Douglas Ross has confirmed the Scottish Conservatives will push on with plans to hold a vote of no confidence in Nicola Sturgeon as first minister, despite an independent inquiry clearing her of breaching ministerial rules.
The Scots Tory leader insisted Ms Sturgeon is “not free and clear” after the first of two reports over the Alex Salmond affair was published on Monday.
While the report, by former director of public prosecutions in Ireland, James Hamilton, states that in his view no breach of the ministerial code of conduct took place, he also says that “it is for the Scottish Parliament to decide whether they were in fact misled.”
The Scottish Conservatives claim the SNP and Scottish Greens “teamed up” at a meeting of the Scottish Parliament bureau to bring forward the vote of no confidence to Tuesday because they are “running scared” of the second report.
The findings of a Holyrood committee set up to investigate the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment complaints will now be published on Tuesday morning, a day earlier than previously expected.
The Conservatives would need the backing of all other opposition parties to be successful in the no confidence motion but the Greens have confirmed they will not support it in light of Mr Hamilton’s findings.
However, the Tories point to sections of Mr Hamilton’s report as evidence of questions still hanging over Ms Sturgeon, including one part where he states he found the account of Mr Salmond’s chief of Staff, Geoff Aberdein, “credible”.
Mr Hamilton said that because four other witnesses corroborated Mr Aberdein’s version of events: “I believe that Mr Aberdein’s account of what was said by (the official about) the existence of the complaints and the identity of the complainers is credible”.
He adds: “It remains the fact that the name which Mr Aberdein was given to him was in fact the name of one of the complainers against Mr Salmond.”
Mr Hamilton says it is “regrettable” Ms Sturgeon omitted to mention the March 29, 2018 meeting in her statement but that forgetting the meeting “while inevitably likely to be greeted with suspicion, even scepticism by some, is not impossible.”
He also states that the meeting with Mr Salmond “could not in my opinion be characterised as a party meeting”, contrary to what the first minister claimed.
Given a pass
Scottish Conservative leader, Douglas Ross, said: “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.
“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.
“The SNP spin machine will go into hyper-drive to again attack the committee report because they’re running scared of its findings. They have accelerated the vote of no confidence in Nicola Sturgeon to avoid MSPs scrutinising that report.”
Mr Ross said he agreed with Mr Hamilton that it is “up to the Scottish Parliament to decide if the first minister has been misleading”.
“This report does not change the overwhelming evidence that Nicola Sturgeon misled Parliament, her government badly let women down and wasted more than £500,000 of taxpayers’ money,” he said.
“If Nicola Sturgeon won’t accept responsibility, then I urge opposition parties to back our vote of no confidence.
“Nationalist or unionist, left or right, none of the usual political divisions matter now. Either we respect the fundamental principles of democratic accountability or we don’t.”
‘Errors of judgement’
Scottish Liberal Democrats leader Willie Rennie agreed that the Hamilton report “does not give the first minister a clean bill of health”.
“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.
Ms Sturgeon urged the opposition parties to accept the findings of the report, which she described as “comprehensive, evidence-based and unequivocal”.
“I sought at every stage in this issue to act with integrity and in the public interest,” she said. “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.”
Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie said Mr Ross and his party colleague Ruth Davidson had, in lodging a vote of no confidence before this report was published, “shown that they have no interest in establishing the truth”.
“Ruth Davidson and Douglas Ross have shown that they have absolutely nothing positive to offer the people of Scotland,” he said.
In all my time in Parliament I have never seen a committee process more fundamentally compromised by leaks, MSPs pre-judging the evidence, and party politics over-riding the public interest. https://t.co/4Q4bFpOBvu
— Patrick Harvie 🇪🇺🌈 (@patrickharvie) March 19, 2021
“Worse still, members of the parliamentary committee have shown utter contempt for the women involved, and for the rules of the Scottish Parliament, by leaking confidential evidence and their own conclusions.
“If anyone’s resignation is still needed, it is these MSPs who should step down now, and who should not be candidates for re-election in May.”