John Swinney has denied claims the Scottish Government obstructed the inquiry into the handling of harassment complaints about Alex Salmond, after being told its “refusal” to release evidence had delayed the investigation.
The Deputy First Minister insisted the Government “remains committed to co-operating fully within the bounds of the law” with the probe, which is looking into the botched investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against the former first minister.
In a letter to Mr Swinney on Wednesday, the convener of the committee of MSPs carrying out the inquiry expressed “frustration” at the Government’s apparent reluctance to hand over certain evidence.
Linda Fabiani also informed him she had asked the Court of Session to release all the evidence from Mr Salmond’s successful legal challenge on the issue.
She wrote: “While the committee notes the Scottish Government’s intention to release further information, it is mindful of the delays that have already been caused by the Scottish Government’s previous refusal to provide documentation, and therefore it has also written to the Court of Session to request confirmation of the extent to which the court will be able to make documentation available to the committee, should this not be forthcoming.”
In response, Mr Swinney said it is “simply not the case that the Scottish Government has obstructed the committee”.
He referenced more than 1,000 pages of material provided by the Government to the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints, and the willingness of ministers and officials to give oral evidence.
Mr Swinney said he is mystified by the “gulf in both tone and substance” of the public statement accusing witnesses of obstruction and what he claims is the “private acceptance” of the Scottish Government’s position.
He added: “While I appreciate there is a genuine difference of view over the legal privilege issue, the factual position remains that every Scottish Government witness called has attended the committee and every request for written material has been met and will be met to the full limit of the law, the Ministerial Code and other conventions.”
In an attempt to bypass legal wrangling and disagreements between Mr Salmond’s lawyers and the Scottish Government, Ms Fabiani has appealed directly to the Court of Session to access the “essential” evidence.
Both sides have offered to begin legal proceedings to release evidence used in the judicial review that ruled the Government’s investigation into the sexual harassment claims was unlawful.
But although Ms Fabiani said the Government and Mr Salmond have publicly stated their willingness to release documents relating to the case, she told the court “the parties differ in terms of their understanding of what access can be provided”.