Sturgeon row: Scottish Health Secretary dismisses calls for FM to quitMarch 21, 2021
Scottish Health Secretary Jeane Freeman dismisses calls for Nicola Sturgeon to quit over claims she misled parliament – and accuses those leaking of breaching code of conduct
- Scottish Health Secretary Jeane Freeman dismissed calls for Sturgeon to resign
- Those responsible for Committee leaks have ‘broken the code of conduct’
- Minister hit out at critics, accusing Scottish Tories of playing ‘partisan politics’
- Sturgeon faces mammoth week which could decide future of her political career
- Findings of inquiries could torpedo her leadership and SNP electoral prospects
The Scottish Health Secretary today defended her under-fire boss Nicola Sturgeon, claiming the First Minister has ‘led by example’ while accusing her critics of playing ‘partisan politics’ amid growing calls for her resignation.
Cabinet minister Jeane Freeman also said leaks accusing the SNP leader of misleading the Scottish Parliament over her handling of sexual harassment claims against Alex Salmond themselves broke the MSP Code of Conduct.
The Scottish First Minister is currently awaiting the judgment of two inquiries, which will rule on whether she broke strict parliamentary rules.
Tomorrow, James Hamilton QC is set to reveal the results of his probe into whether she broke the Ministerial Code – a resignation offence. Then on Tuesday, a Holyrood committee is expected to rule that she misled parliament.
The Scottish Conservatives have said that if she does not resign by Tuesday, they will table a motion of no confidence on Wednesday – the same day that her former mentor Mr Salmond is said to be preparing to release a new statement.
Speaking to Sophy Ridge on Sunday on Sky News, Ms Freeman said ‘we’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves’, and instead claimed Mr Salmond’s complainants had ‘suffered most’ from the botched probe into the allegations.
Mr Salmond denied allegations of harassment against him and he was cleared at trial last year of sexual assaulting nine women. He also won a civil case over the Scottish Government’s handling of the investigation, resulting in a £500,000 payout.
Today, Ms Freeman also accused the Scottish Tories of playing ‘partisan politics’, claiming that the party was calling for Ms Sturgeon’s resignation ‘even before the First Minister appeared in front of that Committee’.
Scotland’s Health Secretary Jeane Freeman looks at First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh on March 16, 2021
Scottish Health Secretary Jeane Freeman defended Nicola Sturgeon, claiming the First Minister has ‘led by example’ while accusing her critics of playing ‘partisan politics’
An Opinium survey published before the news emerged last night found that 51 per cent of Scots believe Ms Sturgeon should resign if she is deemed to have broken the ministerial code, compared to 35 per cent who say she should stay in place
Hard week at the office, Nicola? The three days which could make-or-break Sturgeon’s careeras she faces result of two inquiries AND a vote of no confidence
James Hamilton QC, Ireland’s former director of public prosecutions, is expected to present the much-awaited findings of his inquiry early this week.
He has been tasked with investigating whether Nicola Sturgeon breached the Ministerial Code by interfering in investigations into Alex Salmond’s alleged sexual conduct.
The probe has the potential to be explosive for Miss Sturgeon, who will face almost insurmountable pressure to resign if the QC finds she broke the code.
But if Mr Hamilton takes Miss Sturgeon’s side, critics fear she will be free to continue as First Minister with impunity.
The final report from a cross-party inquiry of MSPs is to be published. The committee has been probing the Scottish government’s handling of allegations against Alex Salmond.
Last week, leaks from within the group seemed to confirm they had ruled against Miss Sturgeon by a slim majority of five votes to four.
Miss Sturgeon immediately faced calls to resign, but responded by insisting she had told the truth when she gave her evidence to the committee earlier this month.
Her spokesman said the provisional decision was ‘partisan’.
Following the publication of both the James Hamilton QC report and the Holyrood committee report, the Sturgeon versus Salmond saga will be pulled into sharp focus.
After the findings of both inquiries are laid bare, Mr Salmond is expected to address the nation once again, offering a formal statement in response to any conclusions drawn.
Meanwhile, no matter what the outcome of the reports, the Scottish Conservatives have pledged to remain on the warpath – stating that if Miss Sturgeon has still not resigned, they will proceed with a vote of no confidence in her.
She could survive such a vote, as she will likely secure the backing of the Scottish Greens. Holyrood will also be dissolved on this day ahead of the Scottish Parliament election on May 6.
‘I think we can dismiss some of that at least as a bit of partisan politics 40-odd days out from a Scottish election, and focus our attention on what the genuinely independent report from Mr Hamilton QC says,’ the Scottish Health Secretary said.
