Scottish Conservative Holyrood leader Ruth Davidson has continued to heap pressure on Nicola Sturgeon over claims the first minister has broken the ministerial code, calling for her to resign.
In a heated exchange during first minister’s questions, Ms Davidson and the first minister went head to head over allegations the SNP did not hand over legal evidence early enough to the committee into the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment complaints against Alex Salmond.
Nicola Sturgeon said she answered “every question” put to her on Thursday and would now “rest on that to allow the committee and inquiry on the ministerial code to conclude their work”.
She added: “I’ll leave Ruth Davidson and the Conservatives to play the political games they seem to prioritise over everything else.
“It’s not about due process, it’s about political desperation on the part of the Conservatives.”
However, Ms Davidson criticised the first minister over the fact it took four months for the Scottish Government to provide its legal advice, following the threat of a vote of no confidence in Deputy First Minister John Swinney.
The Scottish Conservative leader at Holyrood argued that government legal advice against Mr Salmond’s judicial review revealed the case was “more likely to fail than succeed” nine weeks before the case was eventually conceded.
She added: “Because of the legal advice that had to be dragged from this government, under a threat of no confidence, we know that for weeks this government was definitively and beyond any doubt, ignoring legal advice, but the case only became unstateable so late because this government withheld crucial documents for so long.”
The first minister said: “That’s just simply not true.
“On December 11, the law officers were very clear – and the information on this has been published – and I think the quote from the law officers summarised in the note that was published in advance of yesterday was that there was no question that the case should be dropped.
“On the contrary, there were credible arguments to be made across the petition, including on the issue of the appointment of the investigating officer.”
‘Very serious mistake’
The SNP leader was grilled by the committee on Thursday, where she admitted there had been a “very serious mistake” in the government’s botched investigation.
The Scottish Government launched an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment by the former first minister, but it was found to be unlawful and “tainted by apparent bias” because of prior contact between the investigating officer and two of the women who complained.
Redacted legal advice published by the Scottish Government on Tuesday evening showed that lawyers advised them 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’.”
‘The worst in our politics’
Newly elected Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar made his first outing at FMQ’s where he claimed “integrity” must be restored in the Scottish Government.
He said the exchanges between Ms Sturgeon and Ms Davidson “represented the worst in our politics”.
Mr Sarwar also pressed the first minister to commit to release the report on a separate inquiry by James Hamilton QC into whether she broke the ministerial code, on the day it is published, to which she agreed.
He said: “I’m pleased the first minister has provided a cast-iron guarantee that the government will release the report on the ministerial code without delay or obstruction on the day that it is handed over – and we will hold the government to that promise.
“We need to remove party and personality from this. A minister – any minister – who is found in breach of the ministerial code should resign.”
The first minister said Thursday’s evidence session provided a “glimpse” into some of the “values at play with the Conservatives”, claiming Tory MSP Margaret Mitchell appeared to be suggesting the first minister should have intervened in the process to “effectively sweep the allegations against Mr Salmond under the carpet”.
Ms Sturgeon also hit out at Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser who she said “asked me to apologise for the inappropriate behaviour of a man”, after Mr Fraser asked her if she owed the Scottish people an apology for having previously told them they should trust the former first minister.
The SNP leader told the committee she had learned things about Alex Salmond “over the past couple of years that have made me rethink certain things I thought about him”.
Mr Salmond was cleared of 13 charges, including sexual assault, indecent assault and attempted rape, following a trial last year.
The first minister also updated MSPs on the latest Covid-19 figures.
She said there is “much to feel optimistic about” with the number of cases falling, numbers in hospital falling and the vaccination programme progressing “extremely well”.
However, Ms Sturgeon urged the public “not to throw caution to the wind” with case numbers remaining high and the threat of new variants.
There was a total of 500 new cases reported in the last 24 hours – representing 2.5% of all tests carried out.
A total of 726 people are in hospital, 24 fewer than Wednesday, and 69 people are in intensive care, which is one fewer.
A further 24 deaths have been registered in the last 24 hours with three others added which were registered but not included in the published total until Thursday.
The first minister also gave an update on the vaccination programme, revealing that 1,688,808 people have received their first dose of the vaccine, up 26,729 since Thursday.
In addition, 100,058 people have now received their second dose, an increase of 7,508 in the last 24 hours.
A total of 95% of 65 to 69-year-olds have now had their first dose and 37% of 60 to 64-year-olds, 31% of 55 to 59-year-olds and 26% of 50 to 54-year-olds.