Sturgeon under fire over husband’s inquiry evidence

Scottish Tories Holyrood leader Ruth Davidson questioned the First Minister at Holyrood.

Nicola Sturgeon is married to the SNP chief executive Peter Murrell. Jeff J Mitchell via Getty Images
Nicola Sturgeon is married to the SNP chief executive Peter Murrell.

Ruth Davidson has accused Nicola Sturgeon of thinking the public’s “heads button up at the back” as she questioned the First Minister over the Alex Salmond inquiry.

Sturgeon said “wild conspiracy theories” about what led to the botched investigation into harassment allegations against her predecessor Salmond are damaging the inquiry set up to scrutinise it.

There has been criticism since her husband and SNP chief executive Peter Murrell appeared to contradict her previous evidence before the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints.

The First Minister said in a letter to the committee she believes a meeting with Mr Salmond, when she was told about harassment complaints being made against him, would be a party issue, meaning it did not need to be recorded in line with the ministerial code.

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Mr Murrell told the committee on Tuesday, under oath, that he believes the meeting was on government business.

Sturgeon, who told MSPs she will appear before the inquiry “in a few weeks”, was pushed on the matter by the Scottish Conservatives’ Holyrood leader on Thursday.

Davidson accused the First Minister of believing the public’s “heads button up at the back”.

Sturgeon responded that she did not share the contents of the meeting in their home with her husband, adding she is “not the office gossip”.

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“This is an inquiry into an investigation of sexual harassment and that is why we should all treat it seriously but those who choose to indulge in wild conspiracy theories make it less likely rather than more likely that we learn the lessons of that,” she said.

The First Minister said her husband has “no role” in matters relating to the Scottish Government and it was for her, as the leader of the government, to answer questions about its conduct.

She added the Tory MSP was seeking to use “my husband as a weapon against me”.

Davidson rejected the First Minister’s explanation.

She said: “Here’s what we’re being asked to believe here – that the chief executive of the SNP popped his head round the door to find the First Minister of Scotland, coincidentally his wife, her predecessor Alex Salmond, his chief of staff, her chief of staff and Mr Salmond’s lawyer, all sitting unannounced in his living room.

“And he never asks a single question, then or since, of what that’s all about.”

When asked if she expects her evidence to be believed, Ms Sturgeon said: “Yes, because that happens to be the truth.

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“That may not suit what Ruth Davidson wants to be the situation but I’m afraid that is the situation.”

Meanwhile, former SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson has said he was told of allegations against Mr Salmond 11 years ago.

In a letter to the committee, Mr Robertson, who is seeking a seat in the Scottish Parliament next year, said he was contacted by a manager at Edinburgh Airport in 2009 who claimed a member of staff had made a complaint about Mr Salmond.

The former Moray MP wrote: “In 2009, I was called by an Edinburgh Airport manager about Alex Salmond’s perceived ‘inappropriateness’ towards female staff at the airport.

“I raised the matter directly with Mr Salmond, who denied he had acted inappropriately in any way.”

No complaint was made about the matter.

Mr Salmond successfully challenged the Scottish Government’s investigation of sexual harassment claims against him and was awarded £512,250 after the Court of Session said it was unlawful and “tainted with apparent bias”.


Scottish Conservatives launch manifesto to ‘rebuild Scotland’

Douglas Ross said recovery would be crippled by another independence referendum at his party’s manifesto launch.

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Scottish Conservatives: Douglas Ross and Ruth Davidson.

The Scottish Conservatives have launched their manifesto for the Holyrood elections, pledging to “rebuild Scotland” and stop another independence referendum.

Leader Douglas Ross said creating jobs would be his party’s priority in the next parliament but warned the country’s efforts to recover from the coronavirus pandemic would be “crippled” if the SNP continue to focus on independence.

The manifesto contains plans for £500 grants to help unemployed Scots to retrain.

He also announced plans to abolish Scotland’s higher rate of income tax “when public finances allow”, increasing the threshold from £43,663 to match the UK Government’s level of £50,270.

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The revised income tax threshold would increase the take-home pay for 1.1 million of Scotland’s highest earners, the Scottish Conservatives have said.

A total of 15 proposed Bills have also been unveiled, including a “Victims Bill” to end automatic early release, introduce whole life custody sentences and end the not proven verdicts that are unique to the Scottish justice system.

