Alex Salmond inquiry: Nicola Sturgeon reveals she wanted to help 'a friend in distress'

Nicola Sturgeon met with Alex Salmond to discuss historical sexual harassment allegations against him because she had been told he was “in distress”.

Wednesday, 7th October 2020, 11:34 am
Updated Wednesday, 7th October 2020, 12:12 pm
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon with Alex Salmond campaigning before their friendship broke down.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon with Alex Salmond campaigning before their friendship broke down.

In a fascinating 15-page submission to the Holyrood inquiry investigating the Scottish Government’s conduct over its own inquiry – which was later branded "unlawful” in the Court of Session and saw Mr Salmond awarded £512,000 – Ms Sturgeon lays bare the destruction of her 30-year friendship with her predecessor.

However, she states the introduction of the government policy, which ultimately enabled claims against the former first minister to be brought forward, was not done “because I had a concern that allegations about my predecessor could materialise”.

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Ms Sturgeon says that she did not get involved in any aspect of the inquiry and did not know it was underway until Mr Salmond told her at a meeting in her home in April 2018.

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She adds: “In what was a very difficult situation - personally, politically and professionally - I tried to do the right thing.

"Whether I always got it absolutely right is something I still reflect on, and the committee will consider, but I sought all along to act in good faith and to strike the right balance of judgement given the difficult issues I was confronted with.

“In the light of the #MeToo movement, I sought to ensure that the Scottish Government developed a process that allowed allegations of sexual harassment, including allegations of a historic nature, to be fully and fairly considered."

Ms Sturgeon discloses that she spoke with Mr Salmond's former advisor Geoff Aberdein in March 2018, who alerted her to the fact Mr Salmond wanted to see her urgently.

“I think it did cover the suggestion that the matter might relate to allegations of a sexual nature,” she says.

“The impression I had at this time was that Mr Salmond was in a state of considerable distress, and that he may be considering resigning his party membership.

“However, while I suspected the nature of what he wanted to tell me it was Alex Salmond who told me on the 2 April that he was being investigated under the Procedure [the Government inquiry] - and what the detail of the complaints was.”

She adds: "I suspected the reason Alex Salmond wanted to see me on 2 April was that he was facing an allegation of sexual misconduct.

"Although my contact with Mr Aberdein on 29 March 2018 may have contributed to that suspicion, it was not the only factor.”

Ms Sturgeon refers to the Sky News inquiry in November 2017 about allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of Alex Salmond at Edinburgh Airport.

She writes: “I spoke to Mr Salmond about this allegation at the time. He denied it and, as it happened, Sky did not run a story about it at that time.

“Since the identity of the individuals was not made known to us and they did not approach the SNP directly, there was no further action that it would have been possible to take.

“However, even though he assured me to the contrary, all of the circumstances surrounding this episode left me with a lingering concern that allegations about Mr Salmond could materialise at some stage.”

Ms Sturgeon admits that despite what she suspected, she agreed to meet with Mr Salmond for “political and personal” reasons; that he might resign from the SNP and she would need to deal with that publicly, and that he had been “closer to me than probably any other person outside my family for the past 30 years, and I was being told he was very upset and wanted to see me personally”.

She adds: “I agreed to meet a friend of 30 years when I was told he was in distress and wanted to talk to me about a serious matter.”

Publication of Ms Sturgeon’s evidence, including a transcript of WhatsApp messages between her and Mr Salmond in the run up to meetings in 2018 in which he appeared to want to discuss the government internal investigation into the claims against him, comes a week after she was accused of blocking the work of the committee.

Her statement continues: “It is certainly the case that I was anxious to prepare my party as far as possible for an issue that, at different stages, I thought could be about to become public.

"However, I did not seek to prevent or influence the proper consideration of the complaints.

“For the sake of the complainers, the Scottish Government and indeed Alex Salmond himself, I acted in a way that I judged would best protect the independence and confidentiality of the investigation. However, when I became aware of a serious risk of legal action against my government, I felt I had a duty to make the Permanent Secretary aware of it.”

Ms Sturgeon also states she had no communication with her party on the “subject matter relevant” to the committee's inquiry, other than approving SNP comments when the allegations became public in August 2018.

She reveals that her husband, SNP chief executive Peter Murrell was aware of Mr Salmond’s “presence” at their home on 2 April and 14 July 2018, but “was not present at the meetings and I did not share the detail with him.”

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