THE bitter war of words between Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon exploded into a genuine threat to the First Minister’s position last night. Holyrood officials finally published Mr Salmond’s written evidence at 7pm, clearing the way for his long awaited testimony under oath tomorrow.
In the submission, he claims a cabal of SNP and Scottish Government figures – including Ms Sturgeon’s husband – plotted to have him put behind bars. At around the same time as it was published, Ms Sturgeon gave a series of television and radio interviews to insist that her predecessor was not telling the truth. Mr Salmond is due to appear tomorrow in front of the committee probing the Scottish Government’s botched handing of sexual misconduct claims made against him.
He has accused the First Minister of breaching the ministerial code and misleading the Scottish Parliament. In his written submission, he said: “The inescapable conclusion is of a malicious and concerted attempt to damage my reputation and remove me from public life in Scotland.
“The real cost to the Scottish people runs into many millions of pounds and yet no one in this entire process has uttered the simple words which are necessary on occasions to renew and refresh democratic institutions – ‘I Resign’. The Committee now has the opportunity to address that position.”
If Ms Sturgeon is found to have breached the code she would be left with little option but to resign.
Mr Salmond claims that “the evidence supports a deliberate, prolonged, malicious and concerted effort amongst a range of individuals within the Scottish Government and the SNP to damage my reputation, even to the extent of having me imprisoned”.
Mr Salmond adds: “There are others who, for legal reasons, I am not allowed to name.”
He goes on to claim there was a “complete breakdown of the necessary barriers which should exist between Government, political party and prosecution authorities in any country which abides by the rule of law.
“The most obvious and compelling evidence of such conduct is contained within the material Crown Office refuses to release. That decision is frankly disgraceful.”
The inquiry is probing the Scottish
Government’s botched handling of sexual misconduct allegations against Mr Salmond, which led to him receiving a £512,000 payout for legal costs.
He claims “parliament has been repeatedly misled on a number of occasions” about a meeting he had with Ms Sturgeon at her home on April 2, 2018 and a meeting with his representative Geoff Aberdein in her Holyrood office four days earlier.
But the First Minister told STV News that her predecessor had offered no evidence for his claims.
She said: “He has made claims, or he appears to be making claims or suggestions there was some kind of conspiracy against him or concerted campaign against him – there is not a shred of evidence about that, so this is the opportunity for him to replace insinuation and assertion with evidence.
“I don’t believe he can, because I know what he is saying is not true, but the burden of proof is on him. If he can’t provide that evidence he should stop making these claims about people because they’re not fair and deeply distressing.”
A separate investigation by independent lawyer James Hamilton QC is looking into the claims that Ms Sturgeon breached the ministerial code.
The First Minister said: “I haven’t breached the ministerial code but that’s a matter for the independent adviser on the code to determine and I will robustly refute any suggestions that I have done so and I am not going to get ahead of that and start to talk in a hypothetical sense.
“In terms of the committee inquiry, I am actually quite relieved it is getting to this stage, it’s been a long time coming. My own appearance before it I think has been postponed four or five times, so next week hopefully I get the opportunity to address all of the claims that have been made about me and subject myself to legitimate scrutiny.
“The Scottish Government, of course, made a mistake in this. But this week it’s an opportunity for Alex Salmond – I hope he will come to the committee on Wednesday.”
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross insisted the claims of conspiracy were a “straw man” set up by Ms Sturgeon .
He said: “This isn’t about a conspiracy, as she and other SNP figures have repeatedly suggested, at every opportunity they get. It’s about whether the First Minister’s led the Scottish Parliament and broke the ministerial code.
“Nicola Sturgeon is not only asking the public to believe that she forgot about a secret meeting where she apparently learned for the first time of sexual harassment complaints against her friend of 30 years, she’s now insisting that the meeting ‘never held any significance’ to her.”
Mr Salmond was separately acquitted of sexual offences after a trial last year and his allies believe Ms Sturgeon and other SNP figures tried to plot his downfall.
The Holyrood inquiry has been at the centre of a row after twice refusing to publish one of Mr Salmond’s submissions. He made it clear he would not appear in front of MSPs until the decision was reversed.
The path to publication was cleared by judge Lady Dorrian at the High Court in Edinburgh after a challenge by The Spectator magazine. the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body (SPCB) then ruled it would be “possible” for Mr Salmond’s submission to be published.
Earlier, Rape Crisis Scotland attempted an 11th-hour challenge to prevent publication of material it claimed could identify the complainers.
Chief executive Sandy Brindley said: “The lack of priority given to protecting complainers by the Corporate Body is a disgrace and makes me ashamed of the parliament.”
SNP MP Mhairi Black tweeted: “Anonymity is in place to ensure safety – you only need to spend some time online to understand why. If this information is published, in the knowledge that it will identify someone, then we have learned nothing from #MeToo and will be failing survivors everywhere yet again.”
A number of female parliamentary employees also called for publication to be halted, using the social media hashtag #WeStandTogether.
A Scottish Parliament. spokesman said: “The SPCB takes its legal obligations very seriously and as the Presiding Officer has made clear, we will of course comply with the terms of the court order.”
Later, a spokesman for Mr Salmond confirmed he would attend the hearing tomorrow. despite some “unnecessary” redactions that had been made to his evidence.
He added: “This issue has nothing whatsoever to do with anonymity of complainant s which Mr Salmond has proactively upheld at every stage in the process. Indeed, it was Mr Salmond who in October 2018 moved to protect the identity of the complainants in the civil action in a hearing where the Scottish Government’s not even represented.”
“What he is saying is not true but burden of proof is on him, ‘It’s about whether the First Minister’s led Parliament’.”