Speaking at the launch of the manifesto in Glasgow, Ross said: “Independence will be the SNP’s priority.

“If they are elected with a majority, they will take that mandate as free rein to drive forward their obsession at the earliest opportunity.

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“We cannot trust the SNP to deliver our recovery.

“We cannot rebuild Scotland, while we are crippled by the threat of an independence referendum.

“So we need to take that threat off the table.”

On the health service, the Tories said they would guarantee the NHS Scotland budget would increase either by the level of Barnett consequentials or 2% more than inflation every year – whichever figure is higher.

According to current estimates, this would increase the health service’s annual funding by more than £2bn by 2025-26.

A further £600m should also be allocated this year for “tackling the backlog of operations and treatment” exacerbated by the pandemic, Ross said.

The Scottish Conservatives have also pledged to increase mental health funding to 10% of the frontline health budget during the next parliament alongside expansions of community-based programmes such as cognitive behavioural therapy, social prescribing, exercise referral schemes and peer support.

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Outlining education policies, Ross said: “We would invest £120mn this year into a catch-up premium for every school child and set up a national tutoring programme for those children in most need of support.

“And over the Parliament we will give £1bn directly to schools for tackling the attainment gap.

“To end the SNP’s cuts to teacher numbers, we will recruit an additional 3000 teachers.

“We would allow every primary school child a free school lunch and breakfast because – as the son of a school cook – I know the importance of nutritious meals to a child’s learning.

“And we would roll out wraparound childcare, to allow kids to take part in exciting out-of-school activities and support their parents to keep a full-time job when their child starts school.”

Stonehaven train derailed ‘after colliding with stones’ on track

Rail Accident Investigation Branch says verified pre-accident inspections had found no track defects in the area.

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Interim report has been published into Stonehaven train derailment last August.

A train derailed near Stonehaven last year after colliding with stones washed out onto the track from the gravel-filled crest drain and from the adjacent ground, the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) has said.

An interim report by the RAIB released on Monday said verified pre-accident inspections had found no track defects in the area.

The RAIB also said it had not found any evidence of a train fault that could have played a part in its derailment.

Three men died when a ScotRail train struck a landslip and came off the tracks at a bridge in Carmont, near Stonehaven, on August 12, 2020.

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Driver Brett McCullough, conductor Donald Dinnie and passenger Christopher Stuchbury were killed when the 6.38am Aberdeen-Glasgow service derailed.

Six other people were injured.

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ScotRail driver Brett McCullough, conductor Donald Dinnie and passenger Christopher Stuchbury.

The RAIB report also focused on drain inspection work in the area, concluding there is no evidence that part of a drainage system built at the location of the Stonehaven rail crash was inspected between its construction in 2012 and the fatal accident in August 2020.

A slope next to the crash site already had a “history of landslips and rockfalls” including an incident in 1915 which also led to a derailment, the report said.

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This led to Network Rail commissioning Carillion Construction Ltd – which has since collapsed – to design and construct a new drainage system.

The work was completed in 2012, but only the section closest to the track was listed on Network Rail’s drain maintenance database.

The RAIB said it has found “no evidence” the drain was inspected before the crash, apart from the section closest to the track.

It added that the design and construction of the drain, plus the “intended and actual” inspection processes, are among the main areas it considered as part of its investigation.

The report said there was “near-continuous heavy rain” in the area between around 5.50am and 9am on the day of the crash, which caused “significant flooding”.

The 51.5mm of rain that fell in this period was almost 75% of the monthly total in Aberdeenshire in an average August.

But it was “dry and sunny” when the derailment happened at 9.37am.

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Survivors of the derailment have launched legal action as they continue to seek answers over the cause of the fatal crash, which caused extensive damage to the tracks, bridge, embankment and drainage systems at the site in Carmont.

The railway line between Aberdeen and Dundee reopened in early November, 2020, after being closed for almost three months.

ASLEF, the train drivers’ union, welcomed Monday’s interim report into the accident, which it said had cast a long shadow across Britain’s railway industry.

Kevin Lindsay, ASLEF’s organiser in Scotland, said: ‘Blame for the accident has been laid firmly at the door of Network Rail for failing to maintain the area around the track. It was the landslip – the debris washed onto the track – which caused the train to derail, with the subsequent loss of life, injuries, and catastrophic consequences.

