UK

Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP chief husband denies giving ‘false information’ under oath

Scottish Tory MSPs have called for police to probe Nicola Sturgeon‘s husband after he was accused of lying under oath during a ‘dismal and shifty’ performance at Holyrood’s Alex Salmond inquiry today.

Peter Murrell, the SNP’s chief executive, also denied being coached by someone off screen during his Zoom evidence when he appeared to look to his left when being asked difficult questions at this morning’s tempestuous session, which his wife’s rivals branded ‘a masterclass in evasion’.  

Alex Salmond was accused of attacking nine women while he was First Minister, but a jury found him not guilty on 12 of the sexual assault charges last year, while another was found ‘not proven’.

The trial ended his friendship with Ms Sturgeon, who was accused of driving a ‘stake through the heart’ of Mr Salmond to end any threat to her leadership, and her predecessor declared angrily outside court that the claims he faced were ‘deliberate fabrications for a political purpose’.

The current inquiry threatens to tear apart the SNP and Boris Johnson will also be watching the chaos in the hope it will catastrophically damage the party’s bid for a second referendum in seven years and save the Union at a time when polls have moved towards independence.

The row over Peter Murrell’s evidence centres on a meeting between his wife Nicola Sturgeon and Mr Salmond at their Glasgow home on April 2, 2018, which she said later was the first time she heard of the sexual harassment complaints made against her predecessor. 

But in her submissions to the inquiry, Miss Sturgeon, who will appear in person next week, said she had ‘forgotten’ about a meeting with a former aide to Mr Salmond three days prior where it was discussed, which critics say shows Ms Sturgeon’s written evidence to MSPs was ‘a pile of nonsense’. 

Despite being the SNP’s chief executive, and husband of the party’s leader, Mr Murrell insists he knew nothing about the talks, what they were about and was out that evening, telling MSPs in December he never talks about government business with his wife. 

Mr Murrell was recalled to the inquiry this morning after giving contradictory evidence during his previous appearance before MSPs in December.

He initially told the committee examining the Scottish Government’s botched and unlawful investigation of Mr Salmond he was not at home when the former first minister told Ms Sturgeon about claims he sexually harassed women. But in a later answer, Mr Murrell revealed he came home while the meeting was taking place on April 2 2018.

During his second appearance before the committee today, Mr Murrell refused to give a yes or no answer when repeatedly asked if he gave a false statement about the meeting. In response to committee member Murdo Fraser, who warned that lying under oath can result in a jail sentence of up to five years, Mr Murrell denied he had committed perjury.

Mr Fraser said after the hour-long hearing: ‘Mr Murrell has given false evidence to parliament under oath. He gives the impression that he can say whatever he wants with impunity but in Scotland such actions must surely have consequences. I intend to write to the Crown Office to ask them to investigate the matter.

‘The First Minister lied to parliament and her husband shares the same casual disregard about telling the truth. We had to drag him back to give evidence because of his previous contradictions around key aspects of his and his wife’s actions in relation to the former First Minister.

‘Today’s evidence session was no better. Mr Murrell seems incapable of giving a straight answer. His dismal and shifty performance was a masterclass in evasion’.      

The latest twist in the Alex Salmond scandal came as:

  • Mr Salmond has refused to appear at the inquiry tomorrow and is planning a press conference to make a series of allegations about Nicola Sturgeon. He is furious the committee of MSPs won’t publish his own dossier of claims against his successor and the SNP government;
  • Messages from women who made complaints about Alex Salmond must remain private, the SNP’s chief operating officer has said. In her first public statement on the issue, Sue Ruddick also said she had ‘reported an act of physical aggression by Mr Salmond’ to the police;

Nicola Sturgeon’s husband Peter Murrell  was in front of a Scottish Government committee today and accused of lying under oath about what he knew about a meeting between his wife and Alex Salmond

The toxic feud between First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her predecessor Alex Salmond has torn the SNP apart amid claims she conspired to frame her old SNP boss so she could cement her own power after the 2014 referendum

The toxic feud between First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her predecessor Alex Salmond has torn the SNP apart amid claims she conspired to frame her old SNP boss so she could cement her own power after the 2014 referendum

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser today accused Mr Murrell of lying under oath about whether he knew about the meeting on April 2 2018 in advance

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser today accused Mr Murrell of lying under oath about whether he knew about the meeting on April 2 2018 in advance

Why the Alex Salmond Inquiry is so crucial to the SNP’s IndyRef2 campaign and how Nicola Sturgeon’s husband found himself at the centre of the scandal

The Alex Salmond inquiry could fatally damage Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership and dash her hopes for a second Indy Referendum.

