Former Scottish first minister Alex Salmond on Friday accused his former protégé and successor Nicola Sturgeon of breaching the ministerial code and presiding over a failure of national leadership.
Salmond’s comments to a Scottish parliamentary committee capped an extraordinary breakdown in relations between the former and current leaders of the governing Scottish National party that some members fear could cripple its push for independence from the UK.
At his long-awaited appearance, Salmond also insisted there was full documentary evidence for his claim that Sturgeon’s closest associates had plotted to drive him from public life.
The former first minister, who stepped down in 2014 after Scottish voters rejected independence from the UK in a referendum by 55 to 45 per cent, said Sturgeon had misled parliament about meetings in 2018 at which they discussed harassment complaints against him by civil servants.
“I have no doubt that Nicola has broken the ministerial code,” Salmond said during his more than five-hour appearance before the committee, which is investigating the Scottish government’s handling of the complaints.
A breach of the ministerial code is normally considered a resignation matter, but Salmond said it was not for him to decide the consequences for the first minister, who was until 2014 his most important political ally.
Sturgeon, who is scheduled to appear before the committee on Wednesday, has denied misleading parliament. The first minister has also dismissed Salmond’s claims that senior people in the government and SNP were behind a conspiracy against him as an “alternative reality.”
But Salmond insisted there was documentary evidence for all his assertions, though he complained that the Crown Office, Scotland’s public prosecution service, was refusing to allow him to share some of it.
“That’s not a theory . . . it is a point that can be established from the documentary evidence,” he said. Messages gathered by police investigating criminal allegations against Salmond, which have not so far been provided to parliament, demonstrated “collusion of witnesses” and “construction of evidence”, Salmond said.
In a sign that the parliamentary committee wants to examine such claims, it wrote to the Crown Office on Friday demanding prosecutors produce all communications they hold involving Peter Murrell, who is Sturgeon’s husband and SNP chief executive, the first minister’s chief of staff Liz Lloyd, and two senior SNP officials for the period between November 2017 and January 2019.
The escalating dispute between Salmond and Sturgeon, two of modern Scotland’s most influential politicians, centres on a botched government investigation in 2018 into harassment complaints against the former first minster.
In 2019, the Scottish government accepted that the investigation had been “tainted by apparent bias”. At a separate criminal trial last year, Salmond was acquitted of all of the 13 sexual offences charges against him.
In his opening remarks, Salmond took aim at the conduct of the government and Crown Office during his successor’s tenure. “The failures of leadership are many and obvious and yet . . . not a single person has taken responsibility,” he said. “Scotland hasn’t failed, its leadership has failed.”
Salmond told the committee that its work had been undermined by the government and public prosecutors. “This committee has been blocked and tackled at every turn with calculated and deliberate suppression of key evidence,” in a “blurring of boundaries between government, party and prosecution service”, he said.
“These events shine a light on a government whose actions are no longer true to the principles of openness, accountability and transparency,” he said.
Salmond told the hearing the Crown Office’s leaders seemed to have “no understanding of the separation of powers” or “the rule of law itself”.
James Wolffe, who as Scotland’s Lord Advocate is chief legal adviser to the SNP government and head of the Crown Office, told parliament this week that prosecutors had acted “objectively, professionally and in the public interest”.
Their only purpose in raising concerns about Salmond’s submissions had been to secure respect for a court order preserving the anonymity of the women whose allegations were the basis of his criminal trial, Wolffe said.
In a submission to the committee published on Monday, Salmond accused associates of Sturgeon, including her husband and chief of staff, of involvement in a “deliberate, prolonged, malicious and concerted effort . . . to damage my reputation, even to the extent of having me imprisoned”.
Salmond told the committee that the two-and-a-half years since the allegations were made had been a “nightmare”. He said he believed criminal complaints had been orchestrated in order to save the government from the consequences of the collapse of the 2018 investigation.
Sturgeon faces a separate inquiry by James Hamilton, former head of Ireland’s prosecution service and the Scottish government’s independent adviser on the ministerial code.
The dispute between the former and current leaders of the SNP, which has governed Scotland since 2007, could undermine its chances of a sweeping victory in May’s Scottish parliamentary elections. The party hopes a landslide will provide a platform to push for a swift second independence referendum.
Polls suggest that the SNP still enjoys a huge lead over rival parties and that more Scottish voters now support independence than back staying within the UK. However, an Ipsos Mori survey conducted earlier this month found 36 per cent of Scottish voters felt the inquiry has made them “less favourable” towards the SNP.
Timeline: the split threatening the SNP
Following defeat in Scotland’s independence referendum, Alex Salmond quits as first minister and leader of the Scottish National party. Nicola Sturgeon takes over.
Sturgeon approves a Scottish government harassment complaints procedure that covers allegations against former ministers.
March and April 2018
Sturgeon meets former aide to Salmond and then Salmond himself, and complaints against him by two officials are discussed. Sturgeon does not immediately report meetings, later saying she was determined not to interfere in civil service-led process.
The Daily Record newspaper reports details of complaints against Salmond. He launches judicial review of government’s investigation process.
Scottish government accepts investigation was “tainted by apparent bias”. Salmond arrested and later charged with sexual offences including attempted rape.
Salmond acquitted at the High Court in Edinburgh of all 13 charges involving nine women.
In his submission to the committee investigating the handling of complaints against him, Salmond accuses Sturgeon of lying to parliament about their meetings and says her closest associates were involved in concerted effort to remove him from public life. Sturgeon denies the allegations.