SNP warned not to 'trample over independence' of Crown Office by Justice Secretary ahead of Salmond appearance

Gareth Davies
·4-min read
Alex Salmond - Jane Barlow/PA
Alex Salmond - Jane Barlow/PA

The SNP have been warned by the Justice Secretary not to "trample over the independence" of Scotland's Crown Office ahead of Alex Salmond's appearance at Holyrood.

Robert Buckland was critical of the "public spat" in Scotland on Friday morning, saying the people would be "dismayed" that this was happening in the midst of the pandemic.

The SNP government revealed itself as a "political establishment that is increasingly out of touch with the reality of day to day life", he said, saying the saga was "a distraction and worse, frankly" from what should be happening.

The "ancient" independence of Scotland's Crown Office should be maintained, he said, as he called for people to "step back" from the brink.

"No government, however strong they might be, should think they have a right to trample over independence of those norms," he added.

Alex Salmond is due to appear before the Holyrood inquiry into the Scottish Government's unlawful investigation of sexual harassment claims made against him.

Scotland's former first minister is expected to give evidence on the botched investigation and face questions about his claims that Nicola Sturgeon misled parliament and breached the ministerial code.

The Government's investigation of the allegations was found to be "tainted by apparent bias" after it emerged the investigating officer had prior contact with two of the women who made complaints.

Mr Salmond, who was later acquitted of 13 charges of sexual assault in a criminal trial, was awarded £512,250 in legal costs after he successfully challenged the lawfulness of the Government investigation.

A parliamentary inquiry - the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints - was established to look into the Government's actions.

UK Justice Secretary Mr Buckland has said the inquiry was a "distraction".

He told Sky News: "The priorities of the people of Scotland are fighting the virus and trying to live with it, and get back to normal along with the rest of the United Kingdom.

"I think they will be at best puzzled and at worst dismayed by this constant intrigue coming against the background of an obsessive mission by the SNP to call another independence or separation referendum.

"I am afraid it is showing a political establishment in Edinburgh that is increasingly out of touch with the reality of day-to-day life."

Mr Salmond pulled out of a scheduled evidence session on Wednesday after the Scottish Parliament belatedly redacted his written evidence the day before he was due to appear, but offered to attend on Friday instead.

In his written submission, Mr Salmond named people he claims were involved in a "malicious and concerted" attempt to see him removed from public life and described the Crown Office - the body responsible for prosecuting crimes in Scotland - as "simply not fit for purpose".

After the evidence was published and in the public domain, the Crown Office wrote to the parliament and purportedly raised concerns about possible contempt of court.

The Scottish Parliament's Corporate Body (SPCB) agreed to remove the submission and replace it with a redacted version with five sections - a total of 474 words - censored.

Mr Salmond's lawyer, David McKie, subsequently demanded to see any legal justification for the parliament redacting swathes of his submission and warned there could be a "material risk" if he appeared to give oral evidence as planned.

Mr Mckie wrote: "Our client's submission was carefully reviewed by us and by counsel before submission.

"There is no legal basis for the redactions that we are aware of which you now propose having gone through that extremely careful exercise."

Ms Sturgeon has insisted there is "not a shred of evidence" that there was a conspiracy against Mr Salmond and she has denied lying to Parliament.

The current First Minister is scheduled to appear before the committee to give evidence next Wednesday.

A majority of the committee's MSPs earlier this week voted in favour of approaching the High Court "as a matter of urgency" for specific guidance on how Lady Dorrian's anonymity order from Mr Salmond's criminal trial applies to the publication of his written evidence to the inquiry.

They also voted to recall Lord Advocate James Wolffe to face more questions, as well as agreeing to order the Crown Office to release further documents to the committee.

A Scottish Parliament spokeswoman said: "There was unanimous agreement in the committee that it wants to hear from Alex Salmond.

"His evidence has always been an important part of the committee's work and, as such, the committee agreed that it would invite Mr Salmond to give evidence in person on Friday.

"The First Minister will then give evidence as the final witness to the inquiry on Wednesday.

"The committee remains determined to complete its task set by the Parliament and today agreed further actions in order to help them complete this work."