Former SNP deputy accuses Nicola Sturgeon of breaching ministerial code over Salmond 'attack' at Covid briefing

Nicola Sturgeon MSP First Minister today arriving for First Minister's QuestionsNicola Sturgeon MSP First Minister today arriving for First Minister's Questions
Nicola Sturgeon MSP First Minister today arriving for First Minister's Questions
Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of using her Covid briefing to launch a “sustained attack” on Alex Salmond and breaching the ministerial code of conduct as a result.

Former deputy leader of the SNP, Jim Sillars, has now written to the Scottish Government’s top civil servant Leslie Evans asking she investigate what he has called a “gross breach” by Ms Sturgeon.

The First Minister is already being investigated by James Chalmers QC on whether she breached the ministerial code after accusations she misled the Scottish Parliament over when she first knew of sexual harassment allegations against Mr Salmond.

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A Holyrood committee is also currently investigating how the Scottish Government botched its inquiry into the sexual misconduct complaints against the former first minister, brought by two female civil servants.

Jim Sillars has accused Nicola Sturgeon of breaches of the ministerial code.Jim Sillars has accused Nicola Sturgeon of breaches of the ministerial code.
Jim Sillars has accused Nicola Sturgeon of breaches of the ministerial code.

Yesterday Ms Sturgeon, who is coming under intense pressure ahead of Mr Salmond’s oral evidence session with the committee tomorrow, answered a number of questions from journalists at her daily televised coronavirus briefing.

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In his letter Mr Sillars, a former SNP MP, said his complaint was “based on the attacks on Mr Salmond in a forum that had been arranged by the Scottish Government to inform the public on a subject, the pandemic, a matter of serious public concern, in which maximum publicity would be given to the words of the First Minister.

“It is a gross breach of her duty to use that government sponsored forum, for a public attack on Mr Salmond in matters not related to the purpose of a briefing to which the media had been invited.”

He said that the First Minister had "deliberately chosen” to answer questions on the subject of Mr Salmond “not once, but five times” instead of refusing to respond to questions on “matters irrelevant to the purpose of the press briefing.”

He added: “I submit that it is a breach of the Ministerial Code to allow, and then use, a public health Covid briefing to launch an attack on Mr Salmond in the context of matters arising from the Parliamentary Inquiry. By her conduct as recorded by the BBC, she is in flagrant breach of Clause 1 of the Code, and Clause 10 governing the conduct of Ministers and the Presentation of Policy.”

He added: “It is not for me to question a decision by the First Minister to make a public attack on Mr Salmond. But if she wished to do so, then she could have arranged a press conference on the subject, which would have been the proper and legitimate forum in which to do so.”

Mr Sillars singled out one statement by Ms Sturgeon on the result of the criminal trial of Mr Salmond last year, which cleared him of all charges.

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He wrote: “During her attacks on Mr Salmond she said: 'The behaviour complained of was found by a jury not to constitute criminal conduct and Alex Salmond is innocent of criminality, but that doesn’t mean that the behaviour they complained of didn’t happen ​and I think it’s important that we don’t lose sight of that.’

“Unlike the First Minister, who did not attend Mr Salmond’s trial, the jury was there for every second. They saw Mr Salmond, cross examined, precisely denying that the alleged behaviour happened. The jury saw and heard prosecution witnesses under cross examination. The jury’s conclusion, with a majority of women on it, was to acquit Mr Salmond.

"If as the First Minister states the jury’s verdict means that the complaints they had before them in evidence did in fact happen, then the only logical conclusion you can draw from her words is that the jury was wrong in its verdict – 13 times.

“Those were weasel words employed by the First Minister, and any reasonable person would draw more than an inference from them that the jury was wrong. The First Clause of the Ministerial Cod (1.1) states that “Scottish Ministers are expected to maintain high standards of behaviour and to behave in a way that upholds the highest standards of propriety.” The First Minister’s comment on the trial verdict, breached those standards."

Mr Sillars added: “It is vital to the health of a democracy that government, more than any other part of our society, maintain a scrupulous distance between it and intervention, even post-trial intervention, in our criminal justice system. That is the standard reflected in Clause (1.1) of the Code. Clause 1.3 states, inter alia, that Ministers “should uphold the administration of justice.” The First Minister, knowingly, breached those parts of the Code with her comments on the trial.”

At her Covid briefing Ms Sturgeon criticised her predecessor accusing him of peddling conspiracy theories and an “alternative reality”.

She said: “And Alex Salmond, well, you know, maybe creating an alternative reality in which the organs of the state, not just me and the SNP and the civil service and the Crown Office and the police and women who came forward, were all part of some wild conspiracy against him for reasons I can’t explain, maybe that’s easier than just accepting that at the root of all this might just have been issues in his own behaviour.”

She said: “I do worry about not just the women in this case, whose voices have been silenced, whose motives have been maligned, who have been accused, or it seems to me, to be accused of being liars and conspiracists, and I think that is wrong.”

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She added: “There was no conspiracy theory, and I sometimes think the preference perhaps of Mr Salmond is to continue to make those claims without ever subjecting them to the proper scrutiny of the parliamentary committee.”

Ms Sturgeon is due to give evidence to the committee next week.

The Scottish Government has been contacted for a response.

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