Alex Salmond: Don't rely on 'old chums' because enemies sometimes sit beside you

The former first minister warned an incoming government that 'enemies sometimes sit alongside you as opposed to opposite you'.

Alex Salmond has warned an incoming UK Government not to rely “on old chums” because “your enemies sometimes sit alongside you as opposed to opposite you”.

The former first minister, who left the SNP to lead the Alba Party, was asked by nationalist MP Pete Wishart during an appearance at the Scottish Affairs Committee what advice he would give to an incoming administration.

The cross-party group of MPs launched an inquiry into relations between the Scottish and UK governments last year and is set to interview all living former first ministers.

“Don’t rely on old chums, don’t rely on the informal network,” Salmond told the committee.

“The great wisdom that your enemies sometimes sit alongside you as opposed to the opposite you should employ.

“The idea that you can compensate for effective processes of government hoping that someone gets on with someone else is ludicrous.

“For goodness sake, don’t fall back into that trap.”

Alex Salmond was speaking to the Scottish Affairs Committee's inquiry into relations between the Scottish and UK governments.UK Parliament

Salmond was Scotland’s first minister from 2007 until 2014 when he resigned.

He later quit the SNP in 2018 and had a public falling out with Nicola Sturgeon after he faced sexual harassment allegations.

He was later cleared of all charges in a high court trial.

The Scottish Government was forced to pay out £512,250 in legal costs to Salmond after the Court of Session ruled its handling of complaints against him was “unlawful”.

‘I don’t recall government policy of deleting WhatsApp messages’

During his time in front of MPs on Tuesday, the former first minister also said he did not remember a policy of deleting informal messages during his time in government.

Appearing before the UK Covid-19 Inquiry, both Salmond’s successor, Sturgeon, and her deputy, John Swinney, said they had been advised by private office staff to delete informal messages after salient points had been recorded on the Government’s information retention system.

But Salmond, who said he had checked with former ministers Kenny MacAskill and Alex Neil, claimed such advice was not the policy of his government.

He said: “I am not aware of any such policy – I would have thought I would have had to sign off any such policy.

“Looking at what John said… he seemed to refer to some advice he had from his civil servants or private office.

“It is possible that there was such advice through a private office, but certainly no general government policy, nothing I signed off and I was totally unaware of it.”

The issue of WhatsApp messages came to the fore late last year, when the inquiry said the majority of such correspondence between senior Government officials during the pandemic had been deleted, in line with guidance.

Some messages, including those of First Minister Humza Yousaf, were recovered through various means, but the Government’s handling of the issue has been heavily criticised.

Sturgeon deleted all messages, but stressed she did not conduct Government business by WhatsApp.

Asked by Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross, who sits on the committee, if Sturgeon or Swinney had lied to the inquiry while under oath, the former first minister declined to answer, saying that would be an issue for the inquiry or the information commissioner, who has launched a probe into the issue.

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