Sturgeon refers herself to ethics panel over Salmond case
THE First Minister has referred herself to an independent ministerial ethics panel over her actions in the Alex Salmond sexual harassment case.
Nicola Sturgeon’s move follows her admission she made phone calls and took meetings with the former first minister while he was being investigated over sexual harassment allegations made by two staff.
She admits she met her predecessor on three occasions and spoke to him twice on the phone after he became the subject of the allegations in January last year.
Scotland’s highest civil court, the Court of Session, ruled last Tuesday that the handling of the allegations against Mr Salmond were unlawful.
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard accused Ms Sturgeon last week of breaching the ministerial code after she admitted at First Minister’s Questions and then later to reporters that she had failed to tell Scottish civil servants Mr Salmond had met her at her home on April 2 to tell her about the Government investigation.
It comes as it emerged the Scottish Government is at the centre of a criminal investigation over the leak of highly-sensitive allegations relating to
the sexual misconduct case. In a letter to the ex-first minister’s team, the Information Commissioner’s Office wrote that it appears an offence may have been committed over the unauthorised disclosure to a tabloid newspaper.
It was further claimed Scotland’s top civil servant Leslie Evans, who was in charge of the internal investigation into Mr Salmond, is likely to the first casualty in the fallout from the court ruling.
And Kevin Pringle, a former adviser to Ms Sturgeon and Mr Salmond, said the First Minister should “lead the charge” for an independent inquiry covering the conduct of ministers and officials.
Ms Sturgeon insisted she had acted “appropriately and in good faith throughout” and complied with the Ministerial Code at all times.
She said: “However, I have reflected carefully and understand it is also important for Parliament and the wider public to be assured of that. I have therefore decided to refer the matter for consideration by one or both of the independent advisers on the Ministerial Code.
“It is in the interests of the women who have complained that the ongoing police investigations are allowed to continue without any risk of prejudice. That must be the priority for everyone. Questions have been raised about my meetings and telephone calls with Alex Salmond during the Government’s investigation into the complaints which were made.”
Opposition parties had been calling for the FM to make the referral to the watchdog, with Scottish Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw describing the situation as “a shambles” during FMQS on Thursday.
Ms Sturgeon stated the complaints made against her predecessor could not be ignored. She explained: “The independent advisers will now be consulted on their precise remit and advice will also be sought on how to ensure there is no risk of prejudice to the ongoing police investigation. The remit will be published in due course. The fact remains that at the centre of this issue are two women whose complaints could not be swept under the carpet.”
Mr Leonard said Ms Sturgeon had “done the right thing” in referring herself under the Ministerial Code and called for a full inquiry. He said: “Transparency is now absolutely essential in order for the public to have confidence in the First Minister and the Scottish Government.”
Kevin Pringle: FM should ‘lead the charge’ for independent probe.