Nicola Sturgeon made untrue statements and must resign, says Salmond committee member

Simon Johnson
·6-min read
Nicola Sturgeon giving evidence to the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints - PA
Nicola Sturgeon giving evidence to the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints - PA

Nicola Sturgeon broke the ministerial code by making "untrue" statements and should step down, a member of the inquiry investigating the Alex Salmond scandal has said the day after her marathon eight-hour appearance.

Murdo Fraser, a Tory member of the committee, said he believed some of the First Minister's account was not truthful and that she previously misled the Scottish Parliament.

While Ms Sturgeon had denied a litany of claims made by Mr Salmond, Mr Fraser pointed out that he had provided witness statements corroborating key parts of his testimony while she did not.

He said the evidence was "clear" that some of her statements had been untrue and predicted that a separate inquiry, being conducted by James Hamilton QC, would conclude that she had broken the ministerial code.

Mr Fraser said motions of no confidence in Ms Sturgeon and John Swinney, her deputy, remained on the table but the Tories would see what additional legal advice the Scottish Government hands over before deciding whether to move them.

The First Minister is expected to face a further scrutiny at Thursday's First Minister's Questions. However, Mike Russell, a senior SNP minister, said Ms Sturgeon has "demolished the scare stories, the conspiracy theories and lies" during her testimony to the inquiry.

Nicola Sturgeon before giving evidence to the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints, at Holyrood - PA
Nicola Sturgeon before giving evidence to the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints, at Holyrood - PA

During her appearance, Ms Sturgeon choked back tears and insisted "I would never have wanted to 'get' Alex Salmond" as she rejected as "absurd" his claims of a plot among senior SNP figures to destroy him.

The First Minister told a Holyrood inquiry the "simple" truth was that several women made complaints about Mr Salmond's behaviour and "I refused to follow the usual pattern of allowing a powerful man to use his status and connections to get what he wants."

Ms Sturgeon insisted she had seen "nothing that comes within a million miles" of backing Mr Salmond's conspiracy claims and she felt "very let down" by her former mentor.

But she faced a litany of allegations she had broken the ministerial code - normally a resignation matter - after two witnesses corroborated key parts of Mr Salmond's account.

Watch: Douglas Ross - Nicola Sturgeon must go after Holyrood inquiry

Ms Sturgeon admitted that people would struggle to understand parts of testimony, including her claim she forgot about a meeting on March 29, 2018 at which she was informed about sexual misconduct claims against him.

She also said it would be "hard" for the public to comprehend her claim she did not discuss the allegations with Peter Murrell, her husband and the SNP's chief executive, before Mr Salmond came to their home.

The First Minister denied one of her officials had named a complainant in a meeting with Geoff Aberdein, Mr Salmond's chief of staff, in March 2018.

But Mr Aberdein's claim has been corroborated by Kevin Pringle, the SNP's former chief spin doctor, and Duncan Hamilton, a former MSP and advocate. He said Mr Aberdein informed the pair of the identity in a conference call after the meeting.

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Mr Fraser told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme the committee will now begin drafting its report, but he believes the consequences for the First Minister were "clear".

He said: "There have been three opinion polls showing that people in Scotland believe by a large majority that if the First Minister misled Parliament she should resign.

"I think the consequences will be very clear for the First Minister if the report makes that clear, and I believe it will, because the evidence presented to our committee - and also, I believe to Mr (James) Hamilton - is clear that the statements made by the First Minister have been untrue.

"With the evidence that's been presented to the committee, it seems quite clear to me what the conclusions of the report should be, but we'll have to wait and see because we haven't even started that process of looking at these particular conclusions."

On Ms Sturgeon rejecting allegations she broke the code, he said: "She denied those claims but the important thing was Mr Salmond was able to produce corroborating evidence from two other individuals in support of the statements he made.

"Nicola Sturgeon .... had no corroborating evidence to back herself up. That is why we are still of the view that Nicola Sturgeon has broken the ministerial code and has misled the Scottish Parliament.

"There is no evidence she presented yesterday to rebut those claims, and they are very serious claims that a complainants name was leaked by a member of staff within the Scottish Government to Mr Salmond's team - that's an appalling breach of privacy that has huge potential consequences for the complainant."

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon taking oath before giving evidence to the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints, at Holyrood - PA
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon taking oath before giving evidence to the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints, at Holyrood - PA

Jackie Baillie, a Labour committee member, said Ms Sturgeon put in a "very good performance" during her appearance but suggested her account lacked detail

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "In the torrent of words that were exchanged over the eight hours I'm not sure that in some areas where we needed quite specific detailed answers that we actually got them."

Asked to say more about those areas and if she has all the background information she needs, Ms Baillie said: "I mean that genuinely is part of the problem. In my 22 years in Parliament, I have never been so obstructed, unable to do my job, as I have been on this committee.

"And in part that's down to the Scottish Government. We have consistently asked them for information, which they say they will provide, we get it six months late. And in the case of legal advice, it's taken two parliamentary votes and endless letters to try and get them to actually hand it over, and they only did so at 6pm before the committee meeting."

She said not all the legal advice was handed over, meaning that questions about "key bits of the process" still cannot be asked.

But Mr Russell said Ms Sturgeon had answered lots of questions and "in my view told the truth". He said she had scotched "the myths of the conspiracy theories that have built up."

He said it was "nonsensical" to claim she had not produced corroborating evidence to support her account and " it is very hard in anybody's life, let alone a very busy life, to remember everything."

"I don't see how any fair minded person watching that mistake could come up with any conclusion, other than she told the truth," he said.

"She told it to the best of her ability, and she certainly demolished the scare stories and the conspiracy theories and the lies that have been told." He refused to say whether she would have to resign if she broke the ministerial code as he did not accept she had.

Watch: What has happened so far in the Alex Salmond inquiry?