Nicola Sturgeon accuses opposition of prejudging outcome of inquiries

Nicola Sturgeon has said she will “get on with the job” of steering Scotland out of the coronavirus pandemic, as she accused opposition parties of prejudging the outcome of inquiries into her and her government’s conduct in relation to the investigation into sexual harassment allegations against Alex Salmond.

During angry exchanges at first minister’s questions on Thursday, Sturgeon told the Scottish Conservatives’ leader in Holyrood, Ruth Davidson: “I’m going to get on with the job that I suspect most people watching at home right now want me to get on with, which is leading this country through and out of a pandemic.”

A day after her marathon eight-hour evidence session to the Holyrood inquiry that is examining the Scottish government’s handling of the original complaints by two female civil servants, Sturgeon was challenged by opposition leaders about the last-minute release of the legal advice to the committee.

Despite two votes in parliament, the legal advice given to the Scottish government about Salmond’s judicial review of the process, which it lost at a cost of more than £600,000 to taxpayers, was only released to the committee the day before Sturgeon’s evidence, after the Scottish Conservatives threatened a no-confidence vote in the deputy first minister, John Swinney.

There remain outstanding documents that Swinney has undertaken to release on Thursday, and the no-confidence motion remains live, as does one that the Tories have also threatened against Sturgeon.

Davidson asked Sturgeon why her government had continued to “defend the indefensible” when government lawyers expressed significant concerns about the case.

The papers released on Tuesday evening contained the explosive revelation that Roddy Dunlop QC, one of Scotland’s leading lawyers, who was the government’s external counsel, had been furious that government officials failed to disclose critical evidence about the prior contact of the investigating officer with the two complainants.

Sturgeon said that, as she had stated in her evidence on Wednesday, there was “no question” that the case should be dropped until this new evidence emerged, and that the government was acting in accordance with the views of the law officers at the time.

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Nicola Sturgeon: no plot against Alex Salmond – video
Nicola Sturgeon: no plot against Alex Salmond – video

She said: “I answered questions for eight hours yesterday, I answered every question that was put to me and I intend to rest on that to allow both the committee and the inquiry into the ministerial code to conclude their work.”

In addition to the Holyrood committee’s inquiry, there is a separate independent investigation by James Hamilton, former director of public prosecutions for Ireland, into whether Sturgeon broke the ministerial code by misleading parliament over meetings with Salmond to discuss the allegations.

t Davidson said MSPs had “every right to question a first minister who is the head of a government that failed these two women”.

“I want everyone to understand how incompetent and secretive this government is,” she said, adding: “Because of legal advice that had to be dragged from this government under the threat of a vote of no confidence, we know that for weeks this government were definitively, without any doubt, ignoring legal advice.”

After Davidson accused her of breaking the ministerial code, Sturgeon hit back that the Tory MSP had “just shown her true colours all over again”.

“Just as on Tuesday night the Conservatives prejudged my evidence to the parliamentary inquiry, she’s just prejudged the outcome of the independent inquiry into the ministerial code. This is just about desperate political games for the Conservatives.”

The newly elected Scottish Labour leader, Anas Sarwar, said the exchanges between Sturgeon and Davidson “represent the worst of our politics”, but went on to press the first minister on the same subject, asking why it took the threat of a no-confidence vote for the government to act.

Sturgeon said: “I think it is now right and proper that we now allow the inquiry to do its work, allow the independent inquiry into the ministerial code to do its work, and we allow me to get on with the job I believe the majority of the country want me to focus on now, which is to continue to steer this country through a global pandemic so that we can through Covid, come out of lockdown and get back to normality.”

The Guardian

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