Alex Salmond has been told to reconsider his refusal to appear in person before Holyrood’s inquiry into the Scottish Government’s botched investigation of sexual harassment claims against him.
The former first minister had been invited to give evidence next Tuesday, but his lawyer rejected the request, citing public health concerns and the Scottish Government’s refusal to publish its legal advice.
Mr Salmond’s lawyer said appearing next week would “send the wrong message”, and he suggested giving evidence on February 16 instead.
But the committee has said an appearance on that date would be too late, and it criticised his failure to discuss arrangements with Parliament clerks.
In her response to Mr Salmond, convener Linda Fabiani states the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints wants to hear from all witnesses by the end of January to allow the Government and Parliament to consider its recommendations before election purdah rules come into force.
Ms Fabiani said she was “disappointed” Mr Salmond declined the offer to give evidence, and wrote: “I invite you to reconsider the committee’s invitation.
“As I have said to you before, it is for the committee to set its own timescales and its clear preference is to complete oral evidence-taking in January to ensure it can report as early as possible.
“Your suggested timescale does not take into account the need to give the Scottish Government time to respond to the report before the election purdah rules come into force.
“The recommendations the committee makes for change will be primarily for the Scottish Government and so a timescale that removes any scope for a response from the Government or consideration by the wider Parliament is not acceptable to the committee.”
Addressing Mr Salmond’s reluctance to appear in light of the pandemic and latest lockdown restrictions, Ms Fabiani assured the former SNP leader there are “numerous measures” in place to allow parliamentary work to continue safely.
She said hearing his evidence in person is considered “exceptional circumstances”, after an attempt to hold this week’s committee meeting entirely remotely was plagued by connection and audio problems.
Ms Fabiani’s letter continued: “If you do not wish to reconsider the committee’s proposal and to discuss with us in detail the possible arrangements, an alternative format may have to be considered by the committee which may not align with your preference to appear in person – for example, the option of MSPs attending the meeting in person and you appearing remotely.”
Mr Salmond’s team has also been in a legal wrangle with the Crown Office over the disclosure of documents obtained by him during his trial at the High Court last year where he was cleared of a series of charges of sexual misconduct.
The Crown Office said he would be committing a criminal offence by divulging the information to the committee, prompting Mr Salmond to seek assurances he will not face prosecution for the evidence he gives on the day.
But Ms Fabiani replied: “I am very clear that evidence to the committee, under oath or solemn affirmation, must comply with the relevant legal obligations.
“This includes respecting Lady Dorrian’s orders and not sharing confidential information from the criminal trial.
“On a related issue, I was extremely unhappy that you did not allow time for the committee clerks to go through the complex process of ensuring your submission to James Hamilton, which you also submitted to the committee as evidence, was compliant with the committee’s legal obligations and therefore publishable.
“Sharing it more widely, with the result that it is now in the public domain, did not respect the parliamentary process.”