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Alex Salmond inquiry: MSPs' committee must be impartial in holding Scottish government to account - Ian Murray MP; There is a lot wrong with the way in which Westminster operates but there is something that works exceptionally well.

Byline: Ian Murray

The committee system is one of the most respected and robust parts of the scrutiny of government. The chairs are elected by MPs, the membership elected by the individual parties, and the work is done on the basis of consensus.

I've sat on a number of select committees and my experience is that they are impartial, knowledgeable and really shine a light on key issues. Their reports regularly lead the news and parliamentary rules mean the government of the day has to respond to any recommendations made.

It is the sacredness of impartiality that select committees pride themselves on. In all my time serving, I think I have only ever been involved in a couple of votes. Political affiliation is left at the door, so the work can be done to scrutinise government properly. It's what makes democracy work.

I think it's detrimental to democracy in Scotland that the Scottish parliamentary committee system appears to be a mere extension of the Scottish government. The lack of proper scrutiny and the shutting down of anything critical is not healthy regardless of which party is in power.

This has come to a head with the special committee set up to investigate the Scottish government's handling of sexual harassment claims made against former First Minister Alex Salmond.

READ MORE: ( Nicola Sturgeon under pressure to say she will resign if found to have broken ministerial code

This wasn't dreamed up by opposition politicians but was a result of the taxpayer shelling out over [pounds sterling]500,000 to Mr Salmond in legal fees after the Scottish government's botched investigation was found to have been illegal.

The committee is supposed to be examining the Scottish government's handling of the complaints but has accused both sides of attempting to obstruct and delay its work with claims from Salmond that Nicola Sturgeon lied to parliament and broke the ministerial code (a resigning issue in normal times).

This week it turned to farce. Mr Salmond was supposed to appear on Tuesday to give evidence to the committee but only on the understanding that his redacted written submission was formally published, otherwise it could not be considered by the inquiry. The committee voted to withhold that information (despite it being publicly published elsewhere). That resulted in a Salmond no-show.

The infuriating part is that the committee voted along party lines, on those favourable or not to independence.

The government shouldn't be allowed to investigate itself. This committee should be independent and given the tools to do the job properly.

After all, it is our taxes being wasted and the issue of sexual harassment couldn't be more serious. It should not be voting on major issues such as this but coming to consensus and doing what is in the national interest, not party or constitutional interest.

The committee was set up to seek the truth and, no matter your party allegiance or your views on independence, the failure to get to that truth, the forcing of the courts to release information, and the ducking and diving from those that run Scotland should worry us all. Not forgetting the women who bravely came forward to complain.

A democracy that can't keep the government honest is one that is in real trouble and a stark reminder that a one-party state is neither healthy nor desirable.

Ian Murray is Labour MP for Edinburgh South

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CAPTION: MSPs must find out why the Scottish government's investigation of claims made about Alex Salmond went so badly wrong, says Ian Murray MP (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire)
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Title Annotation:Columnists; Politics
Author:Ian Murray
Publication:The Scotsman Online
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 11, 2021
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