At its heart is the toxic feud between First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her predecessor Alex Salmond is being watched closely by senior Government figures in London. They have become increasingly convinced that Mr Salmond has been stitched up by a ‘jealous cabal’ around Ms Sturgeon. 

While the murky saga of sex and skulduggery has gripped Scottish politics – it has huge implications for the future of the UK and could help to save the Union by stemming a surge in support for independence.

With the most recent polls showing a narrow majority in favour of breaking away and Miss Sturgeon pushing for a second referendum in seven years, Boris Johnson‘s pro-Union allies are doing little to disguise their delight at the sight of the two most powerful advocates of Scottish nationalism tearing each other apart.

The row centres on a meeting between Miss Sturgeon and Mr Salmond at their home on April 2, 2018, which she said later was the first time she heard of the sexual harassment complaints made against her predecessor.  

Why was an inquiry called?

The inquiry was set up to examine what went wrong with the government’s investigation of two internal harassment complaints against Mr Salmond.

The government conceded its process had been ‘unlawful’ and agreed to pay the former SNP leader £500,000 in expenses after he launched a judicial review action in the courts.

What has Nicola Sturgeon said?

The First Minister said the first time she heard of the sexual harassment complaints made against her predecessor was when he told her himself at her home in April 2018.

But in her submissions to the inquiry Miss said she had ‘forgotten’ about a meeting with a former aide to Mr Salmond three days prior.

What has Alex Salmond said?

Mr Salmond says Nicola Sturgeon’s claim she had ‘forgotten’ a meeting where she discussed sexual harassment allegations with a former aide of his undermines her evidence, calling it ‘ridiculous’.

He said in his written submissions to the inquiry last month: ‘In her written submission to the Committee, the First Minister has subsequently admitted to that meeting on 29th March 2018, claiming to have previously ‘forgotten’ about it. That is, with respect, untenable.

‘The pre-arranged meeting in the Scottish Parliament of 29th March 2018 was ‘forgotten’ about because acknowledging it would have rendered ridiculous the claim made by the First Minister in Parliament that it had been believed that the meeting on 2nd April was on SNP Party business’.

Who is Peter Murrell?

Mr Murrell has been chief executive of the SNP since 1999, when he took over the role from Michael Russell.

He had previously worked in the Banff and Buchan constituency office of the former first minister, Alex Salmond.

In July 2010, Mr Murrell married then Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

What is controversial about his evidence?

Mr Murrell had previously appeared in front of the committee in December.

During this appearance, convener Linda Fabiani had sought answers about a meeting between Ms Sturgeon and Mr Salmond at her Glasgow home on April 2 2018, where the First Minister was told by her predecessor of complaints of harassment made against him.

In his evidence, Mr Murrell initially said he did not know in advance about the meeting.

But later in the session, he contradicted himself by saying he was aware the previous day of Mr Salmond coming to the couple’s house – the first time he had visited since the 2017 general election campaign.

He also claimed in his written and oral evidence that he was not at home when the meeting took place, but again appeared to contradict himself by saying he arrived back ‘not long before the meeting ended’.

Why is he reappearing?

Concerns were raised over the contradictions Mr Murrell allegedly gave.

This led to the the Scottish Conservatives saying they would trigger a vote on whether Nicola Sturgeon misled Parliament if he did not re-appear and clarify his comments.

What will happen next?

After Mr Murrell’s appearance on Monday, the former first minister Mr Salmond was expected to appear before the committee on Tuesday but has refused.   

The current First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will appear after that.

Mr Salmond’s allies believe he was the victim of a conspiracy orchestrated by Ms Sturgeon to force him out, bolstered by the emergence of a message from Mr Murrell to another SNP official where he said it was a ‘good time to be pressurising’ Mr Salmond over the claims. 

And Mr Murrell’s evidence to the inquiry about what he knew and when is seen as crucial to Mr Salmond’s case against Miss Sturgeon.

