A Brief Look at Salmond v Sturgeon

They were once the most powerful partnership in Scottish politics, banishing Labour and the Tories to the political wilderness as the SNP swept the board, but now Alex Salmond could be the man to bring down Nicola Sturgeon.

Mr Salmond gave evidence to the parliamentary party on Friday when he told Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) that ‘Scotland’s leadership has failed’, you can read more on his evidence here.

Allegations

To understand this turn of events, we have to go back to 2018. Mr Salmond had stepped down as Scottish leader four years earlier, having lost the Independence referendum and Ms Sturgeon was running the country. Then the Daily Record splashed with a story of allegations of sexual assault against Mr Salmond. 

He always denied the allegations and was later found not guilty after a trial into the allegations he was charged with which included attempted rape. 

However, after being acquitted, Mr Salmond alluded to ‘certain information’ which he was unable to talk about at the time, but which he said would ‘see the light of day’.

Following the trial, two separate inquiries began, one by a committee of MSPs and another by James Hamilton QC, Ireland’s former director of public prosecutions.

Alex v Nicola and Peter

The complaints were made after Ms Sturgeon asked for new government policies on sexual harassment to be put in place in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Mr Salmond believed the policy was aimed at him. Mr Salmond and his supporters claim Ms Sturgeon has misled parliament over the government inquiry into the allegations and accused officials close to her of conspiring against him, something she denies.

The parliamentary committee is examining the Scottish gov’s handling of the complaints against Mr Salmond and has recalled several witnesses after not being too pleased with the answers they provided. One of these people is Peter Murrell, who is the SNP chief executive. He also happens to be Ms Sturgeon’s husband.

Mr Murrell has been accused by opposition politicians of lying about meetings between Ms Sturgeon and Mr Salmond in their Glasgow home. He also faces questions about text messages he sent which appeared to suggest pressure should be put on the police to take action against the former first minister. 

Mr Hamilton’s inquiry is looking into whether Ms Sturgeon breached the ministerial code, which sets out how the minister should behave. If this proves to be the case, she will almost certainly be forced to resign. 

The Meeting

The main topic for debate is a meeting between Ms Sturgeon and Mr Salmond’s former chief of staff Geoff Aberdein which took place between the two in her parliamentary office on March 29 2018. It is during this meeting that it is believed Ms Sturgeon first learned of the allegations against Mr Salmond. She originally told the Scottish parliament that the first she heard of them was from Mr Salmond himself a few days later, Ms Sturgeon later said she had ‘forgotten’ about the meeting. 

This matters because the ministerial code says all of the First Minister’s meetings should be recorded, but this one was not.

So What Could Happen?

A bit unclear really. If it is found that Ms Sturgeon has broken the ministerial code, then she will face massive pressure to resign. But she remains popular in Scotland, although neither she nor her party are as popular as they once were. Similarly the independence movement does not have the momentum it had in November when 56% of voters backed quitting the UK. 

The row has also split the party, with some MPs openly backing Mr Salmond over their current leader. But with the Scottish parliament elections due to be held in May, the ultimate test for Ms Sturgeon and the SNP will not likely be in parliament where a lack of viable alternatives for a strong gov, but in whether the issue puts any major dents in the SNP’s performance at the ballot box.