Sturgeon cleared of breaching ministerial code
Nicola Sturgeon: cleared
Nicola Sturgeon was determined to get her party’s election campaign back on track after being cleared by a top lawyer of breaching the ministerial code.
Ireland’s former chief prosecutor James Hamilton, who led an inquiry, said he has found no evidence of a breach.
The verdict will be a huge relief to the First Minister and a blow to those, particularly the Scottish Conservatives, who have tried to unseat her.
The 61-page report notes that Mr Hamilton examined four alleged breaches of the ministerial code by Nicola Sturgeon.
“I am of the opinion that the First Minister did not breach the provisions of the Ministerial Code in respect of any of these matters,” his report concluded.
Ms Sturgeon said after the report was published that its conclusions were “comprehensive, evidence-based and unequivocal”.
She added: “Mr Hamilton has considered all of the allegations against me, and I am happy that his report’s findings clear me of any breach of the ministerial code.
“I sought at every stage in this issue to act with integrity and in the public interest. As I have previously made clear, I did not consider that I had broken the code, but these findings are official, definitive and independent adjudication of that.
“Prior to its publication, opposition politicians stressed the importance of respecting and accepting the outcome of Mr Hamilton’s independent inquiry, and I committed wholeheartedly to doing so. Now that he has reported, it is incumbent on them to do likewise.”
“Today I want, once again, to remind people that at the heart of this case were women who had the courage to come forward and complain. That they were let down by the Scottish Government’s handling of their complaints is not in dispute, and I again apologise to them for that.
“I was determined, however, at the time these complaints emerged that they should not be swept under the carpet, and that I would not intervene in the process.
“Had I done so, as requested by Alex Salmond, it would – as Mr Hamilton observes – ‘undoubtedly have been seen as a partisan and political interference’ which ‘would undoubtedly have undermined public confidence in the processes of government to a much greater extent than in fact eventually happened’.”
A second report is due tomorrow, conducted by a Holyrood committee. According to a leak it said MSPs have voted by five to four that Ms Sturgeon misled their inquiry during her evidence session earlier this month.
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: “Unlike others, we have been clear from the outset that we would not prejudge the outcome of this inquiry [the Hamilton report].
“We acknowledge the findings of the report and we await the publication of the committee inquiry and whether its members conclude the First Minister misled parliament.
“What is clear is that this entire process has deeply damaged public trust in our politics at a time of national crisis, and there are absolutely no winners today.
“At the heart of this are two women who have been badly let down by the government, and it remains the case that nobody has taken responsibility.
“There are still questions of judgement and an urgent need to restore trust, confidence and transparency in our institutions.”
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said the Hamilton report does not mean the First Minister is “free and clear”.
He James Hamilton’s report states that “it is for the Scottish Parliament to decide whether they were in fact misled.”
Mr Ross added: “The First Minister has been given a pass because it has been judged her “failure of recollection” was “not deliberate.”
“I respect Mr Hamilton and his judgement but we cannot agree with that assessment. Nicola Sturgeon did not suddenly turn forgetful.
“She is not free and clear. The First Minister promised to ‘respect the decisions’ of both inquiry reports, not to pick and choose which one suits her and try to discredit the other.”
Scottish Liberal Democrats Willie Rennie, leaned towards the same conclusions.
“The judgement from James Hamilton does not make the First Minister’s resignation automatic but no-one can deny that her errors of judgement still make resignation a live consideration,” he said.
“James Hamilton does not give the First Minister a clean bill of health. He says it is up to parliament to determine whether it has been misled over the help that the First Minister is said to have offered Alex Salmond in her home.
“Even the most ardent SNP supporter must recognise that the women involved were let down by the government and that half a million pounds was wasted defending the indefensible in court.
“These matters will be addressed by the committee report tomorrow [Tuesday] which will need to be considered carefully.
“Let me be clear. No-one will win from this ugly episode, certainly not Alex Salmond who has been exposed for what he really is.”
A vote of No Confidence in the First Minister tabled by the Tories will take place on Tuesday amid accusations that the SNP government is “in a flap” over the publication of the second inquiry report.
Scottish Conservative chief whip Miles Briggs said: “We had hoped to hold the vote on Wednesday but that has now been brought forward to Tuesday.
“The SNP have been complaining that we acted hastily and did not given MSPs time to look at the evidence.
“But pressing ahead on Tuesday make it less likely that MSPs will have time to consider the Salmond Inquiry findings.
“This demonstrates they are in a flap. They clearly expect the Salmond report to be damning, as seen by their increasingly intemperate and disrespectful outbursts towards committee members.
“The Nationalists will do everything possible to undermine Parliament and dodge accountability.
“But no matter what strokes they pull, the evidence is clear that Sturgeon repeatedly mislead parliament and must resign.”
The First Minister has insisted throughout that she stands by all the evidence she gave to the Holyrood committee earlier this month, accusing it of smears and amid calls by the Scottish Conservatives for her to resign.
Mr Hamilton’s key focus was the contact Ms Sturgeon had with her predecessor during the Scottish government’s bungled investigation, which included two meetings at her home in Glasgow.
Ms Sturgeon ordered the review herself, in January 2019, after the Scottish government conceded that its investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct made against Mr Salmond had been unlawful.
The inquiry was put on hold after Mr Salmond was charged, but resumed following his acquittal.
IndyRef Bill published
Nicola Sturgeon’s government today published a draft bill for another independence referendum, drawing criticism from across the political spectrum from those who believe the administration should focus on the pandemic and economic recovery.
Struan Stevenson, chief executive of the anti-independence business lobby SBUK, said: “If the public health crisis really is its overwhelming priority, why is the Scottish Government allowing itself to get side-tracked from the unfinished business of tackling the pandemic by publishing this bill?
“Ministers must understand that engineering a disruptive referendum will only undermine our national economic recovery and that’s something that will anger business owners across Scotland.”