Nicola Sturgeon has hit back at claims she is not co-operating with the Holyrood committee set up to investigate her Government’s botched handling of harassment allegations against her predecessor Alex Salmond.
The MSP leading the inquiry has now written to the courts in a bid to access documents the committee wants to see, but the First Minister said she has provided “substantial” written evidence – and she added the Scottish Government has made more than 1,000 pages of material available.
Ms Sturgeon did however refuse to answer questions about messages reportedly sent by her husband, SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, relating to Mr Salmond.
Scottish Conservative Holyrood leader Ruth Davidson challenged her on the messages, which reportedly said it is a “good time to be pressuring” police and that the “more fronts” Mr Salmond is “having to fire-fight on the better”.
Ms Sturgeon refused to say if the messages were genuine, and said how they had been obtained is under police investigation.
In fiery exchanges at First Minister’s Questions in the Scottish Parliament, she told Ms Davidson: “I do not 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.”
The clash came after Linda Fabiani, the SNP MSP appointed convener of the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints, complained its inquiry is being “obstructed”.
She has now written to the Court of Session in a bid to access legal documents related to the court case Mr Salmond brought against ministers over their handling of harassment complains – which was subsequently ruled to be “unlawful”.
Meanwhile, 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 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.”
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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.
She added it is “galling” to be accused of not co-operating when she has already given written evidence to the committee, and is prepared to answer questions from MSPs in person.
The First Minister said: “I stand ready any time – today, next week, the week after that – to turn up at this committee and give evidence to it orally. I have not had an invitation to do that yet.
“The committee can convene this afternoon and I will answer questions for my conduct before that committee.
“The committee has now for two months been in possession of substantial written evidence from me personally. That has not been published and that is entirely the committee’s decision.
“But it is a bit galling for me to hear, often members of the committee from the Conservative benches, somehow saying I am not answering questions.
“So these accusations that I am somehow not co-operating with this committee have no substance to them at all. I have done everything the committee has asked of me and I will continue to do so.”