POLITICS
23/03/2021 16:15 GMT | Updated 23/03/2021 16:38 GMT

Nicola Sturgeon Survives Confidence Vote As Alex Salmond Saga Rumbles On

Scottish Tories' motion fails despite Holyrood report that found the first minister had misled parliament.

Jeff J MitchellPA
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood, Edinburgh.

Nicola Sturgeon has survived a motion of no confidence, despite a Holyrood committee finding she misled parliament over a meeting with Alex Salmond.

The Scottish Tories had been calling for the first minister to resign in the wake of her government’s botched handling of sex harassment complaints against Sturgeon’s predecessor. 

But with the Greens rejecting their no-confidence motion, a majority of MSPs supported the FM in the vote on Tuesday. Scottish Labour abstained.  

It ends a turbulent few weeks for the SNP leader as the second of two reports on her conduct during the Salmond probe was made public. 

On Monday, the independent inquiry, led by Ireland’s top prosecutor James Hamilton, cleared the FM of all claims she breached the ministerial code. 

But on Tuesday, a Holyrood committee report on the Scottish government’s handling of the Salmond complaints found a “fundamental contradiction” in the FM’s evidence. 

It said that Sturgeon’s meeting with Salmond at her home in Glasgow, on April 2 in 2018, left her former mentor “did in fact leave Mr Salmond with the impression that she would, if necessary, intervene”.

The report by a cross-party group of MSPs went on to say Sturgeon’s written evidence, in which she claimed she did not give such an impression, was “an inaccurate account” and that this amounted to misleading parliament. 

It also states the committee “find it hard to believe” Sturgeon had “no knowledge of any concerns about inappropriate behaviour on the part of  Salmond prior to November 2017”.

Press Association
Former first minister of Scotland Alex Salmond

Both inquiries were set up after a judicial review of the Scottish government’s investigation said the sex harassment complaints process was “tainted by apparent bias” in 2019.

Salmond, who was acquitted of sex offence charges at a criminal trial, was awarded £512,250 when the Scottish government conceded the case.

It did so because there had been prior contact between investigating officer Judith Mackinnon and two of the women who made complaints.

The committee report found the Scottish government’s handling of the complaints was “seriously flawed”.

It concluded that the government was responsible from an early stage “for a serious, substantial and entirely avoidable situation that resulted in a prolonged, expensive and unsuccessful defence” of the civil case.

MSPs unanimously agreed that the failure to identify Mackinnon’s prior contact was “astonishing” and said she appeared to have two roles in the process: “One as the investigating officer and one as a source of support to the complainers.”

They conclude she had “built up a rapport and relationship of trust” with two complainers by the time she was appointed as investigating officer, despite the complaints procedure stating the person “will have had no prior involvement with any aspect of the matter being raised”.

Had the government identified all relevant documents and complied with its duty of candour “fully and promptly” early in the process, the “fatal” flaw could have been “brought to the fore”, the MSPs argue.

They identify an “individual failing” on this issue by the Scottish government’s top civil servant, Leslie Evans, because she knew of the prior contact and did not ensure the relevant information was made available sooner.

The committee said this was “unacceptable” and that those responsible should be held accountable.

Deputy first minister John Swinney said the Scottish government would “learn lessons” from the report and has apologised “unreservedly” for failings by the administration.