Reply To: Jim Sillars’ formal complaint re Nicola Sturgeon’s smears about Alex Salmond

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Here’s what the complaint’s about. Nicola took several opportunities to slander Alex Salmond at the Covid briefing:

[30:48] James Matthew (Sky News): “And second of all, if I could read you a quote. “There was discussion about the investigation, the process of it, the fact it was a civil service investigation being conducted by civil servants. That’s an account from someone in discussion with you about the investigation into Alex Salmond in your office on March the 29th 2018. Have they misremembered those details?”

[31:10] NS: “That’s not an account that I would agree with. I can’t speak for somebody else and I don’t know for sure – apart from what you’ve just told me – exactly whose account that is. But I hope that I’ll be before the committee looking at these matters a week, a week today – this is Wednesday and I’ll be able to answer all these questions in full. I’ve waited a long time to do so before this committee, so I certainly welcome that opportunity and I’ll be questioned I’m sure, fully and in detail on all of these matters, and I look forward to giving my responses, answering all and any questions and setting the record straight where I think that is required. So, with that, I’m going to move back on to Covid, because this is a Covid briefing and there are other forums where, quite properly and legitimately, I will be questioned on these other matters.” [31:58]

[32:56] NS: “Peter Smith from ITV … “

[32:59] Peter Smith (ITV): “Thank you very much. Good afternoon, First Minister and Clinical Director.

[33:07] Every day, you’re coming here and you’re asking the Scottish people to have faith in your message and to trust you. Now, we now hear some serious allegations from a former First Minister. This is not someone from the sidelines – a former First Minister who knows the democratic institutions of Scotland – and he’s alleging that there’s corruption that is undermining the trust that we can have in you and these institutions. You have said, clearly, “Show us your evidence.” Alex Salmond said he would like to, but he’s been blocked by the Crown Office. Can you say: has anyone in your government or your office contacted the Crown Office, asking them to censor or withhold vital evidence.”

[33:40] NS: “Look, again, I’ll answer this question – albeit this is a Covid briefing – and then I’m going to move back to Covid.

The decisions about what the Scottish Parliament publishes, and how it publishes whatever it publishes in compliance with the law, are matters for the Parliament, for the corporate body. I am not party to these discussions. And the decisions the Crown Office takes in relation to enforcing or upholding the law – and this relates specifically to your question – are taken independently by the Crown Office, independently of … of government. And any suggestionany suggestion at all that these decisions are in any way politically influenced are downright wrong. But I would suggest that the … go further than that … that they actually start to buy into what is a false, and quite dangerous, conspiracy theory that has no basis in fact. You refer to allegations made by Alex Salmond. I don’t think there is a shred of evidence behind those allegations and the claims that have been made. But Alex Salmond has had the opportunity – he had the opportunity today to be in front of the committee and to try to substantiate those allegations. Now, he’s declined that opportunity today, I don’t think with any good reason, and I hope he comes to the committee in early course so that he can say what he wants, put forward any claims that he wants, and crucially bring forward the evidence.

In terms of the submission that the Parliament redacted yesterday: that relates to one part of the Inquiry. I don’t think that it inhibits the questioning of me – the allegations in relation to that part of the Inquiry that Alex Salmond is making about me have widely reported in the media and in the public domain. I have always, and continue to be, of the view that I will be fully questioned on all of these issues by the committee when I appear – hopefully, a week today – fully and in detail. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t be, and I don’t think there’s any reason why Alex Salmond should not sit in front of that committee, make whatever claims he wants to make, say whatever he wants to say, and bring whatever evidence he thinks he has to bear. There was no conspiracy theory, and I sometimes think that the … [NS grins] … the preference of Mr Salmond is to continue to make those claims without ever subjecting them to the proper scrutiny of the Parliamentary committee looking into them. So I hope he proves me wrong on that by getting himself in front of the committee in early course. And then I look forward to appearing next week. I’ve … next week I think is the … [NS smirks] … sixth date I’ve had in my diary and every one before now has been postponed by the committee. And the last few, because Alex Salmond has not agreed to appear.

So I want to get in front of this committee to answer every and all questions that people have of me, to address all the issues that people have, and to rebut – frankly, head on and very directly – some of the wild, untrue, false and baseless claims that have been made in recent times. But for now, I’m going to get on with my job of leading the country through Covid. So … eh … I’ll get back to that.”

[36:55] Peter Smith: “I appreciate that, First minister, if I may just ask: is there a worry that this inquiry is losing credibility every day, and it is to the detriment of women who may be afraid now to speak out against powerful men?”

