Analysis: How do Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon's claims stack up against evidence?

In explosive evidence, Alex Salmond claimed the existence of a conspiracy within the Scottish Government and the SNP to see him expelled from public life and potentially jailed.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon enjoys a cup of tea with Alex Salmond while on the General Election campaign trail in Inverurie in the Gordon constituency in 2015.First Minister Nicola Sturgeon enjoys a cup of tea with Alex Salmond while on the General Election campaign trail in Inverurie in the Gordon constituency in 2015.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon enjoys a cup of tea with Alex Salmond while on the General Election campaign trail in Inverurie in the Gordon constituency in 2015.

Ahead of his long-awaited appearance in front of the Holyrood committee on the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment complaints, we look at each of his main claims and whether they are supported by the evidence available to the committee.

Claim: Leslie Evans was “chiefly responsible” for the complaints process that was specifically designed to allow for complaints against Alex Salmond to be investigated

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Alex Salmond: “It is stretching credibility to believe that this radical departure from all previous policy in the Scottish (or any other) administration was simultaneously and independently dreamed up by two separate civil servants.

"When the Permanent Secretary agreed with the First Minister that she should take over as key decision maker in terms of this new policy, she was already aware of the developing complaints against me.

"Therefore she put herself at the centre of a policy in the full knowledge that I would likely be the first (and perhaps only given the subsequent declaration of illegality) subject of its implementation. Doing so from a position of already being tainted by bias is an extraordinary decision.

“Despite her protestations to the contrary the Permanent Secretary was chiefly responsible for the pursuit of an unlawful policy which has cost the Scottish people millions of pounds.”

Nicola Sturgeon: “The development of the Scottish Government’s [procedure] took place against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement, which started in late 2017 in the wake of allegations extending back over several years about certain high profile individuals.

“The concerns being expressed globally at that time were that too many organisations did not have procedures in place that allowed allegations of sexual harassment to be raised or properly investigated; that women’s voices were often not heard or listened to; that organisations too often closed ranks in defence of men accused of inappropriate behaviour; and that it could be particularly difficult for ‘historic’ allegations to be raised."

The evidence: The complaints procedure was changed to include former ministers around the end of November 2018, as initial, informal complaints against Mr Salmond had already been raised with senior civil servants involved in its development.

The Scottish Government state the plan had always been to include a provision for historical complaints to be included in the policy’s scope.

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Claims the inclusion of former ministers was a political one have been rejected by key Scottish Government witnesses.

Given the concession during the judicial review process, Ms Evans will be subject to a degree of criticism due to her position as head of the civil service and being ultimately responsible for the final version of the procedure.

Claim: "The evidence supports a deliberate, prolonged, malicious and concerted effort amongst a range of individuals within the Scottish Government and the SNP to damage my reputation, even to the extent of having me imprisoned.”

Alex Salmond: “That includes, for the avoidance of doubt, Peter Murrell (chief executive), Ian McCann (compliance officer) and Sue Ruddick (chief operating officer) of the SNP together with Liz Lloyd, the First Minister’s chief of staff. There are others who, for legal reasons, I am not allowed to name.

“The most obvious and compelling evidence of such conduct is contained within the material the Crown Office refuses to release. That decision is frankly disgraceful.

"Refusing to allow the committee to see that material both denies me the opportunity to put the full truth before the committee and the public, and makes it impossible for the committee to complete its task on a full sight of the relevant material.

"The only beneficiaries of that decision to withhold evidence are those involved in conduct designed to damage (and indeed imprison) me.

"In addition to advocating the ‘pressurising’ of the police (those text messages are public and before the committee), Mr Murrell deployed his senior staff to recruit and persuade staff and ex staff members to submit police complaints.”

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Nicola Sturgeon: “He appears to be suggesting some kind of conspiracy or concerted campaign against him without a shred of evidence.

"This is his opportunity, because the burden of proof lies with him, to replace the insinuation and assertion that we’ve heard over several months now with evidence.

"Now I don’t believe he can do that because I know what he is claiming about a conspiracy is not true.

"But if he can’t substantiate it, it is time for him to stop making these claims because it is not fair to women first and foremost who came forward with complaints or the other people who have given loyal service to Alex Salmond who he is also, appears to be directing those claims to."

The evidence: Alex Salmond has provided minimal evidence to back up this claim. His argument is the evidence that is relevant is held by the Crown Office and is being blocked from submission.

The insinuation is that this evidence would prove the suggestion of conspiracy, but it will be for the committee to decide whether or not the assertion it exists is sufficient for proof.

What has been made public includes talk of Mr Murrell “pressurising” police, and emails sent to former and at-the-time current SNP and Scottish Government staff by high-ranking SNP officials and civil servants.

