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Clock ticking on demand for Salmond evidence as MSPs claim cover-up has echoes of Watergate

© Joey Kelly/EPA/ShutterstockNicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond campaigning in 2015.
Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond campaigning in 2015.

Law chiefs should hand over vital evidence as swiftly as possible to a Holyrood committee probing the Scottish Government’s botched handling of the Alex Salmond harassment allegations, MSPs said yesterday.

The committee of inquiry last week deployed previously unused legal powers to demand the Crown Office hand over documents including messages between SNP officials, civil servants and advisers.

The MSPS want to see WhatsApp messages between an SNP official, civil servants and government special advisers as they investigate the suggestion the inquiry into complaints of sexual harassment against Mr Salmond were used as part of a conspiracy to block his return to politics.

The Crown Office has been asked to hand over the documents by Friday but committee member Jackie Baillie MSP yesterday said it could easily do so tomorrow – and should. The committee’s work has been repeatedly slowed by Scottish Government delays in releasing documents, and with its work set to be interrupted by May’s Holyrood election, time is running out.

Ms Baillie said: “We have requested relevant text and WhatsApp material by this Friday but it would be desirable for this material to be released as soon as possible. The Crown Office are aware that we wish this material and clearly they do not need to wait for the deadline.

“At every turn, they have cut off the committee’s attempts to obtain this information. It should take the Crown Office no time at all to provide it to us. They do not need to wait until Friday and could indeed release it tomorrow. If they did that, we could assess the material more quickly and this would assist in questioning witnesses, including Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon. Without this material, the committee is operating with one arm tied behind its back.”

Meanwhile, committee member Murdo Fraser MSP yesterday said the increasing impression of a cover-up has echoes of the Watergate scandal which brought down Richard Nixon in 1974.

He said: “The committee has been frustrated all the way through at our inability to get to the truth of this matter. It may be there was no conspiracy against Alex Salmond, but the refusal of the Scottish Government and the SNP to co-operate with us suggests something sinister actually happened.

“It’s like the Watergate scandal. It’s not the actual event that did the damage, it was the cover-up. Right now, it’s the perception of a cover-up by the Scottish Government that is doing damage.”

Mr Salmond has produced evidence which suggests Ms Sturgeon broke the ministerial code of conduct by misleading parliament over what she knew and when. If proven, it could lead to the first minister having to resign. Ms Sturgeon denies the suggestions.

The Crown Office said: “We have received the correspondence from the committee and will respond in early course. It was explained that Crown Counsel must consider whether producing the documents would be contrary to the public interest.”