MSPs call on Swinney to expand Sturgeon code breach probe

Cross-party group want deputy first minister to widen remit of independent inquiry to include Salmond claims.

Alex Salmond has accused Nicola Sturgeon of 'breaching the ministerial code'. Jeff J Mitchell via Getty Images / Jeff J Mitchell via Getty Images
Alex Salmond has accused Nicola Sturgeon of 'breaching the ministerial code'.

A cross-party group of MSPs has called on Scotland’s Deputy First Minister to formally extend the inquiry into whether Nicola Sturgeon breached the ministerial code.

They want John Swinney to widen the remit of the independent inquiry to include claims by Alex Salmond that the First Minister broke the code by allegedly misleading parliament over when she knew of sexual harassment claims against him.

Salmond has also called for the investigation to be widened.

Sturgeon initially told Holyrood she first heard of complaints of sexual misconduct against her predecessor when they met at her home on April 2, 2018.

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It later emerged she had an informal meeting with Salmond’s chief of staff, Geoff Aberdein, in her Holyrood office four days earlier.

The SNP leader told a Scottish Parliament committee examining the Scottish Government’s botched handling of sexual harassment allegations against Salmond she “forgot” about the encounter.

A spokesman for Sturgeon said she denies Salmond’s claims and stands by her previous comments on the issue.

Now, four members of the committee – Labour’s Jackie Baillie, Liberal Democrat Alex Cole-Hamilton and Conservatives Margaret Mitchell and Murdo Fraser – have written to Swinney calling for him to formally extend the remit of independent inquiry into whether or not the First Minister breached the ministerial code.

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They have also written to James Hamilton QC, who is conducting the inquiry, asking him to clarify if the inquiry will be expanded as requested.

Both letters state: “If corroborated, Mr Salmond’s evidence could prove that the First Minister knowingly misled Parliament both orally and in writing on several occasions about when she first knew that the government was investigating complaints against the former first minister and of her actions around the same.

“Equally, Mr Salmond may be fabricating his assertions in an effort to damage Ms Sturgeon. In any case these two versions of events cannot both be true and we believe it to be of paramount importance to the national interest that the facts of the matter are established.”

The letters say widening the investigation to include examination of whether Sturgeon broke the section of the code dealing with knowingly misleading parliament is “vital”.

The MSPs tell Swinney: “When asked previously, both yourself and the First Minister have repeatedly suggested that James Hamilton QC is at liberty to expand the remit of his inquiry should the evidence require it.

“However, we understand that as he engaged in a quasi-judicial process, he cannot indulge in mission creep and that the remit may only be formally expanded by an official directive from your government.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Deputy First Minister already confirmed to Parliament in November, in response to a parliamentary question from one of the authors of this letter, that the James Hamilton inquiry could look at any aspect of a potential breach of the ministerial code. We will not prejudge that process.

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“The First Minister stands by her written evidence to the Parliament and looks forward to answering questions when she appears later this month.”

Salmond said evidence he submitted to Mr Hamilton has also been given to the committee.

He added: “It is a matter for Mr Hamilton and committee members what they do with my evidence but I stand by the contents of the document and I am prepared to do so under oath in front of the committee.”

Sturgeon will ‘refute’ allegations of misleading parliament

First Minister says she doesn't accept claims made by her predecessor Alex Salmond that she broke the ministerial code.

Jeff J Mitchell via Getty Images
Nicola Sturgeon says she doesn't accept claims made by Alex Salmond.

Nicola Sturgeon has said she will refute accusations she misled the Scottish Parliament – a claim made by her predecessor as first minister Alex Salmond – when she appears before a committee of MSPs.

Asked about Salmond’s claims on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, she said: “I don’t accept that and I will refute that vigorously.”

Sturgeon said she had hoped to appear before the Holyrood committee investigating the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment complaints this coming week, but her appearance had been delayed by a “couple of weeks”.

