2021-02-26 15:17:40 | Sturgeon’s government not fit to lead Scotland to independence, suggests Salmond  

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Story by: Dan Sanderson The Telegraph

Alex Salmond has claimed the leadership of Scotland has failed the country and suggested it is not fit to lead it to independence.

In his opening statement to the Holyrood inquiry into the Scottish Government’s botched investigation into sexual misconduct claims against him, the former first minister said personnel rather than institutions were at fault.

He told MSPs: “The failures of leadership are many and obvious but not a single person has taken responsibility, not a single resignation or sacking, not even admonition. “The Scottish civil service has not failed, its leadership has. The Crown Office has not failed, its leadership has failed. Scotland hasn’t failed, its leadership has failed.”

He said he wanted Scotland to be independent, but he also wanted it to be somewhere with robust safeguards where citizens were not subject to “arbitrary authority”

Mr Salmond criticised Nicola Sturgeon for effectively questioning that verdict at Wednesday’s Covid briefing, when she suggested it did not accurately reflect his conduct. He said: “I watched in astonishment on Wednesday when the First Minister of Scotland – the First Minister of Scotland – used a Covid press conference to effectively question the results of a jury.”

He said there had been a “calculated and deliberate suppression of key evidence” to the inquiry.  

He said the failures of leadership surrounding the investigation into his conduct are “many and obvious”. He told the inquiry: “This inquiry is not about me, I have already established the illegality of the actions of the Scottish Government in the Court of Session, and I have been acquitted of all criminal charges by a jury in the highest court in the land.

“These are both the highest courts in the land, the highest criminal court and the highest civil court.

“The remit of this inquiry is about the actions of others, whose investigation into the conduct of ministers, the Permanent Secretary, civil servants and special advisers. “It also requires to shine a light on the activities of the Crown Office.”

Salmond accuses SNP of subverting founding principles of Holyrood in blistering attack on Sturgeon 

Alex Salmond has launched a blistering attack on Nicola Sturgeon and accused her government of subverting the founding principles of Holyrood.

The Former First Minister told a committee set up to investigate a botched civil service probe into sexual harassment claims against him had been systematically obstructed by Ms Sturgeon’s administration which he said had been guilty of a “calculated and deliberate suppression of evidence”.

He also claimed he had been left “astonished” to see Ms Sturgeon this week apparently call into question the verdict of the jury after he was cleared of all charges last year.

Ms Sturgeon used her Covid briefing to say just because Mr Salmond had been cleared of criminality, “that doesn’t mean that the behaviour [women] complained of didn’t happen.”

Giving his opening statement in a long awaited witness appearance before the committee, Mr Salmond told the MSPs that  “enormous time, effort and public money” had been invested in preventing them from uncovering the truth and that this was part of a wider pattern, which also saw attempt to hide evidence ahead of his criminal trial.

He said: “For two years and six months this has been a nightmare. In fact, I’ve every desire to move on, to turn the page, to resist talking yet again about a series of events that have been among the most wounding that any person can face.

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“But the reason I am here today is we can’t turn that page, not move on, until the decision making that is undermining the system of government in Scotland is addressed.

“Collectively these events shine a light on a government whose actions are no longer true to the principles of openness, accountability or transparency which were the core principles on which this Scottish parliament was founded. I remember, I was there.”

 He added that the committee has been asked to do its job “with both hands tied behind its back and with a blind fold on”, with “witness after witness adjusting evidence under oath”.

Several civil servants giving evidence to the inquiry have later had to correct their evidence, despite appearing under oath.

Mr Salmond also attacked the Crown Office for its controversial intervention this week, in which it successfully applied pressure to Holyrood to censor evidence it had previously published. The intervention may hinder what Mr Salmond can talk about in the Holyrood session.

He refuted Ms Sturgeon’s claim that he was under an obligation to prove his claims that a conspiracy had been launched against him, saying the committee had instead been set up to investigate the Scottish Government’s failed policy.

Mr Salmond won a judicial review into the civil service prove against him, which a judge ruled was “tainted by apparent bias”.

He said: “I know the First Minister asserts I have to prove a case, I don’t. There have been two court cases, two judges, one jury. In this inquiry it’s the Scottish Government, a government that has already admitted to behaving unlawfully, who are under examination.

“I watched in astonishment on Wednesday when the First Minister of Scotland used a Covid press conference to effectively question the result of a jury.”

Mr Salmond added: “The failures of leadership are many and obvious. And yet, not a single person has taken responsibility, not a single resignation, not a single sacking. Not even an admonition. Instead we have promotions, extensions of contracts.

“The Scottish civil service has not failed, its leadership has. The Crown Office has not failed, its leadership has failed.

“Scotland hasn’t failed, its leadership has failed.”

He was awarded more than £500,000 in damages after he won the judicial review.

Mr Salmond, who was First Minister between 2007 and 2014, was cleared of all 13 sex assault charges at his trial in March last year.

He has claimed senior figures within the SNP and Scottish Government colluded in a plot to bring him down.

Ms Sturgeon has dismissed his claims of a conspiracy as ridiculous. She has claimed it was his behaviour towards women, rather than a plot, that was the “root” of the allegations he faced.

The First Minister is due to appear before the committee on Wednesday next week.

