Alex Salmond scandal

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The Alex Salmond scandal is an ongoing political scandal in Scotland concerning how the Scottish Government, led by incumbent First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon, breached its own guidelines in its investigation into the harassment claims against Sturgeon's predecessor as First Minister, Alex Salmond. The Scottish Government lost a judicial review into their actions and had to pay over £500,000 to Salmond for legal expenses.[1] Salmond claimed that senior figures in Sturgeon’s government and the ruling Scottish National Party (SNP) plotted to remove him from public life and to send him to prison.[2][3] Critics accuse Sturgeon of breaking the Ministerial Code which resulted in a political row.[1] Sturgeon disputes the allegations.[2][3]

Trial and acquittal on sexual misconduct allegations

In August 2018, former First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond resigned from the SNP in the face of allegations of sexual misconduct in 2013 while he was First Minister. In a statement he said that he wanted to avoid internal division within the party and intended to apply to rejoin the SNP once he had an opportunity to clear his name.[4][5]

On 30 August 2018, he launched a crowdfunding appeal to pay for the legal costs of seeking a judicial review into the fairness of the process by which the Scottish Government has handled the allegations.[6] He closed the appeal two days later, on 1 September, after raising £100,000, double the amount he wanted to pay for his legal costs.[7] The government later conceded that its procedures had been flawed and paid more than £500,000 in Salmond's legal expenses.[8] On 8 January 2019, he won his inquiry case against Scottish government, noting, "while I am glad about the victory which has been achieved today, I am sad that it was necessary to take this action." The Scottish government admitted it breached its own guidelines by appointing an investigating officer who had "prior involvement" in the case. Salmond also asked permanent secretary to the Scottish Government, Leslie Evans, to consider her position. Evans stated that the complaints the government had received in January 2018 had not been withdrawn, so the option of re-investigating them remained on the table, once the police probe into the allegations had run its course.[9]

On 24 January 2019, Police Scotland arrested Salmond, and he was charged with 14 offences, including two counts of attempted rape, nine of sexual assault, two of indecent assault, and one of breach of the peace.[10][11] He appeared in court on 21 November and entered a plea of "not guilty". The trial started on 9 March 2020; his defence was led by Gordon Jackson (politician), and the prosecution was led by Alex Prentice.[8]

On 23 March 2020, Salmond was cleared of all charges. A jury found him not guilty of 12 charges, one charge was dropped by prosecutors earlier in the trial while one charge was found not proven.[12][13]

Hamilton Inquiry

In January 2019, Sturgeon referred herself to an independent ministerial ethics body, which led to an ongoing investigation into her actions with respect to a Alex Salmond#Resignation from the SNP and allegations of sexual misconduct case concerning allegations against Salmond. This followed her admitting that she had a secret meeting and subsequent phone call with Salmond about the Scottish government's allegations against him. She raised these with the Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government, Leslie Evans, two months later, rather than reporting them immediately, as she should if they constitute government matters (as per the ministerial code). Sturgeon argued that the meetings were SNP party matters, and thus not covered. The investigating panel consists of Dame Elish Angiolini, a former Solicitor General for Scotland and lord advocate, and James Hamilton (Director of Public Prosecutions), a former Director of Public Prosecutions (Ireland) in the Republic of Ireland.[14] Hamilton is investigating whether Sturgeon breached the ministerial code.[1]

Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints

On 15 January 2019 the Scottish Parliament agreed to hold its own inquiry into the matter.[15] The Scottish Parliament set up the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints[16] to investigate how the Government breached its own guidelines in its original investigation into the harassment claims against Salmond, and then lost a judicial review into their actions and had to pay over £500,000 to Salmond for legal expenses.[1] A political row developed over what evidence to this committee Salmond could present.[1][3]

