Nicola Sturgeon has said many people feel “very let down” by Alex Salmond, including herself, and has called on the former first minister to apologise for his behaviour.
Asked by Murdo Fraser MSP if she owed the Scottish people an apology for having previously told them they should trust Mr Salmond, Ms Sturgeon said she “trusted him” and refused to “apologise for the behaviour of somebody else”.
The first minister also rubbished Mr Salmond’s claim that a plot was hatched to remove him from public life, describing the suggestion as “absurd” to the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints.
Mr Salmond has previously alleged that Scotland’s first minister made a “malicious and concerted” attempt to rid him of a political future through the government’s investigation into sexual harassment claims made against him.
Mr Salmond, who was acquitted of 13 charges in criminal court, won a judicial review which found the government’s investigation was “tainted by apparent bias”.
However, Ms Sturgeon, whose political future is at stake, strongly denies the “plot” allegations, saying there is not “a shred of evidence” to support them.
Sturgeon says she met Salmond twice after 2 April
Scotland’s first minister had two meetings with Alex Salmond after they spoke in person on 2 April.
On 7 June, Nicola Sturgeon saw him to say “I have told the Permanent Secretary I am not going to intervene’”.
She added that she then met him on around 13 July. “This is maybe the most ironic bit of all. Probably at that stage I was still a bit concerned about him,” she said.
Ms Sturgeon added: “So, I am sitting here, facing all of this and being accused of being part of a grand conspiracy against him, actually some of what probably has led me into trouble is I was concerned about him.”
MSP asks about Sturgeon’s husband
On the topic of Peter Murrel, SNP chief executive officer and Nicola Sturgeon’s husband, a Liberal Democrat MSP said: “You said as a rule you didn’t discuss written government business with him, but was a different matter when it comes to party business.”
Alex Cole-Hamilton added: “You said you believed Alex Salmond was possibly about to resign from the party, but said nothing to Mr Murrell about your concerns and he was just popping in for a chat, is that correct?”
Scotland’s first minister replied: “I’ve heard you posit that if I thought Alex was going to resign I’d have to have a handle in place and everything - I didn’t.
“I worried that something like that was the case but I wanted to speak to him first before I spoke to anyone else.
Ms Sturgeon added: “If he had come into my house on 2 April and said ‘I’m going to resign from the party’, of course I would have told people so we could prepare for that.
“But he didn’t tell me that and I decided I wanted to hear from him what he wanted to tell me.”
Additional reporting by PA
‘I can see how hard all this if for people to understand'
Mr Cole-Hamilton said that if the first minister genuinely thought she was meeting Mr Salmond in a party personal space, and thought he was going to face the biggest threats in history - that the person who built the party was about to leave it - how some people might find it hard to believe Ms Sturgeon would not mention this to her husband.
The first minister responded: “I can see how hard all this is for people to understand.
“All I can say is there’s lots of different emotions, factors and considerations.”
“I had been given the impression by Geoff resignation was a possibility. I can’t recall the basis of that but didn’t think it was a certainty, so it was one of the reasons I wanted to meet him and hear what the situation was.”
‘I think I made it clear I wouldn’t intervene'
When asked why Alex Salmond left Nicola Sturgeon’s house with the impression the first minister was going to help him, Ms Sturgeon replied: “I did make clear to him I had no role in the process and I think I made it clear I wouldn’t intervene.”
She added: “If he left with the impression that I was, that’s not the impression I wanted to give him.”
Scotland’s first minister said crucially she did not intervene.
‘Many of us - including me - feel very let down by him'
Nicola Sturgeon told the committee reflecting on her previous friendly relationship with her mentor Mr Salmond was “deeply personal”.
She said: “I have learned things about Alex Salmond over the past couple of years that have made me rethink certain things I thought about him. No doubt he would say the same about me.
“I’ve had to go through a process of reassessing all sorts of things around that.
“As I was watching him on Friday lashing out - that’s my words - against us, I don’t know whether he ever reflects on the fact that many of us - including me - feel very let down by him.
“That’s a matter of deep personal pain and regret for me.”
Appearing close to tears, Ms Sturgeon added: “I think I probably should stop there.”
Salmond is only person who should apologise for his behaviour, Sturgeon says
Asked by Murdo Fraser MSP if she owed the Scottish people an apology for having previously told them they should trust Alex Salmond, Ms Sturgeon said: “I trusted him and I am not going to apologise for the behaviour of somebody else.
“I do not think it’s reasonable to ask me to apologise for the behaviour of Alex Salmond.
The first minister added: “I think the only person who should apologise for behaviour on his part - which he was asked to do on Friday and failed to do - is Alex Salmond.”
The MSP who asked Nicola Sturgeon if she owes Scotland an apology has faced criticism on social media:
‘I still feel, despite everything, a loyalty to him'
Jackie Baillie, the deputy leader of the Scottish Labour party, said: “You met Alex Salmond on April 2, messages exchanged on 1 and 3 June. Giving what you are saying about his behaviour, why did you keep meeting him?
Nicola Sturgeon responded: “I was dealing with a situation that involved the former first minister facing a government investigation. The former leader of my party, which has had huge implications for my party, and someone who I really cared about.
“I still feel, despite everything, a loyalty to him and that’s why I made these decisions. The thing I was absolutely adamant about is I would not try to influence this process in the way he wanted me to because I felt that was inappropriate.”
Government has made ‘mistakes'
Nicola Sturgeon accepted the civil service had made “mistakes” in how the complaints were dealt with.
“Mistakes have been made by government, that is undeniable,” the first minister said.
“But the idea that because somebody doesn’t like what happened over the past couple of years we allow this attack to be made on the very fundamentals of democracy, I just find deeply distressing, deeply unfair and, actually, whatever you think about me, the SNP, the Scottish government, I think deeply injurious to the health and wellbeing of our democracy.”
Additional reporting by PA
Evidence session lasted eight hours
The evidence session - which has now finished - lasted more than eight hours in total:
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