Nicola Sturgeon faces no confidence vote over Alex Salmond case

A cross-party committee today found Nicola Sturgeon did mislead Parliament over the Alex Salmond row.

The Holyrood committee criticised the First Minister saying it was ‘hard to believe’ she had ‘no knowledge of any concerns about inappropriate behaviour on the part of Mr Salmond prior to November 2017’.

‘If she did have such knowledge, then she should have acted upon it,’ a report said.

‘If she did have such knowledge, then she has misled the committee.’

The conclusions emerged as the Tories vowed to push ahead with a confidence vote tonight – saying Ms Sturgeon must quit.

But the findings are in contrast to the verdict of a separate report yesterday, when James Hamilton QC cleared Ms Sturgeon of breaking the ministerial code – despite concluding her account was ‘incomplete’.

Ms Sturgeon boasted after that result she had proved her ‘integrity’, and got in an early shot at the committee by complaining it was politically motivated.

The Holyrood inquiry has been looking more broadly into how the Scottish government bungled the handling of harassment complaints against Mr Salmond – which resulted in him being awarded more than £500,000. He was later cleared by a trial.

Nicola Sturgeon (left) has already dismissed the committee’s inquiry into the Alex Salmond (right) inquiry as ‘partisan’

In a slap on the wrists yesterday, Mr Hamilton said it was ‘regrettable’ that Ms Sturgeon had provided an ‘incomplete narrative of events’ to the Scottish Parliament about when she knew of complaints against Mr Salmond.

But he said it was down to a ‘genuine failure of recollection’ and ‘not deliberate’.

‘I am of the opinion that the First Minister did not breach the provisions of the Ministerial Code in respect of any of these matters,’ his report concluded.

A jubilant Ms Sturgeon said she welcomed the ‘comprehensive, evidence-based and unequivocal’ finding. ‘I sought at every stage in this issue to act with integrity and in the public interest.

‘Prior to its publication, opposition politicians stressed the importance of respecting and accepting the outcome of Mr Hamilton’s independent inquiry, and I committed wholeheartedly to doing so.

‘Now that he has reported, it is incumbent on them to do likewise.

‘Now that this investigation is complete and its conclusions public, I will continue to devote all of my time and energy to leading Scotland, to helping the country through the pandemic, and to ensuring that as we rebuild from the hardships of the last 12 months, we do everything we can to protect jobs, support our health service and rebuild our communities for the better.’

Ms Sturgeon referred herself to the ministerial watchdog in January 2019 and asked Mr Hamilton – a former Director of Public Prosecutions in Ireland – to carry out a probe into her conduct after admitting she had met her predecessor to discuss claims of sexual harassment.

The Scottish Tories are vowing to hold a vote of no confidence in Ms Sturgeon later, amid growing evidence that the bitter SNP civil war has inflicted massive damage on its drive to split up the UK. However, it is set to fail after the Greens declared they will back her.

She accused the Scottish Conservatives plan to hold a vote of no confidence in her as a ‘stunt’.

‘I’m confident that vote will express confidence in me,’ Ms Sturgeon said.

‘Remember that the Tories said they would have a confidence vote in me before I uttered a single word of evidence before the parliamentary inquiry.

‘They have decided on this issue a long time ago this is a political stunt being brought forward by the Tories tomorrow.’

Ms Sturgeon insisted the QC’s report showed she was determined to ‘not intervene in the process’ of complaints at the request of Alex Salmond.

But Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said yesterday that Ms Sturgeon was not ‘free and clear’.

‘The First Minister has been given a pass because it has been judged her ‘failure of recollection’ was ‘not deliberate,’ he said.

‘I respect Mr Hamilton and his judgement but we cannot agree with that assessment. Nicola Sturgeon did not suddenly turn forgetful.

Leaks from the Committee on the Scottish Government’s Handling of Harassment Complaints had already suggesting it has concluded it is ‘hard to believe’ Ms Sturgeon did not know of concerns about her predecessor’s behaviour before November 2017, as she has said.

The findings come more than two years after it was first established.

The cross-party inquiry was set up after a successful judicial review by Mr Salmond resulted in the Scottish Government’s investigation being ruled unlawful and ‘tainted by apparent bias’ in 2019.

Former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond won a payout of more than £500,000 after the Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled that the way the Scottish Government dealt with harassment complaints against him was unlawful

When the leaks of the committee’s findings emerged Ms Sturgeon, who spent eight hours being questioned by MSPs on the matter earlier this month, accused some members of having made their minds up before she had ‘uttered a single word of evidence’.

She dismissed the ‘very partisan leak’ as being ‘not that surprising’.

