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A forgotten meeting and ‘personal anguish’: Nicola Sturgeon’s evidence to the Alex Salmond inquiry

Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon.

Nicola Sturgeon has suggested she failed to inform MSPs about a meeting involving sexual harassment allegations made against Alex Salmond because she forgot about it.

The first minister claimed she was unable to remember the crucial meeting in her submission to the Salmond inquiry, which also revealed her “lingering concerns” that allegations about the former first minister could surface.

Her submission led to her opponents making fresh accusations that she had misled Holyrood on the matter.

Ms Sturgeon also claimed Mr Salmond asked her to intervene personally by encouraging Scotland’s most senior civil servant Leslie Evans to accept his request for a process of mediation between him and the complainers.

The first minister revealed her “personal anguish” at the breakdown of her relationship with Mr Salmond, who she described as the person she had been closest to over the past three decades outside her family.

In the 15-page document Ms Sturgeon said she had faced accusations of “conspiring” against Mr Salmond and “colluding” with him.

She rejected both suggestions in the “strongest possible terms”, adding: “Indeed it seems to me that what some want to present as ‘conspiracy’ is in actual fact my refusal to ‘collude’ or ‘cover up’.”

The submission also revealed the extensive private WhatsApp messages sent between Ms Sturgeon and her predecessor as first minister as they arranged to meet up while a Scottish Government internal inquiry was being held into Mr Salmond’s behaviour.

The crucial meeting Ms Sturgeon forgot about

A key part of the Holyrood inquiry into the Scottish Government’s botched internal inquiry into the harassment claims against Mr Salmond will be the meetings Ms Sturgeon had about the matter.

Those meetings, including three with Mr Salmond, will also be key to a second inquiry into whether they resulted in Ms Sturgeon breaking the ministerial code.

Ms Sturgeon referred herself to the panel which investigates potential code breaches after telling MSPs in January last year that she had been in contact with Mr Salmond while he was under investigation by the Scottish Government.

I had forgotten that this encounter had taken place until I was reminded of it in, I think, late January/early February 2019. For context, I think the meeting took place not long after the weekly session of FMQs and in the midst of a busy day in which I would have been dealing with a multitude of other matters. However, from what I recall, the discussion covered the fact that Alex Salmond wanted to see me urgently about a serious matter, and I think it did cover the suggestion that the matter might relate to allegations of a sexual nature.”

Nicola Sturgeon on her meeting with Geoff Aberdein

At Holyrood, Ms Sturgeon claimed Mr Salmond had told her about the Scottish Government investigation when he met her at her home in Glasgow on April 2 2018. She also revealed that she met him again on June 7 at the SNP conference in Aberdeen and another time at her home on July 14  2018.

They also spoke by telephone on April 23 and July 18 2018. Ms Sturgeon told Holyrood she did not inform civil servants of her April meeting with the former first minister until two months after the event.

Ms Sturgeon has always insisted that she acted appropriately, but her opponents have suggested she breached the ministerial code which says meetings on official government business have to be set up through government office and detailed records made of those contacts.

More questions were raised about Ms Sturgeon’s approach were raised when it emerged during Mr Salmond’s criminal trial that there was another relevant meeting, which Ms Surgeon failed to disclose at Holyrood.

During the trial, which resulted in Mr Salmond being cleared of all charges of sexual assault, it emerged that Mr Salmond’s former chief-of-staff Geoff Aberdein met the first minister in her Scottish Parliament office on March 29 2018 – just a few days before Mr Salmond travelled to her house on April 2.

In her submission, Ms Sturgeon said the meeting with Mr Aberdein had slipped her mind until she was reminded about it early last year, adding she thought it covered allegations of a “sexual nature”.

‘I had forgotten that this encounter had taken place’

Ms Sturgeon said: “I had forgotten that this encounter had taken place until I was reminded of it in, I think, late January/early February 2019. For context, I think the meeting took place not long after the weekly session of FMQs and in the midst of a busy day in which I would have been dealing with a multitude of other matters. However, from what I recall, the discussion covered the fact that Alex Salmond wanted to see me urgently about a serious matter, and I think it did cover the suggestion that the matter might relate to allegations of a sexual nature.”

The first minister said she was under the impression at the time that Mr Salmond was in a “state of considerable distress” and was considering resigning from the SNP.