‘The Committee report is not yet concluded. What we have is… leaks from that Committee which is actually, as it happens, against the MSP Code of Conduct.
‘The situation here is important, it’s serious. What’s most serious actually is that the Scottish Government made serious mistakes in handling and implementing the policy on harassment, and the people who have suffered most from that are the women who brought the complaints.’
She continued: ‘The First Minister has led by example throughout and I think the public, particularly the public in Scotland, have seen how open and frank her leadership is, particularly over the last year when we’ve been dealing with the pandemic’.
The fallout has centred on Miss Sturgeon’s meetings with Mr Salmond at the time and whether she offered to intervene in the process. Mr Salmond claims she did – something always denied by Ms Sturgeon, who accused her predecessor of peddling ‘conspiracy theories’.
According to leaks, members of the Scottish Parliament committee have already decided she misled them and consider her claims of when she first learnt of the allegations ‘hard to believe’.
The SNP leader dismissed their findings as political because the panel voted by a narrow majority along party lines.
However, any findings from the independent Mr Hamilton, the Scottish Government’s adviser on the Ministerial Code, will not be able to be brushed off in the same way. The row comes just a week before Holyrood packs up ahead of the May elections.
At stake is not only Ms Sturgeon’s political career but also the influence of the SNP who want to push for a second independence referendum should they gain a majority at the ballot box.
Recent polls have shown her popularity and that of her party, and independence, have dipped. If she is found to have breached the code, Ms Sturgeon would be expected to resign.
Demands that Ms Sturgeon resign have grown in recent weeks, with former Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson yesterday calling the First Minister ‘head girl’ of the ‘Old Boy’s Club’ as she urged her to ‘consider her position’.
She was joined by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who piled pressure on Ms Sturgeon as he said there ‘should be a resignation’ if there is found to have been a breach of the ministerial code.
‘The First Minister was absolutely clear in the foreword to the [ministerial] code that she would lead by example and therefore she would follow the letter and the spirit of the code,’ he said.
The interventions from Ms Davidson and Sir Keir came after it emerged a committee of MSPs said the First Minister’s ‘inaccurate’ evidence to them amounted to a ‘potential breach of the ministerial code’, which is generally considered a resignation offence.
In a further leak it is claimed that the inquiry has also concluded it is ‘hard to believe’ Ms Sturgeon did not know of concerns about Mr Salmond’s behaviour before November 2017.
Ms Sturgeon brushed off the extraordinary committee conclusion last night, insisting she stood by ‘all eight hours’ of evidence she gave and accusing opposition members of playing politics.
The SNP leader also appeared to lash herself to the separate report from James Hamilton QC on whether she broke the ministerial code – which is expected within days. Tory sources suggested the stress on that inquiry was an indication of rising ‘desperation’.
Polls have shown that a majority of Scots believe Ms Sturgeon should quit if she is found to have flouted the conduct rules, with the controversy also inflicting huge damage on support for her drive to split up the UK.
Even if she fends off the resignation calls the row looks set to dominate the run-up to crucial elections in May. The Tories are set to turn up the heat by staging a vote of no confidence on Wednesday.
Sections from the bombshell report – set to be officially released on Tuesday – have been leaked two weeks after Ms Sturgeon gave testimony about her role in the Scottish Government’s botched investigation into Mr Salmond in 2018.
November 2017: Allegations regarding Alex Salmond’s behaviour are raised with the SNP by Sky News.
Nicola Sturgeon said she spoke to him about this – and he ‘denied it’. No further action was taken.
March 29, 2018: Ms Sturgeon meets Geoff Aberdein – Mr Salmon’s chief of staff – in her Scottish parliament office where she has admitted they discussed the possibility of a meeting with Mr Salmond. Ms Sturgeon – after initially forgetting about this meeting – says there was ‘the suggestion that the matter might relate to allegations of a sexual nature’.
April 2, 2018: Ms Sturgeon and Mr Salmond meet at the First Minister’s home. According to Ms Sturgeon, this is the first time she heard of the complaints made against him. Despite this, she has insisted that the matters discussed were party business. No minutes were taken at the meeting.
What she previously said: On January 8, 2019, Ms Sturgeon tells the Scottish Parliament she ‘first heard’ about sexual harassment allegations against Mr Salmond on April 2.
In 2018, Andrew Marr asked Ms Sturgeon: ‘Had you heard any stories about him before it broke in the press?’ She responded: ‘Obviously, absolutely not. Until, well I’ve said previously Alex Salmond informed me about these complaints in April, that was the first I had known.’