She said: “I will sit before that committee and I will set out my account of what happened, given the very difficult situation that I faced, and people can make their own judgements on that.”

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Salmond has claimed that his successor as First Minister misled MSPs with “false and manifestly untrue” statements about when she first knew of sexual harassment allegations against him.

But Sturgeon said she does not believe she lied to parliament and Deputy First Minister John Swinney says she will use her appearance before the inquiry to dispel the “absolute nonsense” put forward by her predecessor.

Sturgeon initially told Holyrood she first heard of complaints of sexual misconduct against Salmond when they met at her home on April 2, 2018.

It later emerged she had a meeting with Salmond’s chief of staff, Geoff Aberdein, in her Holyrood office four days earlier.

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The SNP leader told the Scottish Parliament committee she “forgot” about that encounter.

Asked by Marr if Salmond was “spinning false conspiracy theories”, Sturgeon said: “What I certainly reflect on is that at times I appear to be simultaneously accused of colluding with Mr Salmond to somehow cover up accusations of sexual harassment on the one hand.

“And then on the other hand, being part of some dastardly conspiracy to bring him down.

“Neither of those are true.”

She continued: “I, at the time I became aware of all of this, just tried hard not to interfere with what was going on and not to do anything that would see these swept aside rather than properly investigated.”

Sturgeon said the Scottish Government had made “mistakes” in its handling of the complaints, which would be the subject of the Holyrood committee’s inquiry.

Temperatures set to fall after yellow alert for snow and ice

The Met Office issued a yellow weather warning from 4pm on Sunday to 11am on Monday.

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Temperatures could fall as low as -13C following a yellow alert for snow and ice across parts of Scotland. 

The Met Office issued a yellow weather warning from 4pm on Sunday to 11am on Monday. 

The worst affected areas will be in the Northern Isles, Moray, parts of Aberdeenshire, the Highlands and the west coast including Lanarkshire and Ayrshire.

Drivers have been warned that the wintry weather could affect the roads.

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STV weather presenter Philip Petrie said temperatures could drop as low as -13C on Monday night – the coldest night of the winter so far. 

He said: ”On Saturday night temperatures dropped to lows of -11.4C in Dalwhinnie, which meant that on Sunday temperatures were slow to rise during the day with many areas struggling to get above freezing. 

“Once again on Sunday night we see widespread frost developing for many central and eastern parts thanks to clear skies and dry conditions, but with further wintry showers expected to move in from the west overnight there is a risk that the rain hitting the frozen ground will turn to ice – possibly causing some travel disruptions through Monday morning. 

“The worst affected areas will be the Northern Isles, Moray, the north of Aberdeenshire, the Highlands stretching down the western side of the country down to Lanarkshire, Ayrshire and Dumbartonshire.

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“After an initially showery start to the day on Monday, the showers will fizzle out through the evening leaving another dry and clear night – giving the potential for our coldest night of the winter so far. Back at the start of January temperatures reached a low of -12.3C in Loch Glascarnoch, but on Monday night there is the potential for temperatures to drop to -13C.”


More than 23,000 given coronavirus vaccine in last 24 hours

The First Minister said on Sunday that 95% of care home residents have now been given the vaccine.

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Covid: Vaccine roll out continues across Scotland.

More than 23,000 people have received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine in the last 24 hours, figures have shown.

On Sunday, the latest figures showed 404,038 people have received their first coronavirus vaccination, an increase of 23,371 since Saturday.

The figures also stated that 5383 people have received their second dose.

It follows comments made by the First Minister on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, during which she said 95% of care home residents have now been vaccinated.

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Nicola Sturgeon said: “We took a deliberate decision in line with JCVI advice to focus initially on vaccinating older residents of care homes.”

She continued: “I heard Matt Hancock on the programme earlier say that about three quarters of care home residents in England had been vaccinated, in Scotland that figure right now is 95% of care home residents.”

The First Minister said this approach was more “resource intensive” and Scotland was now “rapidly catching up” on vaccinating over-80s in the community.