Ms Sturgeon said she suspected the nature of what Mr Salmond wanted to tell her, but  it was the former first minister who told her on April 2 that he was being investigated by the Scottish Government and what the details of the complaints against him were.

Murdo Fraser, the Tory MSP who sits on the Holyrood Salmond inquiry, claimed it was now “a matter of fact” that Ms Sturgeon had misled parliament.

Mr Fraser said: “We are expected to accept that Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister renowned for her grasp of detail, has the memory of a sieve when she’s told that her mentor of 30 years is facing allegations of sexual misconduct.

Murdo Fraser MSP.

“A meeting that would be seared in most people’s memory was immediately forgot all about. She then went on to meet with Mr Salmond again and again, on what was clearly government business, all while pretending it was solely about the SNP.”

Sturgeon claims Salmond wanted her to back his calls for mediation

When the two politicians met at Ms Sturgeon’s house on April 2 2018, Ms Sturgeon said she was “shocked and upset” when Mr Salmond showed her a letter outlining the investigation into him.

According to Ms Sturgeon, Mr Salmond denied the complaints “in the main” although in relation to one matter he said he had “previously apologised” and considered it “out of order” for it to be raised again.

Ms Sturgeon said it was “his intention to seek a process of mediation between himself and the complainers”.

In her submission, Ms Sturgeon said that when she spoke with the former SNP leader by phone on April 23, he asked her to tell Ms Evans, the Permanent Secretary, she knew about the Scottish Government investigation and “encourage her to accept his request for mediation”.

Ms Sturgeon told Mr Salmond she was not prepared to do this.

Nicola Sturgeon on what it was like working with Alex Salmond and her “retrospective” concerns

Ms Sturgeon said she had “no general concerns” about Scottish Government working culture or sexual harassment while she worked alongside Mr Salmond when he was first minister until 2014.

But she said she had been made aware of “certain matters” in the last couple of years which raised “retrospectively – some other concerns”.

She admitted Mr Salmond could be “challenging” to work for and “rightly” he demanded high standards. She had been present on “some occasions” when “tense situations had to be defused”.

Ms Sturgeon said she suspected that the reason Mr Salmond wanted to see her on April 2 was that he was facing an allegation of sexual misconduct.

She said her meeting with Mr Aberdein may have contributed to that suspicion, but it was not the only factor.

In early November 2017, the SNP had been contacted by Sky News about “allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of Alex Salmond”.

She spoke to the former first minister about the allegation at the time and he denied it. Sky did not run a story at that time.

Ms Sturgeon claimed no further action could be taken because the identity of the individuals was not made known to her and they did not approach the SNP directly.

“Even though he assured me to the contrary, all of the circumstances surrounding this episode left me with a lingering concern that allegations about Mr Salmond could materialise at some stage,” Ms Sturgeon said.

Ms Sturgeon denied that she had encouraged the Scottish Government to create a harassment procedure which included “former ministers” because she thought allegations against Mr Salmond could come to light.

She said: “In the light of the #MeToo movement, I sought to ensure that the Scottish Government developed a process that allowed allegations of sexual harassment – including allegations of a historic nature – to be fully and fairly considered. I did not do this because I had a concern that allegations about my predecessor could materialise. But nor did I, in any way, allow such concern to lead me to limit the scope of the procedure.”

The breakdown of Ms Sturgeon’s most significant relationship outside her family

One of the reasons Ms Sturgeon decided to meet with Mr Salmond on April 2 2018 was the “personal aspect” of their relationship.

“Mr Salmond has been closer to me than probably any other person outside my family for the past 30 years, and I was being told he was very upset and wanted to see me personally,” Ms Sturgeon said.

Ms Sturgeon said she also agreed to see him because she thought he might have been about to resign from the SNP, a move which would have created a “public/media issue” for her party.

Ms Sturgeon revealed she last spoke to her former mentor by telephone on July 18 2018 when she told him she wanted to “draw a line under our contact”. More than two years later she has not spoken to him since. He was in touch twice shortly afterwards, but she did not respond.

Her view was that complaints must be “properly and fairly considered” no matter who the subject might be or how “politically inconvenient” the investigations might be.

“That remains my view, even though the circumstances and consequences of this particular investigation have caused me – and others, in many cases to an even greater extent – a great deal of personal anguish, and resulted in the breakdown of a relationship that had been very important to me, politically and personally, for most of my life,” Ms Sturgeon added.

