Leslie Evans has been reported to the UK’s top mandarin for refusing to comment on claims that female officials were advised not to work alone with Alex Salmond.
The Scottish Conservatives have accused Ms Evans, Scotland’s permanent secretary, of failing to answer a “crucial” question when she appeared before MSPs this week.
The Tories took the step after Ms Evans’ response to a question from Mid Scotland and Fife MSP Murdo Fraser when she appeared in front of a committee of MSPs investigating how the Scottish Government handled claims of harassment made against Mr Salmond.
I have written to the head of the civil service for his input on Leslie Evans’ refusal to answer this question, as it could be a breach of the Civil Service Code.”
Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross
The move came as the Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem members of the committee challenged committee convener Linda Fabiani of the SNP on why Mr Fraser had not been allowed to pursue his line of questioning.
The Holyrood inquiry was launched after the Scottish Government’s internal investigation of the claims was ruled unlawful and “tainted with apparent bias” at the Court of Session.
The civil court case led to the Scottish Government being forced to pay out more than £500,000 for Mr Salmond’s legal costs.
When Ms Evans appeared in front of MSPs, Mr Fraser said it had been reported that female civil servants were “advised not to be alone in the company of the former first minister”. He asked Ms Evans if she was aware of that.
“I can’t comment on that,” was Ms Evans’s reply. Ms Fabiani then suggested his question was inappropriate under the committee’s remit.
Ms Evans’ response led to Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross writing to Sir Mark Sedwill, head of the UK Civil Service and Ms Evans’ line manager.
Mr Ross said: “Any reasonable person would accept there are valid questions to be asked about the claims that female civil servants couldn’t work alone with Alex Salmond.
“I have written to the head of the civil service for his input on Leslie Evans’ refusal to answer this question, as it could be a breach of the Civil Service Code.
“A number of women were let down by unforgivable process failures by the government, and Scottish taxpayers lost more than £500,000 that could have been spent on improving schools and hospitals.
“The Scottish public deserve answers. They won’t get the full truth if civil servants are allowed to evade scrutiny and the government refuses to release documents.”
Mr Fraser claimed Nicola Sturgeon had broken a promise that the Scottish Government would co-operate fully with the Holyrood inquiry.
The Tory MSP also lodged an Urgent Question, which was rejected by the Presiding Officer, in an attempt to find out more about what Ms Leslie had told Ms Sturgeon about Mr Salmond’s behaviour.
Under oath, Leslie Evans has a duty to tell the whole truth. Everyone can see that did not happen. Nicola Sturgeon repeatedly promised the Scottish Parliament that her government would ‘co-operate fully’ with the inquiry and provide any material it requested. She has broken that promise on day one.”
Tory MSP Murdo Fraser
Ms Evans told the inquiry she told the first minister there were concerns about Mr Salmond in November 2017. The Scottish Government internal inquiry into Mr Salmond did not begin until January 2018. Ms Sturgeon has previously said she learned complaints had been made against Mr Salmond in April 2018.
Mr Fraser said: “Under oath, Leslie Evans has a duty to tell the whole truth. Everyone can see that did not happen. Nicola Sturgeon repeatedly promised the Scottish Parliament that her government would ‘co-operate fully’ with the inquiry and provide any material it requested. She has broken that promise on day one.
“The First Minister must now own up, reveal what she knew and when, and instruct Leslie Evans to do the same. Nicola Sturgeon has pretended so far that she first heard of complaints about Alex Salmond’s behaviour in April 2018. Yesterday’s evidence shows that the First Minister has been hiding something from the Scottish public.”
He added: “The Scottish Conservatives will not accept a cover-up.”
Meanwhile, Mr Fraser and Labour’s Jackie Baillie and Alex Cole-Hamilton of the Lib Dems have written to Ms Fabiani to say they were “taken aback” by her “vociferous” opposition to the line of questioning.
The letter said there was “little confidence” in the Scottish Government formal complaints process during the period under examination.
“As such, it seems that ‘concerns’ as the Permanent Secretary described them were commonly dealt with in an informal matter. We believe that an understanding of that reality is essential to our committee’s work going forward,” the letter said.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “In yesterday’s Committee session the Convener ruled that this specific line of questioning should not be pursued, and it would therefore be inappropriate for the permanent secretary to comment further at this time. However, the permanent secretary will be happy to write to the Committee to address this issue if the Convener wishes.”
A Scottish Parliament spokesman said: “The convener will respond to the letter shortly.”