She added: “We’re all working to the same targets, overall I think we will see that we all are making good progress through this vaccination programme.”

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Sunday’s figures released by the Scottish Government stated there were 1195 new cases of Covid-19 reported, with 2011 in hospital with the virus.

Of that number, 157 people were in intensive care, a decrease of two from Saturday.

The total number of deaths after confirmed coronavirus in Scotland now stands at 5705 after one death was reported on Sunday.

Reported deaths from coronavirus are typically lower on weekends as register offices are usually closed.


Boy, 12, struck by train in critical condition in hospital

The boy was hit by a train at Prestwick Town railway station in South Ayrshire on Saturday night.

© Google Maps 2020
Boy was hit by train at Prestwick Town railway station.

A 12-year-old boy is in a critical condition in hospital after being struck by a train at a railway station in South Ayrshire.

The boy, who was not on the tracks at any point, was hit at Prestwick Town railway station just after 7.20pm on Saturday night.

He was taken by ambulance to hospital, where he remains in a critical conditon.

British Transport Police (BTP) officers say the incident is being treated as an accident and are appealing for anyone with information to come forward.

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BTP said in a statement: “Last night (Saturday 23 January 2021) at just after 7.20pm, BTP Officers were called to Prestwick Town Railway Station, South Ayrshire, after reports of a 12-year-old boy being struck by a train.

“Colleagues from Police Scotland also attended.   The Scottish Ambulance Service took the young man to hospital where he remains in a critical condition.  

“The incident is currently being treated as an accident.  If you have any information about this incident, please contact BTP by texting 61016 or calling 0800 40 50 40 quoting reference 432 of 23/1/2021.”


Women rescued from Ben Lomond charged with Covid breach

Two women charged in connection with culpable and reckless conduct after needing assistance from emergency services.

G Kelly & S Tinley via Lomond Mountain Rescue Team (@LomondMRT)
Two women were rescued from summit of Ben Lomond.

Two women have been charged with breaching coronavirus restrictions after being rescued from Ben Lomond in Stirlingshire.

The women, in their twenties, had travelled from Fife to go walking but needed to phone for help after getting into difficulty in poor weather on Saturday afternoon.

Lomond Mountain Rescue Team and emergency services assisted the two walkers from near the summit of Ben Lomond to the foot of the mountains by around 6.30pm.

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “Officers were called to assist Mountain Rescue partners on Ben Lomond at around 2pm on Saturday, 23 January, 2021 after two female walkers requested assistance to descend the hill in deteriorating weather conditions.

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“The women were assisted and walked off the hill and both uninjured. They have been charged in connection with culpable and reckless conduct.”

G Kelly & S Tinley via Lomond Mountain Rescue Team (@LomondMRT)

Coronavirus travel restrictions are in place across the whole of mainland Scotland – meaning people should only leave their homes for an essential purpose, including caring responsibilities, essential shopping, exercise and being part of an extended household.

Teenage girl sexually assaulted at city park

Seventeen-year-old girl was attacked at Tollcross Park in the east end of Glasgow on Saturday night.

© Google Maps 2020
Teenager was sexually assaulted inside Tollcross Park.

A teenage girl was sexually assaulted inside a Glasgow park on Saturday night.

The 17-year-old was attacked at Tollcross Park, in the city’s east end, between 9pm and 11pm.

Police Scotland said: “Police are investigating a report of a 17-year-old girl being sexually assaulted within Tollcross Park, Glasgow, between 9pm and 11pm on Saturday, 23 January, 2021.

“Enquiries are at an early stage to establish the full circumstances surrounding the incident.”

Over-70s to receive Covid jab appointments in blue envelopes

The 'distinctive' blue envelopes have been given priority by Royal Mail and will start arriving through letterboxes from Monday.

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Letters: Over 70s to begin receiving jab appointments.

