Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon faces new questions over whether her government misled the country’s highest court over the Alex Salmond affair.
It centres on the date she first learned of complaints of sexual harassment against Mr Salmond, her predecessor.
Ms Sturgeon gave the Scottish Parliament a date of 2 April 2018. That has already led to claims that she misled parliament, which she denies.
Scottish Government lawyers gave the same version to the Court of Session which has led to new questions over whether Scotland’s highest civil court was told the truth.
Jackie Baillie MSP, a member of a Scottish parliament committee looking into the government’s handling of complaints against Mr Salmond, told Sky News: “Anything less than the whole truth told to the highest court in the land is a huge issue for the first minister. This reinforces why our committee wants, and the public deserves, full and frank answers from her.”
Ms Sturgeon’s account of when she learned about complaints against Mr Salmond was included in submissions to the Court of Session as part of a judicial review in 2018/2019. He challenged the legality of her government’s investigation of complaints against him and won.
Ms Sturgeon’s version of events formed part of the case ‘pleadings’, the formal written submissions to the court by both sides. Referring to Ms Sturgeon as “the interested party”, the pleadings state that “she first became aware of the existence of an investigation into the petitioner’s (Alex Salmond) conduct in April 2018 when the petitioner made her so aware.”
Scotland’s first minister has faced persistent questions surrounding the 2 April 2018 date.
While she has insisted that was the day she learned of complaints against Mr Salmond when she met him at her home, Sky News has revealed details that raise questions about her account.
We reported an account of a meeting that took place in her office four days before, on 29 March 2018. The first minister was present at the meeting, along with a senior government official and Geoff Aberdein, Mr Salmond’s former chief of staff. At least one person present at the meeting maintains the government investigation into Mr Salmond was discussed.
It was two weeks after our revelations in July last year that Scotland’s first minister said she had “forgotten” about the meeting, adding that she thought it did cover “the suggestion that the matter might relate to allegations of a sexual nature”. She made the statement in a written submission to Holyrood’s harassment committee.
The details of the 29 March 2018 meeting, and arrangements made to have it, have fed into opposition claims that Ms Sturgeon misled Scotland’s parliament and, in doing so, broke the ministerial code.
Their allegations are focused on ‘SNP business’ versus ‘government business’ and the different obligations surrounding both – SNP party business doesn’t need to be recorded but the Scottish ministerial code dictates that government affairs do.
Records were not kept of the 29 March 2018 meeting or the one on 2 April 2018.
MSPs on the harassment committee have told Sky News they want to probe the 29 March 2018 meeting because, if a government investigation was indeed discussed, that would constitute government business and so records should have been kept. Failure to do so, they say, would constitute a breach of the ministerial code.
Jackie Baillie, a Labour MSP who sits on the committee, told Sky News: “It is already clear that the first minister had knowledge of complaints against Alex Salmond before her stated date of 2 April (2018). She has only latterly acknowledged that the meeting four days beforehand even took place.
“It’s a serious matter, more than just a simple diary confusion. In this case, four days is the difference between telling a significant truth and significant untruth to parliament and the Court of Session, that has far-reaching implications.
“Not for the first time, we are in a position where we have important questions, but precious few answers.”
Sky News asked the Scottish Government if the Court of Session had been misled by its submission to the judicial review. We also asked for confirmation that information was given to its lawyers by the first minister herself.
A response from a Scottish Government spokesperson stated: “The first minister stands by what she has already said to Parliament and her written evidence. She looks forward to answering any further questions at the committee when she appears in person.”
Meanwhile, Mr Salmond has said he will only appear before Holyrood’s harassment committee if they publish a written submission he made that includes claims Ms Sturgeon repeatedly misled parliament and broke the ministerial code.
The claims are centred, partly, on questions around the meetings in March and April 2018.
The former first minister is due to give evidence before the committee on Tuesday and Ms Sturgeon is scheduled to appear a week later, on 16 February.