Sturgeon’s claims over Salmond meeting branded ‘beyond belief’

Ruth Davidson branded as 'absurd' the FM's claim she forgot an encounter which discussed allegations against Alex Salmond.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Two officers sustain injuries after protests at Celtic Park

Police were present at the scene as fans called for Celtic manager Neil Lennon to resign.

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Anger: Fans gather at Celtic Park calling for Neil Lennon to resign.

Two police officers have sustained minor injuries after angry fans gathered at Celtic Park calling for the resignation of Neil Lennon.

On Sunday, Celtic lost 2-0 to Ross County, knocking them out of the League Cup and ending a 35-game winning run for the Glasgow side in domestic cups.

Following the game, supporters gathered outside the football stadium in Glasgow.

More than a dozen police vans were lined up outside the main stand and a police helicopter circled overhead as fans called for Celtic manager Neil Lennon to resign. 

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Two officers sustained minor injuries during the protests and police condemned the group for gathering in large numbers in a level four area during the coronavirus pandemic.

Celtic Football Club said in a statement that there was “no excuse” for violent scenes outside the stadium, adding it was “simply unacceptable” that missiles were thrown at players and management.

In a statement, Celtic Football Club said: “While we sincerely share the huge disappointment of all Celtic supporters, there can be no excuse for some of the violent scenes at Celtic Park this evening. The Club will be investigating these events fully.

“For players and a management team, who have given so much in recent years and have delivered 11 consecutive trophies, to require an escort from Celtic Park while being targeted with missiles, is simply unacceptable.

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“While we understand that only a small number of people were involved in this behaviour, some of the actions this evening, which have obviously left our own players shaken, cannot be condoned in any way.”

Lennon could hear the shouts as he walked into his post-match media conference and said: “It doesn’t make me feel good obviously. We are not in a good moment.

When asked what he would say to supporters outside, Lennon said: “What can I say? That’s their opinion. It’s been rumbling for a while.

“It doesn’t matter what I say or what sort of bravado I put on. It won’t wash. I have to turn it round with results. I can only do that with the players.”

‘Protests are prohibited in areas under level four restrictions and we would urge people to find alternative ways to protest to prevent the spread of coronavirus.’

Superintendent Stevie Dolan

Superintendent Stevie Dolan, Greater Glasgow Division said: “Around 4.30pm on Sunday, 29 November, a large number of fans started to gather outside Celtic Park to protest. 

“An appropriate policing response was carried out and the group has now dispersed.

“No arrests have been made, however two officers sustained minor injuries as a result of the actions of the gathered group.

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“We strongly condemn these actions and remind fans that enforcement options remain at our disposal.

“The Scottish Government regulations are clear that protests are prohibited in areas under level four restrictions and we would urge people to find alternative ways to protest to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“Disorder of any sort will not be tolerated and appropriate action will be taken where any offences are identified.”


Coronavirus: Two more dead as cases rise by 746 in Scotland

According to information reported by NHS boards across Scotland, more than 1000 people are in hospital with Covid-19.

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Covid-19: The fight to stop the spread of the deadly virus goes on.

A further two people have died in Scotland after being diagnosed with coronavirus, the Scottish Government has confirmed.

Total confirmed cases of the virus has risen to 94,689 – a jump of 746 in the past 24 hours.

The official death toll in Scotland now stands at 3722, however weekly figures on suspected Covid-19 deaths recorded by National Records of Scotland suggest the most up-to-date total is at least 5380.

Of the new cases reported on Sunday, 229 are in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde region, 159 are in Lanarkshire, 78 are in Lothian, and a further 78 are in Ayrshire and Arran.

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The remaining cases are spread across seven other health board areas.

According to management information reported by NHS boards across Scotland, 1049 people are in hospital with confirmed or suspected Covid-19 – a decrease of 28 overnight. Out of those, 76 patients are in intensive care.


