ALEX Salmond has declined an invitation to appear in front of the Holyrood committee probing the government’s handling of harassment complaints made against him.

Last night, convener Linda Fabiani invited Salmond to give evidence next Tuesday. Instead, the former First Minister has offered to give his account next month.

READ MORE: Alex Salmond could appear in front of MSPs next week to discuss harassment probe

In her invite, Fabiani warned that the inquiry was fast running out of time. She wrote: “The Committee is now in the position where if it does not complete evidence taking in the very near future it may not be able to report to Parliament in advance of purdah rules coming into force.

"The Committee must fulfil the task that Parliament has set it and that must include reporting its findings on this important inquiry before the Committee is disbanded in advance of the General Election. On that basis January 19 is the date that is being offered to you."

But in his response, Salmond asks to put his appearance back until February 16. This, he argues, would still give parliament time to interview Nicola Sturgeon the week after his evidence and “give a full month for the Committee to agree and publish a report to Parliament.”

The committee is probing how the Scottish Government botched the handling of harassment complaints made against the former First Minister. 

Salmond had the exercise set aside in a juidicial review in January 2019, and was awarded costs, leaving the taxpayer £512,000 out of pocket.

The ex-SNP leader said it would be wrong for him to appear in the middle of the pandemic.

Salmond’s lawyer, David McKie from Levy & McRae wrote: “As we understand it the Presiding officer has advised against all in-person Committee Meetings on health and safety grounds. Our client feels very strongly that it would send a very bad message to the rest of the county if he were to flout that, particularly at a time when the present First Minister is set to further tighten restrictions on everyone else.”

He also rules out taking part in a remote committee format. A session on Tuesday held over Zoom was plagued with technical difficulties. 

McKie said it “would not be at all suitable for a significant evidence session.”

He also criticised the committee for proceeding “in the absence of critical and material evidence which exists, our client has seen and is all recoverable by you.”

This, McKie said, includes the Scottish Government’s legal advice from external Counsel. 

He wrote: “Our client cannot understand why that continues to be withheld. The Committee cannot be faulted for that but it is highly relevant to our client’s evidence and to the Inquiry remit.”

Salmond has previously warned that he cannot tell the "truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth" as the Lord Advocate has warned that he could be committing an offence if he mentions "key material from both the civil case and the criminal case".

In his letter, McKie said the former First Minister is still looking for confirmation that he will “be able to speak to documentation and give evidence under oath without fear of prosecution by the Crown Office.”

McKie adds: “As you know, the Crown have written indicating that disclosure to the committee of relevant documents would constitute a criminal offence. 

“You have been on notice for some considerable time now of the importance of obtaining a number of these documents which, in our client’s view, is essential to allow the committee to fulfil its remit and also to enable him to give as full an account as he can to help you fulfil that remit. 

“There appears to have been no proper attempt to recover that material from the Inquiry, or explanation as to why it has not been obtained. The Inquiry has had months to recover it and the government has had months to produce evidence which they undertook to produce in assurances given by the First Minister from the outset. 

“It is therefore not fair to our client or indeed to the public to expect our client to give evidence in such circumstances and until such issues have been exhausted in full.”

McKie said Salmond also wants “binding assurances from the crown that our client will be able to discharge his oath in front of your Committee without fear of sanction or prosecution.”

He adds: “Given the Lord Advocate is a member of the Scottish Government, we cannot anticipate that he would object to such a course in light of the assurances given by the government for full co-operation and the importance of the subject matter of this inquiry.”