The First Minister was asked three times whether she would stand down if she broke the Scottish ministerial code in relation to meetings with Alex Salmond about harassment complaints – but refused to give a direct answer.
She also denied that her husband, Peter Murrell, had committed perjury by insisting the evidence he gave to MSPs under oath was ‘the truth’ – even though it contradicted her own account.
Nicola Sturgeon pictured speaking at the First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood, Edinburgh, February 10
And she called for the Holyrood inquiry into the handling of harassment complaints to use special powers to compel Mr Salmond to attend.
It comes after Nationalist MSPs on the inquiry committee grouped together to refuse to publish his written evidence –putting his appearance before the inquiry in jeopardy.
Scottish Labour’s interim leader Jackie Baillie said: ‘The First Minister cannot simply ignore the ministerial code. That would have deeply damaging consequences for the parliament, the Government and our democracy.’
James Hamilton, QC, is already investigating whether Miss Sturgeon broke the code by failing to declare meetings with Mr Salmond or to arrange for a civil servant to be present.
The First Minister was asked if she would stand down if she broke the Scottish ministerial code in relation to meetings with Alex Salmond (pictured) about harassment complaints
At First Minister’s Questions, Miss Baillie said: ‘The ministerial code exists to protect the public interest, to ensure there is trust between politicians and the public, and for the public to hold the Government to account.
‘It is, therefore, critically important. Can I therefore ask her, if she is found to have breached the ministerial code, will she resign?’
Miss Sturgeon suggested that Miss Baillie was ‘prejudging the outcome’. She added: ‘When the committee has reported and when James Hamilton – again, I am fully, as I’m obliged to do, co-operating fully with that inquiry – and when the outcomes of those are published, people can ask me then and I can set out what I intend to do.
‘However, I do not believe that I breached the ministerial code. That is my position right now, and I think I am entitled to due process, just like everybody else.’
Nicola Sturgeon’s husband Peter Murrell (pictured) was accused of lying under oath about what he knew about a meeting between his wife and Alex Salmond
Miss Sturgeon initially told parliament she learned of the complaints from Mr Salmond on April 2, 2018.
But in written evidence, she said that she had ‘forgotten’ about a meeting with his former chief of staff, Geoff Aberdein, on March 29.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her predecessor Alex Salmond (pictured)
Yesterday, she failed to directly answer two further questions by Miss Baillie about whether she would resign if she breached the code, saying: ‘I don’t believe I did breach the ministerial code, and therefore I am not going to engage on the hypothetical.’
Miss Sturgeon also said the committee should be ‘ensuring everybody who has relevant information to offer here is before that committee doing that fully, openly, on the record and on oath, just as I will do on Tuesday’.
At a later media briefing, her official spokesman was asked to clarify if Miss Sturgeon wanted the committee to use full legal powers to force Mr Salmond to attend.
He said: ‘Yeah, yeah, I mean yeah, you surmise correctly. I mean, bluntly, why wouldn’t they? If the committee and all its members are serious about getting to the facts and getting to the truth, as they claim to be, then why on earth wouldn’t they use the powers at their disposal to compel witnesses to attend?’
It is understood the demand has infuriated Mr Salmond, who is considering a formal complaint against the spokesman for a potential breach of the civil service code of conduct for expressing a political opinion.
Allegations, discussions, denials and a ‘forgotten’ key meeting between Sturgeon and Salmond
November 2017: Allegations regarding Alex Salmond’s behaviour are raised with the SNP by Sky News.
Nicola Sturgeon said she spoke to him about this – and he ‘denied it’. No further action was taken.
March 29, 2018: Ms Sturgeon meets Geoff Aberdein in her Scottish parliament office where she has admitted they discussed the possibility of a meeting with Mr Salmond. Ms Sturgeon – after initially forgetting about this meeting – says there was ‘the suggestion that the matter might relate to allegations of a sexual nature’.
April 2, 2018: Ms Sturgeon and Mr Salmond meet at the First Minister’s home. According to Ms Sturgeon, this is the first time she heard of the complaints made against him. Despite this, she has insisted that the matters discussed were party business.
April 23, 2018: Ms Sturgeon and Mr Salmond hold a ‘substantive’ phone discussion. During this call, Ms Sturgeon claims that Mr Salmond asked whether she would speak to Leslie Evans about ‘mediation’ with the complainants. A special adviser was in the room at the time.
June 6, 2018: Ms Sturgeon writes to Mrs Evans to inform her that she has held discussions with Mr Salmond.
June 7, 2018: Ms Sturgeon again meets Mr Salmond, this time in Aberdeen ahead of the SNP party conference.
July 14, 2018: Ms Sturgeon meets Mr Salmond at her home near Glasgow.
July 18, 2018: Ms Sturgeon and Mr Salmond speak again on the phone. Ms Sturgeon said that ‘by this time’ she was ‘anxious – as party leader and from the perspective of preparing my party for any potential public issue – to know whether his handling of the matter meant it was likely to become public in the near future.’
This is the last time Ms Sturgeon and Mr Salmond speak. During this time they also exchange a number of WhatsApp messages in which they discuss the affair – including Mr Salmond’s decision to seek a judicial review over the government’s probe into the two complaints.
January 2019: Mr Salmond wins sexual harassment inquiry case against Scottish government and is awarded £500,000 in legal fees.
March 23, 2020: Alex Salmond is cleared of all sexual assault charges and his supporters demanded a full inquiry into the Scottish Government’s handling of the scandal.
January 24, 2021: Speaking on the Andrew Marr show, Ms Sturgeon denies misleading the Scottish Parliament after ‘forgetting’ to tell MSPs about her meeting with Mr Salmond’s aide on March 29, 2018.
February 8, 2021: Peter Murrell, the SNP’s chief executive and the First Leader’s husband, is accused of a ‘dismal and shifty’ performance as he gave evidence to the inquiry on Zoom.
February 16, 2021: Mooted date for Ms Sturgeon to appear before the inquiry.
Tips to Find Low Priced Luxury Holiday Package Deals Fast