Sturgeon’s appearance at Alex Salmond inquiry postponed after legal judgment

Craig Paton, PA Scotland Political Reporter

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s appearance before the Alex Salmond inquiry has been postponed after a legal judgment.

Mr Salmond was due to give evidence to the committee investigating the botched handling of complaints against him on Tuesday, but he refused to do so after it declined to publish evidence he submitted.

The committee cited legal concerns over the identity of complainers in Mr Salmond’s criminal trial last year, where he was cleared of 13 charges at the High Court in Edinburgh.

However, a judge on Thursday amended a court order which prevents the publication of anything that may identify the accusers, as well as clarifying its scope.

Following a meeting of the committee on Friday, MSPs decided to postpone Ms Sturgeon’s appearance scheduled for next Tuesday until the ramifications of that amendment are known. Judge Lady Dorrian’s judgment will be published early next week.

Alex Salmond
Alex Salmond this week declined to appear before the committee (Andrew Milligan/PA)

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Parliament said: “At its meeting today, the committee was united in its desire to complete this inquiry in an open and transparent way, and to publish its report and recommendations next month.

“Given the impact of the recent court judgment is not yet known, the committee has agreed that it must have the time to reflect on the impact on its work once the full written judgment is published early next week.

“As a result, the committee has agreed that the First Minister’s evidence should be postponed until the full impact of that judgment is considered.

“It is important for the committee to hear from Mr Salmond and the committee has always been clear that the First Minister should be the last witness to appear before the inquiry.”

Earlier this week, a spokesman for the First Minister urged the committee to use its powers to compel Mr Salmond to appear, while Ms Sturgeon told MSPs she is looking forward to being able to tackle “head on” accusations that have been levelled at her.

Committee member and Scottish Labour interim leader Jackie Baillie said she looks forward to hearing from both Mr Salmond and the First Minister.

After the decision to delay Tuesday’s evidence, she said: “I am very glad that the committee has today reaffirmed its wish to speak to Alex Salmond, and given his stated intention to come before the committee I look forward to the date of his appearance.

“On Tuesday the committee will meet to discuss Lady Dorrian’s judgment due on Monday and I hope that we will then be in a position to publish the evidence provided by Mr Salmond.

“I also look forward to the First Minister appearing before the committee in due course, and I am sure she will engage with the committee in the spirit of co-operation and transparency that she has promised on repeated occasions.”

Scottish Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser, also a member of the committee, said it is “vital” evidence is heard from Mr Salmond.

He said: “Once we have had time to digest the full details of the revised court order, the former first minister must now appear at the earliest opportunity. His evidence is absolutely vital to this inquiry.

“Nicola Sturgeon promised to be fully co-operative with this inquiry, but the reality has been her Government blocking us at every turn.

“When she appears after her predecessor, she must be fully open and transparent.”

A spokesman for the First Minister said: “This further delay is hugely frustrating.

“The First Minister was ready to give evidence on Tuesday and fully expected to be questioned about Mr Salmond’s evidence whether or not it had been published by the committee.

“She hopes the committee can resolve its issues with Mr Salmond quickly so that she can finally answer the questions that are being put to her, and get on with the job of supporting the country through the pandemic.”

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