The investigation into whether Nicola Sturgeon broke Scottish Government rules in her handling of harassment claims against Alex Salmond will cover “any aspect” of potential breaches, it has been claimed.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney gave the assurance after Mr Salmond complained that the independent inquiry into Ms Sturgeon’s behaviour in terms of the ministerial code was too narrow.
But Mr Swinney refused to be drawn when asked if Ms Sturgeon should resign as first minister if it is found she broke the code governing conduct of Scottish Government ministers.
The deputy first minister was reacting to claims from Mr Salmond that Ms Sturgeon had misled the Scottish Parliament and breached the ministerial code on several occasions.
Opposition parties have claimed Ms Sturgeon should resign if it is found she broke the rules.
The explosive claims were contained in a document written by the former first minister and submitted to two separate inquiries which have arisen from the Scottish Government’s internal investigation into the claims against Mr Salmond.
Mr Salmond’s document was prepared for an inquiry being led by former Irish prosecutor James Hamilton which is investigating Ms Sturgeon’s conduct in relation to the ministerial code.
It is also to be handed to Holyrood’s inquiry which was set up to investigate how the Scottish Government dealt with the complaints against Mr Salmond – claims which the former first minister has denied.
In his submission, Mr Salmond claims the remit of Mr Hamilton’s investigation is flawed because it focuses on whether she wrongly intervened in a civil service process.
Mr Salmond accuses Ms Sturgeon of breaches beyond that scope, the most serious of which is misleading Holyrood. The former first minister also claimed the breaches included Ms Sturgeon failing to inform the civil service quickly enough about a meeting he had with the first minister at her family home.
They also included allowing the Scottish Government to contest the civil action brought by Mr Salmond despite legal advice saying the administration’s case was likely to collapse.
Opposition parties have also called for the remit to be broadened.
But appearing on the BBC’s Politics Scotland programme, Mr Swinney said: “I’m really surprised by this line of argument from Alex Salmond and the Scottish Conservatives, because it appears they are not keeping up with events. Because I answered a parliamentary question in November which made clear that the James Hamilton inquiry on the ministerial code could look at any aspect of a potential breach of the ministerial code.”
But when asked if a breach of the code should lead to the first minister’s resignation, Mr Swinney declined to give a direct answer.
Instead, the deputy first minister said Ms Sturgeon would set out her position when she appears before the Holrood inquiry.
We have got to remember we faced a very difficult situation of having to investigate complaints about inappropriate behaviour a lot of which have now been conceded by Alex Salmond in court.”
John Swinney, deputy first minister
Mr Swinney said: “The first minister will set out clearly, openly and transparently all that she has got to say on this issue and I am very confident in the points the first minister will put across.
“The first minister looks forward to the opportunity to set out in detail all of the views and perspectives she has on this issue to put to rest some of the absolute nonsense that has been circulating about this particular issue.”
Mr Swinney added: “We have got to remember we faced a very difficult situation of having to investigate complaints about inappropriate behaviour a lot of which have now been conceded by Alex Salmond in court. And that issue had to be addressed – an incredibly difficult situation and the first minister will set out exactly her perspective when it comes to all of the relevant inquiries on this issue.”
Mr Salmond was cleared of 13 charges against nine women at the conclusion of a criminal trial last year. He also won his judicial review over the Scottish Government in the civil courts. The Court of Session found that the Scottish Government’s internal investigation claims against Mr Salmond were “tainted by apparent bias”.
Mr Salmond’s civil court victory resulted in the taxpayer paying out more than £500,000 to meet the former first minister’s legal costs.
‘James Hamilton QC must be able to turn over every rock to uncover the truth.’
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “Given the seriousness of the latest revelations, the Scottish Government must expand the remit of the Ministerial Code inquiry to cover exactly the accusations that Alex Salmond has made against Nicola Sturgeon. James Hamilton QC must be able to turn over every rock to uncover the truth.”
Meanwhile Mr Salmond has accused Nicola Sturgeon’s top aide of leaking the name of a woman who made a sexual harassment complaint against him but the Scottish Government has said his claim is “untrue”.
Mr Salmond made the accusation in his submission, which claimed Liz Lloyd, Ms Sturgeon’s chief of staff, divulged the name of one of the women who made a complaint against Mr Salmond, during a meeting with his former chief of staff, Geoff Aberdein.
A Scottish Government spokesman said it has “protected the identities of the complainants throughout”.