Ministerial Code (First Minister’s Evidence)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 25th February 2021.

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Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

1. Presiding Officer,

“I have nothing to hide on this—nothing whatsoever.”—[

Official Report

, 8 October 2020; c 5.]

That is what Nicola Sturgeon said about the Alex Salmond crisis that is engulfing her Government and this Parliament. If she has nothing to hide, will the First Minister publish her evidence to James Hamilton QC over multiple ministerial code breaches?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I have no difficulty with my evidence to James Hamilton being published, but he is currently considering it, and I think that, out of courtesy to him, it is first a matter for him as and when he wants to publish it. I think that, i f I were to try to do anything that interrupted the proper investigation and process of that, I would—understandably, perhaps—face criticism.

I have absolutely no difficulty with that being published. If James Hamilton does not publish it when he issues his report—that timescale is, of course, a matter for him—then I would be more than happy to consider publishing it afterwards. What I will not do is seek to interrupt or interfere with the process that he is engaged in.

Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

On Monday, the First Minister summoned journalists to her office and challenged Alex Salmond to produce his evidence, only for the Crown to then demand that sections be censored.

Alex Salmond’s evidence states this:

“The First Minister told Parliament ... that she first learned of the complaints against me when I visited her home on 2nd April 2018. That is untrue and is a breach of the ministerial code.”

That is one of the sections that the Crown Office intervened on the Parliament to remove, despite the fact that it has been widely published elsewhere. It does not risk identifying complainers, which we all agree is an important safeguard for women who have already been grossly let down by the First Minister’s Government. What is it about those two sentences of evidence that is so damaging that they should be censored? Is it just that they are damaging to the First Minister?

The First Minister:

The fact that Ruth Davidson has stood up and perfectly legitimately recounted that version of events—of course I will give my own account when I appear before the committee next week—demonstrates that all Mr Salmond’s allegations and claims about me are in the public domain. They have been widely reported. I have always fully expected to be questioned in detail about all those allegations when I appear before the committee next week. There is nothing, in terms of the publication or non-publication of evidence, that has ever led me to expect anything else. I absolutely expect to be questioned on every aspect of the matter. I will answer those questions fully and to the best of my ability, and people can judge those answers as they see fit.

Scrutiny of me and the Scottish Government—because the Scottish Government has made a mistake in this process—is not just legitimate, it is absolutely necessary. I do not shy away from that. I have waited a long time now to appear before the committee and I am glad that I will finally have that opportunity next week.

Anyone who is suggesting that prosecution decisions or decisions that the Crown Office takes on upholding court orders are in any way politically influenced or politically driven is not just wrong and completely lacking a single shred of evidence to back that claim up, but I suggest that they are signing up to a dangerous and quite deluded conspiracy theory that risks undermining the integrity and well-deserved reputation of Scotland’s independent justice system.

Political debate is right and proper. Politics is not and should not be for the faint hearted, but all of us have a duty to conduct these debates in a way that does not unfairly trash the reputation of people who are doing their jobs and doing them independently of the Government.

Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

Here is why all the redacted parts of Alex Salmond’s evidence are important. They are exactly the parts that expose the First Minister. Twice on the BBC, she claimed not to know of anything about sexual misconduct claims before April 2018. Three separate times, she told the Parliament that she found out from Alex Salmond himself that month.

She has been desperate to shut down everything about the secret meeting in her office the month before, because it wrecks her whole argument and confirms that she misled the Parliament. The truth is that she knew about the allegations before April 2018. Worse, we now know that she discussed sexual harassment complaints against Alex Salmond with her chief executive, her chief civil servant and her chief of staff in November, four months earlier.

Does the First Minister understand why, to the public, it looks like a cover-up when the exact evidence that has been redacted is the most damaging to her personally?

The First Minister:

The problem with Ruth Davidson standing up here, recounting all that and suggesting that there is some kind of cover-up is this: every single allegation, claim and assertion that she has just made was included in the written evidence that I submitted to the committee and which has since been published. If memory serves me correctly, I submitted that back in August last year. I have been waiting since then to appear before the committee.

All of that—the meeting on 2 April 2018 and the meeting three days earlier, on 29 March, and the fact that a completely separate matter, a media query, came to the Scottish National Party in November 2017—is not a cover-up. I put that in my written evidence and I submitted it to the committee months ago. People can go on to the Scottish Parliament website right now, if they want, and look at that. It is not a cover-up.

I expect to be fully questioned on all those matters when I sit before the committee—at long last—on Wednesday next week. By my count, that is the sixth date that I have had in my diary to appear before the committee. They have all been postponed up until now by the committee, for reasons that I understand. However, I want to sit in front of that committee, and I want to address all those questions.

As I said earlier, scrutiny of me is important, necessary and entirely legitimate. What is not legitimate is for someone to pursue a conspiracy theory or scorched-earth policy that threatens the reputation and integrity of Scotland’s independent justice institutions just because they happen to dislike the Government, and to sacrifice all that, if I may say so, on the altar of the ego of one man.

Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

People can see the First Minister’s deflection for what it is. Just answer the questions.

This sorry affair is not just tarnishing the First Minister’s reputation; it is damaging the institutions that it is her responsibility to uphold. Majority votes by members to produce legal advice have been ignored. Crucial evidence that has been freely available elsewhere has been censored. Promises of openness and transparency have been broken. The chief executive of Scotland’s ruling party has been caught calling for the police to be pressured. The reputation of the Scottish Government has been tainted and the standing of the Parliament has been diminished. A culture of secrets and cover-up is only growing, and that is all taking place on Nicola Sturgeon’s watch.

There is just one further question that I want to ask. Is the First Minister saving her own skin worth all the damage that she is doing?

The First Minister:

The most important thing to me is the reputation of our country and the integrity of our institutions. I will always act in a way that protects them.

There is a reputation that is perhaps disintegrating before our eyes—and it is not mine. Ruth Davidson has just gone through a litany of nonsense. She accuses me of deflection. What deflection? In her previous question, she asked me about meetings on 2 April and 29 March 2018, and she accused me of a cover-up. I simply stood here and said that that is a strange cover-up, as I offered the information in published written evidence to the committee. It is hardly a cover-up when I have been waiting for months, with five previously postponed dates, to appear before a committee. I am simply making the point that it is possible, and it used to be possible, in this country to have rigorous and robust scrutiny and political debate without a scorched-earth policy of conspiracy theory and without damaging the integrity of the independent institutions of the country. It is not me doing that—it is me standing up to them.

Ruth Davidson wants to lecture the rest of us about democratic integrity. That is the same Ruth Davidson who is about to depart from this elected institution, dodge an election, and take a seat in the unelected House of Lords, where she will pursue a political career at the taxpayer’s expense and never have to ask voters for their permission ever again. I do not think that Ruth Davidson is in a position to lecture anyone about democracy. [

Applause

.]