The partial leak of the report of the Scottish Parliament’s inquiry into the handling complaints against former First Minister Alex Salmond and the imminent publication of a separate independent report by James Hamilton QC on whether Ms Sturgeon broke the ministerial code are putting pressure on the First Minister as never before.
But even before the leak, which claimed the committee had concluded Ms Sturgeon had misled parliament and given an “inaccurate” account of a meeting with Mr Salmond during the investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct, the Tories had called on the First Minister to resign.
The calls were repeated yesterday by Tory MSP Adam Tomkins, who said: “The evidence is not just clear but overwhelming that Nicola Sturgeon has misled parliament on countless occasions.
“If you are a minister in the Scottish Government you have to abide by the ministerial code. The ministerial code makes it absolutely clear that if you mislead the Scottish Parliament you resign. She misled the Scottish Parliament and she needs to resign.”
But Mr Russell likened the Tories’ approach to the Trump supporters’ chant calling for Hillary Clinton, his Democrat rival in the 2016 US election, to be jailed.
He told the BBC: “What you’ve just heard is a version of the Trump cry ‘Lock her up’ – if you remember that used to be shouted at every Trump rally, that’s what you’ve just heard, and the Tories have been doing it for weeks and it’s thoroughly unpleasant, and it’s focused on an individual, and it’s focused on undermining the Scottish Parliament.“It’s utterly discreditable and the people of Scotland need to have their say about it.”
In a hectic week at Holyrood, the Salmond committee’s report is due to be published tomorrow and the Tories have confirmed they plan to press ahead with a motion of no confidence in Ms Sturgeon due to be debated on Wednesday, just ahead of MSPs breaking up for the Scottish Parliament elections. The crucial report by James Hamilton QC into whether Ms Sturgeon broke the ministerial code is also due early this week.
And Mr Russell also confirmed yesterday the government planned to publish its independence bill this week, paving the way for a second referendum once the pandemic is over.
Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said Ms Sturgeon’s conduct was worse than that of other First Ministers and party leaders who had been forced to quit.
He said: “Nicola Sturgeon must be held to the same standard as other First Ministers and party leaders. She cannot receive special treatment because she supports independence and has better poll numbers than her predecessors.
“Whatever the James Hamilton report finds, it’s evident that Henry McLeish, Wendy Alexander and David McLetchie resigned for far less than the charge sheet facing Nicola Sturgeon.
“They were forced out, largely by the SNP, for actions that seem tame compared to what Sturgeon has done.”
Mr McLeish resigned as First Minister in 2001 over the "Officegate” affair, a “muddle” about the sub-letting of part of his Westminster constituency office; Ms Alexander quit as Scottish Labour leader in 2008 after a row about a donation to her leadership campaign fund; and Mr McLetchie stood down as Scottish Tory leader over expenses claims.
Mr Ross continued: “The only First Minister and party leader who has acted worse is Alex Salmond, and he only remained in office because his inappropriate behaviour remained hidden to people outside of the SNP and Scottish Government.”
He said Ms Sturgeon had said she would “respect the decisions” of the committee and Mr Hamilton, but already the SNP were discrediting their findings and spinning that misleading Parliament was somehow acceptable.
“The SNP have already set a new low for the behaviour of a First Minister. Now they are intent on setting another new low, that misleading the Scottish Parliament is acceptable.
“I say directly to the First Minister – don’t drag down Scotland’s institutions with you. Resign and retain the credibility of our Scottish Parliament.”
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman, appearing on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday, said Ms Sturgeon would take “the necessary decisions” once Mr Hamilton published his report.
Asked whether the First Minister should resign if he was found to have broken the ministerial code, she said: “Well, we don’t have either of those two confirmed reports yet so we’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves. The most important one is actually the independent inquiry into whether the First Minister breached the ministerial code which she referred herself to in January 2019. We expect that report this week and that is the one where James Hamilton, QC, has looked at all of these matters and he will produce his conclusions. That’s the one that is genuinely independent and objective and we will see what that report says and then the First Minister will take the necessary decisions after that.”
Mr Salmond stood trial at the High Court last year on a series of charges and was acquitted on all counts.