It is “beyond belief” that Nicola Sturgeon forgot about a meeting where sexual misconduct allegations against Alex Salmond were discussed, the Scottish Conservatives have said.
The First Minister repeatedly claimed she first learned of complaints against her predecessor when Salmond told her himself at a meeting in their home on April 2, 2018.
But in written evidence to a Holyrood inquiry published this week, Sturgeon admitted she met Salmond’s former chief of staff Geoff Aberdein four days earlier on March 29 – but had “forgotten” the encounter.
Ruth Davidson branded the First Minister’s claim as “absurd” and told her she was “taking people for fools” during FMQs exchanges on Thursday.
The FM wrote in her evidence that Mr Aberdein visited her in her parliamentary office to encourage her to meet Salmond regarding a “serious matter”, and mentioned it related to “allegations of a sexual nature”.
Speaking in the chamber, Sturgeon described the meeting with Salmond’s former aide as “fleeting” and “opportunistic”.
She added the encounter had been “overwritten” in her memory by the seismic meeting with the former First Minister himself four days later, where she learned of the complaints against him in detail.
The First Minister stressed she had “nothing whatsoever to hide” as a special committee of MSPs continues to investigate her government’s handling of the harassment complaints against Salmond.
But Davidson, the Scottish Conservatives’ Holyrood group leader, said Sturgeon’s claims did not “bear the lightest of scrutiny”.
She said: “I have read the submission the First Minister put forward, and in it, her argument for omitting that meeting is that she was having a busy day, that First Minister’s Questions had taken up her attention and that this meeting just slipped her mind.
“I’ve looked back on that First Minister’s Questions and we ended up talking about the Arctic strategy, which is not something to cause anyone to forget sexual assault allegations.
“This does not even bear the lightest of scrutiny – it is beyond belief.”
The Tory MSP said that by omitting the meeting with Mr Aberdein in previous remarks in the chamber, the First Minister had misled parliament.
Davidson added: “The position of the First Minister is just absurd, because I have spent enough time sparring with her here to know that her powers of recall are in good order.”
Details of the March 2018 meeting were revealed by Mr Aberdein himself when he gave evidence at Alex Salmond’s criminal trial in the spring, where the former SNP leader was cleared of all sexual offences charges.
Addressing the encounter, Sturgeon told MSPs: “I read a comment yesterday saying… surely something like that would be seared in your memory?
“There is something seared in my memory.
“And it is actually the meeting that took place some three days later when Alex Salmond himself sat in my own home and gave me the details of the complaints that had been made against him and also gave me his response to aspects of those complaints.
“That is what is seared in my memory and I think most reasonable people would understand that.
“Forgive me, if that has somehow overwritten in my mind a much more fleeting, opportunistic meeting a few days earlier, then that is just how it is.”
The FM acknowledged the claim might cause people to “raise an eyebrow” but stressed the April 2 meeting with Salmond had “shocked” her and that is why she remembers it rather than the March 29 discussion.
“I sat in the dining room of my own home while he (Salmond) showed me what he was accused of,” she said.
“I was pretty shocked and upset at the time.”
Sturgeon said she looks forward with “relish” to being able to give oral evidence to the Holyrood inquiry, adding: “I have nothing to hide in all of this.”
The First Minister continued: “I understand why it may some suit some people to say this is all some great conspiracy.
“I’m not entirely sure why anybody still in possession of their own critical faculties would see this as anything other than complaints being investigated and everybody trying to do the right thing in very difficult circumstances.”
The inquiry was set up in early 2019 after the Court of Session ruled the way the Scottish Government dealt with harassment complaints against Salmond was “unlawful” and “tainted with apparent bias”.
The Scottish Government was forced to pay the former First Minister more than £512,000 in damages.