SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford has said Nicola Sturgeon “acted in an honourable way” after former colleague Alex Salmond reportedly claimed she breached the ministerial code by misleading the Scottish Parliament.
Former first minister Salmond’s submissions to an inquiry into sexual assault claims against him have been obtained by national newspapers, in which he claims Sturgeon’s evidence over when she knew about the allegations was “simply untrue”.
Sturgeon, who took over as First Minister and SNP leader in late 2014, initially told Holyrood she first heard of complaints of sexual misconduct against her predecessor at a meeting with him at her home on April 2 2018.
But in Salmond’s subsequent criminal trial, it was revealed Sturgeon had been made aware of the allegations in an informal meeting with his former chief of staff Geoff Aberdein on March 29 that year – four days earlier – with Sturgeon later telling the inquiry she “forgot” about the encounter.
Blackford said he did not believe the allegations about Sturgeon were correct.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions programme: “I believe that the First Minister has acted in an honourable way, she’s someone that I’ve every faith and trust in.
“I can tell you that the approval ratings for the First Minister, the respect that she has right up and down the country of Scotland, is enormous and this is something that will pass – when she appears in front of the committee these matters will be dealt with.”
In his inquiry submission, Salmond said the March meeting had been arranged after Mr Aberdein was told of two allegations made under a new complaints procedure set up in light of the MeToo movement.
According to The Herald, Salmond said: “This (preliminary) meeting was for the purpose of discussing the complaints and thereafter arranging a direct meeting between myself and the First Minister.
“There was never the slightest doubt what the meeting was about. Any suggestion by the First Minister to the Scottish Parliament that the meeting was ‘fleeting or opportunistic’ is simply untrue.
“Most seriously, Parliament has been repeatedly misled on a number of occasions about the nature of the meeting of 2nd April 2018.
“The First Minister told Parliament (see Official Report of 8th, 10th & 17th January 2019) that she first learned of the complaints against me when I visited her home on 2nd April 2018.
“That is untrue and is a breach of the ministerial code.”
Salmond, who was cleared of 13 charges at the High Court in Edinburgh last March, also confirmed to The Times he had submitted the evidence to James Hamilton – the independent adviser on the ministerial code who is conducting a separate investigation into Sturgeon.
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “The First Minister and the permanent secretary stand by what has been said to Parliament and in written evidence to the committee.
“The permanent secretary has also already provided detailed answers in person to the committee and will provide further oral evidence on Tuesday.
“The First Minister looks forward to answering questions when she appears later this month.
“In relation to the ministerial code referral, Mr Hamilton has the freedom to investigate as he feels is appropriate and we will not prejudge that process.”
A spokesman for Sturgeon said: “The First Minister entirely rejects Salmond’s claims about the ministerial code.
“We should always remember that the roots of this issue lie in complaints made by women about Alex Salmond’s behaviour whilst he was first minister, aspects of which he has conceded.
“It is not surprising therefore that he continues to try to divert focus from that by seeking to malign the reputation of the First Minister and by spinning false conspiracy theories.
“The First Minister is concentrating on fighting the pandemic, stands by what she has said, and will address these matters in full when she appears at committee in the coming weeks.”