The WhatsApp messages and a plea for arbitration

The private messages exchanged between the two politicians reveal Mr Salmond wanted his legal dispute with the Scottish Government over how the claims against him were investigated settled by an arbitration process.

In one WhatsApp message, Mr Salmond claimed Ms Sturgeon “wanted to assist but then decided against an intervention to help resolve the position amicably”.

In her evidence, the first minister said Mr Salmond believed she was “blocking” arbitration.

“I told him that was not the case and I was not involved in the decision,” Ms Sturgeon added.


[22/04/2018, 20:31:29] Alex Salmond: it would be very helpful if I could call you on
WhatsApp 10.30am and 12 noon tomorrow
[22/04/2018, 21:05:25] Nicola Sturgeon: I’ll be in the car until 11 on way to Inverness
– so 10.30 will be ok. I’ll not be free again after that until 12.30/1. There will be others
in car so I’ll not be able to talk openly…it’ll be later in day before I can be in private.
[22/04/2018, 22:03:57] Alex Salmond: In which case I will Phone just after 10.30am
with update and we can perhaps speak properly later on.
[31/05/2018, 11:24:01] Alex Salmond: In Glasgow tomorrow – could we meet?
[31/05/2018, 11:39:09] Nicola Sturgeon: Tomorrow’s very difficult – is it urgent?
[31/05/2018, 11:45:01] Alex Salmond: Next few days. I could do tomorrow evening or
Monday from lunchtime onwards.
[31/05/2018, 11:46:29] Nicola Sturgeon: The only time I could possibly do tomorrow is
around 4. Is it about what we spoke about before?
[31/05/2018, 11:56:46] Alex Salmond: Yes
[31/05/2018, 11:56:59] Alex Salmond: 4 is fine – same place?
[31/05/2018, 17:07:08] Nicola Sturgeon: Tomorrow is actually proving tricky given
other stuff I’ve got on. I’m trying to juggle a couple of things – will confirm later/in
morning if 4pm possible and if not suggest alternative.
[31/05/2018, 19:23:01] Alex Salmond: I suggest just two of us – I can leave you with
some material to digest over weekend – Meeting itself need not take long but tomorrow
would be best if poss.
[01/06/2018, 07:51:32] Nicola Sturgeon: Sorry but I just can’t do today – I don’t have
time to get home given other stuff. Happy to speak on phone over weekend and see
what else is possible.
[01/06/2018, 09:36:59] Alex Salmond: Phone not appropriate – there is material you
need to see and assess privately. Can I come to you Sunday or very first thing
[01/06/2018, 13:37:54] Nicola Sturgeon: I’m not at home at weekend and in Aberdeen
on Monday. In any event, I’d prefer a quick chat first to understand the purpose of
giving me material. We’ve already spoken about why I think me intervening is not right
thing to do. Happy to talk on what’s app at some point over weekend.
[03/06/2018, 10:15:00] Alex Salmond: My recollection of our Monday 2 April meeting
was rather different. You wanted to assist but then decided against an intervention to
help resolve the position amicably. Now is different. I was intending to give you sight
of the petition for JR drafted by senior counsel. You are a lawyer and can judge for
yourself the prospects of success which I am advised are excellent. This will follow
ANY adverse finding against me by the PS in a process which is unlawful. You are
perfectly entitled to intervene if it is brought to your attention that there is a risk of your
Government acting unlawfully in a process of which you had no knowledge. Indeed it
could be argued that is your obligation under the Scotland Act is to ensure that all
government actions are consistent with Convention undertakings
The JR will be rough for me since the hearing will almost certainly be made public but
at least I will have the opportunity to clear my name and good prospects of doing so –
but for the Government? One further thing to consider. Thus far we have been able to
confine evidence offered to the general (and mostly ridiculous) matters. This has had
the benefit of keeping everything well clear of current administration. When we go to
Court we will have to produce evidence to demonstrate prior process (which
incidentally the PS has admitted!). If you want to discuss privately then I can come to
you in the North East on Monday.
[05/06/2018, 14:02:58] Nicola Sturgeon: Hi – I have been considering your message
and what I need to do in light of it. If you still want to meet, I can do tomorrow evening
in Edinburgh and update you then. N
[05/06/2018, 19:24:32] Alex Salmond: Happy to meet – soonest I can get to Edinburgh
is around 8.30. I take it this is totally informal, one to one.
[05/06/2018, 19:42:38] Nicola Sturgeon: Ok – happy for it to be one to one – will have
to be either parliament or Bute, whatever you prefer. The alternative if its easier is
Aberdeen on Thursday night – I’ll be there from around 8, staying in hotel somewhere
near beach ballroom I think.
[05/06/2018, 20:08:30] Alex Salmond: Yes Thursday much better, thanks. I’ll be there
