Pressure piles on Sturgeon: Alex Salmond prepares to reveal new evidence that First Minister misled Scottish parliament as it is claimed she knew of harassment allegations 'weeks earlier' than she admitted

  • Salmond will give evidence in private tomorrow or on Tuesday to second inquiry
  • Second one set up to establish if Ms Sturgeon has broken the Ministerial Code
  • A source said: 'He will be able to say things which he hasn't been able to mention'
  • Source close to Mr Salmond added: 'It will likely be damning for Nicola Sturgeon'
  • Evidence has also been sent from Geoff Aberdein, Mr Salmond's ex-chief of staff
  • It's said to air claims Sturgeon knew of allegations 'weeks earlier' than admittedAlex Salmond will this week launch a devastating second attack on Nicola Sturgeon - in a move which could force her to resign as First Minister.

    He will give evidence in private tomorrow or on Tuesday to a second inquiry, set up to establish whether Ms Sturgeon has broken the Ministerial Code.

    Ms Sturgeon will face tough questioning from MSPs at the Holyrood inquiry on Wednesday - the same day the UK Budget is announced.

 Last night, a source close to Mr Salmond said: 'He will be able to say things in private which he hasn't been able to mention up until now.

'It will likely be damning and devastating for Nicola Sturgeon.'

Appearing before a Holyrood inquiry on Friday, Mr Salmond launched an astonishing attack under oath on Ms Sturgeon's leadership - and accused her of multiple breaches of the Ministerial Code and of misleading parliament.

He disputed her account of their meetings at her home, saying she was aware beforehand that they were arranged to discuss complaints to the Government about him.

However, he said he was unable to talk about some aspects of the crucial meetings because of legal restrictions.

Now he will give evidence to the second inquiry led by James Hamilton, QC.

If this probe establishes Ms Sturgeon broke even one of the rules governing ministerial conduct, she will face calls for her resignation - just weeks before the crucial Scottish parliament election.

Mr Salmond's delivery of evidence to the Holyrood inquiry highlights the astonishing levels of bitterness that now exist between the former SNP leader and Ms Sturgeon - a pair who for many years seemed to have forged one of the most rock-solid partnerships in politics.

He also called for the resignations of Ms Sturgeon's chief legal adviser, the Lord Advocate James Wolffe, and some of those closest to her, including her husband, the SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans and her chief of staff Liz Lloyd.

Mr Salmond said some in the SNP and Scottish Government had been involved in a 'deliberate, prolonged, malicious and concerted effort' to put him in prison.

Last night, sources confirmed he will speak directly to Mr Hamilton, the former director of public prosecutions in Ireland, by video link tomorrow or on Tuesday.

They said it could be even more devastating than the evidence he gave to the committee on Friday.

That is because he will not be limited in what he can talk about by the Crown Office and Holyrood lawyers.

It is also understood Mr Hamilton has received evidence from Geoff Aberdein, Mr Salmond's former chief of staff, whose evidence to the Holyrood committee could not be published.

If that corroborates Mr Salmond's version of events, rather than Ms Sturgeon's, it could dramatically increase pressure on the First Minister.

The evidence is said to include claims she knew of harassment allegations 'weeks earlier' than she admitted.

It also suggests Ms Sturgeon's team leaked the identity of a sexual assault complainant against the former first minister - which Ms Sturgeon rejects.

In other developments:

  • Former First Minister Henry McLeish warns Ms Sturgeon may have to show 'humility' and consider her future - as he did;
  • MSPs are set to ask Mr Salmond to hand over bombshell documents, which he claims reveal the Government's plot against him;
  • Ms Sturgeon is likely to face tough questioning from MSPs as she prepares to give evidence to the Holyrood inquiry this week.
Alex Salmond (pictured on Friday) will give evidence in private tomorrow or on Tuesday to a second inquiry, set up to establish whether Ms Sturgeon has broken the Ministerial Code

Alex Salmond (pictured on Friday) will give evidence in private tomorrow or on Tuesday to a second inquiry, set up to establish whether Ms Sturgeon has broken the Ministerial Code