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon initially told parliament that she had first heard of the complaints against Salmond when he told her of them on 2 April 2018.[1] However, 18 months later, she revised her account, saying she had forgotten about an earlier meeting, on 29 March 2018, in which Salmond's former chief of staff Geoff Aberdein told her about the complaints.[1] Critics have described this as a possible breach of the ministerial code, which states that any minister who deliberately misleads parliament should resign.[1] The 29 March meeting was not recorded: meetings on government business are meant to be recorded, but Sturgeon has said this is because it was an SNP meeting.[1]

Sturgeon's husband, Peter Murrell, was called to this inquiry to give evidence on 8 December 2020.[17] Opposition parties criticised Sturgeon on disparity and contradictions between the narratives of Murrell and herself.[18]

Giving evidence in person in February 2021, Salmond claimed that senior figures in the Scottish Government and the SNP plotted to remove him from public life and to send him to prison.[2] In his evidence to the committee, Salmond said there was "no doubt" that Sturgeon had broken the ministerial code in not revealing the 29 March meeting sooner and in not recording what was really a meeting about government business.[1] Sturgeon denies any wrongdoing and disputes Salmond's allegations.[1][2][3]

Documents and emails published on 2 March 2021 showed that two people supported Salmond's assertion that the meeting was convened as a government, not party, matter.[19] The publication also backed up Salmond's allegation that the identity of one of his accusers had been passed to his former chief of staff, contradicting Sturgeon's statement that "to the very best of my knowledge I do not think that happened".[19] They also confirmed that the government had pursued the legal case against Salmond after being advised by lawyers that it was likely to fail.[19]

References

  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 "Alex Salmond says there is 'no doubt' Nicola Sturgeon broke ministerial code". BBC News. 26 February 2021. Retrieved 2 March 2021.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 "The Alex Salmond inquiry and the political stink at Holyrood". BBC News. 24 February 2021. Retrieved 2 March 2021.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 "Salmond and Sturgeon: How the best of political double acts fell apart". BBC News. 26 February 2021. Retrieved 2 March 2021.
  4. "Ex-SNP leader Alex Salmond resigns from party". BBC News Online. 29 August 2018. Retrieved 29 August 2018.
  5. "Alex Salmond resigns from SNP after sexual misconduct claims". The Guardian. 29 August 2018. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
  6. "Sturgeon's 'huge sadness' as Salmond resigns". BBC News Online. 30 August 2018. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
  7. "Salmond crowdfunder closed after passing £100,000 mark". BBC News. BBC. 1 September 2018. Retrieved 1 September 2018.
  8. 8.0 8.1 "Alex Salmond accused of sexual assaults on 10 women". BBC News. 21 November 2019. Retrieved 21 November 2019.
  9. "Alex Salmond wins sexual harassment inquiry case against Scottish government". BBC News. 8 January 2019.
  10. "Former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond arrested". BBC News. 24 January 2019. Retrieved 24 January 2019.
  11. "Alex Salmond: Former SNP leader arrested and charged". Sky News. 24 January 2019. Retrieved 24 January 2019.
  12. Carrell, Severin; Brooks, Libby (23 March 2020). "Alex Salmond acquitted of all charges in sexual assault trial". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 23 March 2020.
  13. "Alex Salmond cleared of all sexual assault charges". BBC News. 23 March 2020. Retrieved 23 March 2020.
  14. editor, Severin Carrell Scotland (13 January 2019). "Sturgeon refers herself to ethics body over actions in Salmond case". The Guardian – via www.theguardian.com.
  15. "MSPs to hold inquiry over Salmond row". 15 January 2019. Retrieved 15 January 2019.
  16. "Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints". www.parliament.scot. 23 December 2020. Retrieved 2 March 2021.
  17. "Alex Salmond inquiry likely to recall SNP chief exec and Nicola Sturgeon's husband Peter Murrell". www.scotsman.com. Retrieved 2020-12-10.
  18. "MSPs bid to recall SNP chief Peter Murrell to Salmond inquiry". BBC News. 2020-12-09. Retrieved 2020-12-10.
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 "Calls for Nicola Sturgeon to quit over Alex Salmond revelations". BBC News. 2 March 2021. Retrieved 2 March 2021.

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