MSPs charged with probing the Scottish Government’s botched handling of harassment complaints against Alex Salmond have been able to “shine a spotlight” on the inner workings of Nicola Sturgeon’s administration, Holyrood’s Presiding Officer has insisted.
While Ken Macintosh accepted members of the specially established committee had been through a “very difficult process”, he rejected any suggestion that the fiasco had damaged the reputation of the Scottish Parliament.
Instead he insisted that the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints had gone about its work “assiduously”.
Referring to the marathon session committee members spent questioning Sturgeon on her role in events, Macintosh said: “No other leading politician around the world has ever done that, but our parliament did it.”
But it took the threat of a vote of no confidence in the Deputy First Minister John Swinney for the Scottish Government to release legal papers concerning the courtroom challenge brought by Salmond.
That eventually saw the former first minister awarded more than £500,000 after the Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled the government had acted unlawfully in how it dealt with the allegations.
The committee also took the unprecedented step of issuing orders under the 1998 Scotland Act – the legislation which established the Scottish Parliament – as part of its search for information.
Despite the committee having a tightly drawn remit, with court orders also in place to prevent the identification of certain individuals, Macintosh insisted it had “absolutely risen to the occasion”.
He stated: “Apart from anything else we’ve seen the Parliament adapt, we’ve seen section 23 orders, we’ve seen votes of no confidence, we have seen all sorts of parliamentary procedures used to shine a light on what has happened here.”
The Presiding Officer said he did “not doubt for one second it has been a very difficult process,” for the committee – which is due to publish its report on Tuesday.
But he added: “Having said that I believe it has been assiduous in its work and has shone a light, shone a spot light on the inner workings of government that we have never seen, certainly not in my time in Parliament.
“We have seen the inner workings of government, the relationship between ministers and the civil service and their Spads, special advisers, with the Parliament, with the Crown Office, with courts. We have seen absolutely what that is like.
“It is a difficult process, there is no doubt about it, there is so much at stake with the election coming up, the protagonists themselves are of some stature, so there is a lot at stake. There is a lot of physical tension here.”
He said he recognised the “frustration” and sometimes “exasperation” that has been expressed by committee members, as they have tried to get various pieces of information.
But he said the committee had allowed people to see what had been happening within the government.
“I think everybody in the public can see what has been going on, they can see for themselves and they can make their judgement,” the Presiding Officer said.
“In some ways that is what Parliament is all about, it is about the process of accountability and scrutiny more than anything else.
“And people can then make up their own mind about what happened.”
He added: “I would not confuse the frustration members have with the outcome of the inquiry with the parliamentary process it has been, and I think the Parliament has been very successful.
“I can’t think of any other parliament in the world, let alone in this country, that has spent eight with the First Minister. No prime minister has ever done that, I don’t think president in the States, no other leading politician around the world has ever done that, but our Parliament did it.
“If you are to look at the process and the way the Parliament has carried it out I think you see a powerful Parliament in action.”
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