An MSP was kicked out of the Holyrood chamber on Wednesday after branding Nicola Sturgeon a “liar” for breaking her promise to hand over documents linked to the Alex Salmond affair.
Oliver Mundell was ordered to leave by the presiding officer after he repeatedly refused to withdraw the comment or apologise, saying he could think of no other appropriate term for describing the First Minister’s behaviour.
His dramatic intervention came the day after Ms Sturgeon was accused of misleading parliament, with her Government refusing to hand over legal advice it received about a case it comprehensively lost to Mr Salmond that cost taxpayers more than £500,000.
In a further escalation in an increasingly bitter dispute with ministers, the committee wrote to the Court of Session asking whether it could access other documents relevant to the case directly, after running out of patience with ministers’ delays.
When the Holyrood inquiry into the botched civil service investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct against Mr Salmond was set up 20 months ago, Ms Sturgeon said her government would “provide whatever material they [the committee] request.”
However, legal advice and other documents are being withheld, with Ms Sturgeon saying she has now recused herself from any role in decision making.
Refusing a request from Mr Macintosh, Holyrood’s equivalent to the Speaker in the Commons, to withdraw his “disrespectful” accusation that Ms Sturgeon had lied, Mr Mundell replied: “I think it’s disrespectful to the parliament for the First Minister to make a promise and not to keep it.”
He said: “In this case I do feel it’s the appropriate word and I can’t find anything else to express the sentiment.”
Following his eviction, the Tory MSP for Dumfriesshire, who is the son of former Scottish Secretary David Mundell, was banned from taking part in Holyrood business for the rest of the day.
He said: “Unless the First Minister provides whatever material the Salmond inquiry requests, as she promised, then she has plainly lied to Parliament.”
There is a growing rift between the committee investigating the Salmond affair, and the SNP and Scottish Government.
Linda Fabiani, the inquiry’s chairwoman, released an extraordinary statement on Tuesday in which she said the probe had been forced to temporarily stop its work as a result of “obstruction”.
She wrote to John Swinney, the deputy first minister, on Wednesday, repeating her call for more documents to be handed over. In a letter to Alex Salmond’s lawyer, she asked that he submit written evidence by the end of the week. Meanwhile, the committee has asked the Court of Session to set out which documents linked to the judicial review it will be able to access.
The cross-party committee of MSPs asked for access to a raft of documents from Mr Salmond’s successful legal battle against the Scottish Government, which concluded in January 2019, including evidence lodged by both parties, affidavits, pleadings and any information linked to costs.
🎥 Tory MSP Oliver Mundell being asked to leave the Holyrood chamber after accusing Nicola Sturgeon of lying to parliament over the Salmond inquiry— Alan Smith (@Political_AlanS) September 30, 2020
President Officer Ken Macintosh asked him to withdraw or rephrase his remarks pic.twitter.com/O43fFxmacF
Speaking to the BBC, Ms Fabiani, an SNP MSP, suggested that Ms Sturgeon should intervene in the row and order the release of further evidence.
The government only abandoned its defence of Mr Salmond's legal action at the last minute, with a judge then saying its investigation into his conduct had been “tainted by apparent bias”.
Mr Salmond, who was awarded £512,250 in legal costs following the civil case, was later cleared in a separate criminal case of 13 charges of sexual harassment in March. The former First Minister believes there was a politically motivated conspiracy against him launched by his former SNP allies.
While as a general rule legal advice is not usually made public, ministers can disregard this if they choose.
“The First Minister is head of the Scottish Government and I believe her pledge was absolutely genuine about openness and transparency,” Ms Fabiani said.
"I would hope our having said [expressed our frustration], now means that at high levels, right across the board from those we are awaiting evidence, will have a rethink and decide to submit.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Scottish Government is cooperating fully with the committee, and strongly rejects any suggestion of obstruction.”