There are only a few weeks left until the general elections are held in Scotland on 6 May. So far, according to surveys, Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party (SNP) could count on a clear victory. But now the popular head of government has come under pressure in a dispute with his predecessor Alex Salmond. Following the publication of new documents on Tuesday, the call for resignation is louder. Once his political mentor, Salmond, accused Sturgeon and his government of misconduct in handling the charges against him.
On Wednesday, Sturgeon countered these allegations in a parliamentary committee investigation. The committee was set up to verify that the government will open an investigation in Salmond in 2018 for sexual harassment against two employees. The investigation was called off in January 2019 due to procedural errors. A subsequent criminal hearing in which nine women testified against Salmond was acquitted (one count was classified as “unproven”).
One central point the committee wants to clarify is whether Sturgeon violated the so-called “Ministerial Code”, that is, the rules of conduct for members of the government, as Salmond claims. Sturgeon would then be expected to resign. Separate investigation is also done for this. In particular, the issue is whether he lied in Parliament about the time when he learned about the allegations against Salmond and alleged that he had not officially documented important meetings.
The head of government confirmed his statement before the committee that he had only informed Salmond of the allegations against him on April 2, 2018 – not from a former employee on March 29, 2018, as he had alleged. He would not have suffered such a “big shock” when he was informed of the case by Salmed on 2 April, he argued. Salmond, a former attorney who was in the meeting on April 2, supports the employee’s account in a written statement, as became known on Tuesday. He wrote according to British media reports: “When we arrived, everyone in the room knew why we were there.”
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At the hearing, Sturgeon also denied Salmond’s accusation that a vile conspiracy was hatched against him by the government. “I had no motive, no intention or desire to take action against Alex Salmond,” Sturgeon said. Her predecessors were “one of the closest people in my entire life”. The two politicians were simultaneously heads of the Scottish Government. Sturgeon replaced Salmond in 2014 following a failed independence referendum in Scotland by the head of government and party.
Sturgeon also dismissed the allegation that the government had continued its investigation against Salmond against his better judgment – despite documents published on Tuesday. It states that in late 2018, legal advisers advised the government to stop its actions against Salmond. It was known in advance that the officer responsible for the investigation was previously in contact with the two women who had made allegations against Salmond. The lawyers wrote that they faced “extreme professional embarrassment”, as the BBC wrote, representing the case. But Sturgeon did not want to see a problem in it. Legal advice in the committee always indicates risk.
Opposition conservatives see it differently. He announced a no-confidence motion in Sturgeon on Tuesday. Party leader Douglas Ross said there is no doubt that he lied in Parliament and in many cases broke the “Ministerial Code”. “The burden of proof is heavy. Nicola Sturgeon will have to resign.” If the other parties support this view, things may become tight for Sturgeon. Your SNP does not have a majority in Parliament.
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