His evidence also includes a statement from Anne Harvey, a former SNP staff member, alleging a “witch-hunt” against Mr Salmond.

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Hard evidence for conspiracy is thin on the ground, but that doesn’t mean it doesn't exist.

Claim: Nicola Sturgeon breached the ministerial code on several occasions, including misleading Parliament and failing to intervene in an unlawful procedure

Alex Salmond: “The repeated representation to the Parliament of the meeting on April 2, 2018 as being a ‘party’ meeting because it proceeded in ignorance of the complaints is false and manifestly untrue.

"The meeting on April 2, 2018 was arranged as a direct consequence of the prior meeting about the complaints held in the Scottish Parliament on March 29, 2018.

“My view is that the First Minister should have informed the Permanent Secretary of the legal risks they were running and ensured a proper examination of the legal position and satisfied herself that her Government were acting lawfully."

Nicola Sturgeon: “I stand by what I said to Parliament and I’ll set out the detail of this to the committee.

"On April 2, 2018, Alex Salmond came to my house and told me in quite gory detail what he was accused of and also gave me his account of one of those incidents.

"There has since been an issue raised about a meeting I had with his former chief of staff three days earlier.

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"That’s a meeting that’s never held any significance in my head.

"My recollection of that I will give to the committee, but it doesn’t change what I’ve said to Parliament.

"I will share all of that with the committee and I relish the opportunity to do that. Many claims have been made about me that are legitimate questions that I have to answer, I am rightly and properly subjected to scrutiny.

"I don't believe I broke the ministerial code and I'm not going to get into hypotheticals about that.”

The evidence: We know that Ms Sturgeon met with Geoff Aberdein on March 29, 2018, and then with Alex Salmond on April 2, 2018.

What was discussed at the first meeting is in dispute. Ms Sturgeon claims it was simply to arrange the second meeting, Mr Salmond believes it was to discuss the complaints and arrange the meeting.

On the evidence available to the committee, which critically doesn’t include Mr Aberdein’s evidence, it boils down to an interpretation of whether the First Minister should intervene in a process she was written out on, or on the semantics of her statements to Parliament.

Whether Ms Sturgeon has breached the code will ultimately come down to whether or not the committee and James Hamilton QC believes the First Minister or her predecessor more.

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Claim: "The Crown Office is unfit for purpose under current leadership and is subject to government influence. This is not the behaviour of a prosecution department independent of government influence.”

Alex Salmond: “The Crown Office has intervened three times to deny this committee information for which it has asked.

“This has been done by reliance on legislation which was never designed to obstruct the work of a Parliamentary committee acting in the public interest and investigating the actions of the Scottish Government. I know this to be true because I was First Minister when the legislation was passed in 2010.

"Given this attitude to disclosure by the Scottish Government and Crown Office, it becomes highly surprising that when this committee exerted section 23 powers to require documents, it was given irrelevant information for which it had not asked and could never be published while relevant information remained undisclosed.

"It is also clear that Government SPADS were briefing the media on this information before members had even seen it.

“As was glaringly clear from his evidence and his inability to address the most basic of questions, his denial of provision of the legal advice of external counsel, his costly delay in settling the case, his refusal to confirm what the committee eventually found out that both counsel threatened to resign from the case, the Lord Advocate is deeply compromised between his twin roles as head of prosecutions and chief government legal adviser."

Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC: “I am absolutely satisfied that there is neither a conflict of interests in those roles nor any compromise in the integrity with which they can be fulfilled.

“It is a matter of public record that, as is the case in the great majority of cases that the Crown deals with, neither the Solicitor General for Scotland nor I were personally involved in any part of the Crown’s consideration of Mr Salmond’s case.

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"That was conducted by professional prosecutors in the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and a senior advocate depute, as is entirely normal with the most significant and serious crimes that we prosecute.

“There was never any intention or desire to conceal anything. As I said earlier, the whole approach that the Government took in November in relation to putting facts into the pleadings and disclosing documents voluntarily reflected a desire to be candid and transparent.

"We know from the way matters turned out that, regrettably, the investigations that were undertaken then to investigate all relevant documents and to get a full picture of the facts was not as robust as it should have been, and lessons have to be learned from that.”

The evidence: The Crown Office has intervened multiple times in the inquiry’s ongoing work, most infamously on submissions to parliament by Mr Salmond and when they were subject of a previously unused power to compel the provision of information.

However, the messages provided by the Crown Office were judged to not be within the remit of the inquiry.

Questions still remain as to the basis for the legal caution from the Crown in regards to redactions to Mr Salmond’s ministerial code submission and who in the organisation is driving it to insist on redactions.

It is also impossible to know what other messages it may hold, but throughout the inquiry it would not be unfair to describe the Crown as having been obstructive.

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