Lennon insists he should get more time to turn around Celtic form

The under-fire manager says it would be "too soon" to remove him from his post.

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Neil Lennon says he accepts his position is in question after Celtic were knocked out of the League Cup by Ross County – but he wants more time to turn their form around.

County were 2-0 winners at Celtic Park, ending the hosts 35-game unbeaten run in domestic cups and leaving Lennon’s side with just two wins in their last ten games across all competitions.

The cup defeat came days after Celtic’s Europa League hopes ended with a 4-1 defeat to Sparta Prague, and with the defending champions trailing Rangers by 11 points in the Premiership, albeit with two games in hand.

Lennon said he knows what’s expected at the club and that Celtic are currently “falling short” but he still believes he is the right man to fix the problems in the side.

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The Northern Irishman has previously insisted that he has the backing of Celtic majority shareholder Dermot Desmond and chief executive Peter Lawwell.

Asked if he would understand if the Celtic board took the decision to remove him tonight, Lennon said: “No, I think it’s too soon for that.

“We have lost one trophy, that’s gone. Our priority is the league, it always is, every time we come into a season.

“We are out of Europe, so it’s not been great, but there’s plenty of time to turn it around. But it’s alright me saying that, we have to show it with action now.

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“I think I should get more time at it but, if not, then so be it.”

As the manager entered his post-match media conference, he could hear supporters who had gathered outside the stadium calling for his departure.

He said: “What can I say? That’s their opinion. It’s been rumbling for a while.

“It doesn’t matter what I say or what sort of bravado I put on. It won’t wash. I have to turn it round with results. I can only do that with the players.”

When asked whether he gave himself a time frame for that, Lennon said: “No. Next game possible, whether it be AC Milan or St Johnstone next week.”


Blackford: Government in a panic over support for independence

SNP's Westminster leader urged members to come together and focus on pushing to leave the UK.

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The UK Government is in a “panic” over recent support for Scottish independence, the SNP’s Westminster leader has said.

Ian Blackford told party faithful to “keep the faith” at the annual conference – this year being held virtually because of the Covid-19 pandemic – urging members to come together and focus on pushing to leave the UK.

Blackford compared the record of Westminster in the past 20 years, citing the Iraq War, Brexit and the bedroom tax, with the history of the Scottish Parliament, with free prescriptions, tuition fees and the upcoming Scottish Child Payment raised as examples of Scotland being a “fairer and more equal place to live”.

In recent months, polls shifted to show support for independence, with survey results rising as high as 58% when undecided voters are removed, according to an Ipsos Mori poll for STV in October.

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“That diverging tale of two parliaments has led to an inevitable conclusion – poll after poll shows that a settled majority now believes that all decisions and all powers should now be trusted to the people of Scotland,” he said in an address from his home in Skye.

“That is why the Tories are in a panic, they are unwilling to accept the truth that a majority of Scotland’s people now want an independent future.

“Instead of listening to the will of the Scottish people, the Tories are attempting to deny democracy and destroy devolution.”

Blackford insisted that no prime minister or UK government will be able to force Scotland to stay in the union “against our will”.

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He added: “Denying democracy is a political position that can’t and won’t hold.

“It’s a position that will crumble under the weight of votes in next year’s Scottish election.”

The Westminster leader also issued a call for unity and focus among party members, the day after one of his MPs questioned the handling of internal debates within the party.

In an interview with the Times on Saturday, Joanna Cherry called for an end to the “cult of leader” within the SNP and pushed for a more “collegiate” approach to policy decisions.

Blackford said: “We have all come a long way – and we are now within touching distance of independence. But just as we have travelled all this way together – we can only complete this journey together.

“My message to all of us is this: Keep heart, keep the heid and keep the faith. A new Scotland – fairer, greener and European – is now ours to win.”


Sturgeon refuses to say if she would welcome Salmond back to SNP

A Holyrood committee is investigating the Scottish Government’s botched handling of allegations against the former first minister.

