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”, he added.
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 spoken to two women who had indicated they could accuse him of sexual harassment before their complaints were formally made.
Salmond said the police had served a warrant on the government seeking disclosure of that kind of evidence, but it was not given to them; the Crown Office had not been told, nor had his criminal trial. “That’s obstruction of justice,” he told the committee.
Salmond also asserted that the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, had broken the ministerial code – a charge she has repeatedly rejected. He claimed that she had failed to stop her government spending some £600,000 on a policy he had warned her from the start was unlawful. “I believe the first minister has broken the ministerial code. It is not the case that every minister who breaks the code must resign – it depends on what is found,” he said.
Before being closely questioned over six hours of testimony, Salmond told the committee he did not agree with those who claimed Scotland was “in danger of becoming a failed state”. He said its institutions were “absolutely sound”.
Even so, he said, “we can’t turn that page nor move on” until crises in its institutions were resolved. That meant Evans and the lord advocate, James Wolffe QC, should resign, he said.
“The competence and professionalism of the civil service matters. The independence of the Crown Office acting in the public interest matters. Acting in accordance with legal advice matters,” he said. “Concealing evidence from the courts matters. The duty of candour of public authorities matters. Democratic accountability through parliament matters. Suppressing evidence from parliamentary committees matters. And yes, ministers telling the truth to parliament matters.”
During hours of evidence that deepened his bitter feud with Nicola Sturgeon, once his protege and close friend, and his erstwhile allies in the Scottish National party, Salmond made a series of allegations about the conduct of senior civil servants and former colleagues.
He also refused to be questioned by several MSPs on whether his past conduct towards women was wrong, and would not confirm whether he had apologised to one official he was accused of misconduct towards.
Sturgeon accused Salmond on Wednesday of using this inquiry to deflect questions about his behaviour. Salmond retorted he had been cleared of any criminal offence: “After two court cases, two judges and a jury, I’m entitled to rest on the verdicts and particularly the verdict of the jury.”
Giving evidence under oath, he also claimed:
Sturgeon knew on 29 March 2018 Salmond 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, who at the time was not a government official, 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.
In an exchange witnessed by his lawyer, Duncan Hamilton, Sturgeon also “offered to assist” in his quest to influence the Scottish government harassment inquiry during that meeting – a claim which Sturgeon has repeatedly rejected.
The Crown Office had inexplicably failed to order a police investigation into the leak of the government’s findings he had sexually harassed two officials to the Record newspaper, even though police were investigating the leak of SNP text messages to an ally of his, the former Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill.
Salmond made these allegations before the cross-party Holyrood inquiry investigating the Scottish government’s internal inquiry into misconduct complaints against him in 2018.
In January 2019, he won a civil action and significant legal costs of £512,000 after the government admitted procedural irregularities in that inquiry meant it was unlawful, unfair and tainted by apparent bias. Salmond was then prosecuted for 14 alleged sexual offences, including one of attempted rape, but acquitted of every one during a high court trial in March 2020.
He castigated newspapers that described the government inquiry as botched. “The policy wasn’t botched. The policy was unlawful. The policy was unfair and tainted by apparent bias. Botched doesn’t cover it.”
Salmond was pressed by several MSPs to accept it was justified and lawful for a government and parliament to pass retrospective legislation that meant retired politicians could be investigated for historical offences.
Andy Wightman, an independent MSP on the committee, said that next week Holyrood was voting on a bill to authorise retrospective inquiries into MSPs dating back to the start of devolution in 1999. Alasdair Allan, for the SNP, said the Welsh Senedd and Westminster parliament were looking at similar laws.
Salmond said that was materially different than the civil service rushing through the internal rules used to investigate him in 2018. No one outside a small group of senior civil servants was consulted about that decision, he said: it was not discussed at cabinet and John Swinney, the deputy first minister, failed to tell parliament that was being considered.
His court victory meant the policy “ended in abject, total, complete disaster”. Salmond added: “There’s a huge difference between considered legislation and a spatchcock development of policy delivering in a matter of days.”
As he began giving evidence, he said over the past three years he had refused hundreds of media requests, given no interviews nor published any articles about the “shock and hurt” he had experienced. He said he had also remained silent when Sturgeon appeared to question the high court jury’s not guilty verdicts. “Still I said nothing. Well today, that changes.”