Nicola Sturgeon faces triple threat as MSPs demand evidence to corroborate Alex Salmond allegations

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Simon Johnson
·6 min read
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Nicola Sturgeon is due to give evidence to the Alex Salmond inquiry on Wednesday - PA
Nicola Sturgeon is due to give evidence to the Alex Salmond inquiry on Wednesday - PA

Nicola Sturgeon is facing a triple threat to her political career as a Holyrood inquiry and opposition MSPs demanded the evidence that would corroborate Alex Salmond's claim she had repeatedly breached the ministerial code.

Ahead of the First Minister's appearance on Wednesday, the committee conducting the inquiry is on Monday expected to formally request a cache of documents from Mr Salmond's solicitors that he claimed proved there was a "malicious" plot against him.

It is understood a majority of the committee supports the move, which was suggested by Mr Salmond in his closing remarks of his six-hour evidence session on Friday as a means of circumventing the Scottish Government and Crown Office.

MSPs hope to have the evidence cleared by the committee's legal advisors in time for Lord Advocate James Wolffe and Crown agent David Harvie giving evidence on Tuesday and Ms Sturgeon on Wednesday. The First Minister is believed to have set aside five hours in her diary.

The Scottish Tories also lodged a motion of no confidence in John Swinney, the Deputy First Minister, over his refusal to hand over the SNP government's legal advice during Mr Salmond's successful judicial review.

Douglas Ross, their leader, gave Mr Swinney 24 hours to release the advice or face a vote to remove him after the SNP government ignored two Holyrood demands for it to be provided.

The Liberal Democrats said they would back the Tory motion and it will be considered today by Anas Sarwar, the new Scottish Labour leader. It is understood that the Greens will wait to see what is said in the motion before making a decision.

Mr Salmond told the inquiry that the external counsel appointed by Ms Sturgeon's government advised that it would probably lose the case and later threatened to resign unless it was conceded.

The Scottish Government has been accused of wasting £600,000 of public money by only collapsing the judicial review case at the eleventh hour, a potential breach of the ministerial code.

Alex Salmond giving evidence to the Holyrood inquiry on Friday - PA
Alex Salmond giving evidence to the Holyrood inquiry on Friday - PA

In a third threat to Ms Sturgeon, the Scottish Tories also demanded the publication of evidence by Mr Salmond's former chief of staff that is said to indicate she was aware of harassment allegations against him almost a month before she claimed.

Geoff Aberdein's testimony is said to allege that Ms Sturgeon's team was aware of the government investigation into Mr Salmond in early March 2018, and that he was given the identity of one of the women who had made a complaint.

This contradicts Ms Sturgeon's claim to parliament that she only found out when Mr Salmond visited her home on April 2 that year, and her denial that the woman's name had been leaked.

The committee is writing to Mr Aberdein and others he spoke to at the time to corroborate his version of events. Knowingly misleading parliament is a breach of the ministerial code that should lead to resignation.

Mr Salmond is also expected to give evidence on Monday or Tuesday in private to a separate inquiry set up to establish whether she broke the code, led by James Hamilton QC. This will consider Mr Aberdein's unpublished evidence.

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The political crisis engulfing Ms Sturgeon intensified following Mr Salmond's incendiary appearance before the inquiry last Friday, in which he suggested her government was not fit to lead Scotland to independence.

He won a judicial review in 2019 when Scotland’s highest civil court found that the way the Scottish Government investigated sexual misconduct allegations against him was unlawful.

The SNP administration he once led paid him £512,250 of taxpayers' money to cover his legal costs after the judge Lord Pentland ruled the inquiry was "procedurally unfair" and "tainted with apparent bias".

The case was abandoned on the eve of a Court of Session hearing after the government admitted it had breached its own guidelines by appointing an investigating officer who had “prior involvement” with two civil servants who had made complaints.

The committee’s inquiry into the debacle was kickstarted after when Mr Salmond was acquitted of sex charges at the High Court last year.

His written submission to the inquiry claimed there was a "deliberate, prolonged, malicious and concerted effort" by various people within the Scottish government and the SNP to "damage my reputation, even to the extent of having me imprisoned".

Mr Salmond claimed there had been a "complete breakdown of the necessary barriers which should exist between government, political party and indeed the prosecution authorities".

The Crown Office last week demanded part of his written evidence dealing with his allegations that Ms Sturgeon broke the ministerial code be redacted, despite it being in the public domain.

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Murdo Fraser, a Tory committee member, said: "Alex Salmond has made a range of very serious allegations about the behaviour of senior people in the Scottish Government and the SNP involving numerous breaches of the ministerial code by Nicola Sturgeon.

"He claims he has evidence to support his allegations and it's now up to the First Minister not just to rebut those claims but to prove she is telling the truth and he is not."

Threatening a vote of no confidence unless the legal advice is handed over, Mr Ross said: "We are giving the Scottish Government one last chance to be transparent and respect the will of the Scottish Parliament."

It has previously emerged that Peter Murrell, Ms Sturgeon's husband and the SNP's chief executive, sent a social media message stating it was a “good time to be pressuring” police about the Salmond case.

Mr Murrell has claimed the messages have been misinterpreted, were "out of character" and were sent because he was "upset".

However, Mr Salmond told the inquiry there were other messages he had seen that showed senior SNP figures pressurising and colluding with witnesses.

He said the material would be made available if the committee made a formal legal request under Section 23 of the Scotland Act.

The documents also show correspondence from the Crown Office during the judicial review and the 'commission and diligence' evidence gathered. The latter is understood to include significant new information about the Scottish Government's actions.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The First Minister stands by what she has said to parliament and by her written evidence to the committee, and looks forward to answering questions at the committee.”