By Alex Salmond, former First Minister of Scotland
This inquiry is not about me. I have already established the illegality of the actions of the Scottish Government in the Court of Session, and I have been acquitted of all criminal charges by jury in the highest court in the land—those are both of the highest courts in the land: the highest civil court and the highest criminal court.
The remit for this inquiry is about the actions of others. It is an investigation into the conduct of ministers, the permanent secretary, civil servants and special advisers. It also requires to shine a light on the activities of the Crown Office and to examine the unacceptable conduct of those who appear to have no understanding of the importance of separation of party, Government and prosecution authorities—or, indeed, of the rule of law itself. It was the Government that was found to have acted unlawfully, unfairly and “tainted by apparent bias”.
I note that the First Minister asserts that I have to prove a case. I do not. That has already been done. There have been two court cases, two judges and one jury. In this inquiry, it is the Scottish Government—a Government that has already admitted to behaving unlawfully—that is under examination.
Secondly, my interest in assisting this inquiry is out of respect for our Parliament. I have made no personal public comment of any kind on these matters for 11 months—not a single television interview or press interview or statement. I have turned down hundreds of such offers, which, as committee members will know, has not hitherto been my normal policy. I have watched with growing frustration, over the past six months, as this committee has been systematically deprived of the evidence that it has legitimately sought. Indeed, I am just about your only witness who has been actively trying to present you with evidence as opposed to withholding it. As we saw this week, even after it was published, it was then unpublished by the intervention of a Crown Office that should not be questioning the will of Parliament. I watched in astonishment, on Wednesday, as the First Minister of Scotland used a Covid press conference to effectively question the result of a jury. Still, I said nothing. Well, today, that changes.
I have no incentive or advantage for me in revisiting the hurt and shock of the past three years, from a personal perspective—nor, indeed, from the perspective of two complainants who were failed by the Government and then forced, directly against their express wishes, into a criminal process. That now-admitted action served neither the wishes of the complainants nor the interests of justice. For two years and six months, this has been a nightmare. In fact, I have every desire to move on, to turn the page and to resist talking yet again about a series of events that have been among the most wounding that any person can face. However, the reason that I am here is because we cannot turn that page, nor move on, until the decision making that is undermining the system of Government in Scotland is addressed.
The competence and professionalism of the civil service matters. The independence of the Crown Office, as acting in the public interest, matters. Acting in accordance with legal advice matters. Concealing evidence from the courts matters. The duty of candour of public authorities matters. Democratic accountability through Parliament matters. Suppressing evidence from Parliamentary committees matters—and, yes, ministers telling the truth to Parliament matters. The day that such things came to not matter would be a dark and dangerous one for Scotland.
Collectively, these events shine a light on a Government whose actions are no longer true to the principles of openness, accountability and transparency, which are the core principles on which the Scottish Parliament was founded. I remember—I was there. The failures of leadership are many and obvious, and yet not a single person has taken responsibility and there has been not a single resignation, not a single sacking, not even an admonition. Instead, we have promotions or extensions of contracts and self-serving defences.
The Government acted illegally, but, somehow, nobody is to blame. There has been delay and obstruction in making evidence available. A committee has been asked to do its job with both hands tied behind its back and a blindfold on. Witness after witness has later adjusted evidence that was delivered under oath. Were it not for the independence of the judiciary, the robust scrutiny of the Court of Session and the common sense of a jury made up of members of the public, the matters before the committee would never have come to light and, indeed, no one would have cared about this inquiry. The Scottish courts emerge from these events with their reputation enhanced. Can those leading the Government and the Crown Office say the same?
Some people say that the failures of these institutions—the blurring of the boundaries between party, Government and prosecution service—mean that Scotland is in danger of becoming a failed state. I disagree. The Scottish civil service has not failed; its leadership has failed. The Crown Office has not failed; its leadership has failed. Scotland has not failed; its leadership has failed. So, the importance of this inquiry is for each and every one of us to help put that right.
My final point is simply this: I am a private citizen. Unlike just about every other person represented at this inquiry, I have had no-one paying my legal fees and I have had to contend with the resources of the Scottish Government being used to further tarnish my reputation, just as it spent £600,000 defending its illegal policy before collapsing in the judicial review, and just as enormous time, effort and public money have been devoted to the task of refusing to give this committee the documentation that it requires. The pattern is undeniable. The Government refused to hand over documentation in the civil case; it required a commission to extract that from it. The permanent secretary was brought in to give evidence under oath just to extract documents that she had a duty to provide to the court.
The Government ignored the provisions of a search warrant in the criminal case, and, despite the impact on the administration of justice, still withheld key documents that should have been put before the jury. This committee has been blocked and tackled at every turn, with calculated and deliberate suppression of key evidence. Even Parliament—our Scottish Parliament—has been defied, despite two votes demanding the external legal advice that the public have paid for.
My evidence has been published, then subsequently censored by intervention of the Crown Office—evidence that it had previously agreed was lawful. Even today, I appear before you under the explicit threat of prosecution if I reveal evidence for which the committee has asked. Not to fulfil my oath and tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth would be a contempt, but the Crown Office says that it might lead to prosecution. People should just stop and think for a moment about that. The ability of any witness before any Parliament to tell the truth and fulfil their oath is effectively being questioned by the Crown Office.
The truth is that those who now demand to see evidence have invested a great deal of time and public money in attempting to hide that evidence. When this inquiry ends—neutered though it may be—I will consider that I have discharged my duty as a citizen and as a former First Minister. It will then be for others to consider their own positions in the light of what this committee decides.
This inquiry, in my opinion, is a chance to assert what type of Scotland we are trying to create. Few would now dispute that our country is a better place for achieving our Parliament. However, the move to independence, which I have sought all my political life and continue to seek, must be accompanied by institutions whose leadership is strong, robust and capable of protecting each and every citizen from arbitrary authority. Such a principle is a central component of the rule of law. It matters to every person in Scotland as much as it always has done. It is the bedrock of our democracy, of justice and of fairness.
- This is a verbatim account of what former First Minister Alex Salmond told the parliamentary committee inquiring into the background of sexual harassment allegations made against him and of which he was entirely exonerated in the High Court. Editor