says, citing evidence to the judicial review.

There was also a procedural unfairness, Salmond says. However you look at it, the policy was an “abject complete disaster”.


The SNP’s Alasdair Allan asks about workplace culture in the Scottish government. What was your part in that culture?

Just because people say things, doesn’t make them true, Salmond says. There are now more complaints than when I was in office, Salmond points out. The culture and performance at the time was extremely good, Salmond says, citing former permanent secretary Peter Housden.


Wightman asks Salmond to clarify whether a complaint against him had been dealt with informally?

I’m entitled to rest on the verdict of the jury, Salmond says again.

Should there be procedure for dealing with complaints against former ministers?

It is difficult to make such a policy legal, Salmond says. The complaints could have been dealt with using the FAW policy in place at the time, not with a new policy for former ministers, he adds.

The origins for that policy came from “elsewhere”, Salmond says.

Wightman asks about Salmond’s claims about the retrospective nature of the new policy on complaints?

Salmond says such a change required consent and approval for those it would apply to. Former minister and first ministers were not consulted. The retrospective policy fell at the first hurdle, Salmond says. My legal advice was there were many grounds on which the policy would have fallen.

Former Green now independent MSP Andy Wightman asks: if you had been first minister in October 2017 how would you have responded to #MeToo?

Salmond says that after hearing views from colleagues he would have looked at existing policies. The FAW developed in 2009-10 took 18 months to draw up.

The atmosphere was more charged in 2017, which is all the more reason to look at the policy properly, Salmond says.


Cole-Hamilton Did you threaten to resign from the SNP in November 2017 after a possible Sky News story about harassment at Edinburgh airport?

The Sky News story was never broadcast. There was nothing to threaten resignation about, Salmond says.

Cole-Hamilton wants to ask about a complaint of harassment made at the time of the Scottish referendum. Did Nicola Sturgeon raise issues about your behaviour?

The answer is no, Salmond says. I was the most investigated politician in Scotland for 30 years. Nothing came of it because there was nothing there, he says.


The Lib Dem Alex Cole-Hamilton asks whether Salmond is sorry for his behaviour.

Over the the last three years there have been two cases on this issue.

Cole-Hamilton asks about ‘hairdryer’ talks to colleagues. (The convenor reminds him that Salmond is not on trial here.) Was your temper addressed by colleagues?

The First Division Association has complained that this committee has bullied civil servants. Just because someone says something doesn’t make it true, Salmond says.


Watt: Was FAW discussed by parliament?

It was discussed for years by unions.

Watt: I’ll take that as a no.

Was it typical for complaints to be dealt with with an apology?

I’ll leave these matters to the courts, Salmond says after being told he does not have to answer the question by the convenor.


Watt: wasn’t there need for a more robust policy?

Salmond says the unions thought the existing policy was adequate. If you are going to change the policy you need to understand the existing measures and consult with the unions which drew it up. FAW was regarded as a “considerable achievement” by the unions, Salmond says.

Instead last-minute changes were drawn up for the new policy on the day it was introduced, Salmond says.

Was there a problem of under-reporting?

Complaints have risen in the last few years. The new policy has ended in abject disaster as a result of not being properly drawn up, Salmond says.

If you had been first minister after MeToo, would you have introduced a new policy?

I don’t know, but I would not have thrown out a policy that was well regarded. FAW could have been strengthened and amended. The last thing you do is rush them through in “spatchcock fashion” without consultation with the unions.

The new policy was introduced with no discussion in cabinet or parliament, he says. I find that inexplicable.


The SNP’s Maureen Watt asks about the Scottish government’s response to the #MeToo movement. Was a policy on sexual harassment necessary in this context?

Salmond says the FAW already included provisions on harassment. Instead of reforming this a new policy was drawn up “at pace”, he says.

Wasn’t it better to start afresh?

Salmond reads from item one of FAW to point out it already dealt with harassment and bullying. Before you replace something you should understand what you are replacing, Salmond says.

The unions have not called for a new policy because it works well for the civil service, Salmond says.

Policy has to respond to circumstance, and be strengthened as necessary.


Mitchell asks about the informal resolution procedure for complaints? Was mediation used?

Informal resolution and mediation are not the same thing, Salmond says. It is important that first minister does not get involved in mediation. It should be dealt with by the deputy first minister, and then a panel of three, and then final adjudication by the first minister.

Salmond was advised that if two ministers were involved in mediation it could be deemed unlawful.


Mitchell: was there a high bar for formal complaints to be investigated? Did the procedure work well?

Before FAW there was no process to hold ministers to account. It was difficult to subject ministers to the same complaints policy as civil servants because of the ministerial code, Salmond says.

The FAW has not been improved, it has just been ignored, Salmond says. It is in limbo after the judicial review found in his favour.

