Nicola Sturgeon rejects claims over Alex Salmond inquiry evidence

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Nicola SturgeonImage source, PA Media

Nicola Sturgeon has said she stands by "every word" of her evidence to the Alex Salmond committee amid renewed pressure from political opponents.

A spokesperson for the first minister accused the committee of politically-motivated smears and rejected some of the findings which have emerged from the unpublished report.

The Scottish Conservatives have called for Ms Sturgeon to resign.

The committee's convener has expressed "dismay" at the leaks to the media.

The full report is due to be published on Tuesday.

Those parts which are critical of Ms Sturgeon were agreed by five votes to four, with the SNP members on the cross-party committee voting against.

The committee said it was "hard to believe" that Ms Sturgeon did not know of concerns of inappropriate behaviour by Mr Salmond before November 2017 - which is when she says she was first alerted to any issues.

The BBC understands that the report will say that if Ms Sturgeon did have such knowledge, then she should have acted upon it.

The report also concluded that Ms Sturgeon gave an "inaccurate account" of what happened when she met Mr Salmond at her home on 2 April 2018, and had misled the committee.

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Image caption,
The report says permanent secretary Leslie Evans should have been informed earlier

And the committee said it was concerned that Ms Sturgeon did not notify the government's permanent secretary, Leslie Evans, about that meeting until 6 June 2018.

The report says: "She should have made the permanent secretary aware as soon as possible after the 2 April 2018 meeting, at which point she should have confirmed she would cease contact with Alex Salmond."

The report is also expected to be highly critical of Ms Evans.

A spokesperson for the first minister said on Friday that she had told the truth to the committee, and stood by "every word of her evidence".

The spokesperson said the suggestion that the committee had found it "hard to believe" that she did not previously know about allegations of inappropriate behaviour by Mr Salmond was "not supported by a single shred of evidence".

"On this, the committee appears to have resorted to baseless assertion, supposition and smear - that is not how serious parliamentary committees are supposed to work, and in behaving this way they are simply exposing their base political motives," said the statement.

The spokesperson also accused the committee of ignoring and suppressing evidence which supported Ms Sturgeon's evidence that she told Mr Salmond in April 2018 that she would not intervene on his behalf.

However, the Scottish Conservatives say that if the first minister does not resign by Tuesday, they will seek to hold a vote of no confidence in her on Wednesday.

The party's Holyrood leader Ruth Davidson said: "If Nicola Sturgeon has a shred of integrity, she should be considering her position. She has every opportunity to do the right thing and resign.

"No first minister is above the fundamental principles of honesty and trust. There is no question that Nicola Sturgeon has misled parliament and broken the promises she made to tell the truth.

"The SNP's erratic outburst today against the committee shows the panicked spiral they are now in."

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Alex Salmond gave evidence to the committee last month

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he would not "prejudge" the outcome of the report

But he said that if the report found the first minister had misled parliament, and potentially broken the ministerial code, then it would be "incredibly serious".

"The code itself is clear, if the code has been breached the individual should resign," he said.

However, Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie said the process had "turned into a complete farce", with "party politics over-riding the public interest".

Within a week, Holyrood will be on a break for the election and a six-week campaign for votes will be under way.

We know there will be arguments over coronavirus recovery and indyref2, but there will also be another major theme: truth and trust.

That debate will feed off the two reports due in the next few days on the Scottish government's mishandling of harassment complaints against Alex Salmond.

When the Holyrood committee publishes its findings on Tuesday, we know the opposition majority will conclude that Nicola Sturgeon gave them a misleading account, which the first minister denies.

A separate independent investigation by Ireland's former prosecution chief, James Hamilton, will decide whether or not the first minister broke conduct rules and recommend sanctions, if required.

The Conservatives have already decided Ms Sturgeon lied to parliament and should resign, and they intend to hold a vote of no confidence in her on Wednesday if she does not quit.

With the continued support of the Scottish Greens, the first minister can survive what she regards as a nakedly political attempt to oust her and let the public decide whether she should remain in office.

There has never been a Holyrood election campaign curtain-raiser anything like this.

The committee's convener, SNP MSP Linda Fabiani, expressed her anger that "accounts of the conclusions of the draft report" had been leaked to the media.

"I am dismayed by the damage this may do to the value of the committee's work, which I have long hoped would improve the treatment of the complainers of sexual harassment," she said.

"The selective leaking of particular committee recommendations has shifted the focus away from these goals, and the recommendations which seek to achieve it, and onto party political terrain which will likely frustrate, not assist, the women at the heart of this."

The inquiry is examining the Scottish government's botched handling of sexual harassment complaints made against Mr Salmond by two female civil servants.

The former first minister was awarded more than £500,000 in legal expenses following a judicial review, and was subsequently acquitted of sexual assault charges in a High Court trial.

A separate inquiry into whether Ms Sturgeon breached the ministerial code is being carried out by James Hamilton, a senior Irish lawyer. He is also expected to publish his report in the coming days.