Alex Salmond inquiry: Former first minister brands Nicola Sturgeon’s account ‘simply untrue’ in leaked evidence
Alex Salmond has accused Nicola Sturgeon of lying and misleading Holyrood, calling her evidence to the inquiry into sexual harassment claims made against him “simply untrue” and "untenable".
The bombshell extracts of the former first minister’s evidence to James Hamilton's investigation into whether Ms Sturgeon breached the ministerial code were also shared with the Salmond inquiry.
First published in The Times, the evidence escalates the war of words between the two former friends.
Mr Salmond’s evidence to the inquiry accuses the First Minister of repeatedly breaching the ministerial code and of misleading the Scottish Parliament around the issue of allegations against him and the Scottish Government’s handling of those complaints.
But the claims have been denied in a statement issued on behalf of Ms Sturgeon, with the allegations labelled as “false conspiracy theories”.
Mr Salmond states that Ms Sturgeon’s evidence to the inquiry is “simply untrue”.
The inquiry is examining the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment complaints against Mr Salmond that led to a £500,000 payout from the Scottish Government after they conceded a judicial review case brought by the former first minister in January 2019.
Mr Salmond was also acquitted of sexual offence charges in a trial in Edinburgh last year.
Among the breaches of the ministerial code alleged by Mr Salmond include a failure on behalf of Ms Sturgeon to inform the civil service of her meetings with him in her home and allowing the Scottish Government to continue to contest the civil case despite legal advice that recommended it was conceded.
A spokesperson 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.
“The First Minister is concentrating on fighting the pandemic, stands by what she has said, and will address these matters in full when she appears at committee in the coming weeks.”
The ministerial code says any minister found to have knowingly misled Holyrood should offer their resignation.
Ms Sturgeon has been accused of misleading Parliament around two meetings, one with Mr Salmond on April 2, 2018, and one with his former chief of staff Geoff Aberdein on March 29, 2018.
She has consistently said the meeting with Mr Salmond was taken in the belief he was to quit the SNP and was therefore party business.
The First Minister said she had forgotten the March meeting in her evidence to the committee and to Parliament and has regularly denied there was a conspiracy against Mr Salmond.
In his evidence, Mr Salmond claims there “was never the slightest doubt” the meeting in March was to arrange the subsequent meeting with Mr Salmond and that it had been arranged to discuss the allegations and the Scottish Government’s handling of them.
The evidence states: “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.
“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.”
The evidence continues: “Further, the repeated representation to the Parliament of the meeting on April 2, 2018 as being a ‘party’ meeting because it proceeded in ignorance of the complaints is false and manifestly untrue.
"The meeting on April 2, 2018 was arranged as a direct consequence of the prior meeting about the complaints held in the Scottish Parliament on March 29, 2018.”
Mr Salmond said the Scottish Government knew legal advice meant their case was “unstateable” as early as October 31 and only conceded after their lawyers threatened to quit.
Both Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon are expected to give evidence to the inquiry in coming weeks.
In response, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Douglas Ross, launched a blistering attack on the First Minister and said he expected to see her resign if Mr Salmond’s evidence was proven to be true.
Accusing the First Minister of “shocking, deliberate and corrupt actions”, the MP said the submission was “clear evidence of Nicola Sturgeon abusing her power to deceive the Scottish public”.
He said: “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.
“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.”
Scottish Labour deputy leader and member of the harassment committee, Jackie Baillie, said the allegations “demand answers” and could end Ms Sturgeon’s political career.
She said: “Alex Salmond’s explosive allegations demand answers from the First Minister to the committee.
“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.”
Alex Cole-Hamilton, the Liberal Democrat member of the committee, said: “These revelations cast real doubt over the First Minister's account of events and it is now imperative that the ministerial code inquiry be expanded to ascertain whether she misled Parliament.
"This is yet another potential failure of the women at the heart of this."