Nicola Sturgeon: 'I am not going to apologise for the behaviour of Alex Salmond'
The First Minister was accused by the former first minister of breaking the ministerial code for failing to intervene in the judicial review, but also for misleading Parliament on when she was first made aware of complaints against him.
Questions about the nature of meetings between a member of her staff and Mr Salmond’s former chief of staff Geoff Aberdein were left unanswered due to legal constraints.
However, Ms Sturgeon rejected the premise of questions alleging the name of a complainer had been passed to Mr Aberdein and that complaints had been discussed with him by a senior member of her staff.
She said the meeting on March 29, 2018, which she claims she had “forgotten”, was in general terms about a concern around Mr Salmond and did not discuss specifics, with the April 2, 2018 meeting the first time she was aware of the specific complaints.
The First Minister also claimed the reason for notifying the civil service of the meeting – another potential breach of the code – was due to wanting to avoid influencing the impartiality and breaching the confidentiality of the process.
Responding to questions from Jackie Baillie, the committee’s Scottish Labour member, Ms Sturgeon said she still felt a degree of “loyalty” towards Mr Salmond and this influenced her decision making in reporting and continuing to meet with her former friend through 2018.
She said: “I still felt, despite everything, a loyalty to him.
"And that’s why I made these decisions and people will have to decide whether they think I was right or wrong.
"The thing that I was absolutely adamant about that I would not on his behalf, despite all I’ve just said about loyalty and friendship, I would not try to influence this process in the way he wanted me to because I think that would have been inappropriate.
"That is the touchstone on this that I believe I was right to do. I know I have heard this afternoon different views on that, but I believe that was the right decision to make.”
In a line of questioning from Scottish Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser, Ms Sturgeon was asked whether she would apologise for asking the Scottish people to trust Mr Salmond.
In an emotional response, she refused.
The First Minister said: "This is where you get into deeply personal territory.
“I have learned things about Alex Salmond over the last couple of years that have made me rethink certain things I thought about him.
"No doubt he would say the same thing about me because he’s said harsh things about me as well and I’ve had to go through a process of reassessing all sorts of things around that.
"As I was watching him on Friday lashing out, that’s my words, against us, I don’t know whether he ever reflects on the fact that many of us including me feel very let down by him.
"That’s a matter of deep personal pain and regret for me.
She added: "I trusted him and I am not going to apologise for the behaviour of somebody else.
"If I have things in my behaviour to apologise for, I will apologise, but I do not think it is reasonable to ask me to apologise for the behaviour, some of which he will deny of course, of Alex Salmond.
"I think the only person who should apologise for any behaviour on his part, which he was asked to do on Friday and failed to do, is Alex Salmond.”
In her closing remarks, Ms Sturgeon also launched a staunch defence of Scotland’s institutions and those who lead them.
She said: “I would put it to people when it seen in the terms of what actually happened, this is seen as an example of the institutions of the country, the independent institutions of the country, doing their job.
"Out of this comes the message that no matter how powerful you are or were, no matter your status or connections, if you are accused of serious offences they will be investigated and you will have the chance to defend yourself in court.
"That is how these things should work.
"Mistakes have been made by government and that is undeniable, but the idea that because somebody doesn’t like what happened over the past couple of years we allow this attack to be made on the very fundamentals of our democracy, I just find deeply distressing, deeply unfair, and actually whatever you think of me, the SNP, the Scottish Government, deeply injurious to the health and wellbeing of our democracy.”