“We are urging Network Rail to examine every mile of track for which it is responsible, to ensure something like this can never happen again.”

UK transport secretary Grant Shapps said the RAIB has been conducting “extensive work” during its investigation, adding: “I look forward to receiving the full findings in due course, to ensure lessons are learned from this tragedy.”

Shoppers urged to ‘play their part’ to keep shop staff safe

The Scottish Retail Consortium and the union Usdaw have come together to make the appeal ahead of shops reopening.

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Shoppers have been asked to follow social distancing and other Covid-safety measures.

Shoppers have been urged to “play their part” in helping reduce the spread of coronavirus as the wider retail sector gets set to reopen its doors.

The Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) and Usdaw have come together to ask Scots to play their part in creating a safe and enjoyable environment for other customers and staff.

Non-essential stores have been shut in Scotland for 115 consecutive days but the Scottish Government is now expected to confirm they can reopen on Monday, April 26.

David Lonsdale, SRC director, said: “Every purchase from a shop helps support jobs in local retail and throughout the supply chain.

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“Retailers and their colleagues continue to work around the clock to maintain a safe shopping experience, so customers can have the confidence to return to their favourite stores.

“If we all follow the necessary physical distancing and hygiene measures and show consideration to those around us, including shop staff who are doing a difficult job, then everyone will be better off.”

Tracy Gilbert, Usdaw deputy divisional officer for Scotland, added: “The reopening of stores on Monday offers a lifeline for many retailers.

“That is good news in terms of helping to safeguard jobs, but the virus is still out there.

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“We expect employers to conduct full risk assessments, follow the agreed guidance and ensure that customers are fully informed of the necessary safety measures.

“Shoppers need to play their part in helping to limit the spread of the virus and avoid further lockdowns by following the rules and respecting staff.

“Regrettably, throughout this appalling pandemic, incidents of abuse towards shopworkers doubled and Covid-19 safety measures have now become significant flashpoints.

“Abuse should never be part of the job and shopworkers – who played a vital role in getting food and medicine into our homes during the pandemic – deserve our thanks and respect.”

The two organisations produced an industry-leading guide on implementing social distancing in April 2020.

They then worked with the Scottish Government to help develop official retail sector and customer safety guidance.

SRC is also launching a new social media campaign to encourage safe shopping.

Coronavirus: Majority of high school pupils return full-time

Secondary schools across Scotland start back on Monday morning following the Easter holidays.

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Coronavirus: The majority of schools return on April 19.

The majority of secondary school pupils in Scotland are returning to the classroom full-time on Monday.

Most primary and high schools across the country start back on April 19 following the Easter holidays.

High school pupils will no longer have to adhere to two-metre social distancing rules but other mitigations have been strengthened to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Face masks must be worn in all areas – classrooms, corridors and communal areas. This applies to S1-S3 pupils – not just those in the senior phase of their school education (S4-S6) – unless medically exempt.

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Furthermore, twice-weekly lateral flow tests are available for all secondary school pupils.

Pupils in Aberdeen, Fife, Dumfries and Galloway, Moray, Shetland and the Western Isles returned to the classroom last week on April 12.

Those in Edinburgh and Midlothian council areas are set to go back on Tuesday, April 20.

Only pupils who are shielding will have to wait longer until they can resume face-to-face lessons.

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Earlier this month, Nicola Sturgeon said the decision to return to in-person, full-time learning would be “a huge relief” to many children and parents.

The First Minister acknowledged that there would be some “concern and anxiety” about the move, but said safety would be “paramount”.

Scotland’s primary pupils returned to class full-time in stages during February and March, while most high school students were seeing teachers in-person on a part-time basis.

This year’s National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher exams have been cancelled, with results being awarded instead through coursework and assessments.

More on:

Parties warned against raising ‘unrealistic expectations’ for NHS

Leading doctors said they had a 'real concern' about some of the promises political parties are making.

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Party promises: Doctors said they had a 'real concern'.

Politicians may be “raising unrealistic public expectations” about the amount of work the NHS in Scotland can do after the coronavirus pandemic, leading doctors have warned.

While the future of the health service is a key battleground in the run up to next month’s Holyrood election, doctors said they had a “real concern” about some of the promises parties are making.

Dr Lewis Morrison, the chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) Scotland spoke out along with Dr Miles Mack, the chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and Faculties in Scotland, also known as the Scottish Academy.

