I am not at war with Salmond, senior civil servant tells MSPs

Scotland’s most senior civil servant denied being “at war” with former first minister Alex Salmond as she insisted a text message from her was “misinterpreted”.

Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans sent a message after the Scottish Government lost a legal challenge brought by the former first minister over its handling of harassment allegation.

It read: “We may have lost the battle but we will win the war.”

She said she had not been “referring to any individual” in that.

Alex Salmond won a legal challenge over the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment allegations made against him (Jane Barlow/PA)

The Permanent Secretary was pressed about the message when she appeared before the Holyrood committee investigating the Scottish Government’s handling of complaints against the former first minister.

She also told MSPs on the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints that “around” 10 people had raised concerns about their “treatment” in the Scottish Government.

But she said only two of those people went on to lodge a formal complaint against Mr Salmond.

The parliamentary inquiry is taking place after the Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled the Scottish Government’s actions in dealing with the complaints made were “unlawful” – resulting in £512,250 being awarded to the former first minister.

Ms Evans, giving evidence under oath to the committee for a second time, was questioned about the message she sent after Mr Salmond won the judicial review.

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said: “It was reported after the conclusion of the judicial review case you sent a text message to a colleague that contained the words ‘we may have lost the battle but we will win the war’.”

Asked what was meant by that, Ms Evans said: “I think that has been misinterpreted as having some kind of conspiratorial element to it. That is not the case.

“I was not referring to any individual when I sent that text, I was talking about a long-term commitment of mine and indeed of the Scottish Government to ensure quality lies at the heart of what it does.”

Mr Fraser then asked: “So you weren’t at war with Alex Salmond?”

The Permanent Secretary told him: “No.”

She told the committee First Minister Nicola Sturgeon would have been informed when the Scottish Government referred “three specific incidences” concerning Mr Salmond to Police Scotland in 2017.

But she said the Scottish Government did not conduct a “fishing exercise” against the former first minister.

Ms Evans said: “It is so important we get this absolutely on record, there was no fishing expedition.

“There were a number of people, 10 around, that were raising concerns about their treatment and their experience in Government at that time.

“Two of those decided to take that quite legitimately to the procedure which was marked ‘complaint’.

“This apparent confection that there was some kind of fishing exercise, encouraging people to do this, goes against everything that is a professional HR, the DNA of professional HR.”

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