Pre ssure build­ing on FM to an­swer £500,000 ques­tions

Leader urged to trig­ger probe into meet­ings with Alex Sal­mond Ex­perts slate in­quiry fi­asco

The Sunday Post (Newcastle) - - NEWS - By Peter Swin­don [email protected]

‘ If FM can­not ex­plain it, we need the right to in­ves­ti­gate it

Ni­cola Stur­geon has days to re­fer her con­tro­ver­sial meet­ings with Alex Sal­mond to stan­dards watch­dogs or MSPs will at­tempt to force an in­quiry.

The First Min­is­ter is un­der in­creas­ing pres­sure af­ter ad­mit­ting she had three meet­ings and two phone calls with her pre­de­ces­sor dur­ing a Scot­tish Govern­ment in­quiry into his al­leged sex­ual ha­rass­ment of two civil ser­vants.

She in­sists she had no in­flu­ence in the probe, which was thrown out by a judge last week af­ter the Scot­tish Govern­ment spent an es­ti­mated £500,000 on le­gal costs.

Lead­ing lawyers and HR pro­fes­sion­als yes­ter­day said the er­rors made in set­ting up the in­quiry were so fun­da­men­tal that the le­gal case was al­ways un­winnable.

Mean­while, Labour and Con­ser­va­tives MSPs have called for a par­lia­men­tary in­quiry into the First Min­is­ter’s meet­ings with Mr Sal­mond. The Scot­tish Lib­eral Democrats and Scot­tish Greens are yet to back the move.

All four op­po­si­tion MSPs on the Par­lia­men­tary Bureau – which also in­cludes an SNP MSP – must agree to or­der an in­quiry and dis­cus­sions are tak­ing place ahead of a meet­ing of the com­mit­tee on Tues­day morn­ing.

Mr Sal­mond, who is also fac­ing a po­lice in­quiry into the al­le­ga­tions, first met Ms Stur­geon at her home in a meet­ing set up by her chief of staff Liz Lloyd, who also at­tended the meet­ing in April last year.

Op­po­nents have said the First Min­is­ter must be in­ves­ti­gated over whether she breached the min­is­te­rial code, which states that the “ba­sic facts” of a meet­ing dis­cussing govern­ment busi­ness must be recorded.

They say she is in­sult­ing the in­tel­li­gence of vot­ers by sug­gest­ing the meet­ings were SNP busi­ness.

Scot­tish Labour Leader Richard Leonard said: “No one re­ally be­lieves the First Min­is­ter’s re­peated claims that these were not Scot­tish Govern­ment meet­ings and we don’t ac­cept her at­tempts to face both ways.

“She claimed in Par­lia­ment on Tues­day that the investigation into the com­plaints had ‘noth­ing to do with the SNP’, yet on Thurs­day she told Par­lia­ment she took part in the meet­ings in her ca­pac­ity as SNP leader. Labour will hold Ni­cola Stur­geon and her govern­ment to ac­count on all of these is­sues.”

Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tive MSP An­nie Wells said: “This week’s rev­e­la­tions have only strength­ened the need for a Scot­tish Par­lia­ment in­quiry into this fi­asco.

“If Ni­cola Stur­geon and the SNP Govern­ment won’t ex­plain con­vinc­ingly what has hap­pened, then par­lia­ment should be given the au­thor­ity to do so.”

Only Ms Stur­geon can re­fer her­self for investigation by the stan­dards watch­dog – she can­not be re­ferred by an­other MSP – so op­po­si­tion par­ties are try­ing to reach an agree­ment on whether to or­der a par­lia­men­tary in­quiry. The Par­lia­men­tary Bureau could re­fer her to a Holy­rood com­mit­tee or set up one to carry out the investigation.

The Scot­tish Govern­ment’s investigation into Mr Sal­mond, who de­nies the al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual ha­rass­ment, was ruled “un­law­ful” and “tainted by ap­par­ent bias” by Judge Lord Pent­land at the Court of Ses­sion last week be­cause the civil ser­vant tasked with lead­ing the probe had pre­vi­ous con­tact with the com­plainants.

A spokesman for Mr Sal­mond said yes­ter­day he was yet to be in­ter­viewed by po­lice over the al­le­ga­tions.

A Scot­tish Govern­ment spokesman said: “As the First Min­is­ter has set out cat­e­gor­i­cally to Par­lia­ment she did not in­ter­vene in the Scot­tish Govern­ment in­quiry at any point.

“The First Min­is­ter has made clear she is con­sid­er­ing a re­quest for a re­fer­ral to the panel of ad­vis­ers on the min­is­te­rial code and the govern­ment would, as al­ways, co­op­er­ate with any par­lia­men­tary in­quiry.”

Ni­cola Stur­geon last week, left, and above with Alex Sal­mond in 2011 with her now chief of staff Liz Lloyd The First Min­is­ter is un­der pres­sure

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