And what she later said : In 2020, giving written evidence to the Holyrood into her government’s handling of complaints against Mr Salmond, she said she ‘forgot’ about the March 29 meeting until ‘late January/early February’ 2019.
She wrote: ‘From what I recall, the discussion covered the fact that Alex Salmond wanted to see me urgently about a serious matter, and I think it did cover the suggestion that the matter might relate to allegations of a sexual nature.’
September 14, 2018: A judicial review is launched after complaints by Mr Salmond over the fairness with how the claims against him were handled.
January 8, 2019: The Scottish government conceded defeat in the judicial review a week before it was due to launch. Mr Salmond wins £500,000 in legal fees. The court ruled the probe into Mr Salmond had been unlawful and tainted by apparent bias.
January 2019: Ms Sturgeon tells MSPs that Mr Salmond first told her about a probe into him on April 2.
March 23, 2020: Alex Salmond is cleared of all sexual assault charges and his supporters demanded a full inquiry into the Scottish Government’s handling of the scandal.
October 7, 2020: Ms Sturgeon claims she ‘forgot’ about March 29, 2018, meeting with Mr Aberdein.
January 24, 2021: Speaking on the Andrew Marr show, Ms Sturgeon denies misleading the Scottish Parliament after ‘forgetting’ to tell MSPs about her meeting with Mr Salmond’s aide on March 29, 2018.
February 2021: The High Court in Edinburgh rules Mr Salmond’s evidence claiming his former chief of staff met with Ms Sturgeon on March 28, 2018, to discuss sexual assault allegations against the former first minister can be released.
Ms Sturgeon had insisted she did not offer to intervene in the complaints process against Mr Salmond during a meeting with him on April 2, 2018.
Yet by a slim majority verdict of 5-4, the committee, which voted down party lines, said that this was in ‘fundamental contradiction’ to testimony from Mr Salmond.
They say Mr Salmond’s account was corroborated by his legal adviser, Duncan Hamilton QC, who told the inquiry that Ms Sturgeon said: ‘If it comes to it, I will intervene.’
The report concludes: ‘Her [Ms Sturgeon’s] written evidence is, therefore, an inaccurate account of what happened and she has misled the committee on this matter. This is a potential breach of the ministerial code’.
Arriving at her home last night after the first leak emerged, Ms Sturgeon said she stood by her eight hours of testimony.
She said: ‘What’s been clear is that opposition members of this committee made their minds up about me before I uttered a single word of evidence – their public comments make that clear.
‘So this partisan leak tonight before they’ve finalised the tonight before they’ve finalised the report is not that surprising.’
But Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross has stepped up calls for her to resign, saying: ‘We cannot set a precedent that a First Minister of Scotland can mislead the Scottish Parliament and get away with it. We have to trust that the First Minister will be truthful. We no longer can.’
Ms Davidson added in a statement issued yesterday: ‘If Nicola Sturgeon has a shred of integrity, she should be considering her position. She has every opportunity to do the right thing and resign.’
Even members of Ms Sturgeon’s own party were fearing the worst, with one senior SNP source admitting: ‘I think she’s damaged goods.’
An SNP source admitted there were growing concerns about Ms Sturgeon’s role as leader. ‘A lot of SNP politicians think her days are numbered,’ they said.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: ‘The First Minister has co-operated fully with James Hamilton’s independent investigation into her adherence to the Ministerial Code, and looks forward to the publication of its findings.’
And today David Davis, the former Brexit Secretary who last week used parliamentary privilege at Westminster to reveal bombshell accusations about the affair, calls for her to resign.
Writing in The Mail on Sunday, he warns: ‘We cannot predict how events will unfold. But we know how they should. To put an end to her long and destructive row with Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon should tender her resignation.’
It seems MSPs did not go as far as to say Ms Sturgeon ‘knowingly’ broke the code, but the findings will put immense pressure on her position.
Ms Sturgeon has claimed she was informed about a media inquiry relating to the then-First Minister’s alleged behaviour towards female Edinburgh Airport staff in November 2017 and that was the first she had ever heard of any claims of inappropriate behaviour.
But Sky News reported that the committee believes Ms Sturgeon should have acted upon any information about her predecessor’s conduct.
It also revealed the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints is ‘concerned’ about the meetings Ms Sturgeon had with Mr Salmond after he revealed he was being investigated, and why it took the First Minister more than two months to tell the head of Scotland’s civil service what she knew.