Blue envelopes containing coronavirus vaccination appointments for those aged 70 to 79 will start arriving through letterboxes on Monday, the Scottish Government has said.

As the inoculation programme moves through priority groups, several health board areas are beginning to send out letters telling those in the age group when they will receive their first dose of the Covid-19 jab.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman urged people to look out for the “very distinctive” envelopes, which are being given priority by Royal Mail.

A new booking system is also being used by several health boards to schedule appointments for patients in order of priority.

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Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Lanarkshire and Lothian are among the NHS boards which will use the system.

The Scottish Government said they are on track for all those aged 80 and over to have received their first dose of the vaccine by the end of the first week in February.

This age group will not receive a blue envelope as they are being contacted by telephone or another form of letter.

Freeman said: “We all know how easy it is to ignore some of the mail which comes through our letterboxes but these blue envelopes will be very distinctive and they will contain details of your vaccine appointment so please open them.

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“The letters are being posted first class and we have been advised by the Royal Mail that the colour will allow them to prioritise delivery.

“The blue envelopes will contain information about the time and place of your appointment and details on how to reschedule it if you are unable to attend.

“I would urge everyone to take up their appointment when they are offered one.

“The vaccination programme is one of three key ways we are working to beat this virus, along with our expanded testing programme to identify cases and break chains of transmission and the important lockdown restrictions everyone in Scotland must follow.

“All these measures work to greatest effect when they work together.”

Burns in the Covid era: Tributes to National Bard go virtual

Traditional gatherings are unable to take place this year so Robert Burns' birthday is being celebrated online instead.

Bachelors of Tarbowton

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin’-race!

The immortal words of Scotland’s National Bard – reverberating around the world this year like never before as thousands log-on to celebrate virtual Burns Night suppers.

Traditional gatherings – filled with poetry, song and whisky – are unable to take place in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But that hasn’t stopped Scots raising a glass and celebrating the life of Robert Burns on his birthday.

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And the University of Glasgow has set out to chronicle the many Burns Suppers taking place online in Scotland and across the globe in 2021.

A research project led by academics from the university includes an interactive world map – featuring 2500 Burns suppers across five continents and giving an inventory of their menus, settings, entertainment and orders of ceremony.

It is the broadest, most detailed record of Burns Night activities ever made by the university’s Centre for Robert Burns Studies.

Researchers are calling on Scots to join in their #VirtualBurnsNight – by posting photos and videos of their event on social media – to help expand the map and their research project even further.

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Dr Paul Malgati, a research assistant on The Burns Supper in History and Today project at the University of Glasgow, said: “This January is an unprecedented moment in the 220-year long history of Burns Night.

“We’re expecting to see thousands of people tuning into hundreds of Burns celebrations held virtually all over the world.

“At the University of Glasgow, we’ve just released a giant world map of Burns suppers and we’ll be following this year’s situation very closely.

“We have already sent out invitations to join us for our #VirtualBurnsNight 2021 to 2000 addresses, across more than 140 countries.

“These include Scottish societies, pipe bands, Burns clubs, Scottish country dance group, rotary clubs, British embassies, libraries, museums, schools and universities, which all hosted a Burns Supper or a Burns Night celebration in recent years.

“Considering the effects of the global pandemic, we realised that by bringing together all our contacts, we had a unique opportunity to hold a substantial, virtual event, making up for the cancellation of many Burns suppers across the world.”

The University of Glasgow says it is estimated that more than nine-and-a-half million people around the world take part in a Burns Supper every year.

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This year’s project will be part of the celebrations to mark the 220th anniversary of the first Burns Supper – held in Burns Cottage, Alloway on July 21, 1801, commemorating the date of the bard’s passing rather than his birth.

One group that has already celebrated Burns Night virtually is the Ayrshire-based Bachelors of Tarbowton, who live-streamed their celebrations on Zoom.

Organiser Cameron Goodall said people tuned in from countries across the world, including the United States and New Zealand.

