Why is Nicola Sturgeon facing calls to resign? Everything you need to know about the Alex Salmond inquiry

Luke O'Reilly
·6-min read
<p>Alex Salmond addressed the inquiry last week</p> (PA)

Alex Salmond addressed the inquiry last week

(PA)

The inquiry into the Scottish Government’s investigation of sexual harassment claims made against Alex Salmond has reportedly concluded that Nicola Sturgeon misled Holyrood.

MSPs on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints Committee voted 5-4 that the First Minister gave an “inaccurate” account of a meeting with her predecessor during the live investigation, according to a source.

This would amount to misleading the Scottish Parliament.

Ms Sturgeon faced calls from the Scottish Conservatives to resign after two witnesses backed up Mr Salmond’s claim that she misled parliament about a meeting with her predecessor.

But the First Minister 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 told Sky News on Thursday that a “very partisan leak” from the Alex Salmond inquiry is “not that surprising”.

The Government’s investigation of the allegations was found to be “tainted by apparent bias” after it emerged the investigating officer had prior contact with two of the women who made complaints.

First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, leaves her home in Glasgow to head to Holyrood in Edinburgh to give evidence to the Scottish Parliament's inquiryPA
First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, leaves her home in Glasgow to head to Holyrood in Edinburgh to give evidence to the Scottish Parliament's inquiryPA

Here’s everything you need to know:

Why was the committee established?

The Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints was set up to look into the Scottish Government investigation of the allegations against the former first minister.

MSPs have so far taken evidence from civil servants, including repeated sessions from Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans, trade unions and SNP chief executive Peter Murrell – who is First Minister Ms Sturgeon’s husband, as well as Mr Salmond himself.

Why did Mr Salmond take legal action?

The former first minister did not feel his treatment by the Scottish Government was fair.

It was later found that the lead investigator of the complaints had prior contact with some of the female complainers, with Judge Lord Pentland saying the investigation was “tainted with apparent bias”.

How has the Alex Salmond inquiry gone so far?

The committee has repeatedly voiced frustration with how slow the handing of evidence has been from a number of parties.

The Scottish Government was accused of obstruction last year, with the committee saying it was “completely frustrated” with the lack of evidence.

Both the committee and the Scottish Government were at loggerheads over legal advice provided as part of the judicial review process. MSPs wanted to know when the Scottish Government was advised it would likely lose the challenge raised by Mr Salmond, but ministers said handing over the advice would breach the ministerial code.

On two occasions, MSPs voted for the evidence to be released, with a deal eventually being struck in December to reveal the advice only to MSPs on the committee.

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’”.

Alex Salmond making his opening statement to the Scottish Parliament committee on February 26PA
Alex Salmond making his opening statement to the Scottish Parliament committee on February 26PA

Last week Mr Salmond claimed “Scotland’s leadership has failed” as he launched a blistering attack on Ms Sturgeon during his appearance at the Scottish Parliament inquiry.

Didn’t Mr Salmond face trial on sexual misconduct charges?

Yes. The former first minister was cleared of 13 charges at the High Court in Edinburgh in March last year after being arrested in January 2019.

What is Ms Sturgeon saying?

Ms Sturgeon told Sky News that she stands by all of the evidence she gave to the committee.

“What’s been clear is that opposition members of this committee made their minds up about me before I muttered a single word of evidence, their public comments have made that clear,” said the First Minister.

“So this leak from the committee – very partisan leak – tonight before they’ve finalised the report is not that surprising.”

She added that she is awaiting the result of the James Hamilton QC investigation into whether she broke the ministerial code.

The decision is likely to increase pressure on Ms Sturgeon to stand down before May’s election, although it is unclear whether the act was deemed a resignation-worthy offence.

Ms Sturgeon has previously insisted "I would never have wanted to 'get' Alex Salmond", telling the committee she had "no motive, intention, (or) desire" for such action against her predecessor.

The First Minister rejected the "absurd suggestion that anyone acted with malice or as part of a plot against Alex Salmond", saying the "claim is not based in any fact". She added: "There is nothing here that the Government has to hide."

Ms Sturgeon told MSPs the details of complaints against Mr Salmond were "shocking" and his behaviour "was not always appropriate".

She said Mr Salmond's account to her of his "deeply inappropriate behaviour" is a "moment in my life that I will never forget", as she maintained she did not intervene in the Scottish Government's investigation into her predecessor as First Minister.

The First Minister 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.

What were the issues with Mr Salmond’s evidence?

Mr Salmond and the committee have been wrangling in recent weeks over evidence published by the inquiry.

Earlier this month, the former first minister said he would not appear after the committee decided not to publish his submission to a separate investigation into whether Nicola Sturgeon breached the ministerial code over fears it may identify some of the complainers in Mr Salmond’s criminal trial last year.

However, an alteration made to a court order by Judge Lady Dorrian meant the evidence could potentially be made public.

The then First Minister Alex Salmond (left) greeting the then Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon after her speech at the SNP Spring Conference in Aberdeen in 2014PA
The then First Minister Alex Salmond (left) greeting the then Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon after her speech at the SNP Spring Conference in Aberdeen in 2014PA

While the committee voted against publication, the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB) made the decision to publish anyway.

The evidence, which was released on Monday evening, was online for less than 24 hours before the Crown Office raised concerns with Holyrood about it, asking for redactions to be made.

In his submission, the former first minister accused some in the Scottish Government and SNP of a “malicious and concerted attempt to damage my reputation and remove me from public life in Scotland”.

Ms Sturgeon said her predecessor did not have “a shred of evidence” to support his claims.

On Tuesday morning, the submission was re-released, with a number of paragraphs relating to the set-up of a meeting between Mr Salmond and his successor redacted.

Is the committee inquiry the only investigation into the matter?

No. Ms Sturgeon is currently under investigation by James Hamilton QC to establish if she breached the ministerial code.

Ms Sturgeon referred herself after being accused of misleading Parliament over when she knew of the complaints against Mr Salmond.

She previously said she had been told about the allegations by Mr Salmond himself during a meeting in her home on April 2, 2018.

However, it was later found that Mr Salmond’s former chief of staff Geoff Aberdein had met with the First Minister in her Holyrood office four days prior to that, where she was told of the complaints.

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