THIS past week has seen the beginning of the long-awaited public inquiry into the Scottish Government’s handling of complaints made against the former first minister, Alex Salmond. This comes as a BBC documentary, which aired last Monday, spelled out the details of Mr Salmond’s trial held in March this year and the process by which these allegations came to be known to the public.

While a jury of his peers made their verdict, the handling of this matter by the hierarchy of the Scottish Government is what is now under review by a committee of the Scottish Parliament.

In February, opposition parties criticised the SNP’s decision to nominate one of their own members to chair this committee. It should be uncontroversial to note that the legitimacy of an inquiry into the conduct of a former SNP leader is significantly impaired if such an inquiry is controlled by a member of the SNP. In a democratic society, it cannot be the responsibility for the ruling party to scrutinise and pass judgement on itself.

Unfortunately these fears were borne out on Tuesday when SNP MSP and committee chair Linda Fabiani ruled out questioning on allegations that there existed civil service guidance on whether Alex Salmond was to be left alone with female members of staff. Considering the committee’s remit covers the actions that government officials and advisers took to deal with complaints made about the former first minister, the chair’s decision to disallow this line of questioning is highly suspicious.

The people of Scotland are only looking for the same openness and transparency that Nicola Sturgeon promised at the beginning of this process. In January 2019 she promised that “the inquiries will be able to request whatever material they want, and I undertake today that we will provide whatever material they request… My commitment is that the Government and I will co-operate fully with it, which is, I think, appropriate.”

Why then did the Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government, Leslie Evans, refuse to answer that question regarding advice given to female civil servants during Alex Salmond’s tenure as FM? The leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Douglas Ross MP, has now written to the head of the UK civil service seeking his guidance on this matter.

This is now a matter of trust. How can the public trust the First Minister when she pledges her government will provide all information requested but then her chief civil servant hides behind an SNP chair to avoid scrutiny? How can the public trust her when she claimed to the Scottish Parliament that she first became aware of a formal investigation into Alex Salmond in April 2018 but the inquiry heard that she was told of concerns in November 2017? While the predictable barrage of cybernationalist conspiracy theorists immediately began spewing their misogynistic bile against BBC presenter Kirsty Wark in the aftermath of her broadcast, the truth is that the people of Scotland have a right to know what and when Nicola Sturgeon knew about the very serious complaints made against her predecessor and mentor.

The SNP’s instinctive need to avoid scrutiny is well known. I have written on countless issues in these columns about how its Glasgow administration seeks to avoid responsibility and shirk being held accountable for its actions. Indeed, despite asking on repeated occasions, I am yet to hear an explanation from the leader of the council on her use of a taxpayer-funded taxi journey on August 3, 2017, to travel to an SNP election campaign event. Well, I won’t stop holding shining a light on Susan Aitken and her cronies within the City Chambers, and my Scottish Conservative colleagues at Holyrood and Westminster will not rest until the truth about this sorry affair is exposed. Time’s up, Nicola – no more secrecy,

no more cover-ups, it’s time to

come clean.