Nicola Sturgeon warns SNP cannot have one rule for Alex Salmond
Nicola Sturgeon has urged SNP parliamentarians to remember the women at the heart of sexual harassment case against Alex Salmond in an effort to stem a growing schism in the party.
The First Minister insisted there cannot be “one rule for the powerful and another rule for everyone else” in an apparent criticism of her predecessor’s controversial crowdfunding campaign for legal costs.
Her remarks during an address to MPs and MSPs at a party away-day in Edinburgh yesterday came just hours after Mr Salmond formally launched his legal bid to take the Scottish Government to court over the process used to investigate two separate claims of sexual misconduct against him.
The claims were made public just over a week ago and the case has been handed to police, who are now assessing the evidence.
Since then Ms Sturgeon has been faced with a widening split in her party. Senior figures, including Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil and treasurer Colin Beattie, have publicly backed Mr Salmond, while others fear the way events have been handled may deter future victims from coming forward.
The First Minister yesterday addressed party colleagues at Napier University ahead of the return of the Scottish Parliament from its summer recess next week. She said: “How we deal with this, and how we are seen to respond to this, will say a lot about who we are as a party and also about the country we are today and want to build for the future.
“I believe in a Scotland where there is equality before the law, where there’s not one rule for the powerful and another rule for everyone else, and where all parties get fair and due process.
“Let’s not forget that at the heart of this, amidst all the focus on process, politics and personalities, there are two people who have brought forward complaints, which cannot have been at all easy to do.”
Mr Salmond’s decision to ask the public for financial support has been branded “unprecedented” and “unbelievable” by opposition politicians. The fund has raised almost £100,000 – but some have urged people to donate cash to women’s organisations instead of giving money to the former SNP leader, who served at both Holyrood and Westminster during his lengthy political career.
Ms Sturgeon added: “I want to be not just the First Minister but also a citizen of a country where people feel that they can come forward and know that their complaints will be taken seriously.
“Therefore, in everything we do and say, we need to make sure that we are not making it harder for people to come forward in the future – otherwise, we risk setting back so much of the progress that has been made in recent times.”
Mr Salmond quit the SNP, which he led for two decades, last week because he feared there would be “substantial internal division” within the party if Ms Sturgeon was forced to suspend him.
Two women have claimed they were sexually harassed by Mr Salmond in December 2013, while he was still first minister, at his official Bute House residence. The complaints were received by the Scottish Government in January this year after a new complaints procedure was introduced following the Weinstein sexual assault revelations in America and other revelations of wider harassment at Holyrood from a staff survey.
Mr Salmond is now seeking a judicial review at the Court of Session to challenge the procedures used by the Scottish Government to investigate the claims against him.
A statement from his solicitors, Levy & McRae, yesterday confirmed that a petition for judicial review in the Court of Session was served on the Scottish Government.
The statement added: “We can also confirm that first respondent is the Permanent Secretary, Ms Leslie Evans, who established the procedure which is the subject of challenge. The second respondent is the Scottish Government.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said it would “vigorously defend” its position.
He added: “No-one should forget that there are two complaints that could not be ignored or swept under the carpet. As a responsible employer, the Scottish Government had to address those complaints appropriately.”