Ministers accused of blocking deeper probe into Nicola Sturgeon

Scottish ministers are accused of trying to block deeper probe into whether Nicola Sturgeon misled parliament over harassment claims against Alex Salmond

  • Deputy First Minister John Swinney has refused to request to widen the probe 
  • Alex Salmond accused successor of making ‘ridiculous’ and ‘wholly false’ claims
  • This was about their meetings to discuss the handling of complaints against him 
  • He claims that parliament ‘has been repeatedly misled on a number of occasions’ 
  • But Nicola Sturgeon is planning on hitting back at Salmond’s ‘absolute nonsense’
  • Salmond and Sturgeon’s appearances in front of inquiry delayed by Covid curbs

SNP ministers were today accused of trying to block a deeper investigation into whether Nicola Sturgeon misled parliament as her closest ally refused to widen the probe into the Alex Salmond affair.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney has refused to request a ministerial code of conduct probe be widened after Miss Sturgeon’s former mentor, Mr Salmond, accused the First Minister of ‘repeatedly’ misleading parliament.

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said: ‘The SNP are blatantly trying to block this investigation.’

Labour’s Jackie Baillie said: ‘The political culture in the SNP government is a nauseating cocktail of arrogance, secrecy and incompetence.’

Mr Swinney has refused to widen a probe into whether Nicola Sturgeon breached the ministerial code over the Alex Salmond affair.

The Deputy First Minister has refused to bow to pressure for a wider look at what Miss Sturgeon knew about the allegations against her former mentor.

The First Minister is already being investigated over possible breaches of the code of conduct by failing to disclose meetings with Mr Salmond. The meetings included discussions that Mr Salmond was facing complaints of sexual harassment made against him.

If the claims are proved to be true then it is likely Miss Sturgeon’s political career could be over – but her SNP deputy is not willing to widen the probe into the Salmond scandal

In an explosive intervention, the former First Minister (pictured in March) accused his successor of making ‘ridiculous’ and ‘wholly false’ claims about their meetings to discuss the handling of complaints against him

Mr Salmond has claimed the Scottish parliament was ‘repeatedly misled on a number of occasions’ by Miss Sturgeon about a meeting he held with her in April 2018. Members of the committee holding an inquiry into the handling of the harassment complaints against Mr Salmond have asked for the probe into Miss Sturgeon to include new revelations.

Covid curbs to delay key appearances of FM and her predecessor 

Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon’s appearances in front of a Holyrood inquiry will be delayed by Covid curbs.

Parliament business is being scaled back from this week due to the restrictions, which will see committee meetings held in a virtual format.

Mr Salmond had been due to give evidence to the committee examining the Government’s handling of harassment complaints next week, and Miss Sturgeon the following Tuesday. But it is understood these will be postponed to allow them to appear in person.

A parliament spokesman said the committee would consider its work programme next week and ‘can consider the format and timetabling of future witnesses at that point’.

But the Scottish Daily Mail can reveal Mr Swinney has rejected the bid and will not contact James Hamilton, QC, to ask that he extend the remit.

Scottish Government officials maintain Mr Hamilton’s inquiry can look at any potential breach of the ministerial code – but last night MSPs reacted with outrage.

Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said: ‘This stinks to high heaven. If I had nothing to hide and was being falsely accused of lying to parliament, I’d be jumping at the chance for the official exoneration that a live ministerial code investigation could offer.’

He is one of four MSPs who have written to Mr Swinney calling for the inquiry remit to be widened to include whether parliament was misled by Miss Sturgeon.

They also wrote to Mr Hamilton for clarification on whether he has the power to expand his remit without being asked. It came after a document written by Mr Salmond was published in which he accused Miss Sturgeon of repeatedly misleading Holyrood.

In the submission to Mr Hamilton’s inquiry, Mr Salmond said some of the information she had so far shared with MSPs had been ‘false and manifestly untrue’.

This relates to a meeting between Miss Sturgeon and Mr Salmond at the First Minister’s home in April 2018, when allegations against the ex-SNP leader were discussed.

Miss Sturgeon initially told Holyrood she first heard of the harassment complaints at this meeting on April 2. But it later emerged she had an informal meeting with Mr Salmond’s ex-aide, Geoff Aberdein, in her Holyrood office days earlier. She told the Holyrood inquiry ‘it did cover the suggestion that the matter might relate to allegations of a sexual nature,’ but claimed she ‘forgot’ about the encounter.

The letters from Mr Cole-Hamilton, Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie and Tories Murdo Fraser and Margaret Mitchell say Mr Hamilton’s inquiry must examine whether the SNP leader knowingly misled parliament.

If found to have done so, Miss Sturgeon will have breached the ministerial code and would be expected to resign. Miss Baillie said: ‘The unwillingness of the SNP Government to have legitimate scrutiny is truly a dark development for Scottish democracy.’

Mr Fraser said: ‘The SNP are blatantly trying to block this investigation because they know it exposes the First Minister.’

Ruth Davidson has said  Ms Sturgeon has questions to answer over her conduct and the decision to contest Mr Salmond’s judicial review

Allegations, discussions, denials and a ‘forgotten’ key meeting 

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: Miss Sturgeon meets Geoff Aberdein in her Scottish parliament office where she has admitted they discussed the possibility of a meeting with Mr Salmond. Miss 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: Miss Sturgeon and Mr Salmond meet at the First Minister’s home. According to Miss 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.

April 23, 2018: Miss Sturgeon and Mr Salmond hold a ‘substantive’ phone discussion. During this call, Miss Sturgeon claims that Mr Salmond asked whether she would speak to Leslie Evans about ‘mediation’ with the complainants. A special adviser was in the room at the time.

June 6, 2018: Miss Sturgeon writes to Mrs Evans to inform her that she has held discussions with Mr Salmond.

June 7, 2018: Miss Sturgeon again meets Mr Salmond, this time in Aberdeen ahead of the SNP party conference.

July 14, 2018: Miss Sturgeon meets Mr Salmond at her home near Glasgow.

July 18, 2018: Miss Sturgeon and Mr Salmond speak again on the phone. Miss Sturgeon said that ‘by this time’ she was ‘anxious – as party leader and from the perspective of preparing my party for any potential public issue – to know whether his handling of the matter meant it was likely to become public in the near future.’

This is the last time Miss Sturgeon and Mr Salmond speak. During this time they also exchange a number of WhatsApp messages in which they discuss the affair – including Mr Salmond’s decision to seek a judicial review over the government’s probe into the two complaints. He goes on to win this and is awarded £500,000 in legal fees.  

Miss Sturgeon insisted she did not mislead parliament and hit back at the claims from her predecessor. She said: ‘These are matters that are under investigation both by a parliamentary committee on inquiry and also by an independent adviser on matters relating to the ministerial code. I will set out my recollection of events and my account of events to both of those inquiries and people will draw their own conclusions.’

She added: ‘I do not consider I misled parliament but, of course, that is for others to judge.’

A Scottish Government spokesman said: ‘The Deputy First Minister already confirmed to parliament in November, in response to a parliamentary question, that the James Hamilton inquiry could look at any aspect of a potential breach of the ministerial code. We will not prejudge that process.’

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