Nicola Sturgeon is facing calls to resign after two witnesses backed up Alex Salmond’s claim that she misled parliament about a meeting with her predecessor.
Written evidence from both Duncan Hamilton – a former SNP MSP and lawyer for Mr Salmond – and the SNP’s former communications director Kevin Pringle contradict Ms Sturgeon’s statements to parliament and her submission to a Holyrood inquiry.
The current First Minister originally told parliament she became aware of the investigation into harassment claims against Mr Salmond when he told her at her Glasgow home on April 2 2018.
She subsequently admitted to having “forgotten” a meeting four days earlier with his former chief of staff, Geoff Aberdein, in which the investigation was reportedly discussed.
Ms Sturgeon said she understood the April 2 meeting to be about party business – the suggestion Mr Salmond was to quit the SNP – rather than government business, to explain why the meeting had not been recorded by a civil servant.
But Mr Salmond asserts that there was “no doubt” it was about the government’s investigation of him and, under oath on Friday, told MSPs that three other people knew the meeting on March 29 was to arrange talks about the allegations.
He named the witnesses as Mr Aberdein – his former chief of staff who met with Ms Sturgeon in her parliamentary office to allegedly arrange the April 2 meeting – Mr Pringle, and Mr Hamilton.
While Mr Aberdein’s evidence will not be published by the Holyrood inquiry into the government’s unlawful investigation, responses from the other two men reveal they both believe Ms Sturgeon was aware the meeting would be about the government’s investigation of Mr Salmond.
Mr Hamilton, who attended the meeting as Mr Salmond’s legal representative, wrote: “I was aware that Mr Aberdein was meeting the First Minister at the Scottish Parliament on March 29 2018 for the purpose of discussing the complaints.
“Mr Aberdein made me aware of that meeting and its purpose in advance.”
He explained that Mr Aberdein spoke to him after the meeting and had conveyed “that a further meeting would be arranged to discuss the complaints with the First Minister”.
“That meeting was arranged for 2nd April 2018. I was invited to that meeting and travelled to it along with Mr Salmond and Mr Aberdein,” he wrote.
“I would further note that the letter received from the Scottish Government was the sole focus of the meeting.
“Further, when we arrived, everyone in the room knew exactly why we were there.
“No introduction to the subject was needed and no one was in any doubt what we were there to discuss.”
Mr Pringle added: “Based on my contact with Mr Aberdein, I know he was clear that the purpose of the meeting on March 29 2018 was to discuss the two complaints that had been made against Mr Salmond.”
Ms Sturgeon has denied the claims, which are being investigated by a separate inquiry led by James Hamilton QC, and has refused to say whether she would resign if found to have broken the ministerial code.
Mr Pringle also confirmed Mr Salmond’s assertion that the name of one of the women had been revealed to Mr Aberdein, whom he said was in “no doubt” it had happened.
Asked about the suspected leak of a complainer’s name during First Minister’s Questions last week, Ms Sturgeon replied: “To the very best of my knowledge, I do not think that happened.”
The claim was corroborated by Mr Hamilton, who wrote: “I can also confirm that I was told the name of a complainant by Mr Aberdein in the early part of March 2018.
“I cannot recall the precise date, but it was very shortly after March 7, the date Mr Salmond received his letter.
“The name of the complainant had been given to Mr Aberdein by a senior government official.
“I confirm that I am aware of the identity of the government official who gave the name of the complainant to Mr Aberdein.
“The fact that the government official had shared that information with Mr Aberdein was reported to me, and to Kevin Pringle, on a conference call.
“I had never heard of the individual named, but Mr Pringle had.”
Following the release of the testimony, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “Credible witnesses have now backed up Alex Salmond’s claims and the legal advice shows the government knew months in advance that the judicial review was doomed, but they still went on to waste more than £500,000 of taxpayers’ money.
“There is no longer any doubt that Nicola Sturgeon lied to the Scottish Parliament and broke the ministerial code on numerous counts.
“The weight of the evidence is overwhelming. Nicola Sturgeon must resign.
“We will be submitting a vote of no confidence in the First Minister.”
Responding to the call for a no-confidence motion, Ms Sturgeon’s spokesman said: “The First Minister will address all of the issues raised – and much more besides – at the committee tomorrow, while the independent adviser on the ministerial code will report in due course.
“But to call a vote of no confidence in the middle of a pandemic, before hearing a single word of the First Minister’s evidence, is utterly irresponsible.
“It is for the public to decide who they want to govern Scotland and – while we continue to fight the Covid pandemic – with the election campaign starting in just 20 days, that is precisely what they will be able to do.”