First Minister's office accuses Holyrood harassment committee of 'assertion, supposition and smear'
NICOLA Sturgeon’s spokesman has accused MSPs on Holyrood’s harassment committee of having “resorted to baseless assertion, supposition and smear”.
In a furious statement, the First Minister’s office claimed the cross-party inquiry had “deliberately ignored and suppressed evidence" that backed up the SNP leader’s version of events.
A number of details from the committee’s report have been leaked to media ahead of publication next Tuesday.
The latest claim is that the inquiry has reportedly concluded it is “hard to believe” Sturgeon did not know of concerns about Salmond’s behaviour before November 2017.
Sturgeon has said the first she ever heard of possible inappropriate behaviour by Salmond was in November 2017 when informed of a media inquiry relating to an incident towards female Edinburgh Airport staff.
Sky News also revealed that the committee is “concerned” about the meetings between the two, and the length of time it took for the First Minister to pass those concerns on to the civil service.
Last night it emerged that the committee voted down party lines, by five to four, that Sturgeon had misled them, and therefore misled the parliament.
This is potentially a breach of the ministerial code of conduct, which says that any minister found to "knowingly mislead the Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation."
However, crucially, the word "knowingly" was not included in the motion agreed by the committee.
The nine MSPs are looking into the Scottish Government’s flawed investigation of two harassment complaints made against Salmond.
He had the civil service probe set aside at judicial review.
He was later cleared of 13 charges of sexual harassment at criminal trial.
It’s understood the committee believe Sturgeon misled them during her evidence, when she insisted she had not offered to get involved in the Scottish Government investigation.
Salmond claims she did when the two met at her house on 2 April 2018.
The advocate and former SNP MSP, Duncan Hamilton QC, corroborated Salmond’s account, telling the committee Sturgeon had said: "If it comes to it, I will intervene."
A spokesperson for Sturgeon said: "The First Minister told the truth to the committee, and stands by every word of her evidence.
"Day and daily the public have seen the open, frank approach the First Minister has taken to political leadership.
"The contrast with elements of the opposition, who appear intent on breaking every rule in the book in a blatantly transparent attempt to damage her before the coming election, could not be more stark.
"The latest leak from the committee, suggesting they find it ‘hard to believe’ that the First Minister did not previously know about inappropriate behaviour on the part of Alex Salmond is not supported by a single shred of evidence.
"Sadly, she is not the first woman let down by a man she once trusted to face that charge, and regrettably she is unlikely to be the last.
"On this, the committee appears to have resorted to baseless assertion, supposition and smear – that is not how serious parliamentary committees are supposed to work, and in behaving this way they are simply exposing their base political motives.
"And on the suggestion that the First Minister was not clear to Mr Salmond that she would not intervene on his behalf, the committee appear to have deliberately ignored and suppressed evidence submitted to them which corroborates the First Minister’s evidence on that issue.
"And that, in fact, she did not intervene on behalf of a then friend and colleague to help cover up sexual harassment allegations, appears irrelevant to them.#
"It was clear from the actions of the Tories several weeks ago, when they announced plans for a motion of confidence before they had even heard a word of evidence from First Minister, that for them this committee was never a serious exercise in learning lessons on behalf of women who bring forward complaints of sexual harassment – it was only ever about politics.
"The independent inquiry into the First Minister and the ministerial code is being conducted by James Hamilton, and we expect to receive and publish his report soon."
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has called for Sturgeon’s resignation, and said: “The committee will publish its findings in the coming days and we will wait for that report.
"However, we are really only waiting for confirmation of what we already know.”
Speaking to the BBC on Friday morning, UK Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said that the ministerial code “is clear that if the code has been breached, the individual should resign”.
He added: “It’s more than just about Nicola Sturgeon, it’s about the integrity of the Scottish Parliament, the integrity of the office of the First Minister and standards in public life.
“The First Minister wrote the foreword to the Scottish ministerial code and she said, and these were her words: ‘I will lead by example in following the letter and the spirit of this code.’
“So she set herself high standards, and now she needs to live up to those high standards.”