Alex Salmond inquiry: What has happened so far? Why is Nicola Sturgeon facing calls to resign?

Former first minister Alex Salmond. Credit: PA

Nicola Sturgeon appeared before the Holyrood inquiry into her government’s unlawful investigation of Alex Salmond.

The Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints is looking into the Scottish Government's investigation of the sexual harrassment allegations against former first minister Mr Salmond.

MSPs have so far taken evidence from civil servants, including repeated sessions from Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans, trade unions and SNP chief executive Peter Murrell – who is Ms Sturgeon’s husband – and Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC.

Mr Salmond, who gave evidence to the inquiry on Friday, said the Scottish Government hoped his criminal trial would “ride to the rescue” and prevent its unlawful investigation of him suffering a “cataclysmic” civil court defeat.

Ms Sturgeon has denied there was a plot against Mr Salmond - calling the claims "absurd."

SNP chief executive Peter Murrell has already appeared before the inquiry. Credit: PA

What happened to Mr Salmond's trial on sexual misconduct charges?

The former first minister was cleared of 13 charges at the High Court in Edinburgh in March last year, after being arrested in January 2019.

Why did Mr Salmond take legal action?

The former first minister said his treatment by the Scottish Government was unfair.

In January 2019, Scotland's highest civil court ruled the Scottish Government’s handling of the allegations against Mr Salmond was unlawful.

Judge Lord Pentland said the investigation was “tainted with apparent bias” after it was found that the lead investigator had prior contact with some of the women who complained.

How has the inquiry gone so far?

MSPs investigating the Scottish Government voiced frustration over how slow the handing over of evidence has been from a number of parties.

The Scottish Government was accused of obstruction last year, with the committee saying it was “completely frustrated” with the lack of evidence.

The committee wanted to know when the Scottish Government was advised it would likely lose the challenge raised by Mr Salmond, but ministers said handing over the advice would breach the ministerial code.

MSPs voted twice for the evidence to be released. Eventually, it was agreed in December that the advice would only be disclosed to MSPs on the committee.

Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond were previously close colleagues Credit: PA

What were the issues with Mr Salmond’s evidence?

Earlier this month, Mr Salmond said he would not appear in the inquiry after the committee decided not to publish his submission to a separate investigation into whether Ms Sturgeon breached the ministerial code.

The committee feared his submission would identify some of the complainants in Mr Salmond’s criminal trial last year.

However, an alteration made to a court order by Judge Lady Dorrian meant the evidence could potentially be made public.

Although the committee voted against publication, the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body published it last Monday evening. The evidence was online for less than 24 hours before the Crown Office raised concerns about it with Holyrood and asked for redactions.

In his submission, the former first minister accused some in the Scottish Government and SNP of a “malicious and concerted attempt to damage my reputation and remove me from public life in Scotland”.

Ms Sturgeon said her predecessor did not have “a shred of evidence” to support his claims.

The submission was released again last Tuesday, with some paragraphs relating to the set-up of a meeting between Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon redacted.

What about the separate investigation into Ms Sturgeon's conduct?

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon did not breach the ministerial code, four days after a leaked government committee "report found she misled Holyrood", an independent inquiry has found.

The investigation by James Hamilton QC has been examining whether Scotland’s first minister misled parliament, as well as whether she should have recorded meetings with Alex Salmond.

Ms Sturgeon referred herself after being accused of misleading Parliament over when she found out about the complaints against Mr Salmond.

She said she had been told about the allegations by Mr Salmond when he met her in her home on April 2, 2018.

But it was later found that Mr Salmond's former chief of staff Geoff Aberdein had told Ms Sturgeon about the complaints in her office four days before that meeting.

Why is Ms Sturgeon facing calls to resign?

The legal advice the Scottish Government received over the Salmond case was published on Tuesday evening, after Deputy First Minister John Swinney was threatened with a no-confidence vote from opposition parties.

Documents showed that lawyers warned the Scottish Government in September 2018 that there “is a real risk that the court may be persuaded by the petitioner’s case in respect of the ground of challenge based on ‘procedural unfairness’”.

Legal advisers told ministers on December 6, 2018, the “least worst option” would be to concede the petition.

The Scottish Conservatives have now called on Ms Sturgeon to resign and said they would submit a vote of no confidence in her.

A spokesman for the First Minister said on Tuesday evening that to call a vote of no confidence in the middle of a pandemic, before hearing the First Minister’s evidence, is “utterly irresponsible”.

What has Ms Sturgeon said in her evidence so far?

Before the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints, Ms Sturgeon said: "I must rebut the absurd suggestion that anyone acting with malice or this was part of a plot against Alex Salmond."

She continued: "As First Minister I refused to follow the age old pattern of allowing a powerful man to use his status and connections to get what he wants.

"What happened is this and it is simple. A number of women made complaints against Alex Salmond," she continued.

"The government, despite the mistake it undoubtedly made, tried to do the right thing."

She accepted that a "very serious mistake" was made when investigating the complaints against Mr Salmond.

Ms Sturgeon has vehemently denied her former mentor’s claim there was a “malicious and concerted” attempt to remove him from public life.