Nicola Sturgeon is under intense pressure to answer multiple allegations that she misled parliament, levelled by her former mentor Alex Salmond, after previously secret legal advice and new witness evidence led to calls for her resignation as first minister.
Sturgeon will give evidence on Wednesday morning to a cross-party committee set up to investigate the Scottish government’s internal inquiry in 2018 into sexual harassment complaints against Salmond.
Scotland’s first minister will face scrutiny about why her government continued its defence in the judicial review that Salmond launched in August 2018 to investigate its handling of the harassment claims, despite its own lawyers advising that it was likely to lose.
The confidential legal advice was finally released to the inquiry committee on Tuesday night, after repeated refusals by the Scottish government to publish it.
In a letter to a Holyrood committee, also put out on Tuesday evening, one of Salmond’s lawyers, Duncan Hamilton, backed up the former first minister’s claim that Sturgeon had offered to intervene in the initial investigation on Salmond’s behalf in a private meeting at her home on 2 April 2018.
Hamilton also stated that one of Salmond’s former aides, Geoff Aberdein, had told him in early March 2018 that the name of a complainer against Salmond had been leaked to him. This account of events was reiterated by Kevin Pringle, formerly a special adviser when Salmond was first minister.
Both Hamilton and Pringle also endorsed Salmond’s claim to the committee last Friday that a meeting had been arranged between Sturgeon and Aberdein for 29 March 2018 in her Holyrood office, with the express purpose of setting up the meeting at her home four days later.
Sturgeon, who is expected to testify on oath from 9am, has repeatedly said she will relish the chance to address in detail the allegations made by her former mentor.
The first minister has denied breaching the ministerial code and has also dismissed Salmond’s claims that people close to her – including her husband Peter Murrell, the chief executive of the SNP – had plotted against him as untrue.
Last week she accused Salmond of “creating an alternative reality in which the organs of the state [were] all part of some wild conspiracy against him” in order to deflect questions about his own past conduct.
During her coronavirus briefing last Wednesday, Sturgeon referred to Salmond’s trial in March 2020, which ended in his acquittal of 14 charges of sexual assault, including one attempted rape, involving 10 women. The motives of those women who accused him were now being “maligned [and] have been accused of being liars and conspiracists”, she said.