for 8.30 to give you time to settle in.
[05/06/2018, 20:12:37] Nicola Sturgeon: Ok. It’s the Hilton hotel at the beach.
[05/06/2018, 20:17:58] Alex Salmond: Grand
[07/06/2018, 19:00:28] Nicola Sturgeon: You should go to the Platinum reception at
the back of hotel later. There’s a private room arranged there for us to meet in.
[07/06/2018, 19:07:45] Alex Salmond: OK thanks. Traffic was bad but now well on the
way. Should arrive c 8.40 and will give 5 minute warning on approach.
[07/06/2018, 19:09:23] Nicola Sturgeon: I’m running late too – but should be there just
before you
[07/06/2018, 19:14:01] Alex Salmond: OK shall we make it 8.50 so we are not rushing
[07/06/2018, 19:25:49] Nicola Sturgeon: I’m ok for as soon as you get there
[07/06/2018, 19:36:24] Alex Salmond: Grand
[07/06/2018, 20:46:30] Alex Salmond: Now in Aberdeen 5 minutes or so
[05/07/2018, 21:18:40] Alex Salmond: Nicola. I have slept on the content of the latest
letter from the PS rejecting arbitration. Two points I want to make to you privately.
Firstly, the explanation given in the letter is that arbitration is rejected because the SG
is confident in the legality of the process. With respect, that entirely misses the point.
The SG may well believe it is lawful. My Senior Counsel believes it is unlawful. That’s
the whole point of the arbitration. The legality will have to be resolved either in private
(in a confidential and binding arbitration) or in public at the Court of Session. The SG,
and you, have everything to gain from arbitration. If my legal advice is wrong, I will
accept that and the current process proceeds. If the SG legal advice is wrong, you
discover that without losing in a public court. Adopting an arbitration process also
guarantees confidentiality for the complainers, regardless of what happens. Secondly,
the PS has now intimated that an FOI has been submitted. The SG response to that
request is of the utmost importance. Confirmation of even the existence of a specific
complaint will be sufficient to start a process which leads to the near certainty of these
matters becoming public. My legal advice is that a “neither confirm or deny” response
which avoids acknowledging the existence of any documents can be issued under
section 18 of the FOI Act which covers S38 (1) (b) {personal information}. It is critical
that this happens. There remains a way to resolve this but it requires the PS to be
encouraged to accept that confidential arbitration offers the best solution and to ensure
that the FOI is carefully handled. I hope you will do so but time is now very short.
[13/07/2018, 11:01:08] Alex Salmond: Grateful for your message via [REDACTED].
Happy to meet privately. Understand you are away from Monday so given
developments presumably this weekend best? I have material which it is important for
you to see. I will happily come to you.
[13/07/2018, 11:22:38] Nicola Sturgeon: I’m supposedly on leave from Monday but not
going away – I’ll be at home so could do next week if that’s easier (except
Thursday/Friday). Weekend is a bit busy with one thing and another – late tomorrow
afternoon probably only time that works. Let me know what you prefer.
[13/07/2018, 14:03:32] Alex Salmond: Great – can we make it tomorrow late afternoon
then – I am just rearranging something and will confirm asap.
[13/07/2018, 15:13:10] Alex Salmond: Tomorrow confirmed for late afternoon. – give
me your best time and place. Thanks.
[13/07/2018, 15:56:10] Nicola Sturgeon: It’ll have to be my house – I should be home
by 4 so that’s best time. Just so you know, I have to go out again around 6.
[13/07/2018, 15:58:44] Alex Salmond: 4 it is then
[13/07/2018, 15:59:27] Nicola Sturgeon: Ok
[14/07/2018, 15:45:59] Alex Salmond: Ten minutes away
[15/07/2018, 22:42:44] Alex Salmond: Many thanks for making the time yesterday. I
am grateful that you will correct the impression being given that you are against
arbitration or that it is somehow against your interests. I know that you need to reflect
further on how to progress things beyond that and am not blind to the difficulty of legal
advice being suspicious of arbitration. I am genuinely at a loss as to what the downside
is for anyone, complainers, SG or me or you. The reasons given to date have been
meaningless or more recently just a misrepresentation of your position. If there are
good legal reasons then surely they can be set out for you/us. I will wait to hear how
you are able to proceed. I am also giving much thought to your advice and thinking
deeply about how arbitration on process might open up the space and opportunity to
address and resolve the underlying matters, as far as is possible, to everyone’s
[16/07/2018, 14:57:50] Alex Salmond: [Message content redacted by the Parliament
on basis of legal professional privilege of Alex Salmond]
[18/07/2018, 20:50:37] Alex Salmond: T: [Redacted]
E: [Redacted]