It came as Mr Salmond pulled out of giving evidence to the inquiry because he ‘cannot take his oath to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth’ until a number of concerns were addressed, his lawyers have said. 

Mr Murrell, who is also Chief Executive of the SNP, was accused of giving ‘two different accounts’ of the 2018 meeting where his wife met Mr Salmond to discuss the allegations of sexual assault. 

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser today accused Mr Murrell of lying under oath about whether he knew about the meeting on April 2 2018 in advance, and whether he was in the house for the crunch talks, telling him: ‘You haven’t clarified anything, frankly’.

In a fractious Zoom hearing Mr Murrell also refused to say whether he stood by his previous claim that allegations about Mr Salmond’s conduct was government business rather than party business.   

In another angry clash Jackie Baillie, MSP for Dumbarton and Deputy Leader of the Scottish Labour Party, asked if Mr Murrell was being coached by someone in the room. She asked: ‘Is there anybody in the room with you? You keep looking off to the left’. Mr Murrell insisted he was alone and that Ms Baillie was trying to push a conspiracy theory.

Mr Murrell today stressed he was not at the April 2 meeting and said he did not see Mr Salmond when he arrived at his Glasgow home.

He added: ‘I wasn’t here for any part of the meeting, I happened to arrive home just as the meeting was finishing; that’s all I can say, it’s not complicated.

‘I absolutely refute what’s being suggested but I just happened to arrive home as the meeting was ending.’

Asked again, he replied: ‘I wasn’t at the meeting.’

Mr Murrell also said his claim that it was a ‘Scottish Government matter’ – made during his previous appearance before the inquiry- was ‘merely speculation on my part’.

Asked about his advanced knowledge about the subject of the meeting, Mr Murrell said: ‘It was limited to the fact that Alex was popping in; it could have been about anything and it wasn’t an unusual event so he was just popping in.’

‘Nicola is the leader of the party, and what she tells me is really a matter for her,’ he added.

When it was put to him that he lied about telling the committee under oath he was not aware in advance about the planned meeting, Mr Murrell said: ‘I wasn’t aware that the meeting was for a purpose.

‘I just thought he was popping in for a chat about, you know, any, any matter.

‘It’s pretty simple, I think you’re trying to suggest things or knowledge that I just don’t have about these things.’

His account raised questions about the evidence of Ms Sturgeon, who stated in her written submission that she suspected Mr Salmond was planning on quitting the SNP, which is why it was not recorded as a government meeting.

‘My evidence was reflecting my impression but it’s not for me to speculate the basis or the nature of the meeting, that’s for the First Minister,’ Mr Murrell said.

As the pair started talking over each other Mr Murrell denied he was lying and said: ‘I wasn’t aware that the meeting was for a purpose, I thought he was just popping in for a chat’, and said he wasn’t in the meeting and ‘just happened to arrive home as it was ending’.    When asked if he had lied in his evidence he said: ‘I completely refute what is being suggested here’.     

Following his appearance, committee members accused Mr Murrell of ‘spin and obfuscation’ and said it ‘can only strengthen’ a prosecution case for possible perjury.      

And Labour and the Liberal Democrats also piled in.

Scottish Labour’s Jackie Baillie said: ‘Once more, Mr Murrell’s appearance before the Committee was an exercise in spin and obfuscation.

‘Murrell could not explain the nature of his text messages relating to the complaints against Mr Salmond, he could not confirm if he discussed the allegations against Mr Salmond with the First Minister, and he completely failed to refute the allegation that he was present for part of the meeting between the First Minister and Mr Salmond in his own home.

‘Murrell, despite trying to dance on the head of a pin, effectively conceded that there were other text messages relating to the complaints against Mr Salmond.

‘When faced with the charge that he may have misled the committee, Mr Murrell replies glibly and seemingly without understanding the gravity of the offence.

‘This obstruction and obfuscation is simply unacceptable and this committee will continue to do all it can to get to the truth.’

Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton tweeted: ‘I’d hoped that today, Peter Murrell would straighten out the inconsistencies of his first evidence session to the Salmond Inquiry.

‘Instead he tied himself in knots again, further undermining the FM’s credibility.

‘And then he started talking about the magpies in his garden.’

