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by Louise Wilson
28 October 2020
Alex Salmond calls for expansion of investigation into whether Nicola Sturgeon breached ministerial code


Alex Salmond calls for expansion of investigation into whether Nicola Sturgeon breached ministerial code

Alex Salmond has called for the remit of a probe into whether First Minister Nicola Sturgeon broke the ministerial code to be extended.

In an email to James Hamilton, who is leading the investigation, Salmond said the remit set by the Deputy First Minister put “surprising stress” on whether Sturgeon interfered with the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment complaints against him.

He urged the investigation to also look at whether the First Minister misled parliament, failed to act on legal advice suggesting the government was at risk of acting unlawfully and failed to ensure civil servants gave “truthful information” to parliament.

Sturgeon referred herself for investigation under the ministerial code in January 2019, though the process was halted while criminal proceedings against Salmond – which led to acquittal on all charges – were live.

Speaking at the time, she insisted she “acted appropriately and in good faith throughout, and in compliance with the ministerial code at all times”.

The remit of the referral covers a series of meetings between Salmond and Sturgeon in 2018, before complaints against him became public, after which she allegedly “failed to feed back the basic facts of meetings and discussions held”.

It is also to consider whether “the First Minister may have attempted to influence” the process for investigating the complaints.

Salmond wrote: “The remit given to your investigation by the Deputy First Minister lays a surprising stress on whether she interfered in the Scottish Government investigation. It might even be suspected that this remit has been set up as a straw man to knock down.

“There is no general bar on Ministers intervening in a civil service process of which I am aware and indeed there are occasions when Ministers are actually required by the code to intervene to correct civil service behaviour.

“What I wish to know is whether matters which, by contrast, are specified in the ministerial code such as the primary responsibility of not misleading Parliament (contrary to 1.3 (c) of the code), such as the failure to act on legal advice suggesting the Government was at risk of behaving unlawfully (contrary to 2.30 of the code), and such as the Ministerial failure to ensure civil servants gave truthful information to parliament (contrary to 1.3 (e) of the code) will have at least equal status in your deliberations or are you confined to the political remit which you have been set?

“If your enquiry has been confined by Ministers then please tell me if you have the authority to expand that remit unilaterally? If not, will you seek the authority of those in the Scottish Government who set the remit to expand it into these, and other, areas?”

The Holyrood committee investigating the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment complaints against Salmond published his email ahead of the fourth phase of their inquiry, which will consider the events leading to the First Minister’s self-referral.

The committee is seeking to establish who knew what and when, the nature of the meetings between Sturgeon and Salmond and how the distinction between government and party business was drawn.

Sturgeon has previously stated she agreed to the meeting on 2 April – despite admitting suspicion it related to allegations of sexual misconduct –  because she thought Salmond was about to resign from the SNP and as leader she should “prepare the party to deal with what would have been a significant issue.”

She claimed the reason she did not make the Permanent Secretary aware of meetings with him until June was because “the risk of inadvertently and unintentionally influencing it [the investigation into harassment complaints] would arise if those undertaking the investigation were aware of my knowledge of it.”

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