A FORMER SNP cabinet secretary has called for a judge-led inquiry into a possible criminal conspiracy against Alex Salmond involving “the institutions of the state”.

Alex Neil said society had to know whether the civil service and other arms of the state had been “abused” for political reasons.

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Former SNP deputy leader Jim Sillars also claimed there had been “the dirtiest” conspiracy against Mr Salmond at the top of the party.

He said that when the truth came out and "political casualties mount”, it would be a “setback” for the independence cause, but it would pick itself up again.

Mr Salmond was acquitted of 13 sexual offence charges on Monday after a two-week trial at the High Court in Edinburgh.

His defence team had wanted to lead evidence about a “concerted effort” to “discredit” the former First Minister as payback for him scoring a legal victory over the SNP Government in a civil action in 2018.

However the judge Lady Dorrian refused to allow most of it in case the trial strayed off into “collateral” matters, rather than focusing on the charges on the indictment.

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Speaking outside court, Mr Salmond signalled he intended to present his case regardless to the public after the coronavirus crisis had passed.

“At some point that information, those facts and that evidence will see the light of day,” he said.

In court, Mr Salmond described allegations against him as “deliberate fabrications for a political purpose” and “exaggerations”.

On BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland, Mr Neil, a former Health Secretary, said the claim of a conspiracy had to be examined independently.

He said: “The central case being put by the defence was that there was a conspiracy against Alex Salmond - an organised and I think, allegedly, a criminal conspiracy.

“If the organs of the state like the civil service, Crown Office and government advisers are involved in any such conspiracy that’s a very, very serious matter.

“My view is that, once the coronavirus crisis is over, there needs to be a judge-led independent inquiry to find out : Was there a conspiracy? If there was, what was the conspiracy? Who was involved? And was there criminality involved in such a conspiracy?”

Asked if he was being too conspiratorial by suggesting the Crown Office might have been party to a plot, Mr Neil said: “Well that’s what we need to find out. “The allegation is that there was a conspiracy involving a number of people to do in Alex Salmond.

“Now if we end up with decisions, for example, made by the civil service which are driven by political motivation that’s a very, very serious allegation.

“I’m not saying there was and I’m not saying there wasn’t. I don’t know.

“But what I think there needs to be is a proper inquiry to find out the truth because clearly if such activity is and has been happening, then there is a big issue to be addressed.

“You cannot have the institutions of the state involved in such a conspiracy, if there was one.”

Asked why there would have been a conspiracy against Mr Salmond, given he hasn’t been an elected politician since mid-2017, Mr Neil said: “I don’t know. I’m not the one making the allegation that there was a conspiracy.

Put to him that he appeared to believe there was a conspiracy, the Airdrie & Shotts MSP replied: “You have to take the allegation seriously. This was the core of the defence case.

“Alex Salmond himself said when he came out of court yesterday that there was a lot of evidence that he wasn’t allowed to use during the trial for legal reasons.

“My view is we need to clear this up - was there a conspiracy or wasn’t there a conspiracy, and if there was, who was involved and was it criminal?”

When it was suggested the jury may simply have decided the charges fell short of legal responsibility rather than believing in a conspiracy, Mr Neil said: “Absolutely. Only the jury is privy to the discussions amongst the jury about why they reached the decision they did.

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“They may or may not have believed in a conspiracy. That’s not the point. The point is a very serious allegation has been made about the institutions of the state being possibly involved in a conspiracy. I don’t know if that’s true or not.

“What I do know as a democrat is you can’t just let that go by. It’s got to be properly investigated and let us get to the truth.”

Asked who could carry out such an investigation that would satisfy those who believed in a conspiracy, he said: “It’s not just those who believe it. It’s those who don’t believe it have to be satisfied as well. Society has to be satisfied. And my view is there has to be an independent judge-led inquiry once the coronavirus is over to find out if there was a conspiracy and was there any criminality involved in that? Who was involved? Why were they involved? And were the institutions of the state abused?”

Writing in the Scottish Sun, Mr Salmond’s former SNP deputy leader Jim Sillars said Mr Salmond was also the victim of a conspiracy within the SNP.

He said Mr Salmond had shown him “compelling evidence” of a “clear political conspiracy art the highest levels of the party to bring him down”.

Mr Sillars wrote: “It was the dirtiest blow I have ever witnessed in 60 years of political life, and delivered to a man who, for all my criticism, had done more for independence than any other person alive or dead. He deserved better. I am delighted he was cleared.”

He added: “The trial has not produced closure for the SNP and its leadership.

“There will be a number in the top levels of the party quaking in their shoes.

"Not only today, but for some time, because Alex Salmond has still to get his day, perhaps in another court, with anonymity not available, where all his evidence of a political conspiracy against him can be set out, and justice for him can finally be done.”

Mr Sillars said that when the truth was finally exposed it would be a “setback” for the independence movement.

He said: “When all is finally exposed, and the political casualties mount, there will be a setback. But the cause of independence is not a recent one.

“It has deep roots in history, of struggle to be heard, to be taken seriously. Moments of hope often dashed; but the cause has always been there: to inspire and impel our nation to strive again and again for the pride and self-respect that only comes, from regaining our sovereignty. Let me tell the Unionists, we shall be back.”

He said the First Minister would be more than happy to deal with questions in time to come, but the “absolute priority” was dealing with the coronavirus.

“This is not the time,” he said.