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Jeane Freeman: First Minister did not mislead parliament and should not resign

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Jeane Freeman: First Minister did not mislead parliament and should not resign

Jeane Freeman has said she does not believe the First Minister should resign or that she misled parliament.

The health secretary was asked if Nicola Sturgeon should step down at today's lunchtime COVID-19 briefing.

It follows a vote yesterday, in which a majority of MSPs on the Holyrood harassment committee found Sturgeon misled the committee and therefore parliament. This is potentially a breach of the ministerial code of conduct.

Responding to questions this afternoon, Freeman said: "I have to say, before I say anything, this is a COVID briefing. That's what I'm here to answer questions on.

"Very briefly... I do not believe the First Minister should resign. I do not believe she has misled parliament and I have absolute confidence in her veracity of what she said in those eight hours of evidence to that committee, in her integrity and in her professionalism. And I'm not going to comment on unattributed briefings about a report which has not yet been published."

It’s understood the committee MSPs in question believe she misled them during her evidence, when she insisted she had not offered to intervene in a Scottish Government investigation into harassment complaints made against Alex Salmond.

Salmond claims she did when the two met at her house on 2 April 2018.

A spokesman for the First Minister last night said it was clear that "opposition members of this committee had prejudged the First Minister at the outset of the inquiry" before she had given evidence.

He added: "This partisan and selective briefing – before the committee has actually published its final report – is hardly surprising."

Freeman was asked about this statement as she was pressed on the matter at the briefing.

She responded: "Let me repeat. This is a COVID briefing. I'm the health secretary. I'm not dismissing anything.

"What I am saying to you is the report has not yet been published and I'm not going to comment on unpublished reports or unattributed briefings on anything actually.

"What I'm here to do is talk to people who are watching... about where we are in one of the most important things in their lives and mine, which is this pandemic and how we work our way through it. That's what I'm going to do."

Meanwhile, Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie has claimed the harassment committee has "descended into farce".

He said: "I’ve never seen a committee process more compromised by leaks, MSPs pre-judging the evidence, and party politics over-riding the public interest.

"What should have been an examination of how women were failed and how we could prevent that from happening again has turned into a complete farce.

"There were serious questions that needed to be answered by this committee, that’s why we supported its creation, but it’s clear that a number of committee members have absolutely no interest in establishing the facts or seeking to create a supportive environment for women to bring forward complaints.

"Instead they have bought into Alex Salmond’s conspiracy hook, line and sinker in the hope of securing a political scalp.

"It’s also clear that a number of members of the committee have breached the MSP code of conduct by leaking information to the media."

The Holyrood committee is due to publish its report on Tuesday morning, while the findings of an investigation from James Hamilton QC on whether the First Minister broke the ministerial code is also expected next week. 

Harvie added: "The Scottish Greens have said throughout that we will examine both the committee report and the Hamilton ministerial code inquiry before drawing any conclusions.

"Despite the indefensible behaviour of members of the committee we are still willing to do so, but their actions have clearly destroyed the credibility of their own report before anyone has had the chance to read it."

Read the most recent article written by Jack Thomson - Nicola Sturgeon tells PM independence referendum is a 'matter of when – not if'

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