SNP chief executive denies 'plot' against Alex Salmond
SNP chief executive Peter Murrell has insisted text messages he sent suggesting the police should be pressurised to investigate Alex Salmond were not part of a "plot" against the former first minister.
The party boss told MSPs on Tuesday Mr Salmond could be "difficult and unreasonable", but that he was unaware of sexual misconduct claims in three decades working with him until charges came to light in 2017.
Mr Murrell, who is married to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, also insisted the couple did not discuss any party strategy to deal with the fallout of claims against the ex-party leader.
Text messages have come to light which were sent by Mr Murrell after criminal charges were brought against Mr Salmond, which he was entirely cleared of this year.
The SNP chief executive said it was a “good time to be pressurising” police and that the “more fronts he [Mr Salmond] is having to firefight on, the better for all complainers”.
But he told MSPs on a committee looking into the collapse of a Scottish Government internal complaints case against Mr Salmond that his words had been misinterpreted and put it down to the shock of seeing the full extent of the charges against the ex-first minister. A jury cleared Mr Salmond of all charges.
"It wasn’t about pressurising the police," he told MSPs on the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints.
“There was a great deal of upset that day. The previous day, you know, I had been working with Alex for 30 years at that point, and I think we were all shocked by the scale of the charges that were brought against him.
“So there was a great deal of upset the previous day. I know myself I didn’t really sleep that night. I came to the office and everyone was … you can just imagine everyone was quite gutted.”
Labour MSP Jackie Baillie said there had been suggestions the text messages were evidence of a "plot" to ensure the downfall" of Alex Salmond and put it to Mr Murrell that he "had a key role" in it.
But Mr Murrell pointed out that Mr Salmond had already been charged by the time the text messages were sent and all complainers had come forward.
"So it's not true," he said
Mr Murrell told the committee he had worked with Mr Salmond since 1983, but hadn't spoken with him since 2017 and described their relationship as "professional”.
"He has very high expectations," Mr Murrell said.
He went on: "He could be difficult and he could be unreasonable - but there are individuals in life who are like that.
"When you see it happening, you have to challenge it.”
He added: "Defusing situations, smoothing things over is commonplace when you have someone going at a very fast pace and expecting a lot of staff."
But the party chief executive insisted that prior to media inquiries to the SNP in 2017, he had never been aware of complaints about Mr Salmond of a "sexual misconduct nature”.