On Friday, Labour leaders Anas Sarwar and Keir Starmer have added their names to the list of people urging Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to step down if she's found to have broken the ministerial code.
Addressing a virtual press conference, Starmer, who heads the UK Labour Party, said it was time for the Scottish National Party (SNP) leader to “live up" to the "high standards” she introduced and act in compliance with the code of conduct.
First meeting with @Keir_Starmer in Scotland since becoming Scottish Labour leader.— Anas Sarwar (@AnasSarwar) March 18, 2021
We spent the day thanking our frontline NHS heroes.
We are focused on uniting our country and delivering a national recovery. pic.twitter.com/DTcAPr5Kx1
While citing the ministerial code both leaders expressed concern about the leak from the Alex Salmond inquiry on Thursday night, reportedly finding that the first minister misled the committee during its investigation.
Mr Sarwar said the code clearly stipulates that a minister is expected to resign in the event of being found to have misled Parliament.
The leader of Scottish Labour added that a "breach is a breach, and a misleading of the Parliament is a misleading of the Parliament."
"Only the first minister herself can say or judge if she knowingly did it or unknowingly did it," he said.
"I don’t think we should hide behind an inadvertent or knowingly kind of claim. Misleading is misleading, a breach is a breach, and I think we would expect our ministers regardless again of party or of personality to be held to the highest standards."
Sir Keir echoed Sarwar's comments and said that Sturgeon should resign if a breach is discovered.
“We can’t pre-judge this. We’ll have to wait for the report, but if the report suggests that the First Minister has misled Parliament and potentially breached the ministerial code then that is incredibly serious," Starmer said.
He called the ministerial code "important" and "explicit," explaining that the "expectation has to be if there is a breach of the code then there should be a resignation."
My statement in relation to the Scottish Parliament Committee Inquiry 👇 pic.twitter.com/SLegB7heEq— Anas Sarwar (@AnasSarwar) March 19, 2021
Sir Keir cited the foreword to the latest edition of the ministerial code, which was written by Sturgeon as first minister, where she says: "I will lead by example in following the letter and the spirit of this code."
"She set high standards and now she needs to live up to those high standards, but we’ll have to wait and see what the report actually says next week."
The Labour leader also criticised Sturgeon's response to the reported leak, claiming that she pre-judged its conclusions by describing them as “partisan."
“By making those comments, the FM is doing the very thing that she’s accusing others of. The right thing for her to do is wait for the report and read the report, as we all will," Starmer said.
Sarwar said the criticism made by the first minister could equally be applied to SNP members of the committee who did not partake "independently."
He described the allegation as "very dangerous" because it damaged the "very processes of our Parliament” and “every committee inquiry we’ve ever had."
The Scottish Labour leader stressed that Sturgeon should “respect the committee’s work” and “respect the findings” following the publishing of the report.
The issue is not just about Sturgeon as FM, but rather the "integrity of the first minister as an office," Starmer told LBC on Friday.
🎙I've just spoken to @UKLabour leader @Keir_Starmer about reports the so-called Alex Salmond Inquiry's concluded Nicola Sturgeon misled the Scottish Parliament.— Alan Zycinski (@AlanJZycinski) March 19, 2021
He tells me it would be "incredibly serious" *IF* the First Minister's broken the ministerial code.@LBC | @LBCNews pic.twitter.com/CjU4Y7OqsB
According to a Sky News report on Thursday, the Scottish parliament’s Harassment Committee determined that Sturgeon potentially breached the ministerial code and misled them while giving evidence into an inquiry into sexual harassment allegations against her predecessor, Salmond.
The cross-party committee reportedly concluded that the first minister offered to intervene in the Scottish Parliament’s handling of harassment complaints against Salmond, despite previously denying the accusation in written and oral submissions to Holyrood.
In the wake of the leak, a number of prominent political voices in Scotland have urged Sturgeon to resign.
Douglas Ross responded to the reports saying that a precedent should not be set that a "first minister of Scotland can mislead the Scottish Parliament and get away with it."
"We have to trust that the First Minister will be truthful. We no longer can," the Scottish Conservative leader wrote.
— Douglas Ross MP (@Douglas4Moray) March 18, 2021
Accusations Against Salmond
The leak comes two weeks after Sturgeon provided evidence regarding her alleged role in the Scottish Parliament's investigation into sexual assault allegations made against Salmond by two female civil servants in 2018.
The 66-year-old former first minister was ultimately acquitted of charges made by nine women at a criminal trial at the Edinburgh High Court in March 2020.
The Holyrood committee investigated Sturgeon's involvement in the handling of complaints, as well as her adherence to the ministerial code.
She is accused of offering contradictory evidence regarding the timing of her initial discovery of the allegations levelled against Salmond, and is also accused of failing to record important meetings and pursuing the case against her predecessor while her lawyers suggested she drop it.