Noting that many health workers were “suffering the physical and mental impact” of working throughout the pandemic, they also called for an increased in staffing.

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Their comments come as the Scottish Conservatives promised a one-off £600m boost to to help the NHS tackle the “treatment log-jam” that has built up during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, if the SNP is re-elected its leader Nicola Sturgeon has promised work to raise NHS in-patient, day-case and out-patient activity to 10% above pre-pandemic levels within one year.

But in a joint statement Dr Morrison and Dr Mack said: “There is real concern that political parties are raising unrealistic public expectations of the potential activity of NHS in Scotland in the run up to the Holyrood election, without establishing how to create the capacity to deliver on these promises, especially in the timescales being talked about.”

The medical experts said they both fully supported “the need to urgently address the healthcare needs of patients whose assessment, investigation or treatment may have been paused or delayed as a result of the pandemic”, insisting the health service would be “continuing to do our very best to do this”.

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But they added: “This needs to be supported by an increase in capacity and workforce.

“And we cannot ignore the health and wellbeing of NHS staff who are already under severe pressure due to Covid-19 and suffering the physical and mental impact that this has had.

“In the final weeks of campaigning and when the new Scottish Government is formed, communication with the public must be realistic, and the delivery of services must be balanced with our current capacity and developed in association with NHS Scotland, the BMA, the Scottish Academy and Royal Colleges and other organisations in a position to advise on what is achievable.”


Hunt for man in balaclava who grabbed teenage girl in park

The girl was grabbed by a man wearing black clothing in Springburn Park on Saturday evening.

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Hunt: Police search for man who grabbed teenage girl.

Police are hunting a man in a balaclava who grabbed a teenage girl in a Glasgow park.

On Saturday evening around 9pm, a man dressed in black clothing grabbed the 16-year-old as she walked through Springburn Park near to the boating pond. 

The girl managed to run away from the man before contacting police. 

“Detective Sergeant Larry Dempsey at Maryhill CID said: “This was a very frightening experience for the young teenage girl and luckily she managed to run away from the suspect.

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“It is vital that we trace the man responsible and we are currently reviewing any available CCTV in area. 

“Anyone who was in Springburn Park around 9pm on Saturday, 9 April and remembers seeing a man hanging around there who was dressed in dark clothing is urged to contact police immediately.”

Anyone with information should contact police at Maryhill via telephone number 101 quoting incident number 4445 of April 17. 

Alternatively calls can be made to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 where anonymity can be maintained.


Playing at duke’s funeral was ‘greatest honour of my career’

Pipe Major Colour Sergeant Peter Grant said playing at Prince Philip's funeral was an 'emotional' moment.

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Duke of Edinburgh: Prince Philip was laid to rest on Saturday.

The Scottish piper who played the Lament at the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral said it was “the greatest honour of my military career”.

Pipe Major Colour Sergeant Peter Grant played Flowers of the Forest after the duke’s coffin was lowered into the royal vault in Windsor as the Queen watched on.

The song is the funeral tune of the Royal Regiment of Scotland and is usually heard on Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday, with the 4th battalion’s pipe major tasked with playing it in the event of Philip’s death.

Mr Grant, from Braemar in Aberdeenshire, said Saturday’s funeral was “very fitting” as he reflected on his role in the service.

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Speaking to Good Morning Scotland, he said: “It was a very emotional moment but at the same time a proud moment and probably the greatest honour of my military career.”

Mr Grant added: “Everyone that was involved with that parade was so proud; the armed forces did themselves proud as a whole.

“It was a great ceremony and I think it was very fitting for the Duke of Edinburgh.

“Personally, myself, I felt emotional because it’s a funeral and because Her Majesty and the royal family were saying goodbye to a man that meant so much to them.”

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Mr Grant said people in his hometown of Braemar feel the royal family are “locals to the village”.

He explained: “I remember seeing the royals from a very young age – about seven or eight-years-old.

“That’s when I started playing the pipes as well, I’d play at the Braemar Gathering and always see the royals there, and then joining the army and seeing the Duke of Edinburgh throughout my military career as well.”

The funeral service included military bands and musicians, and a choir of just four, with the duke said to have personally picked much of the music.

The music included I Vow To Thee My Country, Supreme Sacrifice, Jerusalem, Isle Of Beauty and Nimrod.

