Scottish Political Drama Moves to Election After Ugly Few Weeks

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will seek to shift the focus back onto her push for an independence referendum after facing the biggest threat to her job since coming to power more than six years ago.

The Scottish National Party leader survived a no-confidence vote on Tuesday that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives had hoped would derail the separatist movement by removing its champion.

In reality, it had little chance of success after a report on Monday cleared Sturgeon of breaking the ministerial code over how she dealt with allegations of sexual harassment against her predecessor, Alex Salmond.

It means Scotland’s big political drama will now play out at the ballot box after a messy and divisive few weeks. Sturgeon’s public falling out with Salmond -- her former friend and mentor -- has gripped the nation of 5.5 million people ahead of an election on May 6 that’s being framed as a vote on whether Scotland has the right to another plebiscite on leaving the U.K.

Two Inquiries

The report by James Hamilton, a former head of Ireland’s public prosecutions, also dismissed suggestions that Sturgeon attempted to influence the investigation and she misled parliament.

Scottish Political Drama Moves to Election After Ugly Few Weeks

A separate investigation into the handling of the allegations against Salmond by a cross-party committee of lawmakers found she had misled them over what she knew and when. It also castigated Sturgeon’s government over how it dealt with the claims.

That, though, was overshadowed by Hamilton’s verdict. The key findings from the committee’s report were leaked to U.K. media last week, prompting accusations of partisan meddling.

“The committee agreed that James Hamilton’s report is the most appropriate place to address the question of whether or not the first minister has breached the Scottish Ministerial Code,” the inquiry said in its report on Tuesday.

Resignation Matter

Had Hamilton’s conclusions gone the other way, pressure would have increased on Sturgeon -- one of Britain’s most prominent politicians and a key adversary of Johnson -- to resign.

Since taking over the leadership in 2014, Sturgeon has been the public face of independence and opposition to Brexit. Over the past year, she’s also won support for her handling of the pandemic compared with Johnson.

Most polls show there’s now majority support for calling time on the three-centuries-old union with England and Wales, and the Scottish government put forward draft legislation on Monday outlining a roadmap to another referendum. That’s designed to create a showdown with the U.K. government over the right to hold one.

The SNP needs a majority in the May election to exert more pressure on the government in London to grant the vote on independence. A poll last week showed a slip in support for the SNP, albeit with the party still scoring a big victory over Johnson’s Conservatives, who oppose another referendum as well as independence.

Assault Claims

The recent drama stems from the fallout from the Salmond investigation. He was acquitted by a court last year of sexual assault, and a judge earlier had ruled that the way the Scottish government had investigated the claims had been unlawful.

That then led to two inquiries, one by the cross-party committee of lawmakers into the handling of the allegations against Salmond and the one by Hamilton into whether Sturgeon broke the ministerial code. The latter was always going to be the more critical to her future.

That became more apparent after the committee’s inquiry was discredited by Sturgeon and her party after what they called “partisan leaks.” Sturgeon said she stood by all eight hours of evidence she gave to the inquiry and wasn’t surprised by the findings that emerged via U.K. media.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.