An investigation into whether Nicola Sturgeon breached the ministerial code of conduct over the handling of sexual misconduct allegations against former first minister Alex Salmond has been kickstarted.
An independent inquiry will examine whether Ms Sturgeon broke Holyrood rules by meeting Mr Salmond and failing to record the conversations while the Scottish Government investigated harassment complaints against him.
The probe was put on hold during a criminal investigation by Police Scotland and the subsequent trial of Mr Salmond, in which he was acquitted of all charges.
It was delayed further by the coronavirus outbreak but deputy first minister John Swinney confirmed on Monday the inquiry will now go ahead “in light of the progress that has been made” in tackling the pandemic.
In a written answer to SNP MSP Clare Adamson, Mr Swinney confirmed Ms Sturgeon’s self-referral to the Scottish Government’s panel of independent advisers will go ahead “as soon as possible”.
The probe, which will be led by former director of public prosecutions in Ireland James Hamilton, will investigate whether Ms Sturgeon breached the code by failing to “feed back the basic facts of meetings and discussions” with Mr Salmond.
Ms Sturgeon is said to have met Mr Salmond’s former chief of staff, Geoff Aberdein, at the Scottish Parliament on March 29 in 2018, and with Mr Salmond at her home on April 2 and July 14 the same year.
She also met Mr Salmond at the 2018 SNP conference in Aberdeen on June 7 and had two telephone conversations with him, on April 23 and July 18.
According to the code of conduct, ministers discussing official business without an official present should ensure any “significant content” is passed back to their private offices as soon as possible so the “basic facts” of the meeting can be recorded.
It has been suggested in light of the meetings, Ms Sturgeon “may have attempted to influence the conduct of the investigation” being undertaken by the Scottish Government’s permanent secretary, Leslie Evans.
The inquiry will attempt to determine whether there is any evidence Ms Sturgeon tried to use information discussed during her conversations to influence the conduct of the Scottish Government’s investigation.
It will have powers to review documents relating to discussions between the two former SNP leaders and interviews will be conducted with anyone who may have “knowledge of the facts and content of the meetings and discussions”.
Mr Hamilton will also be free to interview any “relevant person outwith the Scottish Government”, including Mr Salmond.
Mr Salmond later challenged the Scottish Government’s handling of the investigation in court, where it was ruled to be biased and unlawful. The affair, which cost more than £500,000 of public money, is now being examined by a Holyrood committee.
Mr Swinney confirmed a separate review into Scottish Government procedures which underpinned its investigation into Alex Salmond. Laura Dunlop QC will lead the review and advise on any necessary changes.