Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has denied she led a vendetta against the SNP's former leader Alex Salmond.
Salmond - who was acquitted of 13 sex charges including one of attempted rape at a trial in March 2020 - has claimed there had been a "malicious and concerted" conspiracy to remove him from public life.
But on Wednesday, 3 March, Sturgeon said Salmond's allegation that she led a conspiracy against him was "absurd" and added: "Those of us who have campaigned alongside him, worked with him, cared for him, and consider him a friend...now stand unfairly accused of plotting against him."
Sturgeon added: "I had no motive, intention or desire to get Alex Salmond."
Salmond, 66, was leader of the SNP for a decade from 2004 and was Scotland’s First Minister from 2007 until 2014 when he handed over to Ms Sturgeon after voters rejected independence in a referendum that year.
She said: "To this day I do not know the identity of every complainant in the criminal trial...The idea that this is some sort of concoction or plot is just not based in any semblance of fact or any semblance of credible evidence."
🏴 Nicola Sturgeon:— Ross Colquhoun (@rosscolquhoun) March 3, 2021
- Most popular leader in UK
- Leading Scotland's most popular political party
- Seen by both Scottish and rUK audiences to have handled pandemic well
- Best person to lead Scotland to independence after seeing Yes independence polling reach record high of 58% pic.twitter.com/skJPSjmM1L
Responding to a question from SNP MSP Alasdair Allan, said the part's harassment policy was "absolutely, emphatically" not designed to catch him out.
She said: "Alex Salmond has been one of the closest people to me in my entire life. I would never have wanted to get Alex Salmond and I would never, ever have wanted any of this to happen."
She said she acted properly, followed legal advice and did not mislead the Scottish Parliament and she implicitly refused to resign.
I never wanted to be in this position to tarnish the reputation of Alex Salmond, after I just spent the last 2 hours tarnishing the reputation of Alex Salmond. #SturgeonSpeaks— Mel 🇪🇺 (@meljomur) March 3, 2021
In regard to two women who made sexual harassment allegations against Salmond, she said: "I'm sorry."
Sturgeon also turned the spotlight back on Salmond. She said that while she accepted he was cleared by a court she said his behaviour was "not always appropriate."
But she said: "I did not want ever to be standing in front of a camera talking about allegations against Alex Salmond. I would not have illegitimately blocked it but...I never wanted any of this to happen or be in the public domain."
Sturgeon was then questioned about exactly when she learned about the allegations against Salmond.
She said she became "aware of issues around Alex Salmond" on 29 March 2018 but did not know the details until 2 April 2018 when she met him.
As someone who has followed all of this very closely, one thing I can conclude is I genuinely believe that Nicola Sturgeon will be an absolute detriment to any future independence campaign. #SturgeonSpeaks— Mel 🇪🇺 (@meljomur) March 3, 2021
She said Salmond knew the names of both complainants when she met him on that day because he had apologised to one about his behaviour and had trawled the Scottish government's Flickr account to work out the identity of the other woman.
“Nicola Sturgeon has lied to Parliament, misled the public and must resign” say Tories whose leader regularly lies to Parliament and misleads the public with no consequences at all.— David Schneider (@davidschneider) March 3, 2021
On Monday, 22 February, he submitted a lengthy document to the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints claiming he had been the victim of a smear campaign.
He claimed Sturgeon's husband, SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, had recruited senior figures in the party to persuade members of staff to make complaints about him to Police Scotland.
What strikes me as deeply unpleasant about the Nicola Sturgeon / Alex Salmond situation is that the possible consequence of a powerful man who Sturgeon says acted "deeply inappropriately" towards women could be the destruction of a woman's political career.— Owen Jones 🌹 (@OwenJones84) March 3, 2021
On Friday, 26 February, Salmond criticised the "unacceptable conduct of those who appear to have no understanding of the importance of separation of party, government and prosecution authorities, indeed of the rule of law itself."
He accused the Scottish government of lacking the "transparency and accountability" and said the Scottish government had spent £600,000 of public money defending their "illegal policy" in the courts and he said they had refused to give the committee the documentation it required.
"I did not ever see myself sitting in front of a camera talking about this case with Alex Salmond"— #SalmondIsComing 🍒 ( Bridges For Indy) (@bridgesforindy) March 3, 2021
Except on MARR, NEWSNIGHT, STV , BORDER TV, SKYNEWS, have i missed anybody ?#SturgeonSpeaks
On Tuesday, 2 March, the Scottish government finally agreed to release the legal advice it received ahead of the prosecution of Salmond.
During Wednesday's hearing Sturgeon said: "I have tried to see it from Alex Salmond's point of view. I'm not surprised he takes a different view of some of these key judgments (we made). But it does not necessarily make what we did wrong."
She was also questioned by Alex Cole-Hamilton, a Liberal Democrat MSP, about a leak of confidential information about the Salmond allegations to the Daily Record in August 2018.
Interesting that Mr Salmond's version of events has been corroborated by two people. Ms Sturgeon is now unable to provide a single name of a corroborating witness to support her version. #SturgeonSpeaks— Jason Michael (@Jeggit) March 3, 2021
Cole-Hamilton said the day before the leak the Scottish government had prepared a press release on Mr Salmond's harassment disciplinary case, which was spiked when he issued legal action.
"It was not my press release," Sturgeon told Cole-Hamilton.
Later Sturgeon, who is a qualified lawyer, said: "I never want a situation like this to happen again," but she clarified she also did not want to create a "reluctance" either in the Scottish government to investigate sexual allegations or in complainants to come forward.
Regardless of whether Nicola Sturgeon survives the mishandling of complaints against Alex Salmond, I have completely lost trust in her as First Minister. #SturgeonSpeaks— #BLM ¢яαιgтнєρι¢т 🇪🇺 (@craigthepict) March 3, 2021
Sturgeon told Cole-Hamilton she vaguely recollected Salmond's chief of staff, Geoff Aberdein, telling her Salmond was thinking of resigning from the SNP at a meeting on 29 March which she claimed to have forgotten.
He asked her: "Do you realise how unlikely that sounds?"
"Yes I do actually, and that is part of my difficulty here. But it just happens to be the case," she replied.