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Brick by brick: MSPs vow to dismantle an official wall of silence around Salmond inquiry

© PAAlex Salmond in 2019 after it was ruled the government acted unlawfully against him
Alex Salmond in 2019 after it was ruled the government acted unlawfully against him

A wall of silence surrounding the Scottish Government’s mishandling of complaints about Alex Salmond’s conduct is slowly being dismantled, according to investigating MSPs.

One member of the Holyrood committee investigating the affair said witnesses, including the country’s most senior law officers and civil servants, would continue to be asked to give evidence until there was clarity around the inquiry into Salmond’s behaviour.

Committee member and Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “We are making progress but we are still facing the same grey wall of silence, particularly from the civil service around decisions that were taken and the motives behind them.

“For me, ultimately this always comes back to the women at the heart of this. The government, through sins of omission and commission, failed these women colossally and left them without a proper hearing for their complaints and potentially exposed them to public intrigue.”

The Lord Advocate, who is also, controversially, a government minister, will be questioned on Tuesday by the Holyrood committee as the stand-off over legal advice given to the Scottish Government continues.

On Friday, ministers again refused to release the legal advice they received after Salmond accused the investigation into sexual misconduct complaints against him of being unfair. He would later win his £500,000 legal costs after a court agreed.

The committee wanted the papers by Friday when Deputy First Minister John Swinney told them no decision had been taken yet.

He added that “even if ministers take the decision that the balance of public interest favours disclosure in a particular case, they must obtain the prior consent of law officers and that consent will be given only if there are ‘compelling reasons’. ”

On Tuesday the committee will also question Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC and Scotland’s top civil servant, permanent secretary Leslie Evans. One MSP has said if Mr Wolffe confirms he is blocking publication, he should face a vote of no confidence in parliament.

A motion would require the support of 25 MSPs and could be passed by a simple majority of members. The MSP said: “Parliament would take a very dim of view if the Lord Advocate, who is accountable to parliament, is the only barrier to us having transparency.”

Committee member and Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser said: “Whoever is blocking the release of this advice – whether it’s the First Minister or the Lord Advocate – should explain why they think the government should go without scrutiny.”

Mr Fraser has argued that while the ministerial code says legal advice should not be divulged, it does allow for disclosure if it is in the public interest. And he has pointed out that the Scottish Government has published its legal advice on three previous occasions.

Last night, the Scottish Government said: “The Deputy First Minister has clearly set out to the committee the detailed consideration that the Government is giving to this issue and also the extensive steps that are being taken to secure the release of further documentation.”