Nicola Sturgeon should not resign says Jeane Freeman
The Conservatives’ leader at Holyrood said they would move forward with a vote of no confidence in the First Minister on Wednesday after the committee probing the affair concluded it is “hard to believe” the First Minister did not know earlier of concerns about her mentor’s alleged behaviour towards women than she has claimed. Further damaging leaks from the probe’s report, due to be published on Tuesday, found that “if she did have such knowledge, she has misled the committee”. It heaped further pressure on the embattled SNP leader to quit, just weeks before the Holyrood election.
As she battled to save her career, Ms Sturgeon’s office accused the inquiry of smears, claiming that MSPs had “deliberately ignored and suppressed evidence”.
But Ms Davidson offered her “a last chance” to quit or face a vote of no confidence next week.
Condemning the First Minister’s “erratic outburst”, Ms 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.”
Ms Sturgeon claims the first concerns she heard came when she was informed of a media inquiry in November 2017 involving allegations about Mr Salmond’s behaviour towards Edinburgh Airport staff.
Nicola Sturgeon is being pushed to step down after lie revelations
Ms Sturgeon was Mr Salmond’s deputy for a decade, including seven years as deputy first minister.
He has previously said he was “no saint” but insisted that he had never “sexually harassed anyone”. Mr Salmond was cleared of all criminal charges of sexual misconduct, alleged to have taken place between 2008 and 2014, at his trial last year.
The inquiry examined the botched handling by the Scottish Government of two harassment complaints against Mr Salmond, in 2018.
A judicial review found the investigation was unlawful and “tainted by apparent bias”. Mr Salmond was awarded more than £500,000 in legal costs.
The committee voted by a five to four majority that Ms Sturgeon gave an “inaccurate” account of a meeting with Mr Salmond at her home, and therefore misled parliament.
Ms Sturgeon has described the news as a “very partisan leak” from the inquiry and said it was “not that surprising”.
Alex Salmond was cleared of all criminal charges
She alleged some opposition committee members had made up their minds before she had given her evidence.
A separate inquiry by James Hamilton QC into whether she broke the ministerial code – usually a resignation matter – is also expected to report shortly. If that finds she broke the code, Ms Sturgeon has signalled that she will refuse to step down and instead give voters the final verdict in the election on May 6.
In her eight-hour evidence session earlier this month, Ms Sturgeon told the committee she had asked Mr Salmond about the Edinburgh Airport claims at the time but he denied them and no further action was taken as Sky did not run the story.
However, she said the episode left her with “a lingering concern that allegations about Mr Salmond could materialise at some stage”.
Mr Salmond told the committee: “It wouldn’t have been front page news in any newspaper if it had ever been published at the time, given what I know about it.
“That was, in all my years in public life, the first indication of anything of that nature, in November 2017, and it came from a report 10 years ago.
“The Sky News story was never broadcast, of course, and there’s a good reason for it never being broadcast.”
Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon held a meeting at her home on April 2, 2018 to discuss the Scottish Government’s investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against him.
She has repeatedly insisted she did not offer to intervene but this was contradicted by Mr Salmond and Duncan Hamilton, a former SNP MSP who was also present. In written
evidence, Mr Hamilton said: “We discussed mediation. My clear recollection is that her words were, ‘If it comes to it, I will intervene’.”
The four SNP MSPs on the committee voted to back Ms Sturgeon’s account but the five opposition members, including independent Andy Wightman, thought, on the balance of probabilities, Mr Salmond and Mr Hamilton were telling the truth.
Nicola Sturgeon was accused of deliberately withholding information
Their report is believed to criticise Ms Sturgeon for two phone calls and three meetings with Mr Salmond while he was facing the investigation.
A spokesperson for the First Minister insisted the latest leak is “not supported by a single shred of evidence”.
The spokesperson added: “Sadly, she is not the first woman let down by a man she once trusted to face that charge, and regrettably she is unlikely to be the last. 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.
“And on the suggestion that the First Minister was not clear to Mr Salmond that she would not intervene on his behalf, the committee appear to have deliberately ignored and suppressed evidence submitted to them which corroborates the First Minister’s evidence on that issue.”
Green MSP Patrick Harvie, whose party will likely determine the fate of the first minister, claimed the inquiry is a “farce” and is after a “political scalp”.
He said: “I’ve never seen a committee process more compromised by leaks, MSPs pre-judging the evidence, and party politics overriding the public interest. What should have been an examination of how women were failed and how we could prevent that from happening again has turned into a complete farce.”