Nicola Sturgeon has refused to say if WhatsApp messages that appear to be from her husband backing police action against Alex Salmond are genuine.
The first minister claimed it was “outrageous” she was expected to answer questions on behalf of others when tackled over the role played by Peter Murrell, who also happens to be SNP chief executive.
During a fiery First Minister’s Questions, Ms Sturgeon suggested MSPs on the Salmond inquiry should speak to her husband directly about the electronic communications.
I don’t think it is reasonable for me to be asked questions about things that other people might or might not have done. Call the people who the messages are purported to come from and ask them the questions.”
Mr Murrell’s name came up at the Scottish Parliament when Conservative Holyrood leader Ruth Davidson raised the WhatsApp messages.
“In recent days private messages purporting to come from the SNP’s chief executive, Peter Murrell, have been published in the media,” Ms Davidson said.
Ms Davidson quoted from the messages, revealing they suggested it was “a good time to be pressurising” the police. She also quoted an extract, which said: “To be honest, the more fronts he is having to firefight on, the better for all complainers”.
The Tory MSP added that the “he” referred to in the messages was Mr Salmond. The WhatsApps appear to have been sent after Mr Salmond had appeared in court charged with sexual offences. The former first minister was cleared of all charges earlier this year.
The timing of their sending was also during the month that a separate complaint was made about Mr Salmond to the Metropolitan Police, an investigation the London force later dropped.
Ms Davidson added: “We don’t know if these messages actually come from the SNP chief executive or not. The messages were passed to the committee inquiry, it deserves answers. So, let me directly ask the first minister, who is also the leader of the SNP: Are these messages genuine or not?”
Ms Sturgeon said the “obtaining” of the messages were the subject of a police investigation, adding when they were passed to the committee they were “immediately leaked” to the media.
“I don’t think it is reasonable for me to be asked questions about things that other people might or might not have done. Call the people who the messages are purported to come from and ask them the questions. Call me and I will answer for myself,” Ms Sturgeon said.
Sturgeon says she has submitted evidence that has yet to be published
Ms Sturgeon had earlier said she had submitted evidence to the Holyrood committee conducting an inquiry into how the Scottish Government had handled harassment claims into Mr Salmond. But her evidence had yet to be published by the committee.
The first minister said she was “happy” to answer questions posed by the committee, but she had yet to be asked to do so.
She added: “It is outrageous that I’m in a position right now of having given written evidence to this committee two months ago – it hasn’t been published, that’s not down to me – I have not been invited to give evidence to the committee and yet I am somehow being accused of not being prepared to answer questions and, in parliament, being expected to answer on behalf of other people.”
Earlier, Ms Davidson attacked the first minister over the Scottish Government’s failure to provide information to the Salmond inquiry committee.
The attack came the same week that committee convener Linda Fabiani complained the investigation was being “obstructed” and wrote to the Court of Session in a bid to access legal documents.
Ms Davidson noted the committee is awaiting responses from the Scottish Government, Mr Murrell and Mr Salmond – and also highlighted that the First Minister had previously pledged MSPs on the inquiry would be provided with “whatever material they want”.
The Tory MSP said: “As head of the Scottish Government, and as leader of the SNP, two of these demands fall directly under the gift of the First Minister, she could ensure this evidence is provided with the snap of her fingers.”
Ms Davidson condemned the “shabby abuse of power that this affair has revealed”.
She added: “We have the head of the civil service having to be recalled to the inquiry because she can’t remember or won’t answer key questions, a tranche of government emails related to the inquiry deleted, committee hearings having to be suspended because they can’t continue due to obstruction, and the committee chairwoman having to write to the courts to get information that the First Minister promised 18 months ago that she would undertake to provide.”
Ms Sturgeon said that because part of the committee’s remit is to look at her conduct, she had recused herself from playing any role in deciding what information the Scottish Government would hand over.
She said some material had not been provided for legal reasons – but added the government had told the committee it would go to the court to try to make more documents available.
The first minister added it was “galling” to be accused of not co-operating when she had already given written evidence to the committee, and was prepared to answer questions from MSPs in person.
At the end of the session, Alex Cole-Hamilton, the Lib Dem committee member, raised a point of order objecting to how Ms Sturgeon had characterised the entry of the WhatsApp messages into the public domain.
Mr Cole-Hamilton claimed Ms Sturgeon had “implied” that members of the committee were responsible for the leak – a suggestion he described as a “serious allegation” and “untrue”.