Cross party MSPs make formal call for ministerial code breach investigation to be widened

MSPs from the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Scottish Conservatives and Scottish Labour have today formally written to the Deputy First Minister to call for the current Ministerial Code investigation of Nicola Sturgeon MSP to be expanded to include allegations that she misled parliament about when she first knew that the government was investigating complaints against former First Minister Alex Salmond.

The group has also been written separately to independent adviser on the ministerial code James Hamilton QC.

Commenting on the letter, Salmond inquiry committee member Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP said:

"From what we have heard from the current and former First Ministers so far it is clear that their versions of events cannot both be true. Either Nicola Sturgeon knowingly misled Parliament about when she first knew that her government was investigating complaints against her predecessor, or Mr Salmond may his fabricating his assertions in an effort to damage Ms Sturgeon. 

"We believe it to be of paramount importance to the national interest that the facts of the matter are established. If the First Minister has been honest with parliament, she has nothing to fear from widening this probe and everything to gain in putting the matter to rest.

It is deeply unfortunate that women who had the strength to come forward and tell of their experiences now find themselves as pawns in an internecine SNP civil war."


The letter to John Swinney is as follows:

Dear Deputy First Minister 

Formal request to expand the current Ministerial Code investigation of Nicola Sturgeon MSP, to include possible breaches of Section 1 (c). 

We are writing to you as a cross party group of MSPs, informed by our work as members of the committee of inquiry into the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints. We ask that you formally expand the remit of the current investigation into whether Nicola Sturgeon breached the Ministerial code under the terms of Section 1(c) in relation to the harassment complaints against Alex Salmond, the government’s handling of the same and her statements to Parliament on this matter. 

Under the terms of the self-referral by Nicola Sturgeon, James Hamilton QC is currently limited to ascertaining whether the First Minister failed to feed back the basic facts of several meetings and discussions held with Alex Salmond to her private office as required by sections 4.22 and 4.23 of the Code and furthermore whether she sought to influence the government handling of the complaints against him in any way.  

Following sight of the account of the Former First Minister published on Friday and in light of other material available to our committee, we believe it is now vital that Mr Hamilton’s investigation be expanded to include consideration of another potential breach, by the First Minister, this time of Section 1 (c) of the Ministerial code: 

“Section 1 (c) It is of paramount importance that Ministers give accurate and truthful information to the Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity. Ministers who knowingly mislead the Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the First Minister;” 

Mr Salmond’s submission raises many questions, some are beyond the scope of our inquiry, but they are clearly at odds with the account of events offered to Parliament by the First Minister. If corroborated, Mr Salmond’s evidence could prove that the First Minister knowingly misled Parliament both orally and in writing on several occasions about when she first knew that your government was investigating complaints against the former First Minister and of her actions around the same. Equally, Mr Salmond may be fabricating his assertions in an effort to damage Ms Sturgeon. In any case these two versions of events cannot both be true and we believe it to be of paramount importance to the national interest that the facts of the matter are established. 

When asked previously, both yourself and the First Minister have repeatedly suggested that James Hamilton QC is at liberty to expand the remit of his inquiry should the evidence require it. However, we understand that as he engaged in a quasi-judicial process, he cannot indulge in mission creep and that the remit may only be formally expanded by an official directive from your government. 

Please consider this a formal request for you to widen the remit of Mr Hamilton’s investigation with such a directive. 

We look forward to your response. 

Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP, Margaret Mitchell MSP, Jackie Baillie MSP, Murdo Fraser MSP. 

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