There is “absolutely no way” Nicola Sturgeon can continue if she is found to have breached the ministerial code, Douglas Ross has said.
The leader of the Scottish Conservatives said there was “damning” evidence that the First Minister had lied to parliament and his party would continue to push for a vote of no confidence in Ms Sturgeon and her deputy, John Swinney.
Ms Sturgeon repeatedly denied misleading parliament during her eight-hour evidence session before a Holyrood inquiry on Wednesday.
But Mr Ross said her evidence left “significant seeds of doubt” about when she first knew about an investigation into alleged sexual harassment by Alex Salmond.
The SNP leader has faced questions about when she became aware of the internal government investigation of her predecessor, having originally told parliament it was at a meeting with him at her home on April 2.
It later emerged that Mr Salmond’s former chief of staff had spoken to Ms Sturgeon about – in her words – “a harassment-type issue” four days earlier when arranging the subsequent meeting.
She told the committee she wished her memory of the earlier meeting was “more vivid”, but “it was the detail of the complaints under the procedure that I was given on April 2 that was significant and indeed shocking”.
Ms Sturgeon also defended her decision not to record the meeting, as per the ministerial code, because she initially suspected it was about party business and then wanted to protect the “confidentiality of the process”.
A motion of no confidence in the First Minister was lodged by the Scottish Conservatives after Mr Salmond’s claim there was “no doubt” their meeting was about the government investigation was corroborated by Duncan Hamilton QC – a former SNP MSP – and the SNP’s former communications director, Kevin Pringle.
“We have two extremely capable witnesses that back up the assertion that Nicola Sturgeon knew about the allegations against Alex Salmond before she said she did, and therefore she lied to Parliament,” Mr Ross said.
“The evidence was compelling and it was damning and it was extensive and it was there for everyone to see.
“I don’t think, after the hours of scrutiny at the committee, that Nicola Sturgeon was able to refute any of the evidence that had been published the evening before.
“It is clear, there have been numerous breaches of the ministerial code, it is clear that numerous witnesses confirmed that she has misled parliament.
“We have lost first ministers in Scotland for far less and that’s why I don’t believe Nicola Sturgeon can continue as First Minister and she should resign.”
Mr Ross said he was convinced that an inquiry by James Hamilton QC will have to conclude that Ms Sturgeon will be found to have broken the rules governing the behaviour expected of ministers.
He added: “On a number of occasions now, Nicola Sturgeon has not confirmed that she will resign if she has breached the ministerial code.
“That doesn’t sound like someone who’s confident of being exonerated of the points that have been made against her.”
During FMQs, Ms Sturgeon said: “I answered questions for eight hours on this yesterday. I answered every question that was put to me.
“So I intend now to rest on that, to allow both the committee and the inquiry on the ministerial code to conclude their work.
“In the meantime, I am going to get on with doing the job I suspect most people watching at home right now want me to get on with – which is leading this country through and out of a pandemic.
“I will leave Ruth Davidson and the Conservatives to play the political games that they seem to prioritise over everything else.”
Following Ms Sturgeon’s evidence to Holyrood’s Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints, her spokesman said she had “dismantled all of the claims which have been made against her”.
He said: “In fully eight hours of evidence, the opposition completely failed to substantiate any of the allegations and absurd conspiracy theories which have been levelled at her and her office in this case.
“The First Minister gave a clear, open and transparent account to the committee and directly addressed all of the issues raised. She was happy to take all of their questions and gave evidence for as long as the committee members wanted.
“She now looks forward to receiving the conclusions of the committee’s report, and the report of James Hamilton, the independent adviser on the ministerial code.”