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Cross-party group of MSPs calls for expansion of investigation into whether Nicola Sturgeon broke the ministerial code

Nicola Sturgeon - Image credit: Parliament TV

Cross-party group of MSPs calls for expansion of investigation into whether Nicola Sturgeon broke the ministerial code

A cross-party group of MSPs has called for an expansion of the investigation into whether the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, broke the ministerial code in relation to what she knew about harassment complaints against former first minister Alex Salmond.

Scottish Conservatives Murdo Fraser and Margaret Mitchell, Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie and the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ Alex Cole-Hamilton have written to Deputy First Minister John Swinney calling for an ongoing investigation to be widened to cover section 1c of the code, which relates to a requirement that ministers give accurate and truthful information to parliament.

This follows a report in The Times on Friday quoting Salmond as saying Sturgeon’s testimony about events was “simply untrue” and that she had misled parliament and broken the ministerial code.

According to The Times, Salmond alleged Sturgeon’s breaches of the code included a failure to inform the civil service in good time of her meetings with him and allowing the Scottish Government to contest a civil court case against him despite having had legal advice that it was likely to lose.

A statement from Sturgeon said she “entirely rejected” Salmond’s claims.

James Hamilton QC is already looking at whether the First Minister broke the rules by failing to report the basic facts of her meetings with Salmond to her private office or trying to influence the Scottish Government’s handling of complaints against Salmond, but the current inquiry does not cover her statements to parliament.

The four MSPs, who are all members of the Scottish Parliament committee that is looking into the Scottish Government’s handling of the harassment complaints, said that in light of Salmond’s statement and other material seen by the committee, the remit of the ministerial code investigation must now be expanded.

In the letter to the Deputy First Minister they say: “Mr Salmond’s submission raises many questions, some are beyond the scope of our inquiry, but they are clearly at odds with the account of events offered to Parliament by the First Minister.

“If corroborated, Mr Salmond’s evidence could prove that the First Minister knowingly misled Parliament both orally and in writing on several occasions about when she first knew that your government was investigating complaints against the former First Minister and her actions around the same.

“Equally, Mr Salmond may be fabricating his assertions in an effort to damage Ms Sturgeon.

“In any case these two versions of events cannot both be true and we believe it to be of paramount importance to the national interest that the facts of the matter are established.”

The controversy relates to whether a meeting between Sturgeon and Salmond’s former chief of staff, Geoff Aberdein, on 29 March 2018, which Sturgeon claimed initially to have forgotten, was pre-planned or just a chance encounter and whether the First Minister was aware in advance of what was to be discussed when she met with Salmond at her home on 2 April 2018.

Challenged at First Minister’s Questions on 29 October last year to expand the inquiry to cover her statements to parliament and her actions on legal advice regarding the judicial review brought by Salmond against the Scottish Government, Sturgeon said Hamilton was not limited in the remit of the inquiry and he could, in her view, expand it to cover any issues that related to a potential breach of the ministerial code.

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