As Alex Salmond waved to photographers on his exit from Holyrood, something else left the building too

·2-min read

As former first minister Alex Salmond waved to photographers on his exit from Holyrood, something else left the building.

An email sent by the Scottish Parliament's harassment committee that might yet breach the evidence impasse.

For as long, detailed and explosive as six hours of testimony was from Mr Salmond, it's not underpinned by available paperwork. And therein lies its inherent weakness.

He's been taunted by his one-time friend now big-time enemy Nicola Sturgeon, who was calling for "the evidence" before his witness appearance and, minutes afterwards, her spokesperson was repeating her demands in its wake.

Mr Salmond says it's not his fault that little evidence has been produced. He insists he is "severely hampered" by an inability to access a range of documents supporting a number of occasions, partly because of government obstruction.

Cue the late afternoon email to the Crown Office, Scotland's prosecuting authority. MSPs on the harassment committee, frustrated by criticism over its power to function, want to see text messages between the SNP's so-called "gang of four" - people in Ms Sturgeon's orbit whom Mr Salmond alleges tried to destroy him.

There are reasons why it's not been made available automatically. The material was gathered for Mr Salmond's criminal trial last March, at which he was acquitted, and so isn't for general use outside of the relevant court process and people.

There is also a legal imperative to preserve the anonymity of certain individuals involved in Mr Salmond's criminal trial last March, at which he was acquitted.

There has been much criticism of Crown Office interference in this case. It prompted the redaction of sections of Mr Salmond evidence after they had already been published, though it insisted it merely issued a reminder of responsibilities with regard to Contempt of Court legislation and that the decision was made by independent prosecutors.

However, prominent figures in the legal world have pointed to the irregular nature of its actions in this case and it has led to criticism of the Lord Advocate in particular. James Wolffe QC is a government appointment as head of the Crown Office and sits in cabinet as its legal adviser.

It has fed criticism of a lack of separation between government and prosecuting body which, in turn, has driven accusations of political influence.

The harassment committee has given the Crown Office until midday next Tuesday to hand over the material it wants. It's the high noon, high-stakes deadline on the eve of Ms Sturgeon's witness appearance.

It will go some distance to addressing any suggestion that Mr Salmond is bluffing - claims by his predecessor that he is spinning conspiracy theories.

The text messages won't be everything - but they will be a start, to dictate how this inquiry ends.