SNP chief executive Peter Murrell is facing calls to reappear before the Alex Salmond inquiry after being accused of “contradictions and discrepancies” in his evidence.
Mr Murrell, the husband of Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, was questioned on Tuesday by MSPs on the Holyrood committee examining the Scottish Government’s botched investigation into harassment allegations against the former first minister.
He was asked about discussions between Mr Salmond and his wife at their home.
Mr Murrell, who has been SNP chief executive since 2000 and was giving evidence under oath, said he did not know about allegations against Mr Salmond until they became public.
He insisted Sturgeon never disclosed details of the meetings in their home.
The SNP chief executive initially said he had not been at home for the meetings but during questioning revealed he had returned while one was taking place and got a “sense” it was serious.
In her written evidence, Sturgeon said she suspected Mr Salmond was set to quit the SNP and so the meetings were about party matters rather than official government business – the latter of which should be recorded, according to the ministerial code.
In his appearance before the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints on Tuesday, Mr Murrell said he was told the meeting was about government issues and therefore Sturgeon did not warn him that her predecessor was facing accusations of sexual harassment.
Scottish Labour deputy leader and committee member Jackie Baillie asked about a “council of war” WhatsApp chat reportedly set up by SNP chief operating officer Sue Ruddick after the Scottish Government conceded the judicial review in January 2019 that resulted in a £512,250 payout to Mr Salmond.
Mr Murrell repeatedly insisted he did not have WhatsApp and therefore had no knowledge of the group or messages being shared.
But The Scottish Sun has since reported a WhatsApp account linked to his phone number was “last seen” on November 22 this year.
In a letter to the committee after the story’s publication, Mr Murrell said he has WhatsApp on his phone but does not use it.
He wrote: “I do not use WhatsApp. There are several messaging apps on my phone that I don’t use.
“This includes profiles on Facebook Messenger, LinkedIn, Instagram, Slack, Skype, and WhatsApp, none of which I use.
“I use my phone to make calls and to send emails and texts. Twitter is the only social media platform I’m active on.”
Baillie said on Wednesday: “Peter Murrell must explain the contradictions and discrepancies in his evidence to the committee yesterday as a matter of urgency.
“Mr Murrell’s squirming performance has cast doubt over the First Minister’s account of what happened and poses a serious question over whether Nicola Sturgeon breached the ministerial code by having a clandestine meeting with Alex Salmond.
“I know it’s the pantomime season but it is time for Mr Murrell to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth to the committee.”
Scottish Conservative committee member Murdo Fraser said: “In a shambolic evidence session, Peter Murrell managed to contradict not only Nicola Sturgeon but himself, all in the space of a few hours.
“His answers were sleekit from start to finish.
“One minute he was in the house for a crunch showdown with Alex Salmond, then he wasn’t.
“He knew about the meeting beforehand, then he didn’t.”
Fraser added: “He told the committee he is one of the few people not to have WhatsApp – only for it to emerge he used it a few weeks ago.
“He tied himself in knots answering the simplest of questions and spoke in riddles.
“The SNP chief executive must return to the committee to clear up the contradictions in his evidence and this time provide entirely truthful answers.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton has written to the committee’s clerks about the “significant doubt” created by parts of Mr Murrell’s evidence.
He said: “If Peter Murrell thinks that half-truths and untruths will convince the committee to give up its inquiries, he is dead wrong.
“The public are not being well served by sneakiness and evasion. With significant doubts now cast over the evidence he gave, Peter Murrell should return to the committee for further questioning.
“If this is the level of co-operation the public can expect from the Sturgeon-Murrell household, then we are in for a long and painful process.”