A piece published by the Times online less than two hours ago:
Alex Salmond launched an extraordinary attack on Nicola Sturgeon today, claiming that the current SNP leadership is unfit to lead the country to independence.
The former first minister described a collective failure of leadership in the civil service, the prosecuting authority and the Scottish government which was undermining his goal of an independent Scotland.
“The move to independence, which I have sought all my political life … must be accompanied by institutions whose leadership is strong and robust and capable of protecting each and every citizen from arbitrary authority,” he told the inquiry examining the Scottish government’s botched investigation into complaints against him.
At the end of a brutal dissection of his successor’s administration before MSPs, he added: “When you get to the stage that a government behaves unlawfully — it is a huge and heinous thing — you know some consequences should follow from unlawful conduct.”
In his opening statement to the inquiry, Salmond said that “telling the truth to parliament matters”, stressing his belief that his successor had breached the ministerial code and should resign.
Salmond, 66, was acquitted of 13 charges of sexual assault last year, and in 2018 was awarded £512,000 by a judicial review after a Scottish government inquiry was found to have been unlawful and tainted by apparent bias.
He said today that complainants in the case against him had been failed by the government, but when pressed he declined to apologise for his behaviour, which was described by Alex Cole Hamilton, the Liberal Democrat MSP, as “appalling”.
After refraining from speaking in public for 11 months since his trial, Salmond clearly relished his chance to hit out at his former allies, who he believes made a “malicious and concerted attempt” to destroy his reputation.
He contrasted his own silence with Sturgeon’s behaviour. The first minister broke with protocol during her daily public health briefing this week to speak of her sympathy for the women who had brought the complaints that led to the High Court trial.
Salmond said: “I watched in astonishment on Wednesday, when the first minister of Scotland used the Covid press conference to effectively question the result of a jury.”
Salmond’s written submission to parliament was published on Monday, and contained an extraordinary series of allegations.
The former leader of the SNP accused Sturgeon’s husband and other members of her entourage of plotting to destroy his reputation and send him to prison.
Peter Murrell, the chief executive of the SNP was among a number of party officials and civil servants close to Sturgeon who conducted a “malicious and concerted attempt” to damage his reputation and remove him from public life in Scotland, Salmond said.
In a devastating attack on his erstwhile political allies, he said the most serious issue raised by his treatment “was the complete breakdown of the necessary barriers which should exist between government, political party and indeed the prosecution authorities in any country which abides by the rule of law.”
Hours after the submission was published, the Crown Office, Scotland’s prosecution service, wrote to the Scottish parliament corporate body, reminding it of the terms of a court order.
Five of the submission’s 33 sections were redacted , including one unrelated to his criminal trial, which alleged that Sturgeon breached the ministerial code by making an “untrue” statement to Holyrood in 2019.
The first minister repeatedly told the Scottish parliament that the first she knew of her government’s investigation was when Salmond told her at a SNP party meeting in her Glasgow home on April 2.
In her own written evidence to the inquiry she admitted that she had “forgotten” an earlier meeting with Geoff Aberdein, Salmond’s former chief of staff, where allegations were discussed.
Publication of Salmond’s submissions in an acceptable form was a precondition of his decision to testify today, not least because published evidence can be included in the inquiry’s final report and can be used by MSPs to question witnesses.
Salmond cited an intervention by Lord Hope of Craighead, a former Supreme Court judge, who said he found the behaviour of the Crown Office “disturbing”.
Salmond told MSPs that the reason for his appearance was “because we can’t move on until the decision making, which is undermining the system of government in Scotland is addressed.”
He said the competence and professionalism of the civil service and the independence of the Crown Office both mattered as did “acting in accordance with legal advice”, “concealing evidence from the courts”, “democratic, accountability” and “suppressing evidence from parliamentary committees”.
He added: “And yes, ministers telling the truth to parliament matters. The day such things come to not matter would be a dark and dangerous one.”
Sturgeon has dismissed his claims, saying that there was not “a shred of evidence” to support them. She accused her predecessor of inhabiting an “alternative reality” and said she sympathised with the women who brought the complaints against him and whose “voices have been silenced”.
This was a show of force — Salmond presenting himself as the victim of a sustained attack
The key question at the start of this hearing was how far Alex Salmond would dictate events – and how far the parliamentary committee hearing his evidence would seek to rein him in (Magnus Linklater writes).
The answer came within minutes: this was to be the Salmond show – a blistering attack on the leadership of the government, civil service and legal institutions of the country he once led. “This is not about me,” he announced. “It is about the actions of others, the conduct of ministers, civil servants, and also the Crown Office.”
But clearly, too, it was to be about one woman – his successor as first minister, Nicola Sturgeon. He turned on her almost at once, when he repudiated her claim that he had to prove his case if he was to demonstrate that there had been a conspiracy to put an end to his political career.
“I don’t have to prove a case,” he said. This inquiry, rather, was about the role of others, not himself. It was about the way that evidence had been suppressed, and the way the committee he was addressing had been deprived of the ability to get at the truth.
Thus, a hearing which was intended to be about the way that complaints against the former first minister had been handled was immediately opened up into a debate about revenge.
“I watched in astonishment when the first minister used a Covid press conference to question the decision of a jury,” he charged. This was a reference to Sturgeon’s suggestion at her daily public health briefing that, for all his acquittal on charges of sexual harassment, Salmond’s personal behaviour had been less than perfect.
This was a Salmond presenting himself as the aggrieved party – a victim of sustained attack, who was now intent on using the opportunity to turn his fire on those responsible for his downfall, and the institutions he believed had been suborned.
He talked about the “nightmare” of having to remain silent as allegations were made against him, the way that he himself had been threatened with prosecution if he talked about matters withheld by the Crown Office, and the way that the government, by contrast, had acted illegally in examining allegations against him.
This was a case that raised, not just the way that institutions had behaved, but the whole question of “what type of Scotland we want to be?”.
Thus it was that the committee itself felt able to raise issues that extended far beyond its remit. Margaret Mitchell, for the Scottish Conservatives, wanted to know his view about the application of the ministerial code, the way the Lord Advocate divided his responsibilities between prosecution and advising the government, and whether legal advice to the government should be published.
This was meat and drink to Salmond. The nervous cough that had impeded his opening remarks gave way to a performance of sweeping statements, direct accusation, and a condemnation of ministerial behaviour that was remarkable to hear.
That this was a former leader of the SNP turning on his successor was extraordinary enough. The way he did it was a reminder of the political force he once had been.
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