Jacob Rees-Mogg takes swipe at Sturgeon over Alex Salmond
The First Minister of Scotland gave evidence to Holyrood’s Harassment Complaints Committee which is examining the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment complaints made against the former SNP leader. It comes after the SNP led Scottish Government paid out £500,000 to the former politician after they conceded a judicial review case brought by the former first minister in January 2019.
Mr Salmond claimed Ms Sturgeon had breached the code because she failed to inform the civil service of two meetings she had with him.
It is claimed Ms Sturgeon held a meeting with Mr Salmond on April 2, 2018, and one with Mr Salmond’s former chief of staff Geoff Aberdein on March 20, 2018.
The First Minister had said the meetings with her predecessor were because the politician was about to quit the party and therefore was SNP party business.
Ms Sturgeon denied the claims with a spokesperson saying she “entirely rejects Mr Salmond’s claims about the Ministerial Code”.
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The Scottish Government’s ministerial code says any minister found to have knowingly misled Holyrood should offer their resignation.
Ms Sturgeon added in a COVID-19 briefing: “I do not consider I misled Parliament but of course that is for others to judge.
“At all times I will seek to put the interests of the country first – that’s the most important thing for any First Minister and, right now, the most important thing I have to do for the country is steer us through this pandemic.”
Murdo Fraser, Fife MSP and Scottish Tory member of the Harassment Committee said: “The stakes could not be higher for the First Minister.
“If she is found to have breached the ministerial code by misleading the Scottish Parliament, then she has to resign her office.
“Trust is an important commodity in politics: hard to earn, and easy to lose. It is particularly significant in difficult times such as the ones we are now in, when people are being asked to make substantial personal sacrifices for the greater good, or are being challenged to take risks.
“If current opinion polls are to be believed, the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon enjoys the trust of the majority of the Scottish people as a consequence of her leadership throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
“In parallel, political support for the SNP has risen, as indeed has support for Scottish independence.
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“If a leader is trusted, then the voters are more likely to have confidence in the policy platform that they put forward.”
Mr Fraser claimed if SNP ministers “made such an error of judgement about [Mr Salmond’s] character, how can we know that they are not making a similar misjudgement as to the character of Sturgeon today?”
He concluded: “They will not be the only casualties.
“Either Salmond, or Sturgeon, or perhaps both, will have their reputations ruined by this affair.
“It is very bad news for the party that they led jointly over the past two decades, and for the wider campaign for Scottish independence.”
Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP, Scottish Lib Dem member of the Committee, added: “It will grow to become a monstrous distraction to her [Nicola Sturgeon] and her government, just at a time when the national pandemic response demands a needle-sharp focus.
“The optics of this are terrible for Nicola Sturgeon.
“I’ve always found the idea that this debacle could end her premiership far-fetched, but her refusal to have her account tested by investigators makes it look for the first time like she really does have something to hide.”
Mr Cole-Hamilton, Mr Fraser and a cross-party group of MSPs had called on Scotland’s Deputy First Minister to formally extend the inquiry into whether Nicola Sturgeon breached the ministerial code, but this request was declined yesterday.
It comes after Alex Salmond rejected an invitation to appear in front of the committee looking into the handling of complaints made against him.
The former first minister was invited on Tuesday by Linda Fabiani, convener of the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints, to appear next week.
However, in a letter published today from Mr Salmond’s lawyer David McKie, he rejects the invite due to public health concerns.
Plans were made to have Mr Salmond testify under oath in person before the committee, but he believes that would “send the wrong message”, the letter said.
Alex Salmond was also separately acquitted of sexual offence charges in a trial in Edinburgh last year.
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