First Minister Nicola Sturgeon “misled” an inquiry on the Scottish Government’s handling of complaints against Alex Salmond, according to a leaked decision ahead of a report.
It emerged on Thursday night MSPs on the specially convened inquiry split 5-4 to conclude Ms Sturgeon gave an “inaccurate” account of a meeting with Mr Salmond.
Sources confirmed the finding is seen as a “potential” breach of the ministerial code of conduct for government members. It stops short of the threshold for “knowingly” breaching the rules but will be seized on by Ms Sturgeon’s opponents who want her to quit.
A spokesperson for the First Minister declared Ms Sturgeon “told the truth to the committee” and condemned “partisan and selective briefing” of inquiry business.
The committee’s official report is not due to be published until Tuesday March 23.
The inquiry was set up to look at the mishandled complaints process following allegations about Mr Salmond’s conduct. A judicial review found the process had been unlawful and tainted by apparent bias.
It destroyed the friendship between Mr Salmond and his successor, Ms Sturgeon, and is causing turmoil ahead of the Holyrood election in May.
The First Minister told the truth to the committee in eight hours of evidence, and stands by that evidence.”
Spokesperson for Nicola Sturgeon
The narrow vote centred on an account of a meeting during the government’s misconduct inquiries in 2018.
The two senior Nationalists met at Ms Sturgeon’s house on April 2 that year but their accounts differ. Mr Salmond, and his lawyer, told the Holyrood inquiry Ms Sturgeon offered to intervene. Ms Sturgeon told the committee she did not offer to intervene.
That “contradiction” led some members of the committee to see an inaccuracy, warning it is a potential breach of the ministerial code.
Ms Sturgeon was also criticised over delaying reporting the meeting to the civil service.
The leaked finding is separate to an independent probe by James Hamilton QC, who is looking specifically at whether Ms Sturgeon broke the code of conduct.
‘First Minister told the truth’
A spokesperson for the First Minister said: “The First Minister told the truth to the committee in eight hours of evidence, and stands by that evidence.
“It is clear from past public statements that opposition members of this committee had prejudged the First Minister at the outset of the inquiry and before hearing a word of her evidence, so this partisan and selective briefing – before the committee has actually published its final report – is hardly surprising.
“The question of the First Minister’s adherence to the ministerial code is being considered independently by James Hamilton, and we expect to receive and publish his report soon.”
A spokesperson for the Scottish Parliament said: “Further to media reports on the committee’s findings, the committee is still finalising its report. There will be no further comment on the report ahead of its publication.”
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “The committee will publish its findings in the coming days and we will wait for that report. However, we are really only waiting for confirmation of what we already know.
“We have detailed that the First Minister misled the Scottish Parliament. Nicola Sturgeon has not told the public the truth about what she knew and when.”