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Sturgeon faces questioning at Salmond inquiry amid calls to resign

Tom Eden, PA Scotland
·4 min read

Nicola Sturgeon will make her long-awaited appearance before the Holyrood inquiry into her government’s unlawful investigation of Alex Salmond on Wednesday, amid calls for her to resign.

The First Minister has insisted there is not “a shred of evidence” to support her former mentor’s claim there was a “malicious and concerted” attempt to see him removed from public life and she has consistently denied breaching the ministerial code.

Ms Sturgeon is facing calls from the Scottish Conservatives to step down after two witnesses backed up Alex Salmond’s claim that she misled parliament about a meeting with her predecessor.

Written evidence from both Duncan Hamilton – a former SNP MSP and lawyer for Mr Salmond – and the SNP’s former communications director Kevin Pringle, contradict Ms Sturgeon’s statements to parliament and her submission to a Holyrood inquiry.

The Scottish Government launched an investigation into the former first minister after a number of women came forward with allegations of sexual harassment.

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 for legal fees.

Mr Salmond was later acquitted of 13 charges following a criminal trial at Edinburgh’s High Court.

At the evidence session on Wednesday morning, Ms Sturgeon is likely to face questions about when she first knew about the allegations against her predecessor.

She originally told parliament she became aware of the investigation when Mr Salmond told her at her Glasgow home on April 2 2018, but subsequently had to admit to having “forgotten” a meeting four days earlier with his former chief of staff, Geoff Aberdein, in which the investigation was reportedly discussed.

Ms Sturgeon also claims she believed the April 2 meeting was about party business rather than government business – and therefore would not have to have been recorded by a civil servant – but Mr Salmond asserts that there was “no doubt” it was about the Government’s investigation of him.

Opponents have accused her of breaching the ministerial code for misleading parliament about the meetings with Mr Salmond and Mr Aberdein, and a failure to record them in line with the requirements for ministers.

Ms Sturgeon has denied the claims, which are being investigated by a separate inquiry led by James Hamilton QC, and refused to say whether she would resign if found to have broken the ministerial code.

Asked about the meetings and the investigation during his appearance on Friday, Mr Salmond said: “Whether she had any prior knowledge of it I cannot say, but I know that she knew on March 29.

“The meeting on March 29 was not impromptu, was not accidental, was not popping your head around the door.

“It was a meeting arranged for that purpose and the meeting on April 2 was not popping into Nicola and Peter [Murrell]’s home, it was a meeting arranged for that purpose.”

On Tuesday evening the Scottish Government published legal advice related to the botched investigation into allegations of sexual harassment by Mr Salmond.

It showed that lawyers advised ministers in September 2018 that there “is a real risk that the court may be persuaded by the petitioner’s case in respect of the ground of challenge based on ‘procedural unfairness’”.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross called on Ms Sturgeon to resign and said the party would be submitting a vote of no confidence in her.

Ahead of her appearance before the Holyrood committee, Ms Sturgeon had said she was looking forward to challenging the claims made about her “head on”.

Harassment allegation committee hearing
Former first minister Alex Salmond gave evidence under oath last week (Andy Buchanan/PA)

Speaking at First Minister’s Questions, Ms Sturgeon said: “I’ve had accusations levelled at me for two years.

“I’ve not been able to answer those fully because of ongoing criminal proceedings and latterly out of respect to the process of this committee.

“It’s not me that’s refusing to sit in front of the committee – I’m relishing the prospect of doing that.

“Then people can hear my account and they can make up their own minds.”

At a Scottish Government coronavirus briefing last week, she added: “I want to get in front of this committee to answer every and all questions that people have of me, to address all the issues that people have and to rebut, frankly, head on and very directly, some of the wild, untrue, false and baseless claims.”