Nicola Sturgeon has refused to speculate on her future as first minister as she accused Alex Salmond and his allies of being behind “false conspiracy theories” spun around Holyrood’s harassment inquiry.
Ms Sturgeon was accused by Mr Salmond earlier this month of misleading parliament and providing evidence to an inquiry into the handling of sexual harassment claims against him that was “simply untrue”.
The SNP leader has strongly denied any suggestion she misled MSPs and told the BBC’s Andrew Marr that she intends to “vigorously” refute the claims.
A probe by an independent adviser has been launched into whether Ms Sturgeon broke ministerial code by failing to timeously disclose meetings she had with Mr Salmond while he was being investigated over allegations of misconduct in 2018.
She initially told MSPs she first heard of the allegations in a meeting with Mr Salmond at her home on April 2, 2018, which had been arranged in her capacity as SNP leader.
Nicola Sturgeon says of her handling of claims against Alex Salmond: "I will set out my account of what happened"
She told @marrshow "false conspiracy theories are being spun about this, by Alex Salmond, by people around him, draw your own conclusions"
— BBC Scotland News (@BBCScotlandNews) January 24, 2021
However, Mr Salmond claims Ms Sturgeon arranged the meeting four days earlier, on March 29, with his former chief of staff in her Holyrood office, and that it was clear the meeting would be to discuss the Government’s misconduct probe.
The first minister later said she “forgot” about the March 29 meeting.
‘I did not mislead parliament’
Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Ms Sturgeon refused to be drawn on whether she would resign if she is found to have misled MSPs.
She said: “I did not mislead parliament so I am not going to speculate on what might happen in the future. I’m clear I did not mislead parliament.”
The SNP leader insisted she has a “right to due process of inquiries” before being asked to go beyond the outcome and into what might happen next.
The inquiry is preparing to hear from both the first minister and Mr Salmond but in what appeared to be a sign of the deepening hostilities between the pair, Ms Sturgeon repeated claims about conspiracy theories being used to undermine her position.
‘False conspiracy theories’
She said: “What I do sometimes certainly reflect on is that at times I appear to be simultaneously accused of colluding with Mr Salmond, to somehow cover up accusations of sexual harassment on the one hand, then on the other hand being part of some dastardly conspiracy to bring him down. Neither of things are true.”
She added: “There are false conspiracy theories being spun about this.”
Asked if those conspiracy theories were being pushed by Mr Salmond, as has been suggested by her own official spokesman, Ms Sturgeon replied: “By Alex Salmond, by people around him, you can draw your own conclusions around that.”
The first minister appeared to be in no mood to heal political divisions as she took inspiration from Robert Burns to liken Boris Johnson to “a sleekit cowrin tim’rous beastie” over his refusal to grant another referendum on Scottish Independence.
A legal referendum
The prime minister has suggested the 2014 referendum should be a “once-in-a-generation” event and the time between ballots on Europe – the first in 1975 and the second in 2016 – was “a good sort of gap”.
Asked about the possibility of another referendum should the SNP win a majority at Holyrood in May, Ms Sturgeon asked “what democrat could rightly stand in the way of that?” before claiming Mr Johnson is “frightened of democracy”.
The SNP leader said her party’s priority is to pursue a “legal referendum” amid suggestions the Scottish Government could hold a wildcat vote if Mr Johnson continues to refuse calls for a second poll.
The SNP has drawn up an 11-point plan for its roadmap to a referendum which would see Westminster either agree to a new vote or be challenged to take legal action to try and stop it.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tells #Marr Boris Johnson is "frightened of democracy" on the question of another independence referendum#indyref2 https://t.co/xKKSUdUnxz pic.twitter.com/C0tFhpzoDE
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) January 24, 2021
‘It’s about what the people of Scotland want’
It comes after polling by the Sunday Times found a majority of people in Scotland and Northern Ireland now want referendums on their memberships of the Union within the next five years.
Ms Sturgeon said: “I want to have a legal referendum, that’s what I’m going to seek the authority of the Scottish people for in May. And if they give me that authority that’s what I intend to do.
“That’s democracy, it’s not about what I want or about what Boris Johnson wants, it’s about what the people of Scotland want and the increasing evidence is that they want independence.”