Work begins on golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus

Championship course on the Ury Estate near Stonehaven scheduled to open in the summer of 2024.

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Jack Nicklaus with Ury House in the background.

Construction has begun on a new championship golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus in Aberdeenshire.

The course, located on the Ury Estate near Stonehaven, is scheduled to open in the early summer of 2024.

The overall Ury Estate development is being undertaken by developer FM Group and work has just been completed on the planting scheme, covering 30 hectares with around 60,000 trees planted.

Nicklaus said: “From the first day I walked the estate and we discussed the course design, FM Group director Jonathon Milne made it very clear that the goal was to create something that would blend in naturally with the Scottish countryside.

“My philosophy has always been to work with what the natural environment has provided us with, and whenever possible create something that will enhance it, and in many cases create new and better natural habitats.

“And while our firm has created golf courses in 45 countries, Scotland is very special as the game of golf and to me personally.”

Known as the “Golden Bear”, Nicklaus is an 18-time major championship winner, including the Opens he won on Scottish soil, twice at St Andrews (1970 and 1978) and at Muirfield (1966).

He has also built one of the world’s leading golf design firms, with more than 265 courses on his CV.

Douglas Thomson, Ury Estate project director said: “To be commencing work on the course and having Jack’s personal involvement is a ringing endorsement of what we are trying to achieve here in delivering a spectacular experience for both residents and visitors alike.

“The development has a great deal to offer the local community and will attract visitors to both Stonehaven and the surrounding area.

“The golf course is a significant addition to the Ury project and with work progressing on housing, infrastructure and the castle, it is full steam ahead this year.”

Union starts whisky firm strike ballot over pay freeze

GMB Scotland has accused Chivas Brothers of 'corporate greed' attempts to impose a pay freeze.

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Pay row: A union has started balloting whisky workers at Chivas Brothers over strike action.

A union has started balloting whisky workers at Chivas Brothers over strike action in response to “corporate greed” attempts to impose a pay freeze.

GMB Scotland said the Chivas parent company Pernod Ricard had awarded pay rises to its workers in France earlier this year.

Discussions between the union and the employer took place earlier this month through Acas – however GMB said these talks collapsed when management suggested they were unwilling to lift the pay freeze.

The ballot runs until Monday May 10, with industrial action potentially impacting the company’s Scottish operations as early as the end of that month.

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GMB Scotland represents workers across its Scottish sites, including at Kilmalid bottling hall, Strathclyde Grain Distillery, The Glenlivet Distillery, and maturation sites in Speyside, Clydebank and Ayrshire.

Union organiser Keir Greenaway said: “Despite the many challenges that have faced the whisky industry over the past year, from Brexit to the US tariffs and through a global pandemic, the efforts of Chivas workers in Scotland have kept the profits rolling in for Pernod Ricard.

“These pay negotiations were an opportunity for the company to reward the workers for their substantial efforts with a pay offer that reflects the value of their contribution to the success of the business.

“It’s not right that Chivas workers in Scotland should be treated like second-class citizens, taking real-terms cuts to their pay while their Pernod Ricard colleagues in France have rightly been awarded a pay rise.

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“This is about standing up to corporate greed in the fight for proper value, and that’s why we are now balloting our members for industrial action.”

As well as its namesake products, the company produces brands including Ballantine’s, Glenlivet, Royal Salute and Aberlour.

In a statement to the PA news agency, Chivas Brothers chairman and chief executive Jean-Christophe Coutures said: “We deeply value the hard work and commitment of our teams during this crisis, and we are proud that we have been able to navigate these unprecedented times while maintaining 100% of jobs and salaries.

“Like many others, the Covid-19 crisis has negatively impacted our business – and the wider Scotch whisky industry.

“We are the most affected business in Pernod Ricard and the export value of the Scotch whisky sector fell £1.1bn last year, its lowest level since 2010.

“In order to protect our long-term resilience while the crisis is ongoing, we took the difficult decision to implement a salary freeze across the entire business for the past financial year.

“However we have been in constructive discussions with our unions for many months to find alternative ways to reward our teams, and we believe our proposals recognise their continued hard work and dedication.

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“We are extremely disappointed that our latest offers – which have included guaranteed pay increases in 2021 and 2022 – have been rejected.”


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