This inquiry is not about me. I've already established the illegality of the actions of the Scottish government in the Court of Session, and I've been acquitted of all criminal charges by a jury in the highest court in the land. These are both the highest courts in the land, the highest civil court and the highest criminal court.
The remit for this inquiry is about the actions of others. It's an investigation into the conduct of ministers, the permanent secretaries, civil servants and special advisers. It also requires to shine a light on the activities of the Crown Office, and to examine the unacceptable conduct of those who appear to have no understanding of the importance of the separation of party and government and prosecution authorities — and indeed of the rule of law itself.
It was the government who were found to have acted unlawfully, unfairly and tainted by apparent bias. I know that the First Minister asserts that I have to prove a case. I don't. That has already been done. There have been two court cases, two judges, one jury. In this inquiry it is the Scottish government, a government which has already admitted to behaving unlawfully, who are under examination.
Secondly, my interest in assisting this inquiry is out of respect for our parliament. I have made no personal public comment on these matters of any kind for 11 months, not a single television interview or press interview or statement. I have turned down hundreds of such offers, which as committee members will know, has hitherto not been my normal policy.
I have watched with growing frustration over the last six months while this committee has been systematically deprived of the evidence it has legitimately sought. Indeed, I'm just about the only witness who has been actively trying to present you with evidence as opposed to withholding it.
As we saw this week, even after it was published, it was then unpublished by intervention of a Crown Office who should not be questioning the will of parliament. I watched in astonishment on Wednesday when the First Minister of Scotland used a Covid press conference — a Covid press conference — to effectively question the result of a jury.
Still, I said nothing. Well, today that changes. I have no incentive or advantage in revisiting the hurt and shock of the last three years from a personal perspective, or indeed from the perspective of two complainants failed by the government and then forced directly against their express wishes into a criminal process.
This now admitted action neither served the wishes of the complainants nor the interests of justice. For two years and six months, this has been a nightmare.
In fact, I have every desire to move on, to turn the page, to resist talking yet again about a series of events which have been amongst the most wounding that any person can face. But the reason I'm here today is because we cannot turn that page nor move on until the decision making, which is undermining the system of government in Scotland, is addressed.
The competence and professionalism of the civil service matters. The independence of the Crown Office as acting in the public interest matters. Acting in accordance with legal advice matters. Concealing evidence from the courts matters. The duty of candour of public authorities matters. Democratic accountability through parliament matters. Suppressing evidence from parliamentary committees matters. And yes, ministers telling the truth to parliament matters.
The day such things come to not matter would be a dark and dangerous one for Scotland. Collectively, these events shine a light on a government whose actions are no longer true to the principles of openness, accountability and transparency — the core principles on which this Scottish parliament was founded. I remember, I was there.
The failures of leadership are many and obvious, and yet not a single person has taken responsibility. Not a single resignation, not a single sacking, not even an admission. Instead we have promotions or extensions of contracts and self-serving defences.
The government acted illegally, but somehow nobody's to blame. Delay and obstruction in making evidence available. A committee has been asked to do its job with both hands tied behind his back and a blindfold on. Witness after witness later adjusting evidence delivered under oath. Were it not for the independence of the judiciary, the robust scrutiny of the Court of Session and the common sense of the jury, made up of members of the public, the matters before this committee would never have come to light.
And indeed, no one would have to hear about this inquiry. The Scottish courts emerge from these events with a reputation enhanced. Can those leading the government and the Crown Office say the same?
Some people say that the failures of these institutions, the blurring of the boundaries between the party, government and prosecution service mean that Scotland is in danger of becoming a failed state. I disagree.
The Scottish civil service hasn't failed. Its leadership has failed. The Crown Office hasn't failed. Its leadership has failed. Scotland hasn't failed. Its leadership has failed. So the importance of this inquiry is for each and every one of us to help put this right.
My final point is simply this: I'm a private citizen. Unlike just about every other person represented at this inquiry, I've had no one paying my legal fees. I've had to contend with the resources of the Scottish government being used to further tarnish my reputation.
Just as they spent £600,000 defending their illegal policy before collapsing in the judicial review, and just as enormous time, effort and public money has been devoted to the task of refusing to give this committee the documentation it requires. The pattern is undeniable. The government refused to hand over documentation in the civil case. It required the commission to extract it from them. The permanent secretary was brought to give evidence under oath just to extract documents she had a duty to provide to the court. The government ignored the provisions of a search warrant in the criminal case, and despite the impact on the administration of justice, still withheld key documents which should have been put before the jury. This committee has been blocked and tackled at every turn with calculated and deliberate suppression of key evidence. Our Scottish parliament has been defied despite two votes demanding external legal advice that the public has paid for. My evidence has been published, then subsequently censured by intervention of the Crown Office. Evidence that they had previously agreed was lawful.
And even today, I appear before you under the explicit threat of prosecution if I reveal evidence for which this committee has asked. Not to fulfil my oath and tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth would be contempt, but the Crown Office says it might lead to prosecution.
People should just stop and think for a moment about that. The ability of any witness before any parliament to tell the truth and fulfil their oath is effectively in question by the Crown Office.
The truth is that those who now demand to see evidence have invested a great deal of time and public money in attempting to hide that evidence. When this inquiry ends, muted though it may be, I'll consider that I have discharged my duty as a citizen and as a former first minister. It will then be for others to consider their own positions in the light of what this committee decides.
This inquiry, in my opinion, is a chance to assert what type of Scotland we are trying to create. Few would now dispute that our country is a better place for achieving our parliament. However, our move to independence, which I have sort all my political life and continue to seek, must be accompanied by institutions whose leadership is strong and robust and capable of protecting each and every citizen from arbitrary authority.
Such a principle is a central component of the rule of law. It matters to every person in Scotland as much as it always has done. It is the bedrock of our democracy, of justice and of fairness.
This is an edited transcript of Alex Salmond's opening remarks to the Holyrood inquiry.