Sturgeon denies breaching ministerial ethics code

Nicola Sturgeon is expected to appear before a Holyrood committee on Tuesday.

Sturgeon denies breaching ministerial ethics code Getty Images
Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond at a campaign event (file pic).

Nicola Sturgeon has refused to say if she will resign if she is found to have broken the ministerial code in relation to the Alex Salmond investigation.

She was asked three times by Scottish Labour’s acting leader Jackie Baillie if she would step down if an ongoing investigation concludes her actions breached ethics rules for government ministers.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Conservatives said the First Minister had “backed herself into a corner” in her defence against the allegations.

Sturgeon insisted she had not breached the code and said she would not answer “hypothetical” questions before an investigation by James Hamilton QC publishes its findings.

The First Minister has been accused by her predecessor, Salmond, of misleading parliament about her involvement in the investigation of sexual harassment claims against him.

It is claimed Sturgeon had an arranged meeting with Salmond’s former chief of staff Geoff Aberdein on March 29, 2018 to discuss the Scottish Government’s investigation of the allegations.

However, Sturgeon told parliament she first heard about the investigation when Salmond visited her home on April 2.

In her written submission to the Holyrood inquiry into the government’s botched, unlawful investigation of Salmond, the current First Minister said she had “forgotten” about the meeting.

Questions have also been raised about whether meetings Sturgeon had about the investigation of Salmond were party business or government business that would have required records to be kept, as well as the length of time it took the Scottish Government to concede the judicial review after damaging evidence of prior contact between the investigating officer and complainants emerged.

Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives at Holyrood, accused the First Minister of trying to “conceal the truth”.

She said: “We have failed women, taxpayers’ money and a cover-up at the heart of government – this whole affair stinks to high heaven and someone should take responsibility for these failings.”

Responding to Baillie’s questions at FMQs about whether she would resign, Sturgeon said: “I don’t believe I did breach the ministerial code and therefore I’m not going to engage on a hypothetical.

“When James Hamilton issues his report, we can have an open discussion on the basis of whatever findings he arrives at, just as we no doubt will have an open discussion when the committee [ on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints] arrives at whatever findings it arrives at.”

Sturgeon said she was cooperating with both the committee and Mr Hamilton’s investigations and added: “When the outcomes of those are published, people can ask me then and I can say, what I intend to do.

“But I do not believe I breached the ministerial code and that is my position right now, and I think I’m entitled to due process just like everybody else.”

Last month, Mr Hamilton – the independent adviser to the Scottish Government on the ministerial code – confirmed that the reporting of meetings, as well as Sturgeon’s statement to parliament, was within the scope of his investigation.

He added: “I also wanted to note that I consider the allegations made by Mr Salmond concerning whether or not the First Minister should have intervened to arrange a process of mediation to be within the scope of the remit.”

Mr Hamilton is expected to publish a report outlining his findings, although the 2018 code states that the First Minister is “the ultimate judge of the standards of behaviour expected of a minister” and the appropriate consequences for breaches.