Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of lying about when she first knew of concerns about Alex Salmond’s behaviour after she was grilled by Andrew Marr during the SNP conference.
The Scottish Conservatives made the accusation as the first minister declined to say whether she would welcome Mr Salmond back into the SNP.
Ms Sturgeon’s handling of claims of misconduct by her predecessor was scrutinised when she appeared on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.
Her answer was not even in the realms of the truth. The public deserve an explanation and an apology. By doubling down on this clear-cut lie, Nicola Sturgeon is disgracing the office of the First Minister.”
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross
In a bruising encounter which coincided with the second day of the SNP’s “virtual” conference, Ms Sturgeon was also challenged on her record on tackling the coronavirus pandemic and the educational attainment gap.
During her appearance on the programme, a clip of one of her previous interviews on the show was played back to her.
Ms Sturgeon was shown the interview, originally broadcast in October 2018 when Mr Marr asked her if she had heard “any stories” about Mr Salmond before concerns about his behaviour were revealed in the press.
The first minister watched herself answering: “Of this nature, absolutely not. I have said previously Alex Salmond informed me about these complaints in April that was the first I have known.”
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) November 29, 2020
After the clip was shown, Mr Marr turned to Ms Sturgeon and asked if her statement was true?
Ms Sturgeon answered: “I stand by what I said back then. I have set out what I knew and when” before Mr Marr interrupted.
Mr Marr pointed out that since that interview Ms Sturgeon had made a written submission to the Salmond inquiry which suggested she knew of concerns some six months before Mr Salmond told her of the complaints against him in April 2018.
In her submission to the Salmond inquiry made last month, Ms Sturgeon said the SNP received a query from Sky News in November 2017 concerning “allegations of sexual misconduct” on the part of Mr Salmond.
She told the inquiry she spoke to Mr Salmond about the claims, which the former first minister denied and Sky did not run a story.
Her submission also confirmed that she met Mr Salmond’s former chief of staff Geoff Aberdein to discuss allegations of a sexual nature on March 29 2018. This was a few days before Mr Salmond came to her house on April 2 to tell her complaints had been made against him and he was being investigated under the Scottish Government’s harassment procedure.
Sturgeon says Marr is “conflating” two issues
Mr Marr remarked there was a “big gap” between what she had told the inquiry and what she said to his viewers.
But Ms Sturgeon claimed Mr Marr was “conflating two issues”.
The first minister said: “When I spoke to you then I was speaking about the issues that had been raised under the Scottish Government processes. I have set out written evidence on that and I will give oral evidence to the inquiry. What I have also set out in that written evidence was that Sky News back in November the previous year had raised a query about allegations about Alex Salmond. They never at that time ran that story and that’s what I have set out in the written evidence that I was aware of back then. So you are conflating two separate issues.”
But Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “The First Minister has clearly lied about when she knew of allegations of sexual misconduct against Alex Salmond.
“Nicola Sturgeon’s weak political spin that Andrew Marr was conflating two issues doesn’t wash. He point-blank asked the First Minister if she had heard any stories about Alex Salmond and she claimed to only find out in April.
“Her answer was not even in the realms of the truth. The public deserve an explanation and an apology. By doubling down on this clear-cut lie, Nicola Sturgeon is disgracing the office of the First Minister.”
Mr Marr asked Ms Sturgeon if she would welcome Mr Salmond back into the SNP. Mr Salmond quit the party he used to lead in 2018 as he sought to clear his name of the allegations made against him.
Earlier this year, Mr Salmond was cleared of all sex offence charges at the conclusion of a criminal trial.
Ms Sturgeon declined to answer the question saying she did not want to get into the issue while the various inquiries were still underway.
Coronavirus: Scotland’s death rate “considerably worse” than that in England
The first minister was also challenged over her handling of the coronavirus pandemic with Mr Marr producing figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the National Records of Scotland (NRS) suggesting the Scottish death rate was “considerably worse” than that in England.
Mr Marr claimed the most recent week for records put Scottish deaths per million population at 50 compared with 40 for England.
But Ms Sturgeon said that if the figures were looked at “cumulatively” since the start of the pandemic Scotland was “significantly lower” than England and Wales.
Mr Marr then produced figures suggesting a growing attainment gap when the academic performance of children from poor backgrounds were compared with their richer counterparts.
Ms Sturgeon disputed his analysis, claiming the gap between people from richer and poorer backgrounds going to university was narrowing, although she admitted more had to be done.