Nicola Sturgeon has insisted she is not distracted from the coronavirus pandemic by Alex Salmond’s accusations she broke the ministerial code.
The former first minister claimed his successor misled MSPs with “false and manifestly untrue” statements about when she first knew of sexual harassment allegations against Salmond.
But Sturgeon said she does not believe she lied to parliament and said she was “focused 100%” on the Scottish Government’s coronavirus response.
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.
It later emerged she had a 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.
In his evidence to the independent adviser on the ministerial code, James Hamilton, Salmond said the meeting was arranged to discuss the allegations and added: “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 April 2, 2018.
“The First Minister told parliament (see official report of 8th, 10th and 17th January 2019) that she first learned of the complaints against me when I visited her home on April 2, 2018.
“That is untrue and is a breach of the ministerial code.”
Challenged about her account at Monday’s coronavirus briefing, Sturgeon said: “These are matters that are under investigation both by a parliamentary committee inquiry and also by an independent advisor on matters relating to the ministerial code.
“I will set out my recollection of events and my account of events to both of those inquiries and people will draw their own conclusions.
“It’s very important that I answer any questions that are levelled to me before these inquiries and that I’m open to full scrutiny.
“I do not consider I misled parliament but, of course, that is for others to judge.
“At all times I will seek to put the interests of the country first – that’s the most important thing for any First Minister and, right now, the most important thing I have to do for the country is steer us through this pandemic.”
She added: “There are inquiries under way and I think it is right and proper – out of respect to those inquiries, and actually out of fairness to myself – to have the opportunity at those inquiries to set these matters out properly and fully, and not do it as an adjunct to a briefing on a global pandemic that I am seeking to steer the country through.
“I think that is right and proper and that’s how I’m going to conduct myself.
“I will put the interests of this country first at all times, that’s more important than the position of any individual and my primary responsibility is to continue to steer this country through the global pandemic and that’s what I’m going to do.”
Asked whether the allegations by Salmond were a potential distraction from her leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic, Sturgeon replied: “I’m not distracted, I’m focused 100% on steering the country through the pandemic.
“That is my absolute responsibility right now and that’s what I’m going to focus on.
“Other things will take their course and I will cooperate – as I’ve got a duty to do and fully do so with all of that – but I am 100% focused.
“I take nothing for granted in terms of the trust that the Scottish public have in the government about this or anything else but all of the evidence is that that’s not something that is in any way affected.
“But my focus is on steering the country through the pandemic and I think that’s what everybody would expect my focus to be on.”