According to Sky News, the committee’s findings state: ‘The committee finds it hard to believe that the first minister had no knowledge of any concerns about inappropriate behaviour on the part of Alex Salmond before November 2017.
‘If she did have such knowledge, then she should have acted upon it. If she did have such knowledge, she has misled the committee.’
The MSPs reportedly add: ‘She should have made the Permanent Secretary aware as soon as possible after the April 2 2018 meeting, at which point she should have confirmed she would cease contact with Alex Salmond.’
Asked this morning if Ms Sturgeon should resign, SNP MP Drew Hendry again insisted that the Hamilton inquiry will be critical.
He told BBC Radio 4: ‘This leak is just another indication of how certain members have abused this process.
‘The independent inquiry for James Hamilton QC and I think we should await the outcome of that inquiry before asking such questions.
‘The very fact that the Tories have, since minute one, prejudged this inquiry – you heard Douglas Ross say that they’ve been saying this for weeks and weeks, before the evidence even came out, before they even heard from Nicola Sturgeon tells you everything you need to know about the way they’ve approach this committee process.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon (pictured) is awaiting the judgment of two inquiries, which will rule on whether she broke strict parliamentary rules
SNP MSPs make up almost half of committee investigating Sturgeon
SNP: Linda Fabiani (convener), Alasdair Allen, Stuart McMillan, Maureen Watt
Conservative: Margaret Mitchell (deputy convener), Murdo Fraser
Labour: Jackie Baillie
Liberal Democrat: Alex Cole-Hamilton
Green: Alison Johnstone
‘I’m attacking the way this has been prejudged, it’s almost unheard of to committees to be led in this way, for committees to be prejudging the situation, whether it’s at Westminster or Hollyrood.
‘It’s indicative of the way this whole thing has been weaponised by the Tories as part of the process. This has not been conducted in any spirit of trying to get to the facts.’
Pressed on whether Ms Sturgeon should resign if the independent James Hamilton inquiry finds her to have broken the ministerial code, Mr Hendry said: ‘I’m not going to prejudge it. I’m not going to do what the Tories have done.
‘I’m sure Nicola Sturgeon when she gets the details of that inquiry, which is due very soon, will be able answer any questions on that as they come up. It’s for her to take the deliberations on board and make whatever decision she feels as appropriate.’
He added: ‘She’s sometimes not got everything absolutely right, and she’s been honest about that as well, but she’s also been clear with the evidence that she’s given. So let’s wait for James Hamilton and let’s wait for the public.’
SNP MSPs account for almost half of the nine-strong committee. They are four in number, while the Conservatives have two, and Labour, the Lib Dems, and Greens just one, broadly reflecting the total number of Holyrood MSPs.
Ms Sturgeon submitted written evidence to the Holyrood Inquiry as well as a gruelling eight-hour oral testimony earlier this month.
The Holyrood Inquiry was tasked with investigating the Scottish Government’s bungled handling of sexual harassment complaints made against the former first minister.
A successful judicial review by Mr Salmond resulted in the investigation being ruled unlawful and ‘tainted by apparent bias’, with a £512,250 payout being awarded to him for legal fees. Mr Salmond was also later acquitted of 13 charges following a criminal trial.
Ms Sturgeon is also awaiting a report from James Hamilton QC, who will rule specifically on whether she broke the ministerial code.
Critics accuse her of breaking the code by misleading Parliament on when she first learnt of allegations against Mr Salmond.
Ms Sturgeon previously claimed to have learnt about the allegations when Mr Salmond informed her at her home on April 2, 2018.
It later emerged she had had a meeting with Mr Salmond’s former chief of staff, Geoff Aberdein, on March 29 in her office.
Ms Sturgeon claimed to have ‘forgot’ this meeting and later explained she thought they were talking about harassment in ‘general terms’.
She is also accused of failing to record crucial meetings, and pursuing the case against Mr Salmond despite lawyers telling her to drop it.
An Opinium survey published before the news emerged last night found that 51 per cent of Scots believe Ms Sturgeon should resign if she is deemed to have broken the ministerial code, compared to 35 per cent who say she should stay in place.
But the research, carried out on March 11, exposed a deep political divide, with 62 per cent of SNP voters thinking she should keep her job.
Blow by blow, how Nicola Sturgeon’s eight-hour evidence before the Salmond inquiry unfolded
Earlier this month, Nicola Sturgeon faced eight hours of brutal testimony before the committee investigating the Scottish Government’s botched handling of harassment complaints against Alex Salmond.
