‘I’m not having this briefing sidetracked’: Sturgeon clashes with journalists over Salmond allegations

‘Do you have a Covid question?’ first minister asks reporter

Joe Middleton
Thursday 18 March 2021 10:09
Nicola Sturgeon says Scotland's 'stay at home' order to be lifted on 2 April

Nicola Sturgeon complained her latest public briefing on coronavirus was being “sidetracked” by a “conspiracy theory” after she was asked by a journalist about her government’s handling of sexual harassment complaints about Scotland’s former first minister Alex Salmond.

Her comments came after Tory MP David Davis disclosed messages from a whistleblower using parliamentary privilege that he claims showed there was a “concerted effort by senior members of the SNP to encourage complaints” against Mr Salmond.

Mr Salmond was given a £512,250 payout after a court ruled the Scottish government’s handling of complaints of sexual harassment allegations against him were “unlawful” and “tainted by apparent bias”.

The former Conservative minister told the Commons that the messages present a case “which demands serious investigation” and a “thorough review of all the emails and other electronic records.”

The first minister said she did not want to be drawn on the allegations made by Mr Davis at the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing with journalists on Wednesday.

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When asked by ITV’s Scotland correspondentPeter Smith about the claims, she said: “I’ve said what I’m going to say on that. I refute the insinuations and suggestions of David Davis, I’m not having this briefing sidetracked into the latest instalment of the conspiracy theory we have all been hearing about for a long time.

“The committee is looking at all of these things, I’ve given it my evidence and that is where I am going to leave it today.”

Mr Smith pushed the first minister for an answer and said that he made decisions on what questions to ask based on “the public interest” and then enquired if the Scottish government is investigating the allegations.

Ms Sturgeon said: “The committee is looking at all of this and I’m letting the committee do its job.”

She then asked if he had a Covid question and Mr Smith responded he was “not comfortable with what questions are asked on a public platform”.

Ms Sturgeon added: “I’ve answered the question, these are all matters that are being looked at by a committee of inquiry.”

The ITV journalist posted the exchange on Twitter and said: “It is important journalists have freedom from being told what we can & can’t ask, as the FM agreed with today. The FM can also decide how she responds.”

The first minister’s deputy, Mr Swinney, told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme on Wednesday the inquiry should be left to come to its conclusions.

Earlier, a spokesman for Ms Sturgeon said: “As with Mr Salmond’s previous claims and cherry-picking of messages, the reality is very different to the picture being presented.

“Every message involving SNP staff has been seen by the committee previously. Their views have been widely reported as dismissive of them.”

As well as the committee’s inquiry, James Hamilton QC is investigating whether Ms Sturgeon breached the ministerial code.

On Tuesday, a report by Laura Dunlop QC called for complaints against current and former government ministers to be investigated independently, rather than by the Scottish government.

Additional reporting by PA

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