Salmond vs Sturgeon: Your complete guide to the ‘whole sorry story’


The SNP was once seen as the slickest political outfit in UK, but the dramatic rupture between the party’s two towering figures has destroyed its reputation for unity.

Current boss Nicola Sturgeon and her predecessor Alex Salmond – once close allies – have become bitter enemies over the fall-out from sexual harassment claims against the former first minister.

Mr Salmond, cleared of sexual assault charges last year, has claimed senior SNP figures around Ms Sturgeon mounted a “malicious and concerted” attempt to bring him down.

Ms Sturgeon has told Mr Salmond to put up or shut up – accusing him of coming up with “some kind of conspiracy … without a shred of evidence”.

So how did things get quite so nasty? What does it mean for the SNP? And how far does the saga have left to go?

The Independent has taken a close look at the key dates in the long-running Salmond-Sturgeon row.

March 2020 – Vow to produce ‘evidence’

Mr Salmond was cleared 13 charges of sexual assault against nine women at the conclusion of a trial at the High Court in March 2020. Speaking outside the court, he vowed that “certain evidence” he was unable to share during the trial would soon “see the light”.

The previous January, the Scottish government had admitted its own 2018 inquiry into harassment allegations by two female civil servants against Mr Salmond was unlawful and had been “tainted by apparent bias”.

Mr Salmond called for the Scottish government’s permanent secretary, Leslie Evans, to resign over the matter – but Ms Sturgeon rejected the idea and defended the chief civil servant.

October 2020 – The forgotten meeting

Things got more heated last October, when Ms Sturgeon revealed to the inquiry established to examine the Scottish government’s botched handling of complaints against Mr Salmond that she “forgot” about the first meeting at which she learned of sexual harassment claims.

Ms Sturgeon had initially told the Scottish parliament that she had first learned of the allegations against Mr Salmond at a meeting with him at her own home on 2 April, 2018.

But in a submission to the committee, Ms Sturgeon admitted she had met with Mr Salmond’s former chief of staff Geoff Aberdein a few days earlier – on 29 March – and discussed a possible meeting with Mr Salmond that might involve “allegations of a sexual nature”.

Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond campaigning together in 2015

(PA)

Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser claimed Ms Sturgeon had “misled parliament” with her evidence. Ms Sturgeon has tried to dismiss the discrepancy, later telling the BBC that the March meeting “never held any significance in my head”.

Back in 2019 the first minister commissioned a separate inquiry, led by James Hamilton QC, to look at whether she had breached the ministerial code at any stage in the saga.

The ministerial code states that all the first minister’s government meetings should be recorded. No notes were taken during the crucial March or April meetings – but Ms Sturgeon has claimed they related to SNP matters, rather than government business.

February 2021 – Salmond evidence redacted

The bitter feud came to a head last month, with both Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon clashing over evidence offered to the investigating Holyrood committee of MSPs.

The former first minister scrapped a scheduled appearance before the committee, angry that the parliamentary authorities appeared unwilling to allow him to make his various claims.

In a written submission, Mr Salmond claimed senior SNP figures surrounding Ms Sturgeon had been behind a “malicious and concerted” attempt to remove him from public life.

He alleged her husband Peter Murrell and her chief of staff, Liz Lloyd, were among those behind his attempt to destroy his reputation.

Mr Salmond pulled out of yet another scheduled appearance at the committee after parliamentary authorities acted on the “grave concerns” of the Crown Office and redacted parts of his evidence. He eventually appeared before MSPs on 26 February.

Ms Sturgeon challenged her former boss to “replace the insinuation and assertion” with hard evidence. “I don’t believe he can do that, because I know what he is claiming about a conspiracy is not true.”

Ms Sturgeon has also insisted it would be “downright wrong” for anyone to suggest that the Crown Office’s intervention in the redaction was politically influenced.

In her own evidence days later, the first minister called Mr Salmond’s claims of a coordinated plot “absurd”.

March 2021 – ‘Misleading parliament’

Though its report is yet to be published, the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints Committee is believed to have concluded that Ms Sturgeon did mislead its members during her evidence, through her account of the meeting with Mr Salmond.

This would amount to misleading the Scottish parliament, and the Scottish Conservatives have now called for her resignation.

However, Ms Sturgeon has said she stands by her evidence, and accused the committee of a “partisan leak”. She added: “What’s been clear is that opposition members of this committee made their minds up about me before I muttered a single word of evidence.”

She is waiting for Mr Hamilton to conclude his probe and to rule on this matter, she said.

The Salmond-Sturgeon row has sparked a wider political civil war within the SNP. Joanna Cherry is part of a small group of MPs who have remained loyal to Mr Salmond, insisting that he should have been reinstated by the party after he was cleared of sexual assault charges.

Alex Salmond and Joanna Cherry campaigning together in 2017

(PA)

The Salmond loyalists – Ms Cherry, Kenny MacAskill and Angus MacNeil – are the only SNP MPs without any shadow ministerial portfolio at Westminster.

The Holyrood committee’s findings are expected before the Scottish parliament election in May. But the findings of the committee – itself deeply riven along party lines – are not expected to lead to Ms Sturgeon’s resignation.

The Hamilton inquiry, however, could prove much more damaging. It is not known when the QC will conclude his investigation into whether Ms Sturgeon breached the ministerial code or produce a final report, so the saga has some way to run yet.



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