Appearing before a Holyrood inquiry on Friday, Mr Salmond launched an astonishing attack under oath on Ms Sturgeon's (pictured on Thursday) leadership - and accused her of multiple breaches of the Ministerial Code and of misleading parliament

Appearing before a Holyrood inquiry on Friday, Mr Salmond launched an astonishing attack under oath on Ms Sturgeon's (pictured on Thursday) leadership - and accused her of multiple breaches of the Ministerial Code and of misleading parliament

Mr Salmond finally gave evidence to the specially created harassment committee at Holyrood after a protracted wrangle over the publication of his evidence, which saw him twice pull out of appearances.

It was the first time he had spoken at length about the Government's probe into sexual misconduct allegations against him.

After he was cleared of 13 charges against nine women in March last year, he said evidence that he had not been able to lead during his trial at the High Court in Edinburgh would 'see the light of day'.

And after 11 months of silence, he is ready to deliver his second damning verdict on his successor in less than a week.

This time it is Ms Sturgeon in the dock over alleged Ministerial Code breaches, including over whether she misled parliament.

She initially said Mr Salmond first told her of the allegations against him at her home on April 2, 2018.

Months later she admitted she had been told by Mr Aberdein, who set up a meeting with her on March 29, at her office in parliament.On Friday, Mr Salmond insisted this was not a mere slip, but a potentially career-ending breach of the Ministerial Code.

He told the Holyrood committee: 'Either the meeting on March 29 was not forgotten about and parliament was deliberately misled or, alternatively, it was forgotten about and parliament was not informed when Nicola was reminded of it.

'My submission says that those are, to me, clear breaches of the Ministerial Code.

What are the key issues in the row engulfing SNP?

How and why did the Scottish government mishandle allegations against Alex Salmond?

The Scottish government launched an investigation in 2017 after two women made formal complaints against Alex Salmond.

He launched legal action against the government's handling of the investigation and won a judicial review in January 2019, receiving £512,000 to cover his legal fees. 

The parliamentary inquiry is examining how ministers and civil servants conducted the probe.

Mr Salmond was charged with 13 counts of sexual assault, including attempted rape, but was acquitted of all charges in March 2020.

Mr Salmond has claimed he was the victim of a conspiracy by senior SNP figures to end his role in public life.  

What did Nicola Sturgeon know and when?

Ms Sturgeon originally told MSPs she learned of complaints against Mr Salmond on April 2, 2018, when the pair met at her house.

That meeting is crucial as it is unclear whether it was SNP business, or government business - which should have been officially recorded.

Peter Murrell, the chief executive of the SNP and Ms Sturgeon's husband, initially said he was not at home, but later revealed that he arrived home during the discussion.

He insists he did not ask what they were talking about. 

Ms Sturgeon has also admitted she 'forgot' about a discussion with Mr Salmond's ex-chief of staff four days earlier where they talked about the issue. 

The ministerial code says that 'ministers who knowingly mislead the parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the First Minister'.

Ms Sturgeon is facing a separate independent investigation led by James Hamilton, who has to decide if she broke the ministerial code. However, it is thought that she is the final arbiter of whether the code has been breached.  

Does Mr Salmond have evidence of a conspiracy against him?

Mr Salmond has said he is the victim of a 'prolonged, malicious' conspiracy by senior SNP and government figures. 

He has suggested Mr Murrell was part of efforts to damage him. 

Ms Sturgeon has demanded he presents hard evidence that is the case. However, he insisted that he is not in the dock and the government has already conceded it acted illegally.   

Why was Mr Salmond's evidence to the inquiry redacted?

Mr Salmond's submission to the inquiry was released online on Monday, but the Crown Office raised concerns with Holyrood about it, asking for redactions. 

He has raised questions about why the step was taken and whether it amounted to inappropriate interference.

'What happens as a result is not for me. It is for this committee, for Mr James Hamilton and for others.

'All I can do is come here and tell you the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.'

Ms Sturgeon also faces major questions over why she did not immediately provide an account of her meeting with Mr Salmond to civil servants, and over whether she wasted taxpayers' money pursuing a judicial review against the advice of government lawyers.