A lively session at Holyrood saw the First Minister fend off questions from MSPs with varying degrees of success.
Here, MailOnline looks back on the key flashpoints from the hearing in the wake of the inquiry concluding she misled Parliament.
Sturgeon dismisses Salmond’s claim of a plot
Ms Sturgeon used her opening statement to rubbish Mr Salmond’s claims of a concerted conspiracy to bring him down and remove him from public life.
She rubbished the ‘absurd suggestion that anyone acted with malice or as part of a plot against Alex Salmond’.
She said ‘that claim is not based in any fact’ and she had ‘no motive, intention or desire’ to ‘get’ her predecessor.
The inquiry into Mr Salmond was launched after a number of women came forward with allegations of sexual harassment.
Sturgeon fights for her career: Key quotes at the Holyrood inquiry
On Alex Salmond’s claims of a conspiracy to bring him down:
‘I feel I may rebut the absurd suggestion that anyone acted with malice or as part of a plot against Alex Salmond. That claim is not based in any fact.’
‘Alex Salmond was one of the the closest people to me in my life – I would never have wanted to get Alex Salmond. I had no motive intention or desire to get Alex .’
On Alex Salmond’s inappropriate behaviour:
‘That he was acquitted by a jury of criminal conduct is beyond question. But I know, just from what he told me, that his behaviour was not always appropriate.
‘And yet across six hours of testimony, there was not a single word of regret, reflection or a simple acknowledgment of that. I can only hope in private the reality might be different.’
On the meeting at her home on March 29, 2018:
The meeting ‘did indicate a harassment-type issue had arisen, but my recollection is he [Salmond’s chief of staff] did so in general terms.’
On the meeting at her home on April 2, 2018:
‘It was the detail of the complaints under the procedure that I was given on April 2 that was significant and indeed shocking’.
On Mr Salmond telling her about the allegations against him:
‘A moment in my life that I will never forget’
On the prospect of allegations concerning Mr Salmond being made public:
‘The thought of this becoming public, and I would have to comment on it, horrified me. Absolutely horrified me. It made me feel physically sick.’
On the handling of complaints against Mr Salmond
‘I am deeply regretful, deeply angry and will always feel incredibly bad for, principally, the two women who were let down, and the wider implications in terms of the cost to the taxpayer.’
On claims the Scottish Goverment ‘delayed, obstructed, obfuscated’ the progress of the Holyrood Inquiry:
‘I would not accept the characterisation.’
On serving as deputy first minister under Mr Salmond
‘He was a tough guy to work for. If he was displeased with you, you knew about it.’
On a member of her staff leaking the name of one of the complainants to Mr Salmond’s former chief of staff.
‘I am not accepting that that happened, therefore I am clearly not accepting that was authorised’
Ms Sturgeon told MSPs the idea that those involved were ‘concocting’ allegations was false, and they came forward of ‘their own free will’.
But a successful judicial review by Mr Salmond resulted in the investigation being ruled unlawful and ‘tainted by apparent bias’, with a £512,250 payout being awarded to him for legal fees.
Mr Salmond was later acquitted of 13 charges following a criminal trial.
The Holyrood Inquiry instead puts the spotlight on Ms Sturgeon and her Government’s handling of the harassment complaints.
Indeed, at points the committee convener ticked off Ms Sturgeon for shifting the focus on to Mr Salmond, saying: ‘He’s not under trial, your actions are.’
MSPs demand Sturgeon provides critical evidence
Ms Sturgeon came under mounting pressure to produce evidence relating to the investigation into Mr Salmond.
Labour’s Jackie Baillie launched a blistering take-down of her failure to provide critical records of meetings and asked why no senior Government figures had resigned for the botched 2018 investigation into Mr Salmond.
Ms Sturgeon has also been accused of a cover-up by Scottish Tories, who are forcing a vote of no confidence over claims she broke the ministerial code by misleading Parliament.
Ms Baillie said: ‘I don’t think I have felt quite so frustrated in my 22 years of being on parliamentary committees as with this one,’ she said.
‘We have waited for information from the Scottish Government, the stuff we have received has been partial and late.
‘The legal advice has taken two votes in Parliament and a motion of no confidence in John Swinney before we saw it last night at six o’clock. And there is information missing.’
Ms Baillie added: ‘We have waited till the 11th hour for the legal advice, we get partial legal advice.’
She asked Ms Sturgeon: ‘Do you understand the frustration of the committee? Do you understand that it looks as though the Government doesn’t want to give us critical information?’
