Nicola Sturgeon today blasted the ‘latest instalment of Alex Salmond’s conspiracy theory’ as she said she ‘strongly refutes the suggestions and insinuations’ made by David Davis in the House of Commons last night using parliamentary privilege.
A number of journalists attempted to grill the SNP leader on Mr Davis’s comments as she held her daily coronavirus briefing.
But she said she would only answer one question on the matter because she would not allow the briefing to be ‘sidetracked’.
Following the first question on the issue, the Scottish First Minister said ‘this is the only comment I am going to make over the course of this Covid briefing’ as she later clashed with reporters who pushed her for more details.
She told the briefing: ‘Other than to say that I refute, strongly refute, the suggestions and insinuations from David Davis in the House of Commons last night, I am not going to have this Covid briefing sidetracked by the latest instalment of Alex Salmond’s conspiracy theory and that is just how it is today.’
Ms Sturgeon said she had ‘given eight hours of evidence to the parliamentary committee looking into this’ and ‘they have a job of work to do now’.
‘I am going to allow them to do that job of work and in the meantime I am going to get on with my job which for the moment is leading this Covid briefing because I am pretty sure most of the people watching right now want to hear about the Covid situation so I will make that comment and that is all I am saying in the course of this briefing,’ she said.
Ms Sturgeon was facing fresh demands for answers after Mr Davis, a Tory former Cabinet minister, revealed bombshell messages suggesting her chief of staff was ‘interfering’ in the complaints process about the Mr Salmond case.
Pressure is mounting on the First Minister for an explanation after Mr Davis used parliamentary privilege to reveal messages indicating senior aide Liz Lloyd knew about sexual harassment complaints in February 2018 – two months before Ms Sturgeon says she was told about them.
Mr Davis also said a whistleblower passed him messages between senior SNP officials, including Ms Sturgeon’s husband Peter Murrell, suggesting a ‘concerted effort’ to encourage complaints about Mr Salmond.
Ms Sturgeon has rubbished Mr Salmond’s accusations of an orchestrated plot to bring him down as ‘absurd’, and insists that she did not break the ministerial code by misleading the Scottish Parliament over when she found out about the allegations against her predecessor.
The former First Minister was later awarded more than £500,000 over the Scottish Government’s botched handling of his case, and cleared of sexual harassment allegations in a trial.
The extraordinary row is threatening to derail Ms Sturgeon’s drive to split up the UK, with support for Scottish independence diving as the ruling SNP descends further into civil war. She is facing calls to resign if probes find she broke the rules for ministers.
But the separatists will continue with their push for another referendum by holding a Commons debate this afternoon on Scotland’s ‘constitutional future’.
Ms Sturgeon had told MSPs she first learnt of complaints on April 2, before subsequently admitting she ‘forgot’ a meeting with Mr Salmond’s former chief of staff, Geoff Aberdein, on March 29.
However, in an astonishing intervention in the House of Commons last night, Mr Davis said he had it ‘on good authority’ there is an exchange of messages from February 6, 2018, between Judith Mackinnon, who carried out the investigation into the complaints about Mr Salmond, and senior government official Barbara Allison ‘suggesting that the First Minister’s chief of staff is interfering in the complaints process against Alex Salmond’.
He said the investigating officer said in one message that ‘this interference v bad’.
Mr Davis said: ‘If true, this suggests the chief of staff had knowledge of the Salmond case in February, not in April, as she has claimed on oath.
‘The First Minister also tied herself in [to]that April date in both parliamentary and legal statements. She was of course aware earlier than that. The question is, just how aware and how much earlier?’
Mr Davis said he was passed papers from an anonymous whistleblower, including a download of text messages from Sue Ruddick, chief operating officer of the SNP, which is held by police.
He said the whistleblower told him the messages ‘point to collusion, perjury, up to criminal conspiracy’.
Mr Davis referred to one message from September 28, 2018, a month after police started their investigation, in which SNP compliance officer Ian McCann expressed disappointment to Ms Ruddick that someone who had ‘promised to deliver five complainants… by the end of that week had come up empty, or overreached as he put it’.
Referring to another message on the day after the Scottish Government’s judicial review case collapsed in January 2019, he said Ms Ruddick expressed to Mr McCann the hope one of the complainants ‘would be sickened enough to get back in the game again’.
He said Ms Ruddick was nervous about her name coming out as someone ‘fishing’ for people to come forward.
Mr Davis also referred to Mr Murrell’s messages saying it was a good time to be ‘pressurising’ police. He said Mr Murrell told the inquiry these messages ‘were ‘quite out of character’. That is no defence even were it true’.
The former Cabinet minister told the Commons: ‘No single sequence of texts is going to provide conclusive proof of what the whistleblower described as a ‘criminal conspiracy’, but it does show a very strong prima facie case, which demands further serious investigation, by which I mean, at the very least, a thorough review of all the emails and other electronic records for the relevant personnel at all relevant times.
‘Together, those form a litany of acts that repeatedly frustrated the Committee and denied the public full transparency and accountability.
‘They fit squarely into a pattern of evasiveness and abuse of process that the Scottish Government have woven from the start.