MSP ejected from chamber over Sturgeon ‘liar’ jibe
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MSP ejected from chamber over Sturgeon ‘liar’ jibe

Oliver Mundell

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Oliver Mundell was asked to leave the Holyrood chamber after refusing to withdraw the remark

A Tory MSP has been ejected from the Holyrood chamber after insisting that Nicola Sturgeon “lied to parliament” over the Alex Salmond inquiry.

MSPs investigating the government’s botched handling of complaints against Mr Salmond have said their inquiry “cannot proceed” due to “obstruction”.

Oliver Mundell said the first minister had previously pledged to hand over “whatever material” MSPs asked for.

He said Ms Sturgeon should have to explain why she “lied to parliament”.

After he refused to apologise for or withdraw the remark – which is considered unparliamentary language – the Conservative MSP was asked to leave the chamber by Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh.

The Scottish government has said it “strongly rejects any suggestion of obstruction” and is seeking to initiate legal proceedings to allow the release of further papers to the inquiry committee.

Ms Sturgeon has repeatedly insisted that she will “cooperate fully” with the committee, and has referred herself to an independent investigator to judge whether she broke the ministerial code in her dealings with her predecessor.

A special committee was set up to look into the government’s handling of harassment complaints against the former first minister after he successfully challenged its investigation in court.

The government had to pay out more than £500,000 to Mr Salmond in legal fees after admitting that a procedural flaw in its investigation had rendered the conclusions “unlawful”.

On Tuesday, the committee’s convener – SNP MSP Linda Fabiani – said the group was “completely frustrated” with the lack of evidence being submitted by various parties, and was presently unable to continue holding evidence sessions.

She singled out the government, Mr Salmond himself, and the SNP’s chief executive Peter Murrell – who is also Ms Sturgeon’s husband.

Other members went further, with Labour’s Jackie Baillie saying the government was “treating this committee as a laughing stock” and Tory Murdo Fraser saying “it now appears that this inquiry will be a whitewash”.

It is difficult to get thrown out of parliament by accident. Politicians know what will get them into trouble and have the option to withdraw remarks ruled out of order instead of being banished.

But getting yourself suspended can be an effective way of generating publicity when you have a political point to make (as the SNP has proved at Westminster).

That is what Oliver Mundell has done. By accusing the first minister of lying he has amplified an attack his party colleague, Murdo Fraser, started on Tuesday.

He complained the Scottish government was obstructing the Holyrood inquiry into its handling of harassment complaints against Alex Salmond.

It’s not just the Tories who are unhappy with the evidence received so far from the government and some others. The inquiry chair, Linda Fabiani – a loyal SNP MSP – declared herself “completely frustrated”.

When you look back at the record, Nicola Sturgeon did promise that she and her government would “cooperate fully” with the inquiry and provide whatever material they might require.

The Tories want to hold the first minister to her word and – following today’s stunt by Mr Mundell – the party will have the chance to question Nicola Sturgeon directly at Holyrood on Thursday.

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PA Media

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Alex Salmond walked free from court in March having been cleared of charges of sexual assault and attempted rape

The Scottish government has pledged to cooperate fully with the inquiry, but has been refusing to waive legal privilege to release papers containing advice from lawyers.

This prompted the Conservatives to highlight a statement Ms Sturgeon made to MSPs in January 2019, when she said “the inquiries will be able to request whatever material they want, and I undertake today that we will provide whatever material they request”.

Mr Mundell raised a point of order in the Holyrood chamber, asking Mr Macintosh to require “the first minister to explain why she lied to parliament”.

The presiding officer replied that “the matter is being pursued by the convener of that committee”, but warned the Tory MSP that “using words like lie is not appropriate in this chamber”.

Mr Mundell refused to withdraw the remark or apologise, saying: “I feel it’s the appropriate word and I can’t find anything else that would express the sentiment.

“I feel it’s disrespectful to the parliament for the first minister to make a promise and not to keep it.”

He was the asked to leave the chamber by Mr Macintosh, and was barred for the rest of the day.

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PA Media

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MSPs are also seeking answers from Ms Sturgeon’s husband, SNP chief executive Peter Murrell

The committee has repeatedly pressed for the government to release the legal advice it took in the build up to the judicial review case which it ultimately conceded to Mr Salmond.

However Deputy First Minister John Swinney said doing so would undermine the ability of ministers to obtain “full and frank” advice from lawyers in future, arguing that this “would not be in the interests of good government and the upholding of the rule of law”.

After Ms Fabiani claimed the committee was facing “obstruction” and a lack of cooperation, a government spokesman said they were “providing the relevant information requested so far as is possible given the confidentiality, data protection and legal restrictions that apply”.

He also said the government was initiating legal proceedings aimed at allowing the release of further documents.

Ms Fabiani has also written to the Court of Session asking for a list of documents to be disclosed, including all evidence and pleadings submitted as part of the judicial review.

Mr Salmond had previously offered to go to court to force the release of some papers, with his lawyers arguing that he “cannot realistically provide a statement or documents which are partial and piecemeal”.

And the SNP has said it is “in active dialogue” with the committee’s clerks about further information sought from Mr Murrell.

Both men are expected to appear before the committee as witnesses in due course, along with Ms Sturgeon.

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