Criminal charges against Alex Salmond do not damage the case for independence, Nicola Sturgeon has said.
The First Minister insisted that the campaign for an independent Scotland was “bigger than any one man”.
Her predecessor as First Minister and SNP leader was told this week he faces 14 charges including attempted rape, indecent assault and breach of the peace. Mr Salmond says he is “innocent of any criminality whatsoever” and will contest the charges.
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Appearing on the Andrew Marr show, Ms Sturgeon refused to say whether she had been contacted by police in connection with the case.
“I will not comment on any aspect of the police investigation,” she said. “That is not a matter of choice necessarily, those are the obligations I like everybody else are under to respect due process.
“I am not going to comment… it would not be appropriate for me to do so.”
The First Minister rejected the suggestion that the charges against Mr Salmond had damaged the independence cause, claiming that Brexit had “strengthened that case immeasurably”.
“No, I don’t think it has an impact on the future political and constitutional direction of Scotland,” she said.
“The case for independence is bigger than any one man. It’s bigger than any one woman.
“It’s not about individual personalities, it’s about what is best for the country now and in the longer term. It’s about how we put ourselves in the best position to protect our interests and build prosperity and fairness in Scotland.
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“That’s a case that obviously the SNP is in the leading position in making, but it’s a case that over the last few years has won many converts and the experience of the last two and a half years of Brexit - we face being taken out of the EU against our will, the views of Scotland have been largely disregarded - I think has strengthened that case immeasurably.”
Jackson Carlaw, the interim Scottish Conservative leader said: “Only one thing was clear from Nicola Sturgeon’s evasive performance this morning.
“No matter what happens within her own party or elsewhere, she won’t stop banging on and on about her campaign for another independence referendum.
“That is her only priority.”
Amid continuing Brexit deadlock, the First Minister has promised to reveal details of her timetable for a second independence referendum “within weeks”.
Pressed on whether the 29 March Brexit date was a “deadline” by which she would be forced to make an announcement, Ms Sturgeon said it would come “within that timeframe”.