Mr Callum Anderson Levy and McRae Pacific House
70 Wellington Street GLASGOW
G2 6UA
Private and Confidential 18 July 2018
Dear Mr Anderson
Thank you for your recent letters, in which you have raised your concern about the
fairness of the Scottish Government Procedure. I want, first of all, to assure your client
that I am approaching these important issues with the greatest of care and with an
open mind. It remains the view of the Scottish Government that our Procedure is fair
and legally sound. We have ensured from the outset that your client had every
opportunity to provide a statement of his recollection of the events described in the
“causes for concern” set out in my letter of 7 March. We granted a number of
extensions to the initial deadline for such a statement to be provided. Your client was
also offered the opportunity to speak to the Investigating Officer directly but he
declined to do so.
Your client has chosen not to provide a substantive response to the complaints made
by Ms A and Ms B (causes for concern A – I) although he has made clear his denial
that any harassment took place. Your letter of 26 April included quotations “in short
none of the allegations are admitted” and “I categorically deny that I have ever
harassed any civil servant”.
Although you continue to express concern about the overall fairness and legality of the
Procedure your letter of 26 April did include a substantive response to causes for
concern J – K. That letter also identified 5 witnesses to be interviewed – limited to those
causes for concern only. Contact information for those witnesses was provided by you
on 8 May. Witnesses were interviewed by the Investigating Officer and their
statements were finally agreed by all parties by 28 June after a number of
postponements and delays.
You have proposed arbitration in relation to the Procedure and explained why you
consider it to be appropriate. The Scottish Government has explained in previous
letters and in exchanges between legal representatives why we do not agree.
However, for completeness and to ensure our position is understood we make the
following points.
First, we consider that we have given your client a fair opportunity to address the
complaints, and that the procedure which we have followed is a fair one.
· We do not consider that arbitration would be appropriate to the circumstances. This
is an investigation of serious complaints made by civil servants involving a former
Minister. Submitting the process to an external decision maker would not be
· As the decision maker, I have to balance a range of interests, and to ensure a
Procedure which is fair both to your client and to the complainers. Arbitration of the
SG process would not involve the complainers.
· As decision maker I have a duty to bring the investigation to a conclusion as efficiently
and timeously as possible. Arbitration would cause unavoidable further delay.
· However tightly a remit were drawn, it seems unlikely that it would be possible to
separate the procedural points which you have raised from issues of substance or
content in a way which would allow those procedural concerns to be addressed.
Your client has provided a substantive response to causes for concern J – K. However,
it remains my view that his interests and those of the investigation as a whole would
best be served by him providing a substantive response to each of the causes for
concern – and it is a matter of regret that he has chosen not to do so.
Consequently I am offering your client, even at this late stage, a final opportunity to
provide any further representations about the complaints made by Ms A and Ms B.
Given the time that has elapsed since first notifying your client of the investigation you
must confirm if your client wishes to take up this opportunity no later than 11 am on 19
July. Any further representations must be received by 3 pm on Friday, 20 July if they
are to form part of my consideration.
Should your client choose not to take up this final opportunity I shall proceed to
consider the report on the basis of the information he has already provided and will
write to you again to inform you of the outcome.
Yours sincerely
[18/07/2018, 20:52:21] Alex Salmond: As you see the time allowed is tomorrow
morning at 11am
[20/07/2018, 22:37:18] Alex Salmond: A full rebuttal of all complaints went in by the
deadline today. Let us see how it is judged.