The Hamilton inquiry into Nicola Sturgeon explained

Neil Pooran and Tom Eden, PA Scotland
·4-min read

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.

Alex Salmond launched a successful legal challenge against the government (Andrew Milligan/PA)
Alex Salmond launched a successful legal challenge against the government (Andrew Milligan/PA)

– 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.

Alex Salmond harassment allegations
A vote of no confidence is due to take place on Tuesday (Jane Barlow/PA)

– 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.

Scottish Conservative Virtual Conference
Douglas Ross said he did not agree with Mr Hamilton’s assessment (Colin D Fisher/PA)

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.”