Douglas Ross: No more excuses. No more evasion. Sturgeon’s position is untenable if Salmond is telling the truth.

14 Jan

Douglas Ross is Leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, and is MP for Moray.

The claims made by Alex Salmond about his successor are genuinely jaw-dropping.

Salmond asserts that Nicola Sturgeon knew about the Scottish Government internal investigation into alleged sexual harassment by him in advance of meetings on the 29th of March and 2nd of April 2018. He also alleges that Sturgeon’s top special adviser, Liz Lloyd, leaked the name of one of the complainers to Salmond’s former chief of staff.

In addition, he states that Sturgeon failed to inform the civil service of government meetings with him. He accuses her of having “broke” the ministerial code on numerous occasions and making “untrue” statements that “misled” the Scottish Parliament.

The sheer severity of these claims can only mean that the First Minister’s future is on the line. Nicola Sturgeon repeatedly told the Scottish Parliament that she was unaware of the complaints against Salmond before the meeting on the 2nd – only to later recall that she had ‘forgotten’ about a ‘chance’ meeting with Salmond’s former chief of staff on the 29th.

If it is true that the meeting on the 29th was prearranged and not a chance encounter, and that she knew about the investigation into Salmond beforehand, then Sturgeon has clearly been lying to the Scottish Parliament.

The media has been caught up in the spectacle of the struggle between the First Minister and her political mentor, the former First Minister, but at the crux of this dispute are women let down by the complaints process, and the issue of public trust in our politics.

There is the indisputable fact that the SNP Government’s botched mishandling of the process saw over £500,000 of taxpayers’ money paid out to Salmond. The need to uncover the truth and restore trust is especially important at a time when we are relying on public compliance with the decisions taken by politicians to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

That is why the Scottish Conservatives have continually challenged the SNP Government on its failure to allow proper scrutiny of this murky business. On two occasions we led the opposition parties in defeating the SNP in the Scottish Parliament on its failure to release legal advice. Outraged SNP MPs should look closer to home when they are considering their next target to accuse of treating the Parliament with contempt.

Meanwhile the SNP Government in Holyrood has done everything it can to avoid transparency and scrutiny throughout this process. Even Linda Fabiani, the SNP chair of the Salmond inquiry committee, has said that she was “completely frustrated” at the lack of evidence from the government. Sturgeon promised that the entire SNP Government would “co-operate fully” with it but, like much else concerned with this sordid affair, that promise could not have been further from the truth.

Now it is rejecting any attempt to expand the civil service’s independent investigation. If there is nothing to hide, then why is the SNP Government seeking to avoid further scrutiny. Why is Sturgeon so bullish about all of this in public yet, behind closed doors, holding back evidence, and hiding behind committee and investigative terms of reference? These actions only raise suspicion.

Sturgeon knows that her position is untenable if Salmond is telling the truth. She was on the opposition side when Henry McLeish resigned as First Minister for subletting his constituency office. And when David McLetchie had to quit as Scottish Conservative leader for using publicly paid for taxis for party political purposes.

Then, as Deputy First Minister, she welcomed Wendy Alexander’s resignation as Labour group leader over failing to declare donations to her leadership campaign in her register of interests. Nicola Sturgeon knows the precedent for Scottish political leaders – and they all resigned for far less than she is accused of.

There can be no more excuses, no more obfuscation. The complainants deserve the truth of why they were let down so badly by the Scottish Government’s internal process. Scottish taxpayers deserve to know the truth of why public money had to handed to Salmond. The Scottish Parliament deserves to know the truth of statements that the First Minister made to it. And just a few months ahead of the Scottish Parliament Election, voters deserve to know the truth of whether they can trust Sturgeon’s word.

If there is nothing to hide, then she should have no problem with giving us the truth.