Ms Sturgeon (pictured with her husband) will give evidence next week but Mr Salmond has refused to appear tomorrow

Ms Sturgeon (pictured with her husband) will give evidence next week but Mr Salmond has refused to appear tomorrow

A January 21 poll by Savanta ComRes has found 57 per cent of Scots back independence while 43 per cent back staying part of the UK

A January 21 poll by Savanta ComRes has found 57 per cent of Scots back independence while 43 per cent back staying part of the UK 

The survey suggests the SNP is on course for a crushing victory at Holyrood elections in May

The survey suggests the SNP is on course for a crushing victory at Holyrood elections in May

Allegations, discussions, denials and a ‘forgotten’ key meeting between Sturgeon and Salmond

November 2017: Allegations regarding Alex Salmond’s behaviour are raised with the SNP by Sky News. 

Nicola Sturgeon said she spoke to him about this – and he ‘denied it’. No further action was taken.

March 29, 2018: Miss Sturgeon meets Geoff Aberdein in her Scottish parliament office where she has admitted they discussed the possibility of a meeting with Mr Salmond. Miss Sturgeon – after initially forgetting about this meeting – says there was ‘the suggestion that the matter might relate to allegations of a sexual nature’.

April 2, 2018: Miss Sturgeon and Mr Salmond meet at the First Minister’s home. According to Miss Sturgeon, this is the first time she heard of the complaints made against him. Despite this, she has insisted that the matters discussed were party business.

April 23, 2018: Miss Sturgeon and Mr Salmond hold a ‘substantive’ phone discussion. During this call, Miss Sturgeon claims that Mr Salmond asked whether she would speak to Leslie Evans about ‘mediation’ with the complainants. A special adviser was in the room at the time.

June 6, 2018: Miss Sturgeon writes to Mrs Evans to inform her that she has held discussions with Mr Salmond.

June 7, 2018: Miss Sturgeon again meets Mr Salmond, this time in Aberdeen ahead of the SNP party conference.

July 14, 2018: Miss Sturgeon meets Mr Salmond at her home near Glasgow.

July 18, 2018: Miss Sturgeon and Mr Salmond speak again on the phone. Miss Sturgeon said that ‘by this time’ she was ‘anxious – as party leader and from the perspective of preparing my party for any potential public issue – to know whether his handling of the matter meant it was likely to become public in the near future.’

This is the last time Miss Sturgeon and Mr Salmond speak. During this time they also exchange a number of WhatsApp messages in which they discuss the affair – including Mr Salmond’s decision to seek a judicial review over the government’s probe into the two complaints. 

January 2019: Mr Salmond wins sexual harassment inquiry case against Scottish government and is awarded £500,000 in legal fees.  

March 23, 2020: Alex Salmond is cleared of all sexual assault charges. 

Mr Murrell only returned to the committee after the Scottish Conservatives threatened to hold a parliamentary vote on whether Nicola Sturgeon had misled parliament.

She previously stated that she, the SNP and Scottish government would ‘cooperate fully’ with the inquiry — but instead it has been routinely blocked and frustrated.. 

Mr Salmond was accused of sexually assaulting nine women while he was First Minister, but a jury found him not guilty on 12 of the sexual assault charges, while another was found ‘not proven’.

The women who made the allegations against Mr Salmond included an SNP politician, a party worker and several current and former Scottish Government civil servants and officials.

He declared angrily outside the court that the claims were ‘deliberate fabrications for a political purpose’, and that he had ‘never attempted to have non-consensual sexual relations with anyone in my entire life’.

Alex Salmond has confirmed he will not appear before the Scottish Parliament Committee investigating the Scottish Government’s botched handling of harassment allegations against him on Tuesday.

The former first minister was expected to give evidence at the committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints.

However, on Monday morning, his lawyers confirmed he would no longer be appearing on Tuesday, after the government declined to publish his written evidence.

David McKie, of Levy & McRae, said that Mr Salmond ‘cannot take his oath to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth’ until a number of concerns were addressed.

These include that the committee did not intend to publish Mr Salmond’s submission on the Ministerial Code, and clarification over legal concerns.

In a letter to the committee, Mr McKie wrote: ‘Allowing our client to proceed without clear direction from you as convener is to place him in legal jeopardy. We cannot responsibly do that.

‘Our client remains willing to give evidence to the committee at any point up to the final date for evidence (currently fixed for 16th February).

