Content warning: mentions of harassment
The First Minister addresses the Committee amidst calls for her resignation as Salmond scandal continues, with accusations of Sturgeon breaking the ministerial code and ignoring legal advice in harassment trial .
Ms Sturgeon has given evidence to the committee at Holyrood this morning and afternoon into the inquiry about her government’s unlawful handling of harassment allegations against predecessor Alex Salmond.
The inquiry is examining the Scottish government’s botched handling of sexual harassment complaints made against Mr Salmond by two female civil servants.
During her opening statement she accused Alex Salmond of “deeply inappropriate behaviour” towards one of the women who made allegations against the former SNP leader
The government is levelled with charges concerning letting down Salmond’s accusers by mishandling the case, and acting unlawfully during the investigation with respect to following codes and procedures. Mr Salmond has also accused the government of a cover up.
In her eight hours of evidence to the committee, Ms Sturgeon said she had “thought often” about the impact of the past three years on Mr Salmond, but said he had shown no sign of thinking of others.
She apologised to the two women who had made the complaints, saying they were let down by a “very serious error”, and insisted her government had nothing to hide, despite accusations of a cover-up from opposition parties.
She said she had watched Mr Salmond give evidence to the inquiry committee last Friday and had found herself “searching for any sign at all that he recognised how difficult this had been for others too”.
The First Minister added: “First of all, for women who believed his behaviour towards them was inappropriate.
“But also for those of us who have campaigned alongside him, worked with him, cared for him, and consider him a friend – who now stand unfairly accused of plotting against him.”
Ms Sturgeon acknowledged that Mr Salmond had been cleared of all of the sexual assault allegations against him by a High Court jury.
But she added: “I know just from what he told me that his behaviour was not always appropriate.
“And yet across six hours of testimony, there was not a single word of regret, reflection or even a simple acknowledgement of that.
“I can only hope that in private, the reality might be different.”
The first minister said the female complainers had come forward “of their own free will”, and that while some offered support to each other, this was not evidence of a conspiracy.
She went on to tell the cross-party committee of MSPs that Mr Salmond had been one of the “closest people to me in my entire life”.
She added: “I would never have wanted to ‘get’ Alex Salmond – I would never, ever have wanted any of this to happen. I had no motive, intention or desire to ‘get’ Alex Salmond.”
The First Minister has been accused of breaking ministerial code by the former SNP leader, and of hounding him intentionally out of of the public sphere. Frankly Mr Salmond has asserted that The First Minister and others have conspired against him.
He alleged that there was “a deliberate, prolonged, malicious and concerted effort amongst a range of individuals within the Scottish government and the SNP to damage my reputation, even to the extent of having me imprisoned.”
The people named by Mr Salmond in his submissions include Nicola Sturgeon’s husband Peter Murrell, who is the chief executive of the SNP, and Ms Sturgeon’s chief of staff, Liz Lloyd.
Mr Salmond has also accused Ms Sturgeon, who succeeded him as first minister and SNP leader, of misleading parliament, alongside breaching the ministerial code.
Ms Sturgeon has denied much of Mr Salmond’s version of events and continued to do so in today’s inquiry.
She insisted that she had no reason to purposefully go after Salmond, or ‘get’ him, and has dismissed the aforementioned claims concerning a conspiracy and cover up as ‘absurd’.
Former First Minister Salmond was acquitted of sexual harassment allegations in March of 2020, though was not found ‘not guilty’- Salmond was acquitted on the basis of a ‘not proven’ verdict.
On Tuesday, the government was lambasted for unlawful conduct and breach of ministerial code after publishing legal advice from 2018 which suggests that the government should concede the case against Salmond. Charges are now levelled at the Scottish Government concerning the use and abuse of taxpayers money.
The Scottish government has already paid out more than £500,000 in legal expenses to Alex Salmond over its flawed inquiry into sexual harassment claims.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross claimed that the abiding memory of the evidence session would be Ms Sturgeon repeatedly saying “I can’t recall”.
He added: “She dodged and evaded almost every difficult question. The first minister vividly remembers the details she believes exonerate her, then forgets entirely anything that damages her.”
Scottish Labour MSP Jackie Baillie, who sits on the committee, said “serious questions remain” about the first minister’s conduct.
She added: “Quite frankly we are not much further forward in understanding her role in this catastrophic failure of the Scottish government.
“Most galling of all was the first minister’s complete failure to understand the obstruction that this Committee has faced and continues to face.
“The first minister promised the committee that it would receive all the information that it needed – this now sounds like a bad joke.”
Feature Image Credit: The Daily Record