SNP MPs are helping fund Alex Salmond’s legal challenge against the Scottish government’s handling of sexual harassment allegations against him, as the leader of a civil servants’ union condemned his remarks towards a senior government official.
Dave Penman, the general secretary of the FDA, which represents the UK's senior civil servants, accused the former nationalist leader of "nasty, vindictive and deliberate" attacks on the integrity of Leslie Evans, the Scottish government's permanent secretary.
Mr Salmond has repeatedly accused Ms Evans of using an unlawful and unfair procedure to investigate allegations by two women that he sexually harassed them while he was first minister, and has launched a judicial review in Scotland’s civil courts.
In a dramatic escalation of the dispute on Wednesday, Mr Salmond announced that he had resigned his SNP membership and launched an online appeal to raise £50,000 (€56,000) towards his legal costs. By Thursday morning, the amount pledged had reached more than £70,000.
One SNP MP confirmed they had contributed to Mr Salmond’s appeal, while a tweet from another, Angus MacNeil, appeared to welcome the initiative, exposing a deepening split within the party.
Some MPs have accused SNP headquarters, which is run by the chief executive, Peter Murrell – the husband of the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon – of being arrogant and dictatorial.
Mr MacNeil retweeted one attack on the party’s executive that said: “Can’t help but think this is a terrible indictment of the SNP’s disciplinary culture. Innocent until proven guilty.”
One senior SNP figure said anger was growing over Mr Salmond’s treatment, in particular at the leaking of details of the complaints. Another senior figure described the party leadership as “autocratic”.
The accusations, believed to include claims that Mr Salmond touched the bottom and breasts of one official after telling her to get on to a bed at his official residence, have been passed to Police Scotland for investigation.
Mr Evans was preparing to publish a statement disclosing the fact that Mr Salmond had been under investigation last week, before Mr Salmond’s lawyers threatened the Scottish government with an interdict. Mr Salmond insists he was promised confidentiality by Mr Evans and was denied the chance to call his own witnesses.
He dropped that threat after Mr Evans withdrew the planned statement, but details of the inquiry were leaked to the Daily Record newspaper. Mr Salmond has offered no evidence that the original leak came from within the Scottish government. Some sources suggest one of the complainants has left the civil service.
Shaken by the crisis around Mr Salmond, Ms Sturgeon has repeatedly defended Mr Evans and the anti-harassment process under which he was investigated. She said again on Thursday that allegations of this type “must be investigated without fear or favour, regardless of the seniority of the person involved”.
Mr Salmond has repeatedly denied any misconduct, and pointed out that until January, there had never been any complaint about his behaviour at the Scottish government. “Let me be clear again,” he said. “I refute these two complaints of harassment and I absolutely reject any suggestion of criminality.”– Guardian