Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed that she will refer herself to the panel of independent advisers on the Ministerial Code over her meetings with Alex Salmond.
The First Minister said that she met Mr Salmond on three occasions and had spoken to him on the phone twice after sexual harassment allegations had been made by two women against him to the Scottish Government in January 2018.
On Tuesday, the Scottish Government’s handling of the allegations against former first minister Mr Salmond was ruled unlawful by Scotland’s highest civil court.
Ms Sturgeon said: “It is in the interests of the women who have complained that the ongoing police investigations are allowed to continue without any risk of prejudice. That must be the priority for everyone.
“Questions have been raised about my meetings and telephone calls with Alex Salmond during the Government’s investigation into the complaints which were made.
“I have acted appropriately and in good faith throughout, and in compliance with the Ministerial Code at all times. However, I have reflected carefully and understand that it is also important for Parliament and the wider public to be assured of that.
“I have therefore decided to refer the matter for consideration by one or both of the Independent Advisers on the Ministerial Code.”
Opposition parties had been calling for Ms Sturgeon to make the referral to the watchdog, with Scottish Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw describing the situation as “a shambles” during First Minister’s Questions on Tuesday.
Ms Sturgeon stated that the complaints made against Mr Salmond cannot be ignored.
The First Minister said: “The Independent Advisers will now be consulted on their precise remit, and advice will also be sought on how to ensure that there is no risk of prejudice to the ongoing police investigation. The remit will be published in due course.
“The fact remains that at the centre of this issue are two women whose complaints could not be swept under the carpet.
“Any continuing commentary about these issues at this stage – whether from myself, the Government or Mr Salmond and his representatives – would only serve to distract from, and potentially compromise, the proper consideration by the police of the subject matter of their investigations. That is something we will not do.”
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard MSP indicated that Nicola Sturgeon had “done the right thing” in referring herself under the Ministerial Code and called for a full inquiry.
He said: “Transparency is now absolutely essential in order for the public to have confidence in the First Minister and the Scottish Government.
“That is why we should also see a full, public parliamentary inquiry in to what exactly has happened – and I look forward to working constructively with members from other parties this week in order to secure that.
“It is also now essential that the Scottish Parliament is given the power to fully review the outcome of this investigation into whether Nicola Sturgeon has broken the Ministerial Code.
“Throughout this process it is essential to remember that at the centre of all of this are two courageous women who put their faith in a system that has badly let them down, and we must never lose sight of that, by safeguarding the duty of care to them and their access to justice.
“We must restore trust and confidence in the system.”
Mr Carlaw called the First Minister’s handling of the situation “abysmal”.
He said: “The First Minister says today that Parliament deserves assurances about the way she and her administration handled this matter.
“The best way to do that isn’t to kick the matter into the long grass, it’s to agree to an inquiry by parliament so MSPs can find out what has gone on.
“The First Minister’s decision to refer herself under the Ministerial Code does not change that.
“To be clear, there is no reason why such an inquiry need impact on the separate police investigation into Mr Salmond. And any attempt by the SNP to use that separate inquiry to evade legitimate questions would be quite wrong.”
“Nicola Sturgeon’s handling of this matter over the last week has been absolutely abysmal.
“It strongly suggests that the Scottish Government is trying to hide the facts in order to save the First Minister’s skin and today’s statement only adds to that impression.
“It is time for the First Minister to stop dodging and accept that finding excuses to avoid the many wider and important questions will not wash. It’s time to front up.”