‘However, he cannot take his oath to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth unless and until you properly address in writing the legitimate concerns set out in this and our numerous previous letters.’

A Scottish Parliament spokeswoman said: ‘Mr Salmond has not confirmed that he will attend the committee meeting on Tuesday and he has raised a number of issues for clarification. Tuesday’s evidence session will therefore not go ahead.

‘Mr Salmond had been contacted to make it clear that he can speak freely in committee about all of his contact with Nicola Sturgeon and his views on her actions.

‘He was given the opportunity to make a lengthy opening statement on Tuesday and would have had four hours to answer questions in public. He was also invited to send more written evidence for publication after the meeting.

‘The committee has already published two lengthy submissions from Mr Salmond and many, many pages of records and documents from him that he has been invited to speak freely about in Parliament on Tuesday.

‘All of this written and oral evidence could then be reflected in the committee’s report.

‘The committee continues to communicate with Mr Salmond’s representatives.’  

Messages from women who made complaints about Alex Salmond must remain private, the SNP’s chief operating officer has said.

In her first public statement on the issue, Sue Ruddick said she had ‘reported an act of physical aggression by Mr Salmond’ to the police.

She released a statement as SNP chief executive Peter Murrell gave evidence to a Holyrood committee examining the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment complaints.

Last week, the committee reviewed messages between women which it had received from the Crown Office before unanimously agreeing not to publish them.

Committee convener Linda Fabiani said these message chains represented ‘safe spaces for confidential support’.

On Monday, Ms Ruddick said she was concerned the committee would seek the production of further messages. 

She accused the committee of allowing itself to be led by people close to Mr Salmond who were seeking to ‘bolster his reputation’ through false allegations.

She said: ‘It is becoming increasingly clear that the committee is determined to ignore complainers privacy rights and refer to, act upon and make public – whether in writing or through oral reference in a public session – private, confidential communications, despite having no lawful power to do so.

‘Private communications between myself and Mr Murrell are in no way relevant to this committee’s remit.

‘I am not a government employee and had no role in the complaints process of the Scottish Government.

‘The messages the committee saw last week confirm I reported to Police Scotland an act of physical aggression by Mr Salmond.

‘The messages confirmed there was no conspiracy.

‘Having read those messages, the committee stated its desire to avoid further distress to complainers, yet just a few days later, considers it proportionate to act on my private communications, against my express wishes, when they have been unlawfully obtained and produced.’

 

Mr Salmond's lawyers have said "cannot take his oath to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth" until a number of concerns were addressed

Mr Salmond’s lawyers have said ‘cannot take his oath to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth’ until a number of concerns were addressed

Ruth Davidson has said  Ms Sturgeon has questions to answer over her conduct and the decision to contest Mr Salmond's judicial review

Ruth Davidson has said  Ms Sturgeon has questions to answer over her conduct and the decision to contest Mr Salmond’s judicial review

Nicola Sturgeon wanted to drive a ‘stake through the heart’ of rival Alex Salmond to end any threat to her leadership, says ex-ambassador 

An extra, bizarre element has been added to the saga surrounding Alex Salmond’s claims by the intervention of Craig Murray, the controversial former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan.

He has released a signed affidavit based on conversations with Mr Salmond, which blames a close colleague of Ms Sturgeon for orchestrating the campaign against the former First Minister.

It includes claims that police had interviewed more than 400 people as part of a ‘fishing expedition’ against him, including one woman who had been seen ‘kissing him on the cheek’ in a hotel foyer and had told the officers that it was a ‘perfectly normal greeting’. 

Mr Salmond’s personal protection officers were also interviewed and, according to Mr Murray, ‘all said they had seen him doing nothing wrong’.

The testimony claims that Ms Sturgeon wanted to place a ‘stake through the heart’ of Mr Salmond to end any threat to her leadership.

 

Mr Salmond was acquitted of 13 charges including sexual assault, attempted rape and indecent assault following a trial at the High Court in Edinburgh last year.

Ms Ruddick continued: ‘Last week it appeared, briefly, that the complainers’ rights had finally been taken into account; yet within minutes press reporting suggested this conclusion was wholly unfounded.

‘It would be nothing short of astonishing if, as media reports suggest, the committee intends to discuss or seek production of further messages, despite the clear and obvious breach of my privacy rights, notwithstanding the further distress that would involve.’

