Nicola Sturgeon is in a fight for her political life after Holyrood’s inquiry into the handling of abuse allegations against Alex Salmond found she misled parliament in her written evidence to the committee.
A narrow majority of five votes to four found the first minister gave an “inaccurate account” of her meetings with Salmond in a ruling leaked to Sky News from inside the committee room last night.
The broadcaster’s Scotland correspondent James Matthews said the committee found that Sturgeon, who succeeded Salmond as leader of the SNP and first minister of Scotland in 2014, had “misled parliament and potentially breached the ministerial code of conduct”.
The ruling centres around an April 2018 meeting between Sturgeon and Salmond, and whether she offered to intervene in the government’s investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct against him, a claim Sturgeon denies. But Salmond insists Sturgeon did make such an offer and the inquiry agreed.
“Taking account of the competing versions of the event, the committee believes that she did in fact leave Alex Salmond with the impression that she would, if necessary, intervene,” the committee’s findings are expected to read, according to Sky News.
Sturgeon last night disputed the findings of the inquiry, which she said she found “not that surprising”. She told the broadcaster that “opposition members of this committee made their minds up before I muttered a single word of evidence”.
It’s a “remarkable conclusion”, says The Guardian, “but the committee has stopped short of ruling she did so ‘knowingly’”. It is this distinction that could be key to saving the first minister’s political career as the Scottish ministerial code reads that “ministers who knowingly mislead the Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation”.
Regardless, “the decision is likely to increase pressure on Sturgeon to stand down before May’s election”, says The Herald, adding that opposition parties have “scented blood”.
Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross called for her resignation, saying: “We cannot set a precedent that a first minister of Scotland can mislead the Scottish Parliament and get away with it.” Ross has already made preparations to push for a vote of no confidence against the SNP leader, but this is likely to be “doomed”, Politico’s London Playbook reports.
“Without wishing to dismiss the importance of the Salmond inquiry, the investigation that really matters is that of James Hamilton,” The Scotsman says.
Hamilton’s investigation into whether Sturgeon broke the ministerial code is expected to be published very soon. If it finds in her favour, it will provide Sturgeon with a much-needed “buffer” against the allegations, the paper adds.