ALEX Salmond is seeking a month’s delay before giving explosive evidence to the Holyrood inquiry into his legal fight with the Scottish Government.

The former first minister was invited to attend Holyrood in person next Tuesday, but has turned it down.

However he said he is willing to testify in mid-February.

The invite was issued in spite of Holyrood Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh last week telling all committee conveners "to request that all committee meetings are held virtually for the remainder of January". 

The latest development follows Mr Salmond saying last week that he was ready to testify under oath that Nicola Sturgeon repeatedly misled parliament and so broke the Scottish Ministerial code, something she denies.

The move potentially delays Nicola Surgeon giving evidence in person as well, as she is due to appear the week after her predecessor as the final witness.

Mr Salmond’s lawyers warned last week that it would be “highly problematic” for their client to appear in person at Holyrood given the Covid pandemic and his asthma.

They also said he wanted to present evidence obtained for the defence of his criminal trial, but the Crown Office had threatened to prosecute him if he shared the files. 

However on Tuesday the inquiry wrote to Mr Salmond asking him to appear on January 19 regardless, saying MSPs had to complete their work quickly before the Holyrood election.

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Mr Salmond’s lawyer, David McKie of Glasgow-based Levy & McRae, has now responded to say his client will not appear next Tuesday, both because of the pandemic and for legal reasons.

He suggested February 16 instead, and dismissed the idea of giving evidence online, as the inquiry had already experienced considerable technical difficulties with that.

Mr McKie wrote: “Our client cannot accept your invitation to attend your Committee in person next week. He remains willing to attend and give evidence, however.

“As we understand it the Presiding Officer has advised against all in-person Committee Meetings on health and safety grounds. 

“Our client feels very strongly that it would send a very bad message to the rest of the country if he were to flout that, particularly at a time when the present First Minister is set to further tighten restrictions on everyone else.”

The inquiry is looking into how the Scottish Government botched its probe into sexual misconduct allegations made against Mr Salmond in 2018.

Mr Salmond had the exercise seat aside in a judicial review by showing it was flawed from the start and “tainted by apparent bias”, a Government error that left taxpayers with a £512,000 bill for his legal costs.

He said Mr Salmond had two further written submissions to make, and continued to feel frustrated about the Government holding back evidence.

HeraldScotland:

He wrote: "One immediate and material factor is the Government’s refusal to disclose its legal advice from external Counsel.

"Our client cannot understand why that continues to be withheld. The Committee cannot be faulted for that but it is highly relevant to our client’s evidence and to the inquiry remit.

"Additionally, we await confirmation that our client will be able to speak to documentation and give evidence under
oath without fear of prosecution by the Crown Office.

"There appears to have been no proper attempt to recover that material from the Inquiry, or explanation as to why it has not been obtained.

"The Inquiry has had months to recover it and the government has had months to produce evidence
which they undertook to produce in assurances given by the First Minister from the outset.

"It is therefore not fair to our client or indeed to the public to expect our client to give evidence in such
circumstances and until such issues have been exhausted in full.

"On the premise that our client gives evidence in a month’s time, that is more than an adequate period to enable you to seek its recovery.

"Furthermore, our client requests that the Committee assists in securing binding assurances from the crown that our client will be able to discharge his oath in front of your Committee without fear of sanction or prosecution.

"Given the Lord Advocate is a member of the Scottish Government, we cannot anticipate that he would object to
such a course in light of the assurances given by the government for full co-operation and the importance of the subject matter of this inquiry."

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Mr McKie concluded: “Our client understands your anxiety to finish your hearings and therefore can we suggest Tuesday 16th February (in principle at this stage) for an in-person evidence session. 

“That will give the clerks time to work out the feasibility of a safe hearing in light of the review of lockdown due at the end of the month and to recover the further material evidence.

“Assuming you still wish to call the First Minister the week after our client then, as we understand it, the Parliamentary timetable would still give a full month for the Committee to agree and publish a report to Parliament. 

“That, of course, is on the assumption that the election timetable stays at May.” 

READ MORE: Alex Salmond affair: John Swinney refuses to expand ministerial code probe into First Minister  

If Mr Salmond does evidence it tees up a potentially extraordinary pair of sessions in which the SNP’s two most successful leaders trade blows, with inevitable fallout for the party. 

After the Government’s defence of the judicial collapsed collapsed in January 2019, the First Minister revealed she had three meetings and two phone calls with her predecessor while he was being investigated by her own officials in spring and summer 2018.

She insisted she took the meetings in her capacity as SNP leader, rather than as government business, and so no officials were present and no minutes taken.

Opposition parties claim Ms Sturgeon broke the ministerial code by failing to report these meetings fully and timeously to the relevant officials.

Mr Salmond has accused Ms Sturgeon of repeatedly misleading parliament about these events.

In particular, Mr Salmond claimed in his written submission that the first of the five contacts, at Ms Sturgeon’s home on 2 April 2018, was arranged with her in advance and that she knew full well that it was to discuss the Government’s misconduct probe rather than a party matter.

He said Ms Sturgeon, his former chief of staff Geoff Aberdein and her current chief of staff Liz Lloyd, arranged it in Ms Sturgeon’s Holyrood officer four days earlier, 29 March 2018.

Ms Sturgeon later told claimed she had “forgotten” about this earlier meeting, saying it had been a busy day at Holyrood, despite it concerning sexual allegations against her mentor.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon's government sent Alex Salmond accusations to Crown Office despite 'retribution' fears of accusers

Mr Salmond said in his submission: “In her written submission to the Committee, the First Minister has subsequently admitted to that meeting on 29th March 2018, claiming to have previously ‘forgotten’ about it. That is, with respect, untenable.

“The pre-arranged meeting in the Scottish Parliament of 29th March 2018 was “forgotten” about because acknowledging it would have rendered ridiculous the claim made by the First Minister in Parliament that it had been believed that the meeting on 2nd April was on SNP Party business (Official Report 8th & 10th January 2019) and thus held at her private residence.

“In reality all participants in that meeting were fully aware of what the meeting was about and why it had been arranged.

“The meeting took place with a shared understanding of the issues for discussion - the complaints made and the Scottish Government procedure which had been launched.

“The First Minister’s claim that it was ever thought to be about anything other than the complaints made against me is wholly false. 

“The failure to account for the meeting on 29th March 2018 when making a statement to Parliament, and thereafter failing to correct that false representation is a further breach of the Ministerial Code.”

Ms Sturgeon said on Monday that she did not consider she had breached the ministerial code, but ultimately it would be for others to judge.