FAW does cover bullying and harassment, but not to ministers. This problem should have been sorted out, rather than casting it aside.


Conservative MSP Margaret Mitchell asks: how can the current government be held to account while it refused to release legal advice to the committee?

Salmond says parliament has the ability to assert itself. Censure motions are available. There is understandable reluctance to release legal advice to governments, but exceptions can be made, Salmond says.

Mitchell asks if parliament’s powers are robust enough to hold the government to account. Should there be a separate director of prosecutions as in England?

Any institution needs to learn lessons, Salmond says. He could not conceive a government ignoring two parliamentary votes on publishing the legal advice.

The lord advocate, the chief prosecutor, should not attend cabinet. I don’t know if that has been followed, Salmond says. Consequences should follow from unlawful conduct, he says.


Fabiani asks: talk us through how the Fairness at Work (FAW) was developed and implemented.

Salmond says he is hampered in giving evidence by a section 11 order to prevent complainants being identified.

He complains that the Crown Office has prevented his evidence being published. The threat of prosecution against him is extraordinary and unwarranted, he says.

Salmond says unions wanted ministers to be added to be subjected to FAW as well as civil servants.


For two years and six months, this has been a nightmare, Salmond says.

The failures of leadership are many and obvious but there have been no resignations, he says.

Scotland hasn’t failed, its leadership has failed, Salmond says.

This committee has been blocked and tackled at every turn, he adds. My evidence has been published and then censured, he says. He says he is appearing before the committee at the risk of prosecution.


Salmond begins his opening statement.

This inquiry is not about me, he says, it’s about the government’s conduct.

He says the committee has been deprived of evidence by the Crown Office, which should not be opposing the will of parliament.

I’ve said nothing to date, but today that changes, Salmond warns.


The committee’s convener Linda Fabiani begins the hearing with a reminder to avoid identifying those who complained against Salmond.

Salmond is invited to take the oath. He does so.

Salmond has arrived for the hearing.

This is ⁦@AlexSalmond⁩ (back seat) arriving at Holyrood to give evidence under oath

— Glenn Campbell (@GlennBBC) February 26, 2021

The hearing is likely to last for a daunting four hours. And it could be longer. We have been promised one break midway through.

You’ll be able to watch it on the Scottish parliament channel, but we’ll have a feed at the top of this blog.

Labour MSP Jackie Baillie, who is a member of the committee, has this:

Busy afternoon ahead at Committee. Considering the botched handling of harassment complaints by the Scottish Government. Evidence from Alex Salmond today and Nicola Sturgeon on Wednesday. You can watch on the parliament website.

— Jackie Baillie (@jackiebmsp) February 26, 2021


Welcome to live coverage of Alex Salmond’s eagerly awaited appearance before a committee of MSPs investigating the Scottish government’s botched inquiry into complaints against him.

The hearing is due to start at 12.30pm.

Our Scotland editor, Severin Carrell, has a useful guide to the key questions Salmond is likely to be asked.

There is also an invaluable explainer to the controversy here.

Salmond’s final submission to the committee, in which he makes a series of explosive allegations against the Scottish government, is available here.

There is a long cast list of characters that are likely to come up in the committee hearing. These are some of the key names:

Peter Murrell, Sturgeon’s husband and chief executive of the SNP.

Leslie Evans, permanent secretary to the Scottish government.

Geoff Aberdein, former chief of staff to Salmond.

Liz Lloyd, chief of staff to Sturgeon.

James Wolffe, QC, lord advocate.

Judith MacKinnon, HR specialist and investigating officer.

Barbara Allison, former director of people for the Scottish government.

The committee, which is convened by the SNP’s Linda Fabiani, has set out the agenda for Friday’s meeting here.

It will divided into four phases:

Phase 1 - Development of the policy

This will explore Salmond’s complaint that the government’s rulebook on handling complaints changed in 2017 to include former ministers. He claims this was done deliberately to allow complaints against him to be prosecuted

Phase 2 - Complaints handling

Salmond alleges that the investigation officer, Judith MacKinnon, had regular contacts with the women making complaints of sexual harassment against Salmond prior to an internal investigation. He also claims that the permanent secretary to the Scottish government, Leslie Evans, who established how the complaints should be handled also had regular undisclosed contact with the complainants. He says this breaches natural justice.

Phase 3 - Judicial review

Salmond denied the allegations and successfully took the Scottish government to court over its handling of the complaints, winning a judicial review. The government admitted in court that its handling of the complaints had been “tainted by apparent bias”. Salmond was also cleared of 13 charges of sexual assault against nine women in a trial last March.

Phase 4 - Scottish ministerial code

A separate inquiry led by QC James Hamilton is looking at whether Sturgeon broke the ministerial code. But the MSPs will also examine whether Sturgeon misled the Scottish parliament on when she knew of allegations against Salmond.



Matthew Weaver

The GuardianTramp