‘I think the leadership of these institutions have serious questions to answer’

Mr Salmond said he was “severely hampered” in the evidence he could provide the committee by a court order and the “unwarranted intervention” of the Crown Office this week, which led to the “redaction of key passages.”

“The evidence will not now be heard fully today in this parliament, despite being freely available online and elsewhere,” he said.

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“In my estimation it is very damaging to the work of this committee and to a public seeking answers.”

He also accused the Crown Office of misusing legislation passed by his government to further block the provision of evidence.

He said the provision “was not passed by the parliament to prevent a parliamentary inquiry, getting to the truth on matters of the utmost public interest is being misused in its current context.

“The application of these provisions and the threat of prosecution if I offer that evidence is in my estimation both extraordinary and unwarranted.”

He said he “hadn’t really contemplated” that the Scottish Government would ignore two votes at Holyrood for its legal advice in his successful judicial review case to be disclosed.

Mr Salmond said the Lord Advocate, who has a dual role as the head of the Crown Office and a member of the Scottish Government, did not normally attend Cabinet when he was First Minister and questioned whether that division of roles had continued under Ms Sturgeon.

He said: “I think the leadership of these institutions have serious questions to answer”. “When you get to the stage that a government behaves unlawfully – I mean, this is not something that happens very often,” he said.

“I’m on the record politically, when governments have behaved unlawfully, of regarding matters a huge and heinous thing to have happened. It’s not a slight matter. Some consequences should follow from unlawful conduct.”

Mr Salmond praised the Fairness at Work policy introduced by 2010 by his government, which covered harassment and bullying by ministers, and said it was considered a major step forward by civil service trade union leaders.

He said Leslie Evans, the Scottish Government’s permanent secretary and Ms Sturgeon’s most senior mandarin, had appeared not to understand that it covered harassment when she gave evidence to the inquiry.

Ms Sturgeon’s government drew up a new policy that also covered former ministers for the first time, which was used shortly after its introduction by two civil servants to lodge complaints against Mr Salmond.

Asked if he agreed the new policy was required on the back of the MeToo movement, Mr Salmond said it would have been better to strengthen Fairness at Work and argued the replacement was  still being tinkered with at the “last minute” before its introduction.

“All I’m saying is if you’re going to develop a new policy you should do it properly. Otherwise you end up in total and abject disaster, which has happened to this policy, which is why this committee is sitting where it is today,” he said.

Mr Salmond praised the Fairness at Work policy introduced by 2010 by his government, which covered harassment and bullying by ministers, and said it was considered a major step forward by civil service trade union leaders.

He said Leslie Evans, the Scottish Government’s permanent secretary and Ms Sturgeon’s most senior mandarin, had appeared not to understand that it covered harassment when she gave evidence to the inquiry.

Ms Sturgeon’s government drew up a new policy that also covered former ministers for the first time, which was used shortly after its introduction by two civil servants to lodge complaints against Mr Salmond.

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Asked if he agreed the new policy was required on the back of the MeToo movement, Mr Salmond said it would have been better to strengthen Fairness at Work and argued the replacement was  still being tinkered with at the “last minute” before its introduction.

“All I’m saying is if you’re going to develop a new policy you should do it properly. Otherwise you end up in total and abject disaster, which has happened to this policy, which is why this committee is sitting where it is today,” he said.

Salmond ‘not here on trial’, insists committee convenor

Linda Fabiani, the committee convenor, attempted to shut down aspects questioning of Mr Salmond over his previous conduct towards women, remaining committee members he was “not here on trial”.

While he was cleared of all 13 sex assault charges and has always stongly denied criminality, he had previously admitted he was “no angel” and has confessed to consentual sexual encounters.

Maureen Watt, an SNP member of the committee, said one of the matters that eventually resulted in a formal complaint against Mr Salmond  was initially resolved informally with an apology from the then First Minister.

“I’ve had three years of two court cases, two judges, one jury,” Mr Salmond said. “As far as these matters are concerned I’ll leave it to the courts and the jury and I’m not going to be drawn in further than that.”

Alex Cole Hamilton, the LibDem MSP, asked Mr Salmond whether he was sorry for “the behaviours that you have admitted to, some of which are appalling.”

Mr Salmond did not accept the invitation to apologise, repeating his answer to Ms Watt and saying he was “resting on the proceedings of these cases”.

He was also asked about an alleged incident at Edinburgh Airport in 2009, which Sky News approached the SNP about in November 2017, at the height of the MeToo movement. Ms Sturgeon has said she asked Mr Salmond about the incident at the time but he denied it and no further action was taken as Sky did not run the story.

Ms Sturgeon has said the episode left her with “a lingering concern that allegations about Mr Salmond could materialise at some stage”. 

She claimed when he came to her home for a crucial meeting in April 2018, she suspected he might be about to resign from the SNP.

However Mr Salmond downplayed the significance of the alledged incident. He said: “It wouldn’t have been front page news in any newspaper if it had ever been published at the time, given what I know about it.

“That was, in all my years in public life, the first indication of anything of that nature, in November 2017, and it came from a report 10 years ago.

“The Sky News story was never broadcast of course, and there’s a good reason for it never being broadcast.”

He added that over 30 years in public life, he was the most investigated politician in Scotland, and at times, potentially across the whole of the UK.

“The fact that nothing came forward over these 30 years is a reasonable induction that there wasn’t much there to come forward,” he said.

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Source References: The Telegraph

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