Scottish Leader Rejects Claims of Plot Against Her Predecessor
(Bloomberg) -- Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon apologized for serious errors in the investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against her predecessor, though refuted his claim there was a concerted effort to purge him from public life.
Giving evidence to a cross-party parliamentary committee in Edinburgh, the Scottish National Party leader said she faced an “invidious political and personal situation” and her government tried to do the right thing after women made complaints about Alex Salmond. “It’s absurd to suggest that anyone acted with malice or as part of a plot,” Sturgeon said.
The inquiry -- and a separate one into whether Sturgeon broke the ministerial code -- is looking into the handling of the case against Salmond, and critically for Sturgeon what she knew and when. When Salmond appreared at the committee on Friday, he said the whole saga betrayed a “failure of leadership” in Scotland’s democratic institutions.
Salmond was acquitted last year of multiple counts of sexual assault against women while in office. While admitting some inappropriate behavior, he claims he’s the victim of collusion that ran all the way to the top of Scotland’s government. A judge earlier had ruled that the way the government had investigated the claims had been unlawful.
Sturgeon said the complaints procedure used to look into the claims was a direct result of the #MeToo movement and the government had a responsibility to address them. She rejected Salmond’s claim that the policy was designed with the purpose of using it against him.
The political feud between the two grandees of Scotland’s independence drive has escalated ahead of May elections. Sturgeon is seeking a victory that will reinforce her push for another referendum on breaking away from the rest of the U.K. with support as its highest.
On Tuesday, she faced a call to resign as the opposition Conservatives said they would seek a no-confidence vote. The Scottish wing of U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s party will submit the motion after the government in Edinburgh published details of legal advice during its investigation of the claims against Salmond and additional witnesses backed up his version of events.
For any vote to succeed, it needs all opposition members of parliament to agree. The SNP has 61 of the legislature’s 129 seats and is normally supported by the Green Party. The Greens said it was up to the inquiry to do its job first.
Opinion polls show the SNP is on course for a majority of seats in the Scottish Parliament in the May 6 vote, though John Curtice, the U.K.’s most prominent psephologist, said the party needs to ensure it doesn’t weigh on an electorate still currently more focused on the effects of Brexit and the pandemic.
“It’s pretty clear the SNP need to shut this down pretty quickly -- this can’t be going on for the next eight weeks,” Curtice told the Ipsos MORI podcast last week. “But in terms of evidence of damage, it’s been limited so far.”
That would likely change dramatically if Sturgeon were forced to resign once the inquiries publish their reports. She is not only the face of the party and the independence movement, but Scotland as a whole during the pandemic.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.