Scotland’s Sturgeon defends handling of Salmond harassment claims

The first minister denies plotting against her predecessor during an inquiry hearing into the government’s management of complaints.

The feud between Sturgeon and Alex Salmond has reached a fever pitch in recent weeks [Jeff J Mitchell/Pool via Reuters]

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has defended her handling of sexual harassment complaints against her predecessor, as she testified in a political saga that is tearing apart her party and threatens to scupper her bid to lead Scotland to independence.

In her highly anticipated testimony on Wednesday to an inquiry into how she and her government managed the allegations against former First Minister Alex Salmond, which he denies, Sturgeon denied any improper behaviour, saying she had “searched her soul” many times.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) leader also rejected accusations levelled by Salmond that she had plotted against him and misled the Scottish Parliament over the case, denouncing the claims as “absurd”.

Salmond was tried and acquitted last year on sexual assault charges, and claims the misconduct allegations brought by several women were part of a conspiracy to wreck his political career.

The feud between him and Sturgeon, once close friends and allies in the cause of Scottish independence, has reached fever pitch in recent weeks, threatening the electoral prospects of the SNP at a crucial time.

With Scottish elections in May, Sturgeon believes a strong showing for her party would give her the mandate to demand a second referendum on independence from the rest of the United Kingdom. A poll in 2014 saw Scots vote by 55 percent to 45 percent to stay in the union.

But with the UK’s exit from the European Union boosting pro-independence sentiment in Scotland, where a majority voted against Brexit, a series of recent opinion polls have suggested the SNP could well win a second independence referendum.

However, a relentless torrent of negative and sometimes lurid headlines about the Sturgeon-Salmond dispute could deprive her of the emphatic win she needs to overcome resistance by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who opposes a referendum.

Sturgeon denies ‘plot’ against Salmond

Salmond accuses Sturgeon of lying about when she learned of the allegations and breaking the code of conduct for government ministers.

He alleges her government undermined democratic principles and the rule of law by allowing the distinctions between government, party and civil service to become blurred, and claims it acted wrongly in contesting a legal challenge from him despite knowing it would likely lose.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has also accused Sturgeon of lying and has called for a vote of no confidence against her.

Scotland’s highest civil court ruled in 2019 that the way the Scottish government had handled the misconduct allegations was unlawful, and awarded Salmond 500,000 pounds ($695,000) in expenses.

Salmond, right, accuses Sturgeon of lying about when she learned of the allegations against him and breaking the code of conduct for government ministers [File: Russell Cheyne/Reuters]

Sturgeon on Wednesday said the government had made mistakes, but insisted no one had “acted with malice or as part of a plot against Alex Salmond”.

“A number of women made serious complaints about Alex Salmond’s behaviour,” she said, accusing Salmond of having asked her to intervene in his favour.

“I refused to follow the age-old pattern of allowing a powerful man to use his status and connections to get what he wants.”

Sturgeon said the #MeToo movement had made it clear that sexual abuse allegations about powerful people must not be “ignored or swept under the carpet”.

Source: News Agencies