Alex Salmond complaint inquiry committee to meet for first time

A special Holyrood committee set up to probe how misconduct allegations against former first minister Alex Salmond were handled is to meet for the first time.

The Scottish Parliament has established the Committee on Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints.

But it is set to put its inquiry on hold until the conclusion of a court case against Mr Salmond.

The former SNP leader appeared in court in Edinburgh in January, charged with 14 offences, including two of attempted rape, but insisted afterwards that he refutes “absolutely these allegations of criminality”.

Papers published ahead of Wednesday’s meeting  said that while the committee’s remit was to “focus on how complaints about Mr Salmond were dealt with” under the existing Scottish Government procedures, there was “a substantial risk that issues raised during any inquiry could relate to the matters being dealt with in the court proceedings”.

As a result it has been recommended that the committee should not seek written evidence or hold oral evidence sessions until the case has concluded.

The Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh (Jane Barlow/PA)

Nine MSPs are on the committee, including four from the SNP, two from the Conservatives, and one each from Labour, the Scottish Greens and the Liberal Democrats.

Ahead of the first meeting Labour repeated its calls for the SNP to give up the position of committee convener, which it  was allocated under Holyrood convention.

It is intended that current Holyrood Deputy Presiding Officer Linda Fabiani will take on the role, with  MSPs in the Parliament having already approved the make-up of the committee.

But Jackie Baillie, the Labour MSP on the committee, said: “This committee has a vital job to do in terms of rebuilding public trust; so it needs to get off on the right foot.

“It would be a shame to start off with a perception of partiality because the convener comes from the same party as government, notwithstanding the personal integrity of the individual concerned.”

Ms Baillie added: “Labour believes it would be a mistake for a committee established to investigate the government to be chaired by an MSP from the party of government.

“The SNP should do the right thing an ensure an MSP from a different party takes the chair of this committee.”

The Scottish Government has already accepted it breached its own guidelines by appointing an investigating officer who had “prior involvement” with two people who made complaints.

An SNP spokesman said: “We would expect the convener of any parliamentary committee to act impartially and appropriately.

“However, it is important to note that establishment and composition of the committee was agreed to unanimously by the Parliamentary Bureau, in which all Holyrood parties are represented.

“Thereafter, the whole Parliament voted to establish a committee on this basis by an overwhelming majority of 92 to 19. It’s important that decision and process are now respected by all MSPs.”