Ministerial code breach investigator to include Nicola Sturgeon's meetings with Alex Salmond in report

James Hamilton QC has said he is “minded” to examine the allegations set out by Alex Salmond in bombshell evidence to his investigation into whether Nicola Sturgeon has breached the ministerial code.

Nicola Sturgeon arriving to attend First Minister's Questions at the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh.
Nicola Sturgeon arriving to attend First Minister's Questions at the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh.

In a letter to deputy first minister John Swinney, and referred to during First Minister’s Questions yesterday, the independent adviser on the Scottish Ministerial Code who is leading the investigation into Ms Sturgeon says he believes the potential breaches are “within the scope of the remit”.

Mr Salmond, the former first minister, accused Ms Sturgeon of breaching the ministerial code on several occasions.

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They include around not telling the civil service of meetings she held with Mr Salmond and his former chief of staff Geoff Aberdein and whether she misled parliament around the nature of those meetings.

Mr Salmond also believes Ms Sturgeon should have avoided the drawn-out judicial review process into harassment complaints against him and breached the ministerial code by allowing it to continue.

The ministerial code states that any minister who is found to have misled Holyrood is expected to tender their resignation.

The First Minister has denied she broke the ministerial code at any stage during the process.

Following requests from opposition MSPs, Mr Hamilton wrote to Mr Swinney stating that the allegations are “so closely connected to the remit that I am minded to include this within the scope of my report”.

He said: “I have received a letter from a number of MSPs, including Alex Cole-Hamilton, asking that I consider whether the First Minister broke Section 1(c) of the Ministerial code in relation to reporting to the Parliament of meetings between herself and Geoff Aberdein. I understand that Mr Cole-Hamilton and colleagues have also written to you on this subject.

“Having considered the evidence submitted to me by various participants, and the issues raised on this topic, I consider that the issue of reporting of meetings by the First Minister to the Parliament on a broad view appears to be within the scope of the remit but even on a narrower view is so closely connected to the remit that I am minded to include this within the scope of my report.

“I also wanted to note that I consider the allegations made by Mr. Salmond concerning whether or not the First Minister should have intervened to arrange a process of mediation to be within the scope of the remit set out above.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Mr Hamilton has informed us of his intention to address in his report a number of points that have been raised with him by some MSPs and by the former First Minister. That is entirely within his existing remit.

"As the Deputy First Minister advised Parliament last year, in response to a parliamentary question, Mr Hamilton is free to consider evidence on any aspect of the Ministerial Code that he deems to be relevant.”

The allegations within Mr Hamilton’s remit are also being considered by the Scottish Parliament’s Handling of Harassment Complaints Commitee.

It was due to hear evidence from Mr Salmond on Tuesday 19 February, but the former first minister has declined the invitation due to concerns around Covid-19.

Nicola Sturgeon will most likely give evidence to the committee after Mr Salmond.

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