Committee deputy convener also said Margaret Mitchell said that that it had ‘faced delay, obstruction, obfuscation’ from the Government in its requests for evidence, and said some documents remained outstanding.
Ms Sturgeon replied: ‘I would not accept the characterisation.’
Sturgeon says probe into Salmond ‘right thing to do’
The First Minister said she ‘deeply regretted’ how the investigation into Mr Salmond was handled but stood by the decision that a probe was necessary.
She added that the complaint procedures used to investigate Mr Salmond were drawn up in late 2017, in the wake of the MeToo movement, and were drafted by civil servants, not her.
She said: ‘The Scottish Government despite the mistake it undoubtedly made, tried to do the right thing.
‘As First Minister I refused to let the age old pattern of allowing a powerful man to use his status and connections to get what he wants.’
But she added: ‘That is not the same thing as saying I wanted this to be in the public domain.
‘The thought of this becoming public, and I would have to comment on it, horrified me. Absolutely horrified me. It made me feel physically sick.
‘I would have been very relieved if it had never come out into the public domain.
‘I had nothing to gain from it and only a lot of pain and grief associated with it.’
Sturgeon hits back at claims she broke ministerial code
The Scottish Conservative group in Holyrood accuses the First Minister of breaking the ministerial code on three counts.
First, she misled Parliament on when she first learned of the allegations; she previously claimed April 2, but Mr Salmond says March 29.
Second, Ms Sturgeon failed to record the meetings she had with Mr Salmond concerning the allegations.
Third, Ms Sturgeon pressed ahead with the investigation against Mr Salmond despite being warned by her lawyers they would lose the case.
Ms Sturgeon said that she was ‘relieved’ to be appearing before the inquiry to lay out her side of the story.
She recalled harassment claims arising on March 29 during a meeting with Mr Aberdein, but said it was spoken about in a non-specific sense – and that she only realised it was in relation to Mr Salmond during a meeting with him on April 2.
Describing the April 2 meeting in her home with Mr Salmond, she said while he denied the complaints against him he gave his account of the incident which ‘he said he had apologised for at the time’.
Ms Sturgeon told MSPs: ‘What he described constituted in my view deeply inappropriate behaviour on his part, perhaps a reason why that moment is embedded so strongly in my mind.’
She said she did not ‘immediately record the April 2 meeting’ as she did not want it to become public and risk ‘breaching the confidentiality of the process’.
She added she had no intention of intervening in the investigation process and did not intervene, saying to do so would have been an abuse of her role.
Addressing the judicial review, Ms Sturgeon said there was strong prospects of defending the challenge and as late as December 11, 2018, the advice given was it was ‘very clear there was no need to drop the case’.
She said she followed the advice of law officers so did not breach the ministerial code, as has been claimed.
Labour’s Jackie Baillie launched a blistering take-down of her failure to provide critical records of meetings and asked why no senior Government figures had resigned for the botched 2018 investigation into Mr Salmond
Withering assessment of Salmond’s testimony
In her evidence the First Minister said she felt ‘sad’ she had come to blows with her old political mentor, which has ripped to the heart of the SNP ahead of May’s Holyrood elections.
She told MSPs: ‘In all the legitimate considerations of this, sometimes the human elements of this situation are lost. Alex spoke on Friday about what a nightmare the last couple of years have been for him, and I don’t doubt that.
‘I have thought often about the impact on him. He was someone I cared about for a long time.’
However, she called into question the former first minister’s character for not recognising his inappropriate behaviour during his own appearance last Friday.
Ms Sturgeon said: ‘I found myself searching for any sign that he recognised how difficult this has been for others too. First and foremost to the woman who believed his behaviour to be inappropriate.
‘But also to those who had campaigned with him, worked with him, cared for him and considered him a friend and now stand, unfairly accused of plotting against him.
‘That he was acquitted by a jury of criminal conduct is beyond question. But I know, just from what he told me, that his behaviour was not always appropriate.
‘And yet across six hours of testimony, there was not a single word of regret, reflection or a simple acknowledgment of that. I can only hope in private the reality might be different.’
Ms Sturgeon, 50, served for seven years as Mr Salmond’s deputy before succeeding him as first minister in 2014.
She told MSPs that he ‘was a tough guy to work with’ and on occasions told him he had crossed a line with his behaviour.
Their close relationship and strive for Scottish independence over many years also manifested in a close relationship between their staff.
Claims Sturgeon’s staff leaked identity of complainer to Salmond’s ally
Ms Sturgeon said she regarded Mr Aberdein as a friend, but denied claims that one of her staffers had revealed the identity of one of the female accusers to him.