He said: “Because our Burns Club is made up of very serious Burns people, we traditionally have our suppers very late – typically around March.

“We usually have to go that late to ensure everyone will be available. Most are the backbone of several Burns Suppers around Scotland.

“We already had to forego our 2020 Burns Supper and we had rescheduled at that stage for the end of 2020. As it became clear even that was going to be impossible I started seriously looking at Zoom to enable us to get together as a group. 

“We managed a dress rehearsal, of sorts, to coincide with St Andrew’s Day and I wanted to let the world at large get a peek under the curtain, as it were.”

Cameron said he decided to live-stream their Zoom Burns Night on YouTube, adding that such a move was not without its teething problems.

“A few of our members are still somewhat challenged by technology but we still managed to have a grand night,” he said.

“Our suppers at The Bachelors Club would usually last about five hours and our online one was only a half-hour short of that, but it’s since been edited down to a slightly more manageable three hours!”

Some of the biggest Burns Night suppers are taking place right here in Scotland. Here are the details of some of the major online events planned this year:

  • WORLD’S BIGGEST BURNS – Spina Bifida Hydrocephalus, a charity that supports people with spina bifida, hydrocephalus and related conditions, says it is hosting the “world’s biggest Burns Supper”. The celebration, taking place on Monday at 7pm, features comedy from Fred MacAulay and music from Travis frontman Fran Healy.
  • BURNS&BEYOND – Burns&Beyond is a free programme of events and performances running across Burns weekend. It features a series of online music performances, poetry and even a cocktail-making class.
  • BIG BURNS SUPPER – Hosted by comedian Janey Godley, an online broadcast featuring musicians, comedians, actors, aerialists and historians from across the world. The event will be broadcast from 7pm on January 25 via Facebook.

Forbes: Budget will help Scotland ‘recover and renew’

The finance secretary said the plans would help Scotland recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

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Budget: Plans aim to support Scotland post-pandemic.

This week’s budget will help Scotland to “recover and renew” from the Covid-19 pandemic, finance secretary Kate Forbes has said.

Ahead of the delayed announcement, which customarily takes place in December, Kate Forbes said there would not be a public-sector pay freeze similar to that announced by the UK Government and staff would be offered a settlement that was “fair and affordable”.

In pre-budget consultations, the finance secretary said, sectors have stressed the need for targeted support, which she claims will be delivered when she addresses MSPs on Thursday.

In a statement released on Sunday, she also hinted at the extension of rates relief for businesses but said the Scottish Government currently has “limited resources” with which to offer such support due to the delay in the UK Government’s spending pledges announcement.

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Forbes said: “The budget on Thursday will create the conditions for Scotland to recover and renew.

“The budget will include innovative, targeted measures to help businesses and families get back on their feet and bolster our vital public services.

“I have already ruled out following the UK Government’s public-sector pay freeze and will set out details of a pay settlement that is both fair and affordable.”

The UK budget has been delayed until March by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, something Forbes said at the time would cause “significant difficulties” in the process north of the border.

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In an effort to secure cross-party support for the budget, Forbes continued: “The global pandemic and the problems arising from Brexit combine to make these uniquely challenging times.

“This budget will help Scotland emerge as a globally competitive, fairer and greener country, and I urge all parties to work in the national interest to ensure it is passed by the Scottish Parliament.”

Business group CBI Scotland called for the finance secretary to focus on sustainability and skill in her announcement.

According to the group, the three key areas of focus should be support for businesses in the short term to protect jobs while investing in training for the future and looking at ways to transition to a net zero economy.

CBI Scotland director Tracy Black said: “CBI Scotland argues that a budget focused on support, skills and sustainability can bolster Scotland’s short and long-term economic prospects.

“That means protecting the companies that will deliver growth, investing properly in our workforce and building a net zero economy that not only delivers a better environmental future, but an economic one too.

“Sustainability can be a competitive advantage for Scotland for years to come and deliver a real jobs boost at a time when we need it most.”

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