Alex Salmond has accused Nicola Sturgeon of breaking Scottish Government rules by giving “untrue” accounts of the circumstances surrounding a meeting to discuss harassment allegations against him.
The explosive claims concern the meeting between the two politicians at Ms Sturgeon’s family home on April 2 2018 and have been made by Mr Salmond in a document submitted to MSPs.
Mr Salmond claimed Ms Sturgeon broke the Ministerial Code, which governs ministers’ conduct, on several occasions and misled parliament – allegations which, if found to be true, could spell the end of her political career.
Ms Sturgeon rejected Mr Salmond’s claims that she had breached the code, accusing her predecessor of attempting to malign her reputation by “spinning false conspiracy theories”.
There is now clear evidence of Nicola Sturgeon abusing her power to deceive the Scottish public. If this proves to be correct, it is a resignation matter.”
Douglas Ross, Scottish Conservative leader
The war of words between the two most important politicians in SNP history underlined the dramatic and bitter deterioration of their once-close relationship.
The document has been submitted to an investigation being led by James Hamilton, a former Irish prosecutor, into whether Ms Sturgeon broke the ministerial code. It is also to be passed to the Holyrood committee probing the Scottish Government’s handling of the harassment claims made against Mr Salmond.
We should always remember that the roots of this issue lie in complaints made by women about Alex Salmond’s behaviour whilst he was first minister, aspects of which he has conceded. It is not surprising therefore that he continues to try to divert focus from that by seeking to malign the reputation of the first minister and by spinning false conspiracy theories.”
Nicola Sturgeon’s spokesman
Meeting at Sturgeon’s home
At the heart of Mr Salmond’s claims is Ms Sturgeon’s version of events surrounding the April 2 meeting, which she told the Scottish Parliament was the first time that she learned of the harassment claims.
But since her statement to MSPs, it has emerged she took part in a meeting with Mr Salmond’s former chief of staff, Geoff Aberdein, a few days before, on March 28 2018, at which the harassment allegations were discussed.
In her evidence to Holyrood’s Salmond inquiry, Ms Sturgeon said her meeting with Mr Aberdein had slipped her mind when she updated parliament, although she acknowledged the suggestion that it might have covered matters of a sexual nature.
In the past, Ms Sturgeon has said she took part in the meeting at her home on April 2 in her capacity as SNP leader, rather than as first minister, because she thought Mr Salmond might be about to resign from the party.
But Mr Salmond maintained Ms Sturgeon had been aware that their encounter was to discuss the Scottish Government’s investigation into him – a government rather than party matter – which he ultimately challenged successfully in the civil courts.
Under the ministerial code, ministers are required to record government business and ensure the administration complies with the law. A minister found to have knowingly misled Holyrood “will be expected to offer their resignation”.
Ms Sturgeon did not tell Leslie Evans, the permanent secretary, of her contact with Mr Salmond until June 6.
Mr Salmond argued that there “was never the slightest doubt” the first minister’s meeting with Mr Aberdein was to discuss the complaints and arrange the April 2 meeting, adding that any other suggestion was “simply untrue”.
“The pre-arranged meeting in the Scottish parliament of March 29 2018 was ‘forgotten’ about because acknowledging it would have rendered ridiculous the claim made by the first minister in parliament that it had been believed that the meeting on April 2 was on SNP party business and thus held at her private residence,” Mr Salmond said.
“All participants in that meeting were fully aware of what the meeting was about and why it had been arranged. The meeting took place with a shared understanding of the issues for discussion — the complaints made and the Scottish government procedure which had been launched. The first minister’s claim that it was ever thought to be about anything other than the complaints made against me is wholly false.”
Mr Salmond added: “The first minister told Parliament that she first learned of the complaints against me when I visited her home on April 2 2018. That is untrue and is a breach of the Ministerial Code.”
Mr Salmond successfully took the Scottish Government to a judicial review over its handling of the allegations against him – a victory that cost the taxpayer more than £500,000 to help cover his legal costs.
In his document, Mr Salmond accused the government of continuing to fight the case despite possessing legal advice suggesting that it would lose.
Mr Salmond said the first minister had legal advice from external counsel by October 31 2018 “at the very latest” that the government was likely to lose and found to have acted unlawfully.
“Despite this the legal action was continued until early January 2019 and was only conceded after both government external counsel threatened to resign from the case, which they considered to be unstateable,” Mr Salmond’s document said.
“This, on any reading, is contrary to section 2.30 of the Ministerial Code.”
Salmond ‘continues to try to divert focus’
But a spokesman for Ms Sturgeon said: “The first minister entirely rejects Mr Salmond’s claims about the Ministerial Code.
“We should always remember that the roots of this issue lie in complaints made by women about Alex Salmond’s behaviour whilst he was first minister, aspects of which he has conceded.
“It is not surprising therefore that he continues to try to divert focus from that by seeking to malign the reputation of the first minister and by spinning false conspiracy theories.”
Sturgeon’s ‘tall tales’
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said that if Mr Salmond’s version of events is proved correct Ms Sturgeon should resign as first minister.
“Alex Salmond, the very person who knows exactly what Nicola Sturgeon did behind the scenes and precisely what happened in their meetings, has now said she ‘misled’ the Scottish Parliament and ‘broke’ the Ministerial Code.
“There are witnesses and there appears to be a mountain of evidence that confirms Nicola Sturgeon knew of the allegations before she claimed to find out.
“Nobody ever bought Nicola Sturgeon’s tall tales to have suddenly turned forgetful, especially about the devastating moment she found out of sexual harassment allegations against her friend and mentor of 30 years.
“This evidence looks to show that she lied about the secret meeting with Salmond’s former chief of staff and, ever since, she has been trying to cover it up by inventing an increasingly implausible story.
“What has been revealed are allegations of shocking, deliberate and corrupt actions at the heart of government. There is now clear evidence of Nicola Sturgeon abusing her power to deceive the Scottish public.”
Mr Ross added: “If this proves to be correct, it is a resignation matter. No first minister, at any time, can be allowed to get away with repeatedly and blatantly lying to the Scottish Parliament and breaking the Ministerial Code.”
‘It is vital the first minister tells the truth’
Labour’s Jackie Baillie, who sits on the Salmond inquiry, said: “The bombshell accusation that Nicola Sturgeon has broken the Ministerial Code has the potential to end her political career and demands a robust and honest answer from the first minister.
“This committee demands truthfulness and honesty from every witness it calls – it is vital that the first minister tells the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth when she appears before the committee.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The first minister and the permanent secretary stand by what has been said to parliament and in written evidence to the committee.
“The permanent secretary has also already provided detailed answers in person to the committee and will provide further oral evidence on Tuesday. The first minister looks forward to answering questions when she appears later this month.”