First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of misleading parliament after the Holyrood Committee probing the Scottish Government’s botched handling of harassment claims against Alex Salmond said it was facing “obstruction” amid a lack of evidence.
Committee convener Linda Fabiani said the investigation was being “completely frustrated” because it was still waiting for information from the Scottish Government, SNP chief executive and Ms Sturgeon’s husband Peter Murrell, and former first minister Mr Salmond.
The investigation will not hear evidence for a third consecutive week as a result of the apparent refusal to provide evidence and ongoing legal wrangling involving the Government and Mr Salmond’s lawyers.
Scottish Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser, who sits on the committee, said Ms Sturgeon has broken her pledge to parliament to give the inquiry “whatever material they request”.
Speaking in Parliament in January last year, Ms Sturgeon said: “My commitment is that the Government and I will co-operate fully with [the inquiry], which is, I think, appropriate.”
The committee probe was launched in the wake of the Court of Session’s ruling the Government had acted unlawfully in its investigation of the former first minister, who was awarded £512,000 of public money for his legal costs.
Ms Fabiani said it has been repeatedly frustrated by the refusal of witnesses to provide evidence and urged them to “engage productively” so the committee can proceed with its enquiry.
The SNP MSP said: “The committee continues to be completely frustrated with the lack of evidence and, quite frankly, obstruction it is experiencing.
“We had hoped to be in a position to hear further oral evidence but with responses still outstanding from the Scottish Government, chief executive of the SNP and the former first minister, all of this means that we simply cannot proceed at this stage.
“We have no choice but to meet in private again next week (October 6) to review the evidence we have received to date.
“I would urge all those we have approached to engage productively with the committee so it can get on with the task in hand.”
Following Ms Fabiani’s statement, Mr Fraser said: “The SNP have treated the Salmond inquiry with contempt. They act like requests for key documents are beneath them.
“Nicola Sturgeon has undoubtedly broken her promise to release all materials that the inquiry requested.
“She made that commitment on January 17 but if she won’t release these documents, she has misled parliament.
“It now appears that this inquiry will be a whitewash.”
Fellow committee member and Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie accused the Government and other key witnesses of treating the inquiry as a “laughing stock”.
Ms Baillie, who is Scottish Labour’s deputy leader, said: “Quite frankly, the Scottish Government and others are treating this committee as a laughing stock.
“It is all too clear that the Government’s commitment to transparency was little more than a bad joke and that they are determined to prevent the committee from executing its vital task.
“The Scottish Government and, indeed, many others involved in this affair have demonstrated contempt for this committee and its aims.
“The secrecy must end and the Scottish Government and others must stop treating elected representatives as annoyances.”
Both the Scottish Government and Mr Salmond’s lawyers have argued there are legal obstructions preventing them from handing over documents.
The legal wrangling has seen Mr Salmond offer to appeal to the courts to be allowed to release papers used in his successful judicial review.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney has said the Scottish Government “intends to initiate legal proceedings to seek a ruling” about whether documents relating to the case can be released.
Ms Fabiani has also written to Mr Murrell asking for all “relevant information and records” about the use of SNP communication channels for official government business and those relating to the inquiry and the claims against Mr Salmond.
She demanded “any and all” evidence of communications about the allegations against Mr Salmond, including “emails, minutes, notes, texts, papers and WhatsApp messages from all levels of the SNP.”
An SNP spokesman said: “Mr Murrell provided written evidence by the original August 4 deadline.
“The committee’s additional requests of September 9 set no deadline for a response. However, we are in active dialogue with the clerks about the further information sought.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “The Scottish Government is co-operating fully with the committee and strongly rejects any suggestion of obstruction.
“We have already provided the committee with over 1,000 pages of relevant material, responding directly to the questions asked by the committee, and Government witnesses have provided many hours of oral evidence.
“Where further information or clarification has been required by the committee, we have followed up quickly in writing, including to correct inaccurate assertions that documents had not been provided when they had in fact already been submitted.
“As the committee has recognised, the inquiry involves sensitive information. We are providing the relevant information requested so far as is possible given the confidentiality, data protection and legal restrictions that apply and will continue to do so.”