Nicola Sturgeon accused of breaking ministerial code by former First Minister Alex Salmond

Alex Salmond, the former First Minister of Scotland, has recently accused his successor Nicola Sturgeon of lying to the Scottish Parliament, alleging that she repeatedly broke the ministerial code.

If this allegation is proved true, then ministerial code recommends resignation.

 The Scottish Parliament has meanwhile asked Salmond to give evidence to the committee investigating the botched initial investigation into him over allegations of sexual misconduct. 

Arguing an abuse of process, Salmond took the government to court and won, before being separately found not guilty and not proven of 14 allegations against him. 

But the political and legal events are also deeply personal.

In 2004, Nicola Sturgeon withdrew her SNP leadership bid to instead run as Salmond’s deputy, and went on to become his closest ally within the party whilst raising her own profile, firstly as Health Secretary during the flu pandemic of 2009, and then as Minister for organising the Independence referendum of 2014. 

When Salmond resigned following the defeat of the ‘Yes’ campaign, Sturgeon was the natural heir and was elected unopposed as SNP leader, citing the “immeasurable…personal debt of gratitude” she owed her predecessor.

But Police Scotland launched an investigation in August 2018, examining allegations of sexual misconduct committed by Salmond whilst he was First Minister. 

It was made possible after the #MeToo movement saw the Scottish Government review its rules over retrospectively investigating ministerial conduct. 

Salmond denounced the allegations, saying the government’s investigation was biased against him.

A January 2019 court ruling backed Salmond, with Leslie Evans, the most senior civil servant in Scotland, admitting the process was “tainted by apparent bias” after the lead investigator of the allegations had made prior contact with the accusers. 

The government’s defeated legal case cost the taxpayer £600,000. 

Additionally, it emerged shortly afterwards that Sturgeon had met Salmond five times to discuss the case, including at home, yet had failed to inform the Permanent Secretary overseeing the investigation until two months after they had first met.

Sturgeon denied any wrongdoing and referred herself for investigation into a potential breach of ministerial code. 

Meanwhile, the government set up an internal review of its procedures, whilst the Scottish Parliament set up a special committee investigating the Government’s mishandling of the allegations against Salmond. 

All of these investigations are ongoing, and both Sturgeon and Salmond are due to separately give testimony to the Parliamentary committee under oath, though the pandemic has delayed this.

The Scottish Parliament’s investigation has repeatedly stalled, with government ministers reluctant to release their legal advice from the Salmond case, only releasing a summary of it even after Holyrood voted in favour of making the legal advice public. 

Ministers have pointed to the hundreds of documents already released to the committee and the sensitive information in the cases as reasons for caution. 

For Salmond, eventually cleared of 14 counts of sexual misconduct (including one attempted rape, and another intent to rape) against 10 women in March 2020, he is now free, though his relationship with Sturgeon appears to have soured dramatically.

 The First Minister herself stated that her relationship with her predecessor had “broken down”. 

For Sturgeon, with Holyrood elections due later this year in the face of a fractured unionist opposition, the Parliamentary and Ministerial investigations into her and her government perhaps pose the biggest threat to the SNP’s continued electoral success.

Image: The Scottish government via Wikipedia

By Callum Devereux

Editor-in-Chief, May-September 2022
Former Deputy EiC & Opinion Editor