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Holyrood harassment inquiry votes against publishing Salmond dossier

HOLYROOD’S harassment committee has once again voted against publishing Alex Salmond’s dossier of allegations about Nicola Sturgeon

Of the inquiry’s nine members, the four SNP MSPs and the independent Andy Wightman voted to withhold publication, saying that the last week’s legal ruling had “no impact on its previous decision”. 

However, they’ve now passed the final say to the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body.

The committee has also invited Salmond to appear before them next Wednesday. 

He has previously tied his appearance in front of the committee to the publication of the document which is his submission to a separate inquiry probing whether or not Nicola Sturgeon broke the ministerial code.

Parliament’s lawyers had previously advised against the harassment committee sharing it – even though it’s already in the public domain – over concerns it could lead to the women involved in Salmond’s criminal trial being named, breaching a contempt of court order.

Last week, the Spectator publication took legal action in a bid to have the order amended. 

In a 10-page decision, Lady Dorrian agreed that “the addition of a few words to the order” could help prevent any misinterpretation.

The words “as such complainers in those proceedings” would, she added, “serve to highlight the scope of the order whilst maintaining the necessary protection for complainers.”

Follwing the judgment, Salmond’s legal team handed the committee a “recast” submission, with some changes.

They said the ruling meant there was now “no impediment to publication.”

However, on Wednesday the majority of MSPs on the inquiry said the judgement had “no impact on its previous decision and understanding of its legal obligations and its decision on the publication of the submission from the Former First Minister on the ministerial code.”

Though they weren’t voting on the “recast” submission, but rather on the previous submission.

A Holyrood spokesperson said: “The scope of the order has not changed. However, the Committee is keenly aware that publication is for the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body and has tonight agreed to refer this to the SPCB for a decision on its publication.”

It’s not immediately clear what that means. There are five members of the SPCB –  the body responsible for a wide range of issues to do with the running of Holyrood – one SNP MSP, one Tory, one Labour, one Lib Dem and Wightman. They’re due to meet on Thursday.

The cross-party harassment committee is investigating the Scottish Government’s flawed probe into allegations of misconduct made against Salmond by two civil servants.

He had the exercise set aside in January 2019, with a judicial review declaring it “unlawful” and “tainted by bias”.

The Government’s handling ultimately cost the taxpayer half a million pounds.

At a later criminal case, the former SNP leader was cleared on 13 counts of sexual assault.

After the Scottish Government conceded the judicial review, Nicola Sturgeon referred herself to the independent advisers on the Ministerial Code over claims she had broken strict rules when meeting with Salmond about the complaints.

James Hamilton, a former director of public prosecutions in Ireland, has been tasked with investigating the First Minister’s actions.

In his submission to Hamilton, Salmond said the First Minister had “repeatedly misled” MSPs about meetings between the two at Sturgeon’s home.

The SNP leader has always denied her predecessor’s claims.

Following Lady Dorrian’s judgement, Salmond’s legal team submitted a revised version of the original submission, as well as a new document to the committee.

His lawyer wrote:  “Given the terms of the judgement and the matters debated at the court hearing last week, we now can see no impediment to publication.”

The letter continued: “Our client would like to discuss practical arrangements for his attendance at the committee next week on the assumption that his submission will now be published. He has cleared Wednesday from his diary and we can discuss timings with the clerks.”

It’s not clear if that offer still stands following the committee’s decision. 

The committee said that as “a minimum” Salmond could “give evidence on all of his published submissions and records.”

There was another vote in the committee, with the SNP’s Alasdair Allan saying that “due to the time constraints” it will “not be possible to take evidence beyond 3 March, as previously agreed, and that the First Minister be the last person to give evidence in any event.”

That was rejected, with only the four SNP members – Allan, Stuart McMillan, Linda Fabiani, Maureen Watt – supporting it. Jackie Baillie, Alex Cole-Hamilton, Murdo Fraser, Margaret Mitchell, and Wightman all voted against. 

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