Calls for Nicola Sturgeon ministerial breach probe to be extended

An investigation into claims that Nicola Sturgeon breached the ministerial code over meetings with Alex Salmond should be extended to consider whether Parliament was misled, opponents have said

Monday, 12th October 2020, 4:45 pm
Updated Monday, 12th October 2020, 6:39 pm
Nicola Sturgeon met Alex Salmond while he was under investigation
Nicola Sturgeon met Alex Salmond while he was under investigation

The SNP leader has already referred herself to a panel of independent advisers on the ministerial code over the three meetings and two phone calls she had with Mr Salmond while a civil service investigation into complaints against him was underway.

But Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton has today filed parliamentary questions asking whether this investigation could look at further alleged breaches relating to incorrect statements made by the First Minister to Parliament.

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Ms Sturgeon had previously said she was first made aware of complaints against her predecessor when he told her in a meeting at her home on 2nd April 2018. It has since emerged that she was told about the complaints in a meeting a few days earlier in a meeting with Salmond's former advisor Geoff Aberdein.

Ms Sturgeon has said this was a "fleeting" meeting at the end of a long day and she forgot about the reference to the allegations against Mr Salmond. When her predecessor revealed the full details at the subsequent meeting this was "seared in her memory."

But Mr Cole-Hamilton said: "As it stands the Independent Adviser, James Hamilton, is tasked with investigating alleged ministerial code breaches relating to the series of meetings between the First Minister, her predecessor and his Chief of Staff.

"However, the revelations of recent weeks suggest that the First Minister may also have misled Parliament about what she knew and when. In light of these revelations, which could represent a further breach of the ministerial code, I believe the remit of Mr Hamilton’s inquiry should be widened to include these prospective breaches.

"This would allow an independent expert, above the party-political fray, to determine whether the First Minister knowingly didn’t tell the truth to our national parliament. If the Scottish Government insist on narrowing the scope of Mr Hamilton’s investigations then the public will draw their own conclusions.

"This sorry saga has exposed a culture of secrecy and obstruction, cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of pounds and perhaps most egregiously, damaged confidence in the ability of the Scottish Government to appropriately handle harassment allegations."

But a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The First Minister stands by what she has said to Parliament and by her written evidence to the committee, and looks forward to answering questions at the committee when they decide to ask her to appear. We will consider Mr Cole-Hamilton's parliamentary questions and respond to him in the normal way.”

It comes as the head of a Scottish Parliament probe into the Scottish Government’s botched handling of the complaints against Mr Salmond wrote to the ex-First Minister and to the Scottish Government seeking further documents from them. Linda Fabiani, who has already hit out at a lack of evidence being provided, called on both parties to seek the release of documents from the Court of Session which are held in relation to Mr Salmond’s successful judicial review against the Government.

Ms Fabiani also calls on ministers to produce the “Notes of Arguments” which were prepared for the substantive Judicial Review case involving Mr Salmond.

Tensions between Ms Sturgeon and her predecessor over the Holyrood inquiry flared at the weekend. The First Minister had faced pressure for failing to produce messages exchanged with Mr Salmond, but she suggested he was angry because she refused to "collude" to make sexual misconduct allegations against him "go away.”

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