Alex Salmond says Nicola Sturgeon and senior officials have “failed” Scotland and left the nation facing a “dark and dangerous” day.
Appearing in front of MSPs to delivery his long-awaited testimony to a Holyrood inquiry, Mr Salmond took aim at his former friend and successor as first minister.
He accused Ms Sturgeon of questioning the verdict of a jury following comments made at her coronavirus briefing earlier this week, and claimed she has let the country down.
Mr Salmond described his own experience since the allegations emerged as a “nightmare”.
But he said he could not “move on” until the “decision-making which is undermining the system of government in Scotland is addressed”.
Mr Salmond said: “Some people say that the failures of these institutions – the blurring of the boundaries between party, government and prosecution service – means that Scotland is in danger of becoming a failed state.
“I disagree. The Scottish civil service hasn’t failed, its leadership has. The Crown Office hasn’t failed, its leadership has failed. Scotland hasn’t failed, its leadership has failed.”
Mr Salmond even appeared to suggest that these failures weakened the case for Scottish independence.
He said: “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 and 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 ever has done.
“It is the bedrock of our democracy, of justice, and of fairness.”
‘This has been a nightmare’
Ms Sturgeon, who will give evidence next week, has accused her former mentor of peddling “dangerous” conspiracy theories, and challenged him to produce evidence to back it up.
The Holyrood committee was set up after Mr Salmond received a £512,000 pay-out following the Court of Session civil ruling that the Scottish Government’s handling of the complaints was “unlawful” and “tainted by apparent bias”.
Separately, the former first minister was cleared of 13 charges, including sexual assault, indecent assault and attempted rape, following a trial last year.
Describing his experience since the allegations emerged, Mr Salmond said: “For two years and six months this has been a nightmare.
“I have every desire to move on, to turn the page, to resist talking yet again about the series of events which are amongst the most wounding that any person can face.
“But the reason I’m here today is because we can’t turn that page nor move on until the decision-making which 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. Duty of candour of public authorities matters. Democratic accountability through parliament matters.
“Supressing evidence from parliamentary committees matters. And yes, ministers telling the truth to parliament matters.”
He added: “The day such things come to not matter, would be a dark and dangerous one for Scotland.”
Mr Salmond’s appearance had been rescheduled several times in the last few weeks amid a storm of controversy over his evidence, and whether it could be published.
The document was eventually made public on Monday night but on Tuesday it was taken down and republished with redactions, after the Crown Office contacted the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body.
That intervention triggered a major row, with a spokesman for Mr Salmond branding it “astonishing” and “highly irregular”.
‘This inquiry is about the actions of others’
Mr Salmond, who delayed his committee appearance from Wednesday to Friday, opened his appearance before the committee with a statement.
He said: “This inquiry is not about me. I’ve already established the illegality of the actions of the Scottish Government in the Court of Session.
“And I’ve been acquitted of all criminal charges by a jury in the highest court in the land.
“These are both the highest courts in the land – the highest civil court, and the highest criminal court.
I note that the first minister asserts that I have to prove a case. I don’t. That has already been done.”
“This inquiry is about the actions of others. This 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 would appear to have no understanding of the importance of the separation of party, and government, the prosecution authorities and indeed of the rule of law itself.
“It was the government that were 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 don’t. That has already been done.”
Mr Salmond added: “I watched in astonishment on Wednesday when the first minister of Scotland, the first minister of Scotland, used a Covid press conference, a Covid press conference, to effectively question the result of a jury.
“Still, I said nothing. Well, today that changes.”