Former minister demands public review over handling of Salmond allegations probe

A former member of the Scottish cabinet has called for a public inquiry to be mounted into the administration’s “unlawful” handling of sexual misconduct complaints against Alex Salmond.

Alex Neil, who served as both infrastructure and investment secretary – and then health secretary in Mr Salmond’s cabinet, said without such an approach there risked being a “perception of the civil service simply investigating themselves”.

He spoke out after Scottish Conservative interim leader Jackson Carlaw said a Holyrood inquiry into what happened should take place if the “mounting” questions facing the Government are not properly answered.

Mr Salmond took the unprecedented step of taking legal action against the administration he had once led, challenging the way it had dealt with allegations of sexual harassment made against him by two women, which dated back to the time when he was first minister.

Scottish Government Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans settled the case after it emerged the person appointed to investigate the complaints had had prior contact with the women.

At the Court of Session in Edinburgh on Monday, Judge Lord Pentland ruled the Scottish Government’s actions were “unlawful in respect that they were procedurally unfair and that they were tainted with apparent bias”.

The case could cost the Scottish Government some £500,000 in legal costs and expenses.

Ms Evans has already said an internal review will be carried out into how the process was handled – although Mr Salmond has called for her resignation.

Now Mr Neil has told The Times newspaper that “this review must be carried out externally and in public”.

He said: “If it is just an internal review there will be a perception of the civil service simply investigating themselves.

“I can’t see how that can have the confidence of the public when they made such a mess of this process already.”

While Mr Salmond’s successor Nicola Sturgeon has given her backing to Ms Evans, another former cabinet secretary claimed some within the SNP were seeking to protect the current leader above all else.

Kenny MacAskill, the justice secretary in Mr Salmond’s government, wrote in the Scotsman that it “now seems that, for a coterie surrounding the SNP leadership, not one blemish must be allowed to be cast upon the party leader and First Minister”.

He added: “She is to be whiter than white and the SNP purer than the driven snow. Misconduct will not be tolerated and any who might taint her are to be driven out.”

Speaking about the treatment of Mark McDonald, who quit as children’s minister in November 2017 after sending a text message which referenced a sex act, Mr MacAskill said the party “threw him to the wolves”.

He described Mr McDonald – who subsequently left the SNP and now sits as an independent MSP – as having been a “stupid laddie”, but added: “He has been treated as if he were some Scottish Hannibal Lecter and has been pilloried.”

Mr MacAskill stated: “Alex Salmond was also subjected to an internal SNP inquiry where former staff were approached about him. On what basis has never been explained, but given that civil and police investigations were ongoing, why was that done?

“It’s understandable that staff in a government or political party seek to protect the leader. But they also have a wider duty to other members.

“Some appear to have acted with no consideration for the rights of others and may even have carried out actions that were prejudicial and unfair.”