Scotsman leader: Nicola Sturgeon is right to call in watchdog in order to restore trust

Nicola Sturgeon's decision, yesterday, to refer herself to a standards panel over her actions during an investigation into complaints made against Alex Salmond was the correct one, though we are bound to say the First Minister should have taken this step sooner.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

When it emerged last year that two women had levelled allegations of sexual harassment against Mr Salmond, Ms Sturgeon was quick to insist they should be treated fairly and with compassion. Regardless of her own professional or personal relationship with the man she succeeded as both First Minister and SNP leader, it was important these women were heard.

Ms Sturgeon’s strong words have since been seriously undermined thanks to the actions of the Scottish Civil Service and her own questionable judgement.

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Mr Salmond’s victory at the Court of Session which ruled, last week, that the Scottish Government investigation into complaints against him has not been executed lawfully was a disaster not only for Ms Sturgeon but for the two civil servants who made formal complaints against the former First Minister. Those women have been badly let down by a flawed process.

But while supporters of Ms Sturgeon may, legitimately, apportion blame for this appalling development to the civil service, they cannot do so when it comes to a series of meetings between the First Minister and Mr Salmond at which the matter was discussed.

Ms Sturgeon is adamant she informed Mr Salmond she would not intervene in the investigation but questions remain over why she felt it appropriate to meet with him.

Given the sensitivity, her decision to meet Mr Salmond in private was, at best, a serious error. That she held two more meetings with him and discussed the matter in two subsequent phone calls beggars belief.

We now know Ms Sturgeon’s chief of staff, Liz Lloyd, attended the first of those meetings. That Ms Sturgeon only confirmed this after questioning at Holyrood, only adds weight to the suggestion the First Minister hasn’t been entirely candid during this process.

The investigation into her role should be detailed and wide-ranging. Simply, we must get to the bottom of what happened if trust in the system is to be restored. More importantly, none of this must be allowed to distract from an ongoing police investigation sparked by the complaints against Mr Salmond.