The Holyrood committee will look at whether she breached the Ministerial Code.

But it is Mr Hamilton's conclusion which will carry the most weight. He is expected to deliver his report to Ms Sturgeon next week.

Sources close to Mr Salmond believe his evidence to Mr Hamilton will be more devastating than when he faced the committee.

One said: 'Alex will be able to go further in his evidence, as he is not acting under some bar - as is the case with the committee - imposed by the Crown Office.

'Mr Hamilton has, of course, not redacted any of evidence (unlike the committee), or Geoff Aberdein's evidence, and Alex will certainly be happy to answer any questions he has to ask.

'But, as he said on Friday, it will then be up to Mr Hamilton and the committee.'

One committee source said: 'It comes down to whether the claims Alex Salmond makes can be corroborated. We know that James Hamilton has spoken to Geoff Aberdein and others.

'If they have corroborated Mr Salmond's claims, it's going to be very difficult for the First Minister to rebut allegations she breached the Ministerial Code. She can't be forced to resign for breaching the code, but it makes it very difficult.

'The whole SNP pitch has always been, ''We're better than those at Westminster'', contrasting Nicola Sturgeon with Boris Johnson.

'That goes out of the window if she's found to have breached the Ministerial Code and doesn't resign.'

Details of Mr Aberdein's evidence, obtained by the Sunday Times, was not published on legal grounds but has been shared with the Holyrood committee.

It hints Ms Sturgeon's administration knew about the allegations from as early as the start of March - weeks earlier than she has admitted.

It also claims the identity of one of the sexual assault complainants was leaked to Mr Aberdein, who passed it to Mr Salmond.

It was around the same time that the former first minister was told by the government there was a probe into the accusations.

Mr Salmond took legal action against the Government in the belief its investigation into him was unfair.

He won the judicial review, with a judge ruling the investigation was 'tainted by apparent bias'.

However, the Government has refused to publish the legal advice, which would prove whether it pursued the case against the judgment of its own lawyers.

Writing in today's Scottish Mail on Sunday, Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross warns that Ms Sturgeon can no longer hide behind a wall of secrecy, after initially promising to 'co-operate fully' with the inquiry.

He writes: 'Her position is untenable if the SNP Government continues to obstruct crucial evidence.'

Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour deputy leader and committee member, said: 'If the First Minister is found to have breached the Ministerial Code by misleading parliament then there is no doubt that she should resign.'

New Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said she should step down if she has misled parliament, saying she would expect the same of ministers in other parties.

'If there is a minister, forget who the minister is or what political party they are from, if a minister is found to have breached the ministerial code, I think people would expect that minister to resign,' the newly elected Scottish Labour leader told Sky News' Sophy Ridge On Sunday.

'That's what Nicola Sturgeon would say if it was a Labour politician, a Conservative politician or a Liberal Democrat politician, so let's take the party politics out of it - it's a point of principle.'

When pushed specifically on whether or not the First Minister should step down, Mr Sarwar said: 'Yes, I think Nicola Sturgeon herself would say that if an opposition politician was in government and they'd breached the ministerial code, they would be expected to resign.

'Let's take the party politics and the personalities out of it, it's a point of principle and respecting the office of First Minister.'

Speaking in his first broadcast interview since becoming leader on Saturday, defeating Monica Lennon with more than 57 per cent of the vote, Mr Sarwar said he believes the First Minister would not support touting a referendum on independence if it were not for the internal struggles of the SNP.

The Glasgow MSP said: 'The idea that we come through (the Covid-19 pandemic) and straight into a divisive referendum campaign, I just don't think it's the right thing to do - instead I think it's right that we focus on rebuilding our country.'

He added: 'I actually don't think even Nicola Sturgeon would be advocating a referendum right now, but I think she's more focused on healing the wounds in her political party than she is about healing the wounds in the country.' 

However, Ms Sturgeon said in parliament earlier this month: 'I do not consider that I breached the Ministerial Code - I will make that case very, very robustly.'

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