Nicola Sturgeon has revealed previously undisclosed messages between her and Alex Salmond, who she says is “clearly angry with me” for not covering up sexual harassment allegations.
The First Minister was accused of withholding the WhatsApp exchanges but insisted they were “not a big revelation”, adding that the claims were a diversionary tactic by her “annoyed” predecessor.
Speaking on Sky News, Sturgeon acknowledged the messages did make “an oblique reference” to claims of inappropriate conduct by Salmond – despite saying she released all relevant evidence to the Holyrood investigation into the government’s botched handling of harassment allegations.
Sturgeon’s disclosure followed a report in The Times on Saturday that Salmond’s lawyers were accusing her of holding back certain messages the pair exchanged on WhatsApp.
Challenged about the claims while appearing on the Sophie Ridge On Sunday programme on Sky News, Sturgeon offered to read out the messages she believed Salmond’s lawyers were referring to.
She said she was “setting up a conversation” to discuss an enquiry by Sky News in 2017 about Salmond allegedly behaving inappropriately towards female staff at Edinburgh Airport.
The messages, which Sturgeon said were sent during the week of November 5 2017, also suggest Salmond did not tell her he was to start hosting a show on Kremlin-backed broadcaster Russia Today.
Asked about the undisclosed messages, Sturgeon said: “Around about the time I spoke to (Salmond) about the Sky News query, I sent him a message on November 5 saying, ‘Hi, when you free to speak this morning?’. He replies saying ’10am’.
“That’s when I asked him, ‘What is this Sky thing?’
“I go back to him later that day to say, ‘Any developments?’
“The next day, I say, ‘You free for a word?’
“So I was setting up a conversation that I have told the parliamentary inquiry about, it’s hardly a big revelation.
“Later that week, incidentally, I messaged him to say, ‘No wonder you didn’t want to tell me’. That’s just after I find out that he’s agreed to host a regular show on Russia Today, and it reflects my incredulity at that decision.
“I think his response to me then makes an oblique reference to the Sky News query, so that may be what he’s talking about.”
Pressed as to why Salmond could want these messages to be released to the parliamentary inquiry into the government’s handling of harassment complaints, Sturgeon suggested the former first minister may want people to believe the allegations were “all a big conspiracy” to deflect from his conduct.
“I’m afraid that’s not the case, Sturgeon said,
“This is age-old here, that a man is accused of misconduct against women and often it’s a woman that ends up sitting answering for them,” Sturgeon said.
“In a political sense, one of the worst things I faced was being confronted with the reality that my predecessor – my mentor of 30 years, somebody I considered a friend, closer to me than probably anybody outside my family – was facing serious allegations of sexual misconduct.
“Every day I’ve tried to do the right thing and not cover it up, and I think the reason perhaps he is angry with me – and he clearly is angry with me – is that I didn’t cover it up.
“I didn’t collude with him to make these allegations go away and perhaps that is at the root of why he is as annoyed as he appears to be.”
Salmond was acquitted of 13 charges of sexual assault, attempted rape and indecent assault at the High Court in Edinburgh in March.
The court case followed a legal battle which saw him awarded more than £500,000 when the Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled a Scottish Government investigation into his conduct was unlawful.
A Scottish Parliament inquiry was launched and has been hearing evidence about how the Scottish Government dealt with the allegations and lost the judicial review.
Scottish Conservative MSP and committee member Murdo Fraser said: “The scandal-ridden SNP are openly feuding while the Scottish public wait for answers about when Nicola Sturgeon first became aware of Alex Salmond’s alleged behaviour.
“The First Minister danced on the head of a pin, again, to avoid the question of what she knew and when.
“If Alex Salmond asked the First Minister to ‘collude’ with her to cover up these allegations, as she said this morning, why didn’t she tell anyone that until now? Shouldn’t that have been reported to the government – or the police?
“It’s an extraordinary revelation that needs answers.
“Forgetful Nicola Sturgeon also managed to find secret messages between her and Alex Salmond that she withheld from the Holyrood committee. The question remains: what else is she hiding?”