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SNP: Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond.

Nicola Sturgeon has refused to say if she would welcome former first minister Alex Salmond back into the SNP.

She was challenged on the issue as Scotland’s deputy first minister insisted ministers have “not closed the door” on handing MSPs legal advice from the court case Salmond won against the Scottish Government.

A Holyrood committee is investigating the government’s botched handling of allegations against Salmond, and the Scottish Parliament has twice voted for the legal advice to be handed over to the MSPs.

Sturgeon said the committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints inquiry, and a separate investigation into whether she breached the ministerial code, must be allowed to be completed.

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On The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Sturgeon was asked if she would like to see Salmond back in the party.

She responded: “I’m not going to get into these issues today.

“There is a parliamentary inquiry under way, there is an inquiry into my conduct in terms of the ministerial code.

“I think it is important to allow these inquiries to take their course.

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“There are important issues of political scrutiny and accountability, I have no issues with that, but I think it is important to allow those processes under way to take their course.”

Sturgeon succeeded Salmond as SNP leader and First Minister when he stood down after losing the 2014 independence referendum.

But her relationship with her former mentor has since soured, with Salmond successfully challenging the way the Scottish Government handled sexual harassment complaints against him.

The Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled that to be “unlawful” and Salmond was awarded more than £500,000.

Meanwhile, deputy first minister John Swinney said “active consideration” is being given to the issue of handing over the legal advice.

He told Sophy Ridge On Sunday on Sky News that it is against the ministerial code for him to release the legal advice other than in exceptional circumstances, and law officers must give their consent.

However he said no decision has yet been taken on the issue.

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He told the programme: “The government’s original position was that we do not release legal advice and no government releases legal advice except in very exceptional circumstances.

“What I’ve said is that we will consider the fact that the Parliament has voted in that way. That consideration is ongoing at the present moment and that work is being undertaken to determine what approach we should take to responding to what Parliament has undertaken.

“So the issue is not closed, it’s very much under active consideration within the Scottish Government and I will be updating Parliament as soon as I’ve got a conclusion on the handling of that issue.”

Asked whether the advice might be published, he replied: “There is a possibility that we might do that because Parliament has asked us to do that and I’m now reflecting on that particular issue.

“At no stage have I closed the door on that issue, I’ve simply set out the fact that ordinarily governments don’t publish their legal advice.”


Rangers defender tests positive for coronavirus

Filip Helander is self-isolating after testing positive for the virus, Rangers have said.

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Positive: Rangers defender self-isolating after testing positive for Covid-19.

Rangers defender Filip Helander is self-isolating after becoming the first Ibrox player to test positive for coronavirus, the club have announced.

The Sweden centre-back was missing from Steven Gerrard’s team for their Betfred Cup round two clash at Falkirk.

The club announced on Twitter that the 27-year-old has become the club’s first confirmed Covid-19 case.

He will also have to sit out Gers’ Europa League clash with Standard Liege as well as next Sunday’s Premiership trip to Ross County.

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A club statement said: “Rangers can confirm that Filip Helander has returned a positive test for Covid-19. He will self isolate in line with government guidelines.

“We wish Filip well and look forward to his return to our squad.”

Ibrox youngster Nathan Patterson is currently self-isolating after being deemed a close contact following an outbreak amongst the Scotland Under-21 squad.

George Edmundson and Jordan Jones are also serving seven-match bans after breaching Covid guidelines by attending a house party earlier this month.


UK secures two million more doses of coronavirus vaccine

It brings the total number of jabs on order from Moderna to seven million – enough for around 3.5 million people in the UK.

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On order: The Government has purchased two million more doses from US firm Moderna.

Another two million doses of a coronavirus vaccine which trials suggest is 95% effective have been secured by the Government.

It brings the total number of jabs on order from the US firm Moderna to seven million – enough for around 3.5 million people in the UK.

The vaccine has yet to be approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), but doses could begin being delivered next spring if it meets the standards.

