Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland is to refer herself to independent advisers to determine whether or not she has broken the Ministerial Code when she had a meeting and telephone conversations with Alex Salmond whilst there was an investigation into his conduct by the Scottish Government.
The Ministerial Code for the Scottish Government is based on 7 key principles selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. It sets out the code of behaviour for the members of the Scottish Government and its officials. In February 2018 at the publication of the revised code Nicola Sturgeon pledged to:
“lead by example in following the letter and spirit of this Code, and I expect that Ministers and civil servants will do likewise.”
Nicola Sturgeon has come under fire since Alex Salmond (First Minister of Scotland 2007- 2014) won his case against the Scottish Government over the procedure they had used in an investigation into his conduct when he was First Minister. Alex Salmond was the longest running First Minister of Scotland.
Link to the Scottish Ministerial Code
Jackson Carlaw leading for the Conservatives in the Scottish Parliament suggested that Nicola Sturgeon had got involved in the investigations on 5 occasions, an accusation which she strenuously denied.
Nicola Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament:
“As Jackson Carlaw has said and as I set out on Tuesday, Alex Salmond set out his concerns about the process. It was clear from what he told me then that he was considering a legal challenge. When he requested a second meeting, I was concerned that challenge could be imminent, so I told the permanent secretary then that I knew about the investigation and I told her about the previous meeting, including the reference to a potential legal challenge. I told her that I supported her decision to investigate and that I would not seek to intervene in the investigation in any way. I also said that I would make it clear to Alex Salmond again that I would not intervene. That is what I did in the second meeting on 7 June 2018, and I told the permanent secretary of all subsequent contact.”
Richard Leonard for Labour then questioned the First Minister over her involvement. He wants a Parliamentary Inquiry into the Salmond investigation. Richard Leonard raised 4.23 of the Ministerial Code and asked the First Minister if she had breached that part of the Code when she met with or had telephone conversations with Alex Salmond whilst his conduct was being investigated.
“4.23 If Ministers meet external organisations or individuals and find themselves discussing official business without an official present – for example at a party conference, social occasion or on holiday – any significant content (such as substantive issues relating to Government decisions or contracts) should be passed back to their Private Offices as soon as possible after the event, who should arrange for the basic facts of such meetings to be recorded in accordance with paragraph 4.22 above. “
On referring herself to the independent panel of advisers on the Ministerial Code Nicola Sturgeon issued the following statement:
“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.
“I have acted appropriately and in good faith throughout, and in compliance with the Ministerial Code at all times. However, I have reflected carefully and understand that 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.
“The Independent Advisers will now be consulted on their precise remit, and advice will also be sought on how to ensure that 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. Any continuing commentary about these issues at this stage – whether from myself, the Government or Mr Salmond and his representatives – would only serve to distract from and potentially compromise the proper consideration by the police of the subject matter of their investigations. That is something we will not do.”
Police Scotland are now investigating the alleged sexual harassment of 2 civil servants by Alex Salmond during his tenure as First Minister in 2013. Alex Salmond has not been charged with anything.
You can view the exchange in the Scottish Parliament here:
Reporter: Fiona Grahame