However Ms Sturgeon should survive if the Tories do push ahead and bring a vote of no confidence in her to Holyrood.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross insisted it was ‘up to the Scottish Parliament to decide if the First Minister has been misleading’

That is because the Scottish Greens have already said they will not support such a motion, claiming the Conservatives have shown ‘no interest in establishing the truth’ by lodging the motion before the report was published.

Speaking on Monday afternoon after Mr Hamilton’s report was published, Ms Sturgeon said: ‘I look forward, if that’s the right expression, to the committee report being published tomorrow and we will look at that in great detail.

‘But I cannot escape the conclusion that there are some members of that committee, because their public utterances show this, that decided before a single word of evidence had been taken that I was guilty of something and nothing was going to remove them from that view.’

A motion of no confidence, tabled by the Scottish Conservatives, is due to be debated and voted upon on Tuesday afternoon.

Ms Sturgeon added: ‘I’m confident that vote will express confidence in me.

‘Remember that the Tories said they would have a confidence vote in me before I uttered a single word of evidence before the parliamentary inquiry.

‘They have decided on this issue a long time ago this is a political stunt being brought forward by the Tories tomorrow.’

Accusations that Nicola Sturgeon may have breached the ministerial code have been investigated by an independent adviser to the Scottish Government.

James Hamilton QC has been looking into whether the First Minister broke the rules governing ministerial conduct and misled the Scottish Parliament.

On Monday, he concluded that Ms Sturgeon did not breach the ministerial code in relation to the four allegations he investigated.

His work is separate from that of a committee of MSPs who have been examining the Government’s handling of harassment complaints made against former first minister Alex Salmond.

– How did the investigation start?

Following Mr Salmond’s successful legal challenge of the Scottish Government’s procedure, which led to him being awarded £512,250 for legal costs, Ms Sturgeon referred herself to the independent adviser on the ministerial code.

That adviser, Mr Hamilton, is a former director of public prosecutions in Ireland.

His investigation was paused in early 2019 to avoid prejudicing criminal proceedings brought against Mr Salmond and was delayed again by the pandemic, before resuming in August 2020.

Mr Salmond was acquitted of 13 charges, including sexual assault, indecent assault and attempted rape, in March 2020 following a High Court trial.

– What has the inquiry been looking at?

A key part of the investigation is the timing of when Ms Sturgeon knew about the complaints made against Mr Salmond and if parliament was properly informed.

Mr Salmond said his successor made ‘false and manifestly untrue’ statements to MSPs several times.

Ms Sturgeon initially told Holyrood she first heard of the sexual misconduct complaints against her predecessor when they met at her home on April 2 2018.

But it later emerged she discussed the allegations with Mr Salmond’s chief of staff, Geoff Aberdein, in her Holyrood office four days earlier.

Ms Sturgeon said she had forgotten the contents of her discussion with Mr Aberdein and it was her meeting with Mr Salmond which was ‘seared on her memory’.

Mr Hamilton examined the allegation that parliament was misled and found there was no breach of the ministerial code.

He also said that her failure to record meetings and telephone conversations with Mr Salmond and others did not amount to a breach of the code.

– What could the implications be?

A vote of no confidence in the First Minister, tabled by the Conservatives, is due to go ahead in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday.

However, it is likely to fail as the Scottish Greens have said they will vote with the SNP.

Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie said some of the committee members had ‘shown utter contempt for the women involved, and for the rules of the Scottish Parliament, by leaking confidential evidence and their own conclusions’.

He said: ‘If anyone’s resignation is still needed, it is these MSPs who should step down now, and who should not be candidates for re-election in May.’

– What has Nicola Sturgeon said?

Ms Sturgeon has previously said she does not believe she has breached the ministerial code.

On Monday, she welcomed Mr Hamilton’s report, saying it was ‘comprehensive, evidence-based and unequivocal’.

– How have other parties reacted?

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has said the First Minister is not ‘free and clear’, noting the Holyrood committee is due to publish its report on Tuesday morning.

Mr Ross said: ‘I respect Mr Hamilton and his judgment but we cannot agree with that assessment. Nicola Sturgeon did not suddenly turn forgetful.

‘She is not free and clear. The First Minister promised to ‘respect the decisions’ of both inquiry reports, not to pick and choose which one suits her and try to discredit the other.’

He said there was still ‘overwhelming’ evidence that Ms Sturgeon misled parliament, pointing to Mr Hamilton’s statement that ‘it is for the Scottish Parliament to decide whether they were in fact misled’.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: ‘Unlike others, we have been clear from the outset that we would not prejudge the outcome of this inquiry.

‘We acknowledge the findings of the report and we await the publication of the committee inquiry and whether its members conclude the First Minister misled parliament.

‘What is clear is that this entire process has deeply damaged public trust in our politics at a time of national crisis, and there are absolutely no winners today.’


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