Interim data suggests the jab is highly effective in preventing people getting ill and may work across all age groups, including the elderly.

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The UK has placed orders for 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccine – enough to vaccinate most of the population – with roll-out expected in the coming weeks if the jab is approved by the MHRA.

It also has orders for 40 million doses of the jab from Pfizer and BioNTech, which has been shown to be 95% effective.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said: “Every week, we are getting more positive news about the range of vaccines in development, and thanks to the work of our taskforce the UK has pre-ordered more hundreds of millions of doses from those companies most advanced in their work.

“This includes buying a further two million doses of Moderna’s vaccine, on top of the five million we’ve already secured.

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“With a wide range of vaccine candidates in our portfolio, we stand ready to deploy a vaccine should they receive approval from our medicines regulator, starting with those who will benefit most.”


Men fined for breaching Covid restrictions to go for a sunbed

Police caught the pair after stopping a vehicle in Greenock’s High Street on Wednesday night.

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Fined: Two men travelled from Glasgow to Greenock for a sunbed.

Two men have been fined for breaching coronavirus restrictions to go for a sunbed.

Police caught the pair after stopping a vehicle in Greenock’s High Street on Wednesday night.

It was then officers discovered that the 32 and 33-year-old had travelled to Inverclyde from Glasgow, a tier four restricted area.

Greenock remains under tier three rules. Under level three and four lockdown measures, Scots are banned from travelling into or out of other local authority areas except for essential reasons.

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Due to the breach, both men were issued with a fixed penalty notice.

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “Officers carried out a routine vehicle stop on High Street, Greenock, around 8.30pm on Wednesday, November 25.

“During the routine stop, it became clear two men within the vehicle were in blatant breach of current coronavirus restrictions. 

“A fixed penalty notice was issued to both men, aged 32 and 33.”


Celtic’s cup run ends in shock defeat to Ross County

Pressure increases on Neil Lennon after his side's 2-0 home defeat.

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Ross Stewart put Ross County ahead from the penalty spot.

Celtic’s 35-match unbeaten run in domestic cup competition has been brought to an end with a shock 2-0 home defeat to Ross County in the Betfred Cup.

Ross Stewart put the visitors ahead from the penalty spot in the 39th minute and Alex Iacovitti sealed the win with a header from a corner seven minutes from full time.

The result will increase pressure on Celtic manager Neil Lennon, who has seen his position questioned after a run of only two wins in ten games.

County were without a win against a Premiership side since September but now find themselves in the draw for the quarter-finals after knocking out the side that has held the trophy since November 2016.

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Celtic boss Lennon had made changes following his side’s 4-1 defeat to Sparta Prague on Thursday, bringing back goalkeeper Vasilis Barkas for Scott Bain but also replacing Callum McGregor, Mohamed Elyounoussi and Olivier Ntcham with Tom Rogic, Nit Bitton and Albian Ajeti. Ross County’s Stuart Kettlewell was able to bring back Callum Morris, Keith Watson and Iain Vigurs.

Celtic had the better of the early chances, with Odsonne Edouard testing County keeper Ross Laidlaw with a free kick before Tom Rogic shot wide.

The visitors struck first though. Agyer Josh Reid put a low cross into the box, Stewart dashed ahead of Christopher Jullien and was caught on the heel by the French defender. Kevin Clancy pointed to the spot and Stewart put the penalty past Barkas with ease.

Celtic looked to bounce back immediately and went close when Ajeti hit the post after being found by Rogic but the holders found themselves behind at the break.

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County dug in to defend their lead, restricted to counter attacks as Celtic threw what they could forward in search of a leveller.

Mohamed Elyounoussi and Edouard had chances but Celtic couldn’t make the breakthrough and were stunned further as the clock ticked down.

County won a corner and Iacovitti found space to thump in a header and end Celtic’s run while putting his side in the last eight of the competition.


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