Conspiracy against Alex Salmond ‘not true’ says Peter Murrell
SNP chief executive Peter Murrell has denied suggestions he is part of a conspiracy against Alex Salmond.
Speaking to the Holyrood committee investigating the Scottish Government’s mishandling of harassment complaints, Murrell said it was “not true” that text messages he sent were evidence of a plot against Salmond.
He said he “regrets” wording the text in a way that was “open to misinterpretation”, adding it was a sign of “how upset I was at the time”.
He insisted his intention was simply to direct those with questions about the charges against Salmond – of which he was later acquitted – to the police or Crown Office.
Sent shortly after the charges were brought, one message said that “folk should be asking the police questions” and that it was a “good time to be pressurising them”, while another said: “The more fronts he is having to firefight on the better for all complainers”.
Asked by Labour MSP Jackie Baillie whether the messages were “evidence of a plot to ensure the downfall of Alex Salmond,” Murrell said: “The timeline would say no because he’d been charged by the time I sent those text messages. All complainers had come forward by that point and the police had charged him and he’d appeared in court. So it’s not true, of course it’s not true.”
And explaining the wording, he said: “There was a great deal of upset the previous day. I know myself I didn’t really sleep that night. [When I] came into the office everyone was, you can just imagine everyone was quite gutted.
“And reflecting on these messages now, they seem quite out of character, so to me it suggests just how upset I was at the time.”
He added: “They were seeking answers to things that only the police or the Crown Office could answer, so it was really, you know, a more appropriate text message back at that point would have been to say they should seek answers from the police or whatever. That wasn’t the language I used and that’s why I’ve said that I regret using that word.”
Further questions were also raised at the committee over whether Sturgeon’s meetings with Salmond in 2018 were government or SNP business.
Murrell told MSPs he did not discuss the meetings with Sturgeon because they were related to government business.
But no official was present for the discussions, nor were the meetings recorded in the ministerial diary.
Sturgeon has previously said she agreed to meet with her predecessor on 2 April because she “suspected that he may be about to resign from the SNP” and this would require a public response from the party.
However, it was at that meeting Salmond revealed he was being investigated for misconduct under the Scottish Government’s complaints handling procedure.
Murrell told the committee that Sturgeon’s submission to the committee “seems to make sense”, in that “her impression of what the meeting was about altered when the discussion happened”.
But Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said: “That might have been the case for the first meeting, but surely at subsequent meetings it would have be obvious what the matter being discussed was.”
Fraser suggested there was a “degree of confusion” around the meetings which took place on 2 April, 7 June and 14 July. He said: “I think one thing we are now clear about is that these meetings were not conducted on government business. They were not in the ministerial diary. There were no notes taken. In her own submission, Nicola Sturgeon suggested these were party matters that were being discussed.”
But Murrell insisted Sturgeon has not shared details of the meeting with him because it was government business and she therefore “couldn’t discuss” it.
The ministerial code states that any minister taking meetings without an official present must pass “any significant content” to their private offices as soon as possible for the basic facts of the meeting to be recorded.