Nicola Sturgeon: Alex Salmond is angry because I refused to collude with him over misconduct claims

Alex Salmond with Nicola Sturgeon before their relationship broke down - PA
Alex Salmond with Nicola Sturgeon before their relationship broke down - PA

Nicola Sturgeon's war with Alex Salmond has escalated dramatically after she claimed he is angry with her because she refused to “collude” with him to make sexual harassment claims “go away”.

In an extraordinary attack on her mentor and predecessor, the First Minister suggested that Mr Salmond had wanted her help in covering up the claims when they first surfaced in 2018.

But she said the "root" of his fury with her is "that I didn't cover it up" and she accused him of trying to shift public attention away from his behaviour with claims "there was a big conspiracy against him."

Although he was cleared of all charges during his criminal trial earlier this year, Ms Sturgeon said concerns were raised "that suggest he didn't always behave in this respect as he should have done."

Referring to questions about her own behaviour, she said: "This is age-old here, that a man is accused of misconduct against women and often it’s a woman who ends up answering for them."

Alex Salmond at the High Court in Edinburgh in March - AFP

Alex Salmond at the High Court in Edinburgh in March - AFP

Alex Salmond at the High Court in Edinburgh in March - AFP

The SNP leader also used a live TV interview to reveal previously undisclosed messages with Mr Salmond, which she had been accused of withholding from a Holyrood inquiry.

Ms Sturgeon insisted that "at every stage, I've tried to do the right thing and not cover it up" as she rejected claims of "obstruction" by the cross-party committee conducting the inquiry.

But Murdo Fraser, a Tory member of the committee, questioned why Ms Sturgeon had not reported to the police or the Scottish Government Mr Salmond's alleged request that she "collude" with him over the allegations.

He said the "forgetful" First Minister appeared to have found the WhatsApp messages after press reports that some had been withheld and questioned: "What else is she hiding?"

Ms Sturgeon was last week accused of "taking people for fools" after telling the inquiry she had "forgotten" about a meeting with Mr Salmond's chief of staff at which she was informed about the allegations.

Her incendiary intervention represented by far her most outspoken public attack yet on Mr Salmond and appeared to be an attempt to get back on the front foot following a week in which her honesty came under repeated attack.

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Eric Geddes, the SNP's head of broadcast media, tweeted following the interview that she "could not have been clearer and more transparent." He added: "Those who wish to destroy the party and the movement that she leads will not succeed."

However, Angus MacNeil, the Western Isles MP and a close ally of Mr Salmond, asked: "Why were messages withheld from the inquiry?"

Mr Salmond won a judicial review last year when Scotland’s highest civil court found that the way the Scottish Government investigated sexual misconduct allegations against him was unlawful and "tainted with apparent bias".

The committee's inquiry was kick-started in March this year when Mr Salmond was acquitted of 13 sex offences at the High Court in Edinburgh.

Ms Sturgeon told Sky News's Sophy Ridge she understood "that for Alex Salmond it probably is better for the focus of this debate to be on people to believe that there was a big conspiracy against him as opposed to the focus being on his conduct."

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She said she "can understand why people in my party might want an alternative explanation for all of this" other than Mr Salmond's behaviour "but I'm afraid that is not the case."

Ms Sturgeon said one of the worst things she was "confronted with" was the "reality" that her close friend, predecessor and mentor of 30 years was facing serious allegations of sexual misconduct.

"Every day I've tried to do the right thing and not cover it up, and I think the reason perhaps he is angry with me - and he clearly is angry with me - is that I didn't cover it up," she said.

"I didn't collude with him to make these allegations go away and perhaps that is at the root of why he is as annoyed as he appears to be."

In written evidence to the inquiry, published last week, she said Mr Salmond had denied allegations that emerged in November 2017 about an incident at Edinburgh Airport but she had a "lingering concern" more claims would emerge.

She admitted that Geoff Aberdein, Mr Salmond's former chief of staff, informed her of more claims in a meeting in her office on March 29 the following year. 

Ms Sturgeon had previously said she only found out when Mr Salmond visited her home on April 2 but she claimed that she had "forgotten that this encounter" with Mr Aberdein had taken place earlier.

In three meetings and two phone calls, none of which were minuted, she said he asked her to intervene in her government's investigation and encourage her most senior mandarin "to accept his request for mediation" with the two civil servants who had lodged complaints.

But she published some WhatsApp messages with Mr Salmond in which she told him "I think me intervening is not the right thing to do."

Ms Sturgeon insisted she had handed over everything in the committee's remit but admitted there were other messages, the content of which she said were not a "big revelation".

She said these showed she was "setting up a conversation" to discuss an enquiry by Sky News in Nov 2017 about the Edinburgh Airport allegations, which did not result in a story at the time.

After he replied that he could speak at 10am on Nov 5, she said "that’s when I asked him what is this Sky thing."

Reading out the messages on air, Ms Sturgeon said: "I got back to him later that day to say 'Any developments?' and the next day I said, 'Are you free for a word?'"

She added: "Later that week, incidentally, I messaged him to say 'No wonder you didn’t want to tell me.' That’s just after I found out that he had agreed to host a regular show on Russia Today and it reflects my incredulity at that decision."

Mr Salmond was approached for comment.

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