The Student
Image shows Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond together
The Sturgeon-Salmond Conflict
by Patrick Hall, 6/04/21

The two inquiries into the Scottish government’s handling of sexual harassment allegations against former First Minister Alex Salmond published reports in the same week that Alex Salmond launched his own pro-independence ‘Alba’ party. 

The first inquiry, led by Ireland’s former director of public prosecutions, James Hamilton QC, cleared Ms Sturgeon of breaching the ministerial code. 

Such a breach would have required her to resign. 

However, a separate report from an inquiry led by a Holyrood committee accused the first minister of misleading the parliament, though it fell short of saying she did so “knowingly”, which would constitute a clear breach of the ministerial code. 

The Holyrood committee inquiry also found that the Scottish government’s investigation into Mr Salmond was “seriously flawed”, and that the women who made the allegations against the former first minister were let down by the government.

In the same week that the two reports were published and Ms Sturgeon remained in post, Mr Salmond announced on Friday 26 March the formation of his own pro-independence ‘Alba’ party, that he said would field at least four candidates in each list-region in the upcoming Scottish elections. 

He added that he would stand as a candidate in the north-east region, which could enable his own return to Holyrood. 

In the Scottish electoral system, 73 MSPs are elected to represent first past the post constituencies, whilst the remaining 56 are elected by the additional member system – through regional lists. 

By only listing candidates on regional lists, Mr Salmond claimed his party would avoid taking votes away from the SNP and the election would result in an independence supermajority. 

Following the contention of the committee-led inquiry that Ms Sturgeon misled the Parliament, on Tuesday 23 March the Scottish Conservatives tabled a motion of no confidence in the first minister.

The motion was defeated 65-31, with Labour and the Liberal Democrats abstaining and only the Conservatives voting in favour.

The conclusion of the Salmond affair leaves the SNP divided, with some party figures having openly backed Mr Salmond against Ms Sturgeon.

It may also have damaged public support for independence, with a recent Survation poll finding that almost 60 percent of Scots support remaining in the UK. 

The public enmity between Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon is notable given the close relationship they once enjoyed at the top of Scottish politics.

This timeline explores the key developments in the Salmond affair, and how a once close-knit relationship between two political leaders turned poisonous. 

Timeline: a tale of two inquiries- how did the Salmond affair unfold? 

29 March 2018:

Ms Sturgeon meets Mr Salmond’s former chief of staff to discuss the sexual harassment allegations against the former first minister. She later describes the meeting as “fleeting” and claims to have forgotten about it. 

2 April 2018:

Ms Sturgeon meets Mr Salmond in her home and learns of the precise details of the allegations against him. She later tells Holyrood that this is when she first learned of the allegations against Mr Salmond, despite having done so a few days earlier. This leads to accusations that she misled the Parliament. 

6 June 2018:

Ms Sturgeon tells the Permanent Secretary, Leslie Evans, that she knows about the investigation taking place against the former first minister.

August 2018:

The Scottish government’s investigation into Alex Salmond is leaked to the media. Mr Salmond resigns from the SNP and sues the Scottish government through a process called judicial review.

8 January 2019:

The judicial review concludes and the Edinburgh court of session rules that the Scottish government’s handling of the investigation into Mr Salmond broke the law because one of the investigators had prior contact with a complainant. The Scottish government is ordered to pay over £500 000 to Mr Salmond. 

13 January 2019:

The first minister refers herself to the Scottish parliament’s ethics body amid accusations of misleading the Parliament.

March 2020:

Mr Salmond is acquitted of all criminal charges. 

January 2021:

Mr Salmond’s submission to the James Hamilton inquiry is leaked to The Spectator. It claims that Ms Sturgeon’s position about what she knew and when she knew it is “untenable.” 

January/February 2021:

There is a back-and-forth process between the courts, the Holyrood committee inquiry, and the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body concerning whether Mr Salmond’s submission can be published. Eventually, the submission is agreed to be published, albeit in redacted form. Rape Crisis Scotland say they are “extremely concerned” that this could jeopardise the anonymity of the women who originally made complaints against Mr Salmond. 

26 February 2021:

Mr Salmond makes his inquiry appearance and claims that there was a “malicious plan” to discredit him among leading SNP figures.

3 March 2021:

Ms Sturgeon makes her inquiry appearance and gives evidence for seven hours.

22 March 2021:

The James Hamilton inquiry clears Ms Sturgeon of breaching the ministerial code.

23 March 2021:

The Holyrood committee inquiry asserts that Ms Sturgeon misled the Parliament, though not “knowingly.” A no confidence motion is presented and voted down. 

26 March 20201: 

Alex Salmond launches his own pro-independence ‘Alba’ party, which will field candidates on lists across Scotland in the upcoming May elections.

Image: Wikimedia Commons