Nicola Sturgeon ready to tackle allegations at Alex Salmond inquiry ‘head on’

Craig Paton, PA Scotland Political Reporter

Scotland’s First Minister has said she is looking forward to being able to refute claims made about her “head on” before the Alex Salmond inquiry next week.

Nicola Sturgeon is expect to appear before the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints on Tuesday.

The inquiry, set up to look into the Scottish Government’s botched handling of complaints made against Mr Salmond, was due to hear from the former first minster this week, but he declined to appear after the committee said it would not publish evidence he submitted.

Speaking during First Minister’s Questions, Ms Sturgeon issued a veiled plea to Mr Salmond to appear before the committee, adding she is ready to tackle what she called “conspiracy theories”.

Her Government’s handling of the complaints was deemed unlawful by judge Lord Pentland, with Mr Salmond receiving a £512,500 payout.

In response to a question from Scottish Conservative Holyrood leader Ruth Davidson, Ms Sturgeon said: “I’ve had accusations levelled at me for two years.

“I’ve not been able to answer those fully because of ongoing criminal proceedings and latterly out of respect to the process of this committee.

“It’s not me that’s refusing to sit in front of the committee – I’m relishing the prospect of doing that.

“Then people can hear my account and they can make up their own minds.

“I believe it is important to subject myself to scrutiny, to make sure the Government is subjected to scrutiny, but also to have the opportunity to take head on some of the ridiculous conspiracy theories that people like Ruth Davidson, in my view, have been all too quick to want to indulge.”

“I call on anybody who’s got anything to help with the process of this committee to sit before this committee and do what I’m going to do and put an account on the record on oath – because I’m not the one refusing to do that.”

Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon campaigning
Mr Salmond was due to appear before the committee this week, but refused to do so (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Responding to a question from Labour interim leader Jackie Baillie, Ms Sturgeon went further, pushing the committee to compel her predecessor Mr Salmond to appear.

She said: “I still hope the committee will perhaps use the powers that are available to it to ensure that everybody relevant sits before this committee and gives evidence, but that’s a matter for the committee and for Jackie Baillie.

“I look forward to this opportunity and I say it again, I think if the committee is really interested in having proper, full transparency, then it will be ensuring that everybody who has got relevant information to offer here is before that committee and doing that fully, openly, on the record and on oath, just as I will be on Tuesday.”

A spokesman for the First Minister later commented on the possibility of Mr Salmond being compelled to appear, saying: “Bluntly, why wouldn’t they?

“If the committee and all its members are as serious about getting to the facts and getting to the truth as they claim to be, then why on earth wouldn’t they use the powers at their disposal to compel witnesses to attend?

“They’ve previously talked about using those powers in respect of other witnesses, so it would seem to make sense that they would want to do it in this case.”

Earlier, Ms Sturgeon accused Ms Davidson and some members of the committee of having made their minds up about the First Minister’s evidence before her appearance.

Ms Sturgeon has already submitted written evidence to the committee and has repeatedly been asked about the inquiry during proceedings in Holyrood.

Ruth Davidson in Holyrood
Ms Davidson said the affair ‘stinks to high heaven’ (Robert Perry/PA)

But Ms Davidson claimed: “We have failed women, taxpayers’ money and a cover-up at the heart of Government – this whole affair stinks to high heaven and someone should take responsibility for these failings.

The First Minister said it is “right and proper” the Scottish Government faces scrutiny.

But she added: “It really does feel to me as if there are certain people in this chamber who have already pre-judged all of this and are not interested in what I, or anybody else, has to say about it.”

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