Alex Salmond feared publicity about the Scottish Government’s sexual misconduct inquiry would damage a potential return to politics, newly released documents suggest.
A letter from Mr Salmond’s lawyer claimed there was a “real prospect of enormous reputational damage” to the former first minister if harassment claims were made public.
The letter was contained in a 147-page submission made by Mr Salmond to the Holyrood committee examining the Scottish Government’s mishandled investigation into the claims made against the former first minister.
There is a real prospect of enormous reputational damage to our client in the event that confidentiality is not preserved. Our client’s prospects of standing for public office or obtaining employment or pursuing business opportunities would be hugely damaged.”
David McKie, Alex Salmond’s lawyer
The submission included letters outlining multiple attempts to settle Mr Salmond’s dispute with the Scottish Government via arbitration or mediation as well as pleas for privacy.
In the end, Mr Salmond’s attempts to settle the matter outside the courts failed and he successfully took a judicial review against the Scottish Government, which found that its internal inquiry into the ex-SNP leader was unlawful and tainted with apparent bias.
Mr Salmond’s successful legal action led to the Scottish Government forking out more than £500,000 in taxpayers’ cash for his legal costs.
In a separate criminal case Mr Salmond was cleared earlier this year of all sexual offences at the conclusion of a high-profile trial.
Concerns over confidentiality
In one letter to Scotland’s most senior civil servant, Leslie Evans, dated June 26 2018, Mr Salmond’s lawyer, David McKie of Levy McRae, told Ms Evans, the Permanent Secretary, that she had recognised that confidentiality of the Scottish Government procedure.
Mr McKie said: “There is a real prospect of enormous reputational damage to our client in the event that confidentiality is not preserved. Our client’s prospects of standing for public office or obtaining employment or pursuing business opportunities would be hugely damaged.
“You allude to the possibility that you might be under a duty to disclose the outcome. As you know we totally disagree with that suggestion.”
When the letter was sent Mr Salmond was no longer in front line politics for the first time in decades, having lost his Gordon seat at Westminster to Conservative MP Colin Clark.
Some of Mr Salmond’s supporters have suggested that his opponents within the SNP were keen to prevent him from making a comeback and have suggested he has been the victim of a conspiracy. Others close to Mr Salmond have played down suggestions he was interested in returning to elected politics.
The newly released correspondence also revealed Mr McKie wrote to Ms Evans, asking the permanent secretary not to tell Nicola Sturgeon about the Scottish Government’s investigation into his client.
The letter was sent on June 13 2018, even though a couple of months earlier Mr Salmond had met with Ms Sturgeon in her family home to inform her of the probe.
Ms Sturgeon has told the Scottish Parliament that the meeting with her predecessor when they discussed the matter was held on April 2 that year.
Mr McKie’s letter sought an assurance from Ms Evans that the “strict confidentiality” surrounding the process would be observed. He said any communication or publication of the existence of the proceedings would violate Mr Salmond’s right to privacy.
The lawyer added: “In the event that you do communicate any of these matters to any person (including the First Minister) in a purported application of the 2017 Procedure, you will be doing so in breach of confidence.”
In another letter, this time dated April 23 2018, Mr McKie claimed one of the allegations made against Mr Salmond had been dealt with under the procedure, which was in place before a new anti-harassment code was developed in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
Mr McKie argued that it was not appropriate to “resurrect it now under a new procedure which was not in force (not even in contemplation) when the incident giving rise to the complaint occurred”.
Legal papers tell ‘one side of the story’
The Scottish Conservatives claimed the letter raised questions about Ms Sturgeon’s claims that she did not know about concerns about Mr Salmond’s behaviour.
Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said: “It raises a serious question if Nicola Sturgeon, then Deputy First Minister, can credibly claim to have not known anything about Alex Salmond’s alleged behaviour.
“Crucially, these legal papers from Alex Salmond only tell us one side of the story. The Scottish Government won’t release so many key documents, particularly the legal advice they received, that we’re still in the dark about the scale of their mistakes.”
The Conservatives are to lead a Holyrood debate calling for the Scottish Government to publish the legal advice it received ahead of its civil court battle with Mr Salmond.
In evidence submitted to the inquiry, Ms Sturgeon has said she had “no general concerns at the time about Scottish Government culture from 2008 to 2014 and certainly not about sexual harassment”.
A Scottish Government spokesman added: “As the First Minister has repeatedly made clear, she looks forward to giving evidence in person to the committee in due course, and is awaiting a date from the committee to do so.”