Labour’s Jackie Baillie pressed the First Minister on the claims and called it an ‘extraordinary breach of confidentiality’ and, if proven, a ‘sackable offence’.
But Ms Sturgeon said: ‘I am not accepting that that happened, therefore I am clearly not accepting that was authorised.’
The First Minister accepted this was a ‘matter of contention’.
She added: ‘Certainly in relation to one of the complainants Alex Salmond was pretty clear he had found out through investigations of Scottish Government social media accounts he had found out who that was.
‘And in relation to the other one, and this is the bit I am perhaps speculating on, it must have been the case when he got that letter, because he knew about the incident because he had apologised to the person.
‘So my assumption would be that he would have known that without anybody having to tell him. And I know from what he told me he found out the identity of the other one through his own investigations.’
A statement from Mr Salmond’s spokesperson released as Mr Sturgeon was giving evidence said: ‘Mr Salmond has lodged a formal complaint with the permanent secretary to the Scottish Government under the civil service code, on the conduct of the official who is alleged to have breached civil service rules, by disclosing the name of a complainant in the Scottish Government process.’
Claims Sturgeon’s staff leaked to Daily Record to bury bad press about her
Further scrutiny focused on a leak to the Daily Record newspaper that that revealed details of the complaints against Mr Salmond.
Ms Sturgeon said: ‘I can tell you they didn’t come from me, or anyone acting on my instruction or request.’
And she said she had no knowledge of claims conveyed by Ms Baillie that the Daily Record was leaked the information to spike an upcoming story on Ms Sturgeon.
‘That is a new part of the conspiracy I’m hearing for the first time,’ Ms Sturgeon said.
Ms Sturgeon was also confronted by Tory MSP Margaret Mitchell about her knowledge of 30 sexual harassment claims against five SNP ministers over the course of 10 years.
Responding after Ms Mitchell described the complaints, Ms Sturgeon said: ‘Forgive me, I don’t know exactly what you’re referring to in terms of five SNP ministers.’
If Scottish police come knocking, I’ll give them a cup of tea – but no more, writes former Cabinet Minister DAVID DAVIS after his explosive Commons revelations sparked a hunt for his source
By David Davis for The Mail On Sunday
In Scotland this week, we should see the climax of an extraordinary political storm with serious implications for transparency and democracy in these islands. We cannot predict how events will unfold. But we know how they should.
To put an end to her long and destructive row with Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon should tender her resignation as Scottish First Minister.
Mr Salmond and Miss Sturgeon were once the closest of friends, mentor and protege, the architects of the modern Scottish National Party and of its current dominance in Scotland.
Yet today they are at daggers drawn, with members of the SNP and the Scottish Government attempting to destroy his reputation. Miss Sturgeon’s political life hangs by a thread after a Holyrood committee found that she had misled it.
But the significance goes much further. For at the heart of the dispute is the dangerously close relationship between the SNP and the business of government itself, including the independence of the Scottish Parliament.
Mr Salmond (pictured) and Miss Sturgeon were once the closest of friends, mentor and protege, the architects of the modern Scottish National Party and of its current dominance in Scotland.
It was January 2019 when this often bewildering saga began in earnest, and Alex Salmond was charged with 14 counts of sexual misconduct. The following year, he was cleared of every single charge by a predominantly female jury in a court presided over by a woman judge.
Not only was Mr Salmond innocent, however, he believed that he had been the victim of ‘a malicious and concerted attempt to… remove [him] from public life in Scotland by a range of individuals within the Scottish Government and the SNP, who set out to damage [his] reputation, even to the extent of having [him] imprisoned’.
In response, Miss Sturgeon described Mr Salmond as a conspiracy theorist, dismissing him – and others – as ‘members of the Westminster old boys club’.
She might need to do better than that. In a few days there will be another report into her behaviour by James Hamilton, an Irish lawyer and the independent investigator into whether Miss Sturgeon has broken Scotland’s Ministerial Code. If he, too, finds against Miss Sturgeon, it is hard to imagine how she will survive.
Back in 2017-18, her SNP government hastily wrote a new disciplinary code on sexual harassment – one with retrospective powers.
At the time it was viewed with discomfort by the Westminster Cabinet Office, which noted that the code was only retrospective for previous Ministers, not for former civil servants.
It looked to some as though it had been designed with a specific target in mind.
When Mr Salmond challenged this extraordinary procedure in the civil court, he was proved right. In fact, he won a massive victory and substantial costs.
