The most senior civil servant in Alex Salmond’s government has said he did not discuss any “bullying and intimidatory” behaviour by the former first minister with Nicola Sturgeon.
Sir Peter Housden also said he did not raise harassment concerns relating to Mr Salmond with Ms Sturgeon because he was not aware of any.
Sir Peter was the Scottish Government’s permanent secretary between 2010 and 2015, a period that overlapped with Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon’s spells as first minister.
In his evidence to the Salmond inquiry last month, Sir Peter told MSPs that Mr Salmond could display “bullying and intimidatory behaviour” when he was first minister.
The former permanent secretary refused to answer repeated questions on whether he had told Ms Sturgeon – then the deputy first minister – about concerns over any ministers’ behaviour during his time in the Scottish Government.
Sir Peter also told the inquiry there was “no indication” at any stage during his time in the Scottish Government, or before, of suggestions of “sexual misconduct” involving the former first minister.
I can confirm that I was not aware of any harassment concerns and so did not discuss any with Ms Sturgeon. While your letter refers only to ‘harassment concerns’, for the avoidance of doubt, I did not discuss any ‘bullying and intimidatory’ behaviour by Mr Salmond with Ms Sturgeon, either.”
Sir Peter Housden
When pressed on whether he had spoken to Ms Sturgeon, Sir Peter said he was “unable to go into the specifics in terms of individuals” because he had a duty of confidentiality to ministers under civil service codes.
The inquiry wrote to him last week challenging this as an “overly cautious” interpretation of the codes, and asked him to clarify if he discussed Mr Salmond’s conduct with Ms Sturgeon.
Sir Peter replied saying: “You have asked me to respond to the following question: ‘(W)hether you had raised harassment concerns that you were aware of in relation to the then First Minister, Alex Salmond, with the then Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon’.
“I can confirm that I was not aware of any harassment concerns and so did not discuss any with Ms Sturgeon. While your letter refers only to ‘harassment concerns’, for the avoidance of doubt, I did not discuss any ‘bullying and intimidatory’ behaviour by Mr Salmond with Ms Sturgeon, either.”
Sir Peter’s letter was published by the Scottish Parliament committee overseeing the Salmond inquiry, which was set up to examine the Scottish Government’s handling of complaints made against the former SNP leader.
The inquiry was established after Mr Salmond mounted a successful legal challenge against the Scottish Government in the civil courts.
The Scottish Government was forced to pay out more than £500,000 for Mr Salmond’s legal costs after a judicial review found the Scottish Government’s internal investigation into the former first minister’s behaviour was tainted with apparent bias.
In a separate criminal case, Mr Salmond was cleared of all charges against him in a sexual assault trial earlier this year.
Call to publish legal advice
Sir Peter’s letter came to light as the Scottish Conservatives called on MSPs to back calls for the Scottish Government to release the legal advice it received for Mr Salmond’s civil judicial review.
Tory MSP Oliver Mundell has submitted a motion that reads: “That the Parliament calls on the Scottish Government to publish the legal advice it received regarding the judicial review on the investigation of Alex Salmond’s alleged behaviour.”
If a majority of MSPs indicate they are willing to support the motion, the Scottish Conservatives will seek to bring forward a full parliament debate and vote calling on the government to release the legal advice.
The Scottish Government has treated this inquiry as a joke and kept key documents hidden, and the Scottish Parliament has been misled repeatedly and blatantly.”
Oliver Mundell MSP
Mr Mundell said: “When he called for a judge-led inquiry on this matter, which the Scottish Conservatives support, the SNP MSP Alex Neil said ‘this is a matter that rises above party politics’.
“We agree, so we are calling for cross-party support from MSPs across the chamber to back our motion and ask the Scottish Government to publish the legal advice they received for the Alex Salmond judicial review.
“The Scottish Government has treated this inquiry as a joke and kept key documents hidden, and the Scottish Parliament has been misled repeatedly and blatantly.
“We are calling on MSPs to stand up for the reputation of the parliament. The legal advice must be published, so we can find out exactly how £500,000 of public money was wasted.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Successive Scottish and UK governments have not disclosed the source or content of legal advice other than in the most exceptional circumstances.
“Legal privilege is inherent to the functioning of good government and the rule of law. It’s important that the legal advice which ministers and their officials receive is full and frank, and not affected by concerns about it subsequently becoming public.
“We are committed to cooperating fully with the inquiry and we are providing the relevant information requested by the committee within the confidentiality, data protection and other legal restrictions that apply.
“We have already provided the committee with more than 1,000 pages of relevant material, responding directly to the questions asked by the committee, and Scottish Government witnesses have provided more than 10 hours of oral evidence so far.
“We will continue to take appropriate steps to provide relevant information to the committee.”