The Press and Journal (Inverness, Highlands, and Islands)
Sequel gradually unfolds
process was unfair and launched a judicial review against the government he once led. The Scottish Government had intended to fight Mr Salmond in the courts, but before the case went to a full hearing it admitted it had acted unlawfully. Lord Pentland described the government’s investigation as “tainted with apparent bias”.
The government had breached its own procedures by appointing an official, Judith MacKinnon, to conduct an investigation that was supposed to be independent, even though she had already met both complainants. After his civil court victory, Mr Salmond called on Ms Evans to resign, arguing she bore ultimate responsibility for the botched investigation as Scotland’s most senior civil servant.
The actions taken by Ms Evans and Ms MacKinnon, who is also expected to give evidence, will be part of the Holyrood inquiry, as will questions about why the Scottish Government’s new complaints procedure was applied retrospectively to former ministers.
After a long delay caused by the coronavirus crisis and Mr Salmond’s criminal case, the committee will meet this week to deal with administrative details. Members will call for the public evidence sessions to be attended by witnesses in person in the Holyrood chamber, despite the coronavirus restrictions. MSPs on the committee believe virtual sessions would prevent the forensic crossexamination of witnesses.
There will also be discussions about what written evidence is required before witnesses give oral evidence over six to eight weeks from September.
A focal point is likely to be when Ms Sturgeon is called to give evidence about discussions she had with Mr Salmond about the complaints made against him.
Ms Sturgeon had conversations with her predecessor on five occasions after the original complaints had been made.
These conversations included two meetings in Ms Sturgeon’s house in Glasgow. She has told reporters that her husband, Mr Murrell, was aware of the meetings with Mr Salmond in the family home, but was unaware of the subject matter.
These meetings and phone calls are also the subject of a second inquiry into whether they amount to a breach of the ministerial code by Ms Sturgeon.
When Ms Sturgeon disclosed to parliament her five conversations with Mr Salmond, her opponents were quick to suggest that she had breached the ministerial code, the code of conduct for senior politicians in government. It states meetings on official government business have to be set up through the government office and that detailed records need to be made of those contacts.
It adds: “If ministers meet external organisations or individuals and find themselves discussing official business without an official present – for example, at a party conference, social occasion or on holiday – any significant content (such as substantive issues relating to government decisions or contracts) should be passed back to their private offices as soon as possible after the event.”
In January last year Ms Sturgeon told Holyrood that she did not inform civil servants of her April 2 meeting with Mr Salmond until two months after the event.
She also revealed Mr Salmond also called her on April 23 and a second meeting was arranged in Aberdeen in June before the SNP conference.
On June 6 Ms Sturgeon finally wrote to Ms Evans to tell her about her meeting and that she knew about the investigation into Mr Salmond. The following day she kept her appointment in Aberdeen with Mr Salmond.
On July 14 the pair met again in Ms Sturgeon’s Glasgow home. Another phone call between the two politicians was made on July 18.
After pressure from opposition,
Ms Sturgeon referred herself to the advisers who regulate the ministerial code, despite her insistence that she had acted within the rules.
Since then it emerged during Mr Salmond’s trial that his former chief of staff, Geoff Aberdein, met Ms Sturgeon in her Scottish Parliament office in March 2018, days before the first confirmed meeting.
Mr Aberdein’s meeting is likely to come up at the Holyrood inquiry as well as this one, which is overseen by the independent advisers former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini QC and James Hamilton, the former Irish director of public prosecutions.
The scope of their investigation is much narrower than the parliamentary one and it will be conducted in private. Mr Salmond himself was no stranger to such inquiries. He was referred to the advisers on six occasions, but was never found to have breached the code.
This will be conducted in private and is an internal investigation, but has been held up by the Covid crisis. A Scottish Government spokesman said Ms Evans had made clear this should take place “as soon as the time and resources being devoted to responding to the current health emergency allow”.