The code was described by the judge as ‘unlawful’, ‘unfair’, and ‘tainted by apparent bias’. It is now being replaced with a fair and independent procedure, one of the few good outcomes of this sorry tale.
In response, Miss Sturgeon (pictured) described Mr Salmond as a conspiracy theorist, dismissing him – and others – as ‘members of the Westminster old boys club’
Throughout this civil case the Scottish Government was evasive, holding back information time after time.
Within the SNP, meanwhile, there seemed to be a concerted effort to encourage complaints against Mr Salmond, as texts passed to me – which I read out in a House of Commons debate last week – made clear. The Scottish Government, meanwhile, was finding other ways to put pressure on Mr Salmond. It decided, for example, to issue a press release about the complaints against him.
The complainants did not want this and the police did not want it. Mr Salmond’s lawyers did not want it and took legal action to stop it. Before this action could take effect, however, the story was unfortunately leaked.
Then came the cover-up. After Mr Salmond won his 2020 criminal case, a committee of the Scottish Parliament began an inquiry into the debacle.
And so began another disgraceful tale of government misbehaviour. Its conclusions will be published this week, but we now know that this Holyrood inquiry has found that the First Minister misled the Scottish Parliament and the inquiry.
It has come to that conclusion despite the best efforts of the Scottish Government and Crown Office to frustrate them.
A case in point is the attempt to prevent release of the damning legal advice issued to the Scottish Government – which made it clear that the initial attempt to prosecute Mr Salmond had little chance of success.
But it is the behaviour of the Crown Office which has been most worrying of all. This organisation is responsible for prosecuting crimes in Scotland. But, unlike the English Crown Prosecution Service which has a director who is independent of political influence, the Crown Office is run by the Lord Advocate, who sits in the SNP Cabinet.
The Crown Office has prevented Mr Salmond, journalists, and even the Holyrood inquiry itself from holding the Scottish Government fully to account.
Within the SNP, meanwhile, there seemed to be a concerted effort to encourage complaints against Mr Salmond, as texts passed to me – which I read out in a House of Commons debate last week – made clear. Pictured: MP David Davis
It has done this with censorship and threats of prosecution. It effectively barred publication of the evidence provided by Geoff Aberdein, Mr Salmond’s former chief of staff.
It ensured critical elements of Mr Salmond’s evidence were redacted, supposedly to protect the identity of the complainants, but ignoring the fact that the evidence had already been published on the website of The Spectator magazine.
So the inquiry was, absurdly, banned from speaking about evidence freely available to anyone with an internet connection.
The Crown Office even blocked the disclosure of relevant evidence from Mr Salmond’s criminal trial.
It is clear to me what the Scottish Government is trying to do. The acts of censorship and the redactions are not designed to protect the complainants. They are to protect the First Minister from accountability to the inquiry.
This is not acceptable in a mature Western democracy. A parliamentary committee should never be prevented from holding government to account.
The SNP-controlled Crown Office even has me in its sights, saying it will attempt to identify my source for the material I disclosed to the Commons. It clearly wishes to intimidate future whistleblowers from coming forward. But it is overreaching itself and I will not bow to its demands.
If Scottish police officers come down to my Yorkshire constituency, they can expect to receive a cup of tea and biscuit. But that is it. They will leave empty handed.
The Scottish Government, meanwhile, has turned its hand to discrediting the parliamentary committee. Miss Sturgeon has sought to dismiss it as partisan, saying opposition members had ‘made their minds up about me before I uttered a single word of evidence’.
I am in no doubt that the contempt shown to the committee will be extended to its conclusions.
For my part, had Miss Sturgeon simply said, ‘I obviously got this wrong, perhaps my memory was faulty,’ I would have argued against her resigning.
But her response and that of her spokesmen has been savage. And in standing by her story with such force, she is saying that her actions have has been deliberate and intentional. Intentionally misleading Parliament is a resignation offence and she must go.
My own involvement has not been about one politician or one party, however. It is about the imbalance in power between the Scottish Parliament and the executive, between the supposedly independent seat of Scottish democracy and the overweening power of the SNP.
These are failures on the part of Westminster as much as the Scottish Government. It is a matter for all of us in the United Kingdom.
We need to make the Scottish prosecution authorities – the Crown Office – properly independent of government. We must give the Scottish Parliament and its committees real powers to summon witnesses and protection for what they want to discuss or publish.
We must amend the Scotland Act 1998 to ensure the Scottish Parliament can truly hold the Government to account and bring its overweening executive to heel. But above all, we must draw a line once and for all under this sorry affair.
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