The First Minister said the comments were “entirely consistent” with her own views and that there was no doubt that the special adviser was acting “entirely in line” with the code of conduct.
The comments from Stuart Nicolson, which included the accusation that opposition politicians were “trying to deny the reality of an election result in a free and fair democracy”, were widely criticised by opposition MSPs. They followed accusations from Scottish Lib Dems leader Alex Cole-Hamilton that language being used by the First Minister was akin to Donald Trump’s rhetoric.
In an escalating row, the Scottish Conservative chief whip, Alexander Burnett, accused Mr Nicolson of breaching the code of conduct for special advisers due to the “false and incendiary” claims, which he claimed went “beyond a general political attack”.
In a letter sent to Ms Sturgeon and the Permanent Secretary John-Paul Marks, the Tory MSP calls on the First Minister to “take responsibility” for the alleged breach and to “act accordingly”.
The comments were made during a routine Scottish Government briefing following First Minister’s Questions the day after the Supreme Court ruled against the Government’s bid to legislate for a second independence referendum in Holyrood.
Mr Burnett accuses Mr Nicolson of making a “very specific and exaggerated accusation without any basis whatsoever” in relation to the election denial comments.
He said: “Mr Nicolson also made a further political attack, evidenced in the comment ‘if the word democracy is now being feted as a thought crime by unionist politicians, it says everything about where they’ve got to’. This comment surely breaches all reasonable definition of ‘moderation’ that is demanded by the Special Adviser Code.”
Paragraph 14 of the Special Advisors Code of Conduct states: “Special advisers must not take public part in political controversy, through any form of statement whether in speeches or letters to the press, or in books, social media, articles or leaflets.
"They must observe discretion and express comment with moderation, avoiding personal attacks, and would not normally speak in public for a minister, or the Scottish Government.”
Mr Burnett said: "They [the comments] not only strayed into partisan and overtly political territory, but accused opposition parties of being engaged in a denial of democracy – an extraordinary and entirely unfounded allegation.
“The First Minister must explain whether she authorised this outburst – as the rules state she is required to. And if she did not, she should accept responsibility for having failed to ensure that her advisers abide by the rules."
In a letter responding, Ms Sturgeon denied there was a breach of the code or that the comments did not reflect her views.
She said: “The comments were entirely consistent with views I have previously expressed in relation to the stance of opposition parties following last year’s Scottish Parliament election result and also reflected my response to the judgment handed down by the Supreme Court.
"It is of course one of the principal functions of special advisers to represent the views of Ministers to the media, including providing a political viewpoint. That is precisely what happened here.
"It is therefore beyond any doubt that the special adviser was acting entirely in line with the role as defined in the Code of conduct and was doing so with my full authority.”