Alex Salmond will not be suspended by the SNP over sexual harassment accusations made against him because there is no “legal basis” to do so, Nicola Sturgeon has said.
But the First Minister is now under pressure to disclose details of discussions she had with her predecessor about the investigation into his conduct amid claims they are being kept “under wraps”.
The SNP is now “recirculating” details of its complaints procedure to all members, and Ms Sturgeon yesterday offered a “personal assurance” that any fresh allegations will be treated seriously and in confidence.
Mr Salmond last night said that “every single person in Scotland” should be treated equally regardless of who they are.
Ms Sturgeon had been facing calls to suspend Mr Salmond’s membership of the party he led for more than a decade while he pursues a judicial review into the way his case was handled by the Scottish Government.
Two Scottish Government staff members accused Mr Salmond of harassment while he was first minister in 2013. Mr Salmond denies the claims.
It was reported over the weekend that one of complainers alleged Mr Salmond ordered her into his bed at his official Bute House residence and touched her breasts.
The two women making the claims allege multiple incidences of harassment and conduct of a sexual nature during Mr Salmond’s time in office.
However, the SNP leader said the party has a responsibility to act in accordance with “due process”.
Ms Sturgeon said: “In this case, unlike in some previous cases, the investigation into complaints about Alex Salmond has not been conducted by the SNP and no complaints have been received by the party.
“Also, for legal reasons, the limited information I have about the Scottish Government investigation cannot at this stage be shared with the party – and rightly it is the party, not me as leader, that has the power to suspend membership.
“In summary, the party has no legal basis at this time to suspend Alex Salmond’s membership. Of course, should that situation change, the matter will be reconsidered, as it would be for any member. The party’s rules apply to all members and no-one is above them.”
Former children’s minister Mark McDonald was suspended by the party over harassment claims last year, which he denied. The difference appears that the SNP had conducted that inquiry, while this investigation was done by the Scottish Government.
A report by the standards watchdog later concluded that Mr McDonald was guilty of harassment.
Ms Sturgeon also revealed that the SNP is to “recirculate” details of the independent arrangements which are in place to consider complaints to all party members.
“I give my personal assurance that any complaints, about any member of the SNP, will be considered confidentially and with the utmost care and seriousness,” the First Minister added.
The Scottish Government’s top civil servant, Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans, has come under fire from Mr Salmond over the investigation process, which is now being challenged by the ex-first minister at the Court of Session.
Ms Sturgeon said her government is “extremely restricted” in what it is able to say about “inaccuracies in the public statements of others”.
She added: “That is frustrating but it is inescapable at this stage. In the fullness of time, the Scottish Government will seek to make available as much information as it can.
“However, we should not allow a focus on process to obscure this central fact: complaints were made by two individuals that could not be ignored or swept under the carpet.
“It is essential that organisations have processes in place to enable investigation of such complaints and, although I have no role in it, the procedure that has been used to investigate these complaints was agreed by me.
“The Permanent Secretary was absolutely right to ensure that the procedure was applied in this case and she has my full support in having done so.
“The Scottish Government will defend its position vigorously. However, just as importantly, it – and I – will defend the principle that complaints of harassment should always be treated seriously regardless of the identity, seniority or political allegiance of the person complained about.
“Finally, I would ask that the privacy and rights of all concerned be respected and that any legal processes are allowed to take their course.”
Ms Sturgeon’s comments came after her own former special adviser Noel Dolan, who worked closely with her for the best part of a decade, went on the offensive against Ms Evans.
Mr Dolan said: “I have known Alex Salmond for over 35 years and I’ve never seen any inappropriate behaviour, nor have I heard any allegations of sexual harassment prior to Friday morning.
“I expect Mr Salmond to be cleared of these allegations and when that happens I hope Leslie Evans, the Permanent Secretary, will consider her position.”
Mr Salmond last night again insisted that the new process used to investigate ministers, introduced last December, is “fundamentally flawed”. He said he has been denied access to witnesses and effectively thwarted from presenting a defence of his own position.
Mr Salmond said that confidentiality has not been maintained in his case but “subject to sustained leaking of the most unfair kind”.
He added: “That helps no-one but harms everyone. It is therefore crucial to find out who in government was responsible.”
He called for the Court of Session to be allowed “to do its job” in the judicial review he is pursuing.
Mr Salmond revealed last week that he had spoken with Ms Sturgeon on three occasions about the case against him before it went public. He declined to reveal details of the conversations, but did admit all his discussions with senior figures about the case centred on how unfair the process was.
Labour is now calling for the times and dates of these meetings to be revealed, along with any minutes from them. They are also seeking clarification as to whether Mr Salmond asked the First Minister to interfere in the investigation in anyway.
“The people of Scotland expect full transparency in this case,” said Labour MSP Rhoda Grant. “It is understood that Alex Salmond met the First Minister on multiple occasions to discuss the investigation into allegations of sexual assault into him.
“It would be completely unacceptable if the details of those meetings remained unknown.
“The allegations against Alex Salmond are incredibly serious. His meetings with the head of a government that was investigating him must not be kept under wraps.
“Nicola Sturgeon must publish the details and minutes of these meetings as soon as possible.
“The SNP must also do all it can to give complainants the support they need, whoever the alleged perpetrator is, and make clear that there is safe space for any other survivors to come forward.”
Ms Sturgeon had been unaware of the investigation into Mr Salmond until she was contacted by him in April.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said yesterday: “The First Minister was clear to Alex Salmond that she had no role in the process and would not intervene. For legal reasons we are unable to provide further detail at this time.
“However, in the fullness of time the Scottish Government will seek to make available as much information as it can.”