Nicola Sturgeon’s career remains on the line today after she failed to answer critical questions over her handling of complaints against Alex Salmond at a marathon eight-hour grilling in the Scottish Parliament yesterday.
Her allies insisted she had ‘dismantled’ the claims and ‘conspiracy theories’ made by Mr Salmond and opposition parties when she gave evidence before MSPs.
But the First Minister still faces a vote of no confidence in her leadership, with critics insisting she said nothing to change their view that she had misled the Scottish parliament over what she knew and when.
Holyrood’s Tories rubbished her ‘litany of lies’ and have not withdrawn their vote of no confidence, but opposition parties have so far indicated that they will not back it while inquiries are still running.
The Conservative group said it was examining a letter sent by John Swinney, Ms Sturgeon’s deputy, to the inquiry last night agreeing to release more of the Scottish Government’s legal advice before deciding how to proceed.
That the committee was deprived of parts of the legal advice given to ministers during the Salmond investigation caused uproar yesterday and MSPs demanded Ms Sturgeon provide the critical evidence.
The inquiry has three weeks to compile its report before the Scottish Parliament breaks up. And a second inquiry by James Hamilton QC into whether Sturgeon broke the ministerial code over her handling of the affair is due to report before May’s Scottish elections.
The First Minister was ridiculed by sceptical MSPs yesterday afternoon as she claimed she ‘didn’t remember’ a key meeting about the sexual assault allegations against her predecessor and mentor.
Committee members described her claims as ‘unlikely’ and said they were ‘struggling to believe’ her, while expressing incredulity at her ‘forgetfulness’.
She insisted that her version of events concerning the allegations against Mr Salmond was ‘not a story’ but the truth.
But the Scottish Tories said last night: ‘Nicola Sturgeon dodged and evaded almost every difficult question. She vividly remembers the details she believes exonerate her, then forgets entirely anything that damages her. The litany of lies and abject failures is too much for any First Minister to survive. She must go.’
Ms Sturgeon has maintained the first time she learned of accusations against her predecessor was on April 2, 2018, during a conversation with him in the dining room of her home.
Accusations that she misled Parliament – which if proven could force her to resign – came after it emerged she had a prior meeting on March 29 with Mr Salmond’s former chief of staff, Geoff Aberdein, about harassment claims.
Ms Sturgeon previously stated she ‘forgot’ about this meeting and yesterday said that the gravity of the April 2 meeting had ‘obliterated’ her memory of the March 29 one.
She told MSPs: ‘What happened in my house on April 2, in my dining room with a man that’s been all these things to me for thirty years, was so significant, that that was the thing that will live with me forever. Did that, in my mind, slightly obliterate what came before that? Possibly.’
Ms Sturgeon added that on March 29 Mr Aberdein raised harassment claims ‘in general terms’ but not specifically in relation to Mr Salmond.
She said: ‘As you know, and it’s been the subject of comment and scepticism and I understand that: I didn’t remember this meeting.
‘And my recollection of this meeting is still not as vivid as I’d like it to be. I won’t go into the detail, but it was a colleague’s birthday, we stepped into my office.
‘He indicated there was a harassment issue, to the best of my recollection it was in general terms. What I remember more strongly is how worried he was about Alex and the main purpose of the discussion, as I recall it, was for him to get me to agree to see Alex.’
She also said that Mr Aberdein had expressed fears that Mr Salmond was poised to quit the SNP, which prompted her to agree to meet with her predecessor a few days later.
Her remarks raised eyebrows from Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton, who cast doubt on the veracity of her claims.
He said: ‘This massive and devastating fear and belief that you had that your friend and mentor of 30 years was about to quit your party came from a meeting that you claimed to have forgotten all about. Sorry First Minister, but do you realise how unlikely that sounds?’
Tory MSP Murdo Fraser added: ‘I share Mr Cole-Hamilton’s scepticism about your forgetfulness… We’re struggling to believe the story that you forgot about this meeting.’
Ms Sturgeon shot back: ‘It’s not a story, it’s an account of what happened.’
Allies of Ms Sturgeon rode to her defence, with justice minister Humza Yousaf accusing members of the committee of a ‘house of cards conspiracy’ – tweets that were condemned online, given his government position with responsibility for due process.
In a crunch day for The First Minister’s political future:
- Ms Sturgeon faced questions on why the committee had been deprived of crucial pieces of evidence;
- She dismissed Mr Salmond’s ‘absurd’ claims there was a concerted plot to bring him down;
- She tore into her predecessor for not offering up ‘a single word of regret’ for ‘inappropriate behaviour’ during his own testimony last Friday;
- The First Minister denied that a member of her staff had leaked the name of one of the women accusers to Mr Salmond’s chief of staff;
- Jackie Baillie MSP suggested to the inquiry the Daily Record newspaper was leaked information on Mr Salmond to spike an upcoming story about Ms Sturgeon, which Ms Sturgeon said she knew nothing about;
- Ms Sturgeon said that, during her tenure as deputy first minister, Mr Salmond was a ‘tough’ person to work for at times, but said she was ‘sad’ she had come to blows with her former mentor.