Alex Salmond’s written evidence to a Holyrood inquiry will finally be published, after a ruling by the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body that drew a coruscating response from one SNP MSP.
The breakthrough paves the way for the former first minister to appear next week before the committee investigating the Scottish Government’s handling of allegations against him.
But a row erupted last night over after an SNP MSP said that the anonymity of complainers could now be jeopardised.
The committee had twice voted against publishing Mr Salmond’s submission relating to the ministerial code, most recently on Wednesday evening.
But the MSPs referred the matter to the parliament’s corporate body for a final ruling.
After two meetings on Thursday, Holyrood’s Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh, who is its chairman, wrote to the committee to reveal its decision, one SNP MSP George Adam said would leave the people of Scotland “utterly bewildered”.
Mr Macintosh said: “Thank you for your letter and for asking the corporate body whether or not it considers that the submission provided by Mr Salmond to your committee can be published in light of the legal obligations to which the parliament is subject.
“As you might imagine, the corporate body takes these legal obligations very seriously and has given careful consideration to your request.
“Following two meetings of the SPCB today, at which a range of opinions were aired, the SPCB collectively agreed that on balance it is possible to publish the submission by Alex Salmond on the ministerial code.
“The corporate body has considered the key elements of the matter you placed before it, but is mindful that this decision in principle to publish must now be followed by the processing of the submission in line with the committee’s evidence handling statement.”
People will be ‘utterly bewildered’
SNP MSP George Adam said: “People across Scotland will be utterly bewildered that the corporate body of the national parliament has ignored clear legal advice and decided to publish information which it knows could jeopardise the court-ordered anonymity of complainants in a sexual offences case.
“The message it is in danger of sending is that women should not dare seek to hold powerful men to account if they believe they have been mistreated.
“We have to ask the question of the corporate body members – if it had been their wife, their mother, their daughter or their sister at the centre of this, would they have made the same decision?”
A revised version of the document is now expected to be published early next week.
A Scottish Parliament spokeswoman said: “The committee notes the decision of the SPCB.
“Mr Salmond’s submission will now be processed in line with the committee’s statement on the handling of information, ahead of publication early next week.
“The committee will be writing to Mr Salmond to invite him to give evidence to the committee on Wednesday February 24.”
High Court ruling
The Holyrood inquiry had decided on Wednesday evening that a High Court ruling in the case of the former first minister had “no impact” on its decision not to publish the evidence.
However, the MSPs did agree that a final decision should be made by the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB).
Mr Salmond had been understood to be willing to appear before the inquiry next Wednesday if his documents were published.
Labour committee member Jackie Baillie said: “This decision is most welcome and should pave the way for Mr Salmond appearing before the committee next week.
“From the very outset of this process I have been clear that I believe the committee has the right to consider any evidence that may be relevant to its work, and I am glad that the Scottish Parliament’s Corporate Body has agreed.
“This committee is duty-bound to get to the bottom of this sorry affair that frittered away over £500,000 of public money and which let down the women involved so badly.
“I look forward to questioning Mr Salmond next week and I hope that his evidence and that provided by the first minister will go some way to helping the committee in drawing its conclusions.”
A ‘welcome decision’
Conservative committee member Murdo Fraser said: “This is the right decision. The public deserve to know how £500,000 of taxpayers’ money was lost and why women were so badly let down.
“We must hear Alex Salmond’s side of the story to uncover what really happened. This welcome decision makes that possible.”
The committee is investigating the Scottish Government’s botched handling of harassment allegations against Mr Salmond.
It was set up after the former SNP leader received a £512,000 pay-out following the Court of Session civil ruling that the Scottish Government’s handling of the complaints was “unlawful” and “tainted by apparent bias”.
Mr Salmond was cleared of 13 charges, including sexual assault, indecent assault and attempted rape, following a trial last year.
The MSPs had previously voted by five to four against releasing the details of part of his evidence, citing legal concerns over orders to protect the anonymity of complainers.
But Mr Salmond’s supporters and some MSPs viewed last week’s ruling by Lady Dorrian as a breakthrough that could have paved the way for its publication.
The judge had amended the order protecting the anonymity of the complainers in the case to clarify that it related to “those proceedings”.
However, on Wednesday night the committee again voted by five to four against publication, while also referring the matter to the SPCB.