Ms Ruddick said her privacy had been breached repeatedly through ‘selective leaks’ over the past several months.

She continued: ‘These are private and personal communications which should not need to be in the public domain to prove a theory false or for complainers to be believed.

‘Publication and discussion of private messages relating to a police complaint are outwith the committee’s remit, and offering support to a friend and complainer is not a conspiracy.

‘It is, however, a complete invasion of my privacy and has already led to further distress to the other women involved in complaints against Mr Salmond, and those we turned to for support.

‘In my case, this included Peter Murrell.’

She added: ‘The bullying and intimidation of complainers through use of their private and personal communications must end now.

‘It is incredibly disappointing that complainers’ personal experiences of Mr Salmond are being ignored, and that this committee has allowed itself to be led by selective quoting, leaks and false allegations, all made in an attempt by Mr Salmond and those around him to bolster his reputation.’

Last month SNP ministers were accused of trying to block a deeper investigation into whether Nicola Sturgeon misled parliament as her closest ally refused to widen the probe into the Alex Salmond affair.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney has refused to request a ministerial code of conduct probe be widened after Miss Sturgeon’s former mentor, Mr Salmond, accused the First Minister of ‘repeatedly’ misleading parliament.

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said: ‘The SNP are blatantly trying to block this investigation.’

Labour’s Jackie Baillie said: ‘The political culture in the SNP government is a nauseating cocktail of arrogance, secrecy and incompetence.’

Mr Swinney has refused to widen a probe into whether Nicola Sturgeon breached the ministerial code over the Alex Salmond affair.

The Deputy First Minister has refused to bow to pressure for a wider look at what Miss Sturgeon knew about the allegations against her former mentor.

The First Minister is already being investigated over possible breaches of the code of conduct by failing to disclose meetings with Mr Salmond. The meetings included discussions that Mr Salmond was facing complaints of sexual harassment made against him.

Mr Salmond has claimed the Scottish parliament was ‘repeatedly misled on a number of occasions’ by Miss Sturgeon about a meeting he held with her in April 2018. Members of the committee holding an inquiry into the handling of the harassment complaints against Mr Salmond have asked for the probe into Miss Sturgeon to include new revelations. 

Miss Sturgeon has insisted she did not mislead parliament and hit back at the claims from her predecessor. She said: ‘These are matters that are under investigation both by a parliamentary committee on inquiry and also by an independent adviser on matters relating to the ministerial code. I will set out my recollection of events and my account of events to both of those inquiries and people will draw their own conclusions.’

She added: ‘I do not consider I misled parliament but, of course, that is for others to judge.’

A Scottish Government spokesman said: ‘The Deputy First Minister already confirmed to parliament in November, in response to a parliamentary question, that the James Hamilton inquiry could look at any aspect of a potential breach of the ministerial code. We will not prejudge that process.’

Did Nicola Sturgeon conspire to frame her old SNP boss on false sex charges? Alex Salmond’s explosive claim that led to a toxic fallout could derail her bid for Scottish independence

It is the murky saga of sex and skulduggery that has gripped Scottish politics – and could help to save the Union by stemming a surge in support for independence.

The toxic feud between First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her predecessor Alex Salmond is being watched closely by senior Government figures in London. They have become increasingly convinced that Mr Salmond has been stitched up by a ‘jealous cabal’ around Ms Sturgeon.

With the most recent polls showing a narrow majority in favour of breaking away, Boris Johnson‘s pro-Union allies are doing little to disguise their delight at the sight of the two most powerful advocates of Scottish nationalism tearing each other apart.

The SNP last month accused Mr Johnson of ‘panicking’ over the support for Scottish nationalism when he paid a snap visit over the border to urge the UK to unite against Covid, declaring that the debate over independence was ‘irrelevant’ to most people.

Mr Salmond (pictured in 2014) was accused of sexually assaulting nine women while he was First Minister, but a jury found him not guilty on 12 of the sexual assault charges, while another was found ‘not proven'

Mr Salmond (pictured in 2014) was accused of sexually assaulting nine women while he was First Minister, but a jury found him not guilty on 12 of the sexual assault charges, while another was found ‘not proven’

But in a sign of how seriously Mr Johnson takes the issue, last week he appointed Oliver Lewis – the trusted aide nicknamed ‘Sonic’, who played a pivotal role in the successful Brexit trade negotiations with the EU – as head of a new ‘Union unit’ to shore up support for the UK.

