Richard Leonard: 'Sturgeon should be investigated over potential Ministerial Code breach'

Written by Gemma Fraser on 10 January 2019 in News

The Labour leader believes Sturgeon's conversations with Alex Salmond need to be investigated  

Image credit: David Anderson

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard has called on Nicola Sturgeon to refer herself to a panel of independent advisers to investigate whether she breached the Ministerial Code over her meetings with Alex Salmond.

Sturgeon met with former first minister Salmond on three occasions after allegations of sexual harassment were made by two Scottish Government employees, and spoke with him on the phone a further two times.

And she admitted during FMQs that her chief of staff Liz Lloyd was present at her first meeting with Salmond, sparking criticism and suspicion over her involvement in the process.

Leonard, who highlighted the potential breach under Section 4.23 of the Ministerial Code during FMQs, has now written to the First Minister and to the panel of independent advisers.

In it he said: “In your introduction to the latest edition of the Ministerial Code, you rightly state that the people of Scotland must “have trust and confidence in those serving in government” and that “it is essential to set and maintain the highest standards of propriety and openness”.

“As you acknowledge, the principles that guide those in public life are: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. The public have every right to expect us to follow these principles, and I note your commitment to “lead by example in following the letter and spirit” of the Code.”

He continued: “As First Minister of the Scottish Government, you met and spoke to on five occasions the former First Minister of the Scottish Government to discuss the Scottish Government’s investigation into allegations of sexual assault made against him, reportedly by two Scottish Government civil servants – the first meeting of which we now know was attended by your chief of staff.

“The public will clearly view these conversations as part of your official capacity as First Minister of the Scottish Government. It is not credible to say otherwise.

“Even if you continue to refuse to accept that you have breached the letter of the Ministerial Code, it is self-evident that you have breached its spirit. I believe you must now refer yourself to the panel of independent advisers to the Code, who I am copying into this letter.”

Sturgeon told MSPs on Thursday: "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."

Salmond launched a legal case against the Scottish Government to contest the complaints process activated against him in relation to the allegations of sexual harassment during his time as FM.

He won his legal fight over the Scottish Government's handling of its investigation into the allegations against him on Tuesday and, as a result, called for Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans to consider her position.

The allegations were made in January last year, but were only made public in August when the Daily Record published the details.

Sturgeon said she was informed about the investigation process by Salmond himself when he met her at her home in Glasgow on 2 April.

She said the meetings between her and Salmond had been SNP business rather than Scottish Government business, and that Lloyd was a special advisor who was able to assist her on party matters as well as government issues.

Jackson Carlaw, interim leader of the Scottish Conservatives, has called for a Holyrood inquiry.

He said: “This astonishing admission from the First Minister drives a coach and horses through her assertion from earlier this week that she met Alex Salmond in purely a party capacity.

“If that was the case, what on earth was her number one advisor as first minister doing there?

“The First Minister has shown an astounding lapse in judgement on more than one occasion.

“She should have severed all contact following the first meeting, but instead spoke with her predecessor on four further occasions about this matter.

“In effect, Alex Salmond has had a series of private audiences with the woman at the head of the very organisation that’s supposed to be investigating him over sexual harassment complaints.”

He added: “The brave women who made these complaints would be forgiven for being appalled at this situation.

“There are also huge question marks over the attendance of a special adviser at such a meeting, when the code clearly states this should not happen.

“These revelations strengthen the need for a Scottish Parliament inquiry into this fiasco, and that’s something all opposition parties should back.”

 

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