Nicola Sturgeon denies conspiring against Alex Salmond
Scotland’s first minister has denied conspiring against or colluding with Alex Salmond over the sexual harassment allegations against him.
Nicola Sturgeon was speaking after Mr Salmond claimed some people wanted to “remove me as a political threat”.
Opposition leaders have questioned why she met him after the allegations were made, and why no minutes were taken.
On Tuesday, Mr Salmond won a legal battle against the Scottish government over its handing of the claims.
He strongly denies the allegations, which are the subject of ongoing police inquiries.
The allegations were made by two women to the Scottish government in January of last year.
Ms Sturgeon admitted earlier this week that she had met Mr Salmond on three occasions after this, and had spoken to him on the phone on a further two occasions.
The claims were made public in October, when details of the investigation were passed to the Daily Record newspaper.
Facing further questions from opposition leaders at Holyrood on Thursday, Ms Sturgeon repeatedly insisted that she did not attempt to intervene in the investigation process after being told about it by Mr Salmond at her home in Glasgow on 2 April.
Ms Sturgeon revealed that the Scottish government’s chief of staff, Liz Lloyd, had been present during that meeting and that Mr Salmond was also represented – which has led opposition parties to question why it was not treated as a Scottish government meeting and minuted.
The first minister said she also met Mr Salmond alone on 7 June ahead of the SNP conference in Aberdeen, and again at her home on 14 July.
She also spoke to him on the telephone on 23 April and 18 July – which she said was the last time the pair had spoken.
Ms Sturgeon said Mr Salmond has set out his concerns about the Scottish government’s investigation during their conversations, but insisted she had acted properly at all times and had made it clear to him that she would not intervene.
She did not initially tell the Scottish government’s top civil servant, Leslie Evans, about her first meeting with Mr Salmond – but did so when he asked for a second meeting.
Ms Sturgeon told MSPs: “It seems to me that I am being simultaneously accused of being involved in a conspiracy against Alex Salmond, and also of colluding with Alex Salmond.
“Nothing could be further from the truth in both of those – neither of those things are true.
“Since I found out about the investigation I have tried to do the right thing in a situation which, no matter what happened, was never going to be easy for me.
“And the most important thing here has always been and continues to be the complaints that were made and the people who made those complaints.”
Ms Sturgeon said the meetings between her and Mr Salmond had been SNP business rather than Scottish government business, and that Ms Lloyd was a special advisor who was therefore able to assist her on party matters as well as government issues.
But Scottish Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw said: “Her position appears to be a meeting between the first minister of the government and the former first minister of the government, about a government investigation involving two government employees, was not government business.”
He also called for the Scottish Parliament to be allowed to investigate how the allegations against Mr Salmond were handled.
Mr Carlaw added: “This whole sorry business simply doesn’t stack up. At the heart of it are two women whose complaint has been entirely botched by this government.
“We have the former first minister claiming, incredibly, that there is a political plot led by this government to destroy his reputation.
“And all we have to show for it is a bill estimated to be at least £500,000 which the taxpayer will now be left to settle.”
Ms Sturgeon replied that it was for parliament to decide whether it wants to hold an inquiry, and that government ministers and officials would fully cooperate with it.
Meanwhile, Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard has written to Ms Sturgeon formally asking her to refer herself to the panel of independent advisors on the ministerial code, which he claims she breached in her meetings with Mr Salmond.
The exchanges came shortly after Mr Salmond posted claims online that: “Some people are clearly very anxious to remove me now as a political threat which is why this is probably not over.
“The Daily Record boasted of a ‘tip off’ about me in October 2017. The question is from who? Perhaps we are now getting very close to finding out.”
‘Leaks to the press’
And in an article in the Scotsman newspaper, Mr Salmond’s former justice secretary Kenny MacAskill – who remains a close ally – claimed that a “coterie” surrounding Ms Sturgeon were intent on driving out “any who might taint her, whether by leaks to the press or overt actions”.
Mr MacAskill highlighted the SNP’s treatment of former MP Michelle Thomson, who was cleared of mortgage fraud allegations, and MSP Mark McDonald, who was suspended by the party and later quit after admitting sending an inappropriate text message to a woman.
He added: “For sure, everything possible needs done to protect the rights of alleged victims, but so must the accused be afforded protections.
“And in that aspect, some in senior positions within the SNP are now getting form for being judgemental, if not injudicious, and certainly downright prejudicial.”
The Scottish government admitted on Tuesday that it had acted unlawfully while investigating the sexual harassment claims against Mr Salmond, which date back to when he was first minister in 2013.
It said it had breached its own guidelines by appointing an investigating officer who had previously met the two women who made the allegations.
As a result it conceded defeat in its legal fight with Mr Salmond, who had been seeking a judicial review of the how the investigation was carried out, and has agreed to pay costs.
However, the case does not directly impact on the ongoing police inquiry into the claims.
Mr Salmond described his victory as an “abject humiliation” for the Scottish government and called on its most senior civil servant, Leslie Evans, to resign over her involvement in the investigation.