Mr Salmond’s allies believe that Ms Sturgeon wanted to place a ‘stake through the heart’ of the former First Minister to end any threat he posed to her leadership; their professional rivalries have been lent an extra dimension by the differences in temperament between the rotund, gregarious Mr Salmond and the steely, diminutive Ms Sturgeon.

After a court cleared Mr Salmond last year of multiple claims of sexual misconduct, he accused Ms Sturgeon’s government of ‘systematic’ dishonesty by secretly facilitating the complaints by women – with Ms Sturgeon’s husband, Peter Murrell, who is also the SNP’s chief executive, said to have encouraged the police to pursue the allegations.

Mr Salmond was accused of sexually assaulting nine women while he was First Minister, but a jury found him not guilty on 12 of the sexual assault charges, while another was found ‘not proven’.

The women who made the allegations against Mr Salmond included an SNP politician, a party worker and several current and former Scottish Government civil servants and officials. He declared angrily outside the court that the claims were ‘deliberate fabrications for a political purpose’, and that he had ‘never attempted to have non-consensual sexual relations with anyone in my entire life’.

His defence team claimed during the trial that a senior Scottish official in Ms Sturgeon’s government, known as Woman A, had contacted some of the other complainers before Mr Salmond was charged – something that his lawyer said ‘absolutely stinks’.

Claims by Mr Salmond’s allies – that he was the victim of a conspiracy orchestrated by Ms Sturgeon – was bolstered by the emergence of a message from Mr Murrell to another SNP official in which he said that it was a ‘good time to be pressurising’ Mr Salmond over the claims.

Mr Salmond is scheduled to set out his claims at length in public for the first time on Tuesday, when he is due to give evidence before a Holyrood committee investigating the Scottish Government’s handling of complaints against him.

However, that appearance has been placed in doubt after the committee refused to publish a key plank of Mr Salmond’s evidence, in which he argues that Ms Sturgeon has breached the ministerial code by misleading Parliament over how she first learned about the allegations. Mr Salmond wrote: ‘Most seriously, Parliament has been repeatedly misled on a number of occasions about the nature of the meeting of April 2, 2018. The First Minister told Parliament that she first learned of the complaints against me when I visited her home on April 2, 2018. That is untrue and is a breach of the ministerial code.’ Breaching the code is normally a resignation offence. James Hamilton QC is investigating Ms Sturgeon over the issue.

However, it is understood that Mr Salmond now plans to pull out of the hearing if the committee has not published the evidence by tomorrow, and instead hold an explosive press conference to set out his claims based on text and WhatsApp messages, collated during the criminal investigation, which he says points to a conspiracy. One senior SNP source close to Mr Salmond said: ‘There are some 700 electronic messages – WhatsApp groups and text messages.’

Ms Sturgeon is due to give evidence at the committee on February 16, and is expected to be the final witness. Her husband has been recalled to appear for a second time tomorrow.

She has dismissed the claims of conspiracy as a ‘heap of nonsense’ – but Mr Salmond’s allies question why she made the Scottish Government’s policy on harassment retrospective. One SNP source said: ‘The timescale is confirmation that they were going after Alex Salmond. This was not done for any other reason.’

The claims are increasingly believed by senior figures in Mr Johnson’s Government. 

One source said: ‘Salmond has got his bit between his teeth, and his claims about Sturgeon are looking increasingly convincing.’ Before the souring of their relationship, Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon had been close political allies, with Mr Salmond acting as her mentor.

When he agreed to become leader for the second time, in 2004 – ultimately leading the SNP to power for the first time in its history – it was as part of a joint ticket, with Ms Sturgeon as his deputy.

But when Mr Salmond finally stepped down, after losing the 2014 independence referendum, tensions grew over his demand for Mr Murrell to stand down as SNP chief executive.

His allies say those tensions dramatically escalated into all-out war in early 2018, when it was rumoured that, after losing his Westminster seat, Mr Salmond would stand for the Scottish Parliament – something which they say provoked a competitive reaction from Ms Sturgeon and her inner circle, and ultimately the criminal trial.

A source said: ‘There is a jealous and insecure element to Nicola and her gang.’


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