[36:09] NS: “Em … I do worry, not just about the women in this case, whose voices have been silenced, whose motives have been maligned, who have been accused (or it seems to me to be accused) of being liars and conspiracists, and I think that is wrong. They came forward with complaints; the behaviour they complained of was found by a jury not to constitute criminal conduct, and Alex Salmond is innocent of criminality … but that doesn’t mean that the behaviour they claimed of didn’t happen, and I think it’s important that we don’t lose sight of that. And when I’ve said that before, people have said “You’re hiding behind the women!” I’m not hiding behind anybody! If anything, I’m standing up for the right of women to come forward and for claims to be taken seriously. I, I can’t speak for the conduct, or the status, or the standing, or the credibility of the parliamentary committee – that’s for the committee. And all I know is that … [NS chuckles] … I’ve been waiting for months to appear before this committee and haven’t yet had the opportunity.

[38:07] Eh, the one final point I would make – and then I am going to get back to Covid – is that this submission that’s been in the news yesterday, that had to have some redactions for legal reasons, … um, that related to the aspect of the committee that is looking at whether or not I breached the ministerial code. There’s actually a separate investigation into that, being conducted by the independent adviser on the ministerial code. Now, my assumption is that the adviser has this submission in full, because in its initial form, it was actually a letter to him. So he’s looking at that without any redactions – I assume – and will be able to take all of that into account. So the idea that scrutiny of me is being inhibited in any way, shape or form, is wrong. There is no reason why I can’t sit before that committee, answer questions, fully, in detail, openly, for as long as the committee wants. And frankly, there’s no reason why Alex Salmond cannot do the same. So perhaps he should just get himself in front of it; we can both have our say; people can make up their own minds; and then I’ll get on with my job of leading the country through the pandemic, and hopefully out of the other end of it. [39:11]

[52:47] Simon Johnson (Daily Telegraph): “And … just briefly on the Salmond Inquiry, there seems to be some people, including some people within your own party, who believe what happened with Mr Salmond’s evidence is … is essentially a cover-up, and I wondered what you would say to them. Thank you.”

[53:04] NS: “I’ve already covered that. The issues with a particular, single, piece of evidence yesterday was a matter … is a matter for the Parliament and the Crown Office, and I’m not party to those discussions; and nor should I be. And I’ll say very, very firmly: I understand politics – I’ve been in politics for a long time and I understand oppositions wanting to hold governments to account, and also to engage (as we all do) in the cut and thrust of politics – but let’s all be careful here that we don’t start signing up to false, damaging conspiracy theories that have no basis in fact, that start to actually unfairly undermine trust in our public institutions. The idea that any decision of the Crown Office, around what they do to uphold or enforce the law, is politically driven or influenced, is just downright wrong, and nobody who is responsible should be making that claim. And as I’ve said before, this is about one element of evidence that I don’t think inhibits what I can be asked about, and I don’t see why Alex Salmond’s ability to sit before that committee … he’s put reams of evidence before that committee – much of it … well, I’ll say what I think of it when I get to the committee myself. There’s no reason why he can’t … there’s no reason why he isn’t sitting …. No good reason why he isn’t sitting in front of the committee right now. I understand he said he’ll go later in the week. Let’s hope he does, and then we can get all of it out in the open, all of it out on the table, and then I’ll have my say next week, and then people can make up their own minds. And in the meantime, and after that, I’ll get on with my job.” [54:40]

[1:00:12] Michael Blackley (Daily Mail): ” … and also, given that this is my first opportunity to ask you about Alex Salmond – I appreciate you’ve talked about some of the issues already – even before the events of recent days, Alex Salmond said in his evidence that government and Crown Office blocking of the release of information amounted to a matter of shielding of some of the most powerful people in the country who are acutely aware of how exposed they would become if information was released. Douglas Ross this morning described the Scottish Government as “corrupt”. Have the tools of the state been used to protect your reputation?”

[1:00:52] NS: “Absolutely, emphatically, not! And there is not a shred of evidence to suggest that that is the case. I know why Douglas Ross would be making these claims: you know, he’s the opposition, a few weeks before an election – I don’t think that should surprise anybody … em, but, you know, I do think even opposition have a duty to, you know, have some evidence for the claims that they’re making. And Alex Salmond – well, you know, maybe creating an alternative reality in which the organs of the state – not just me, and the SNP, and the civil service, and the Crown Office, and the police, and the women who came forward – were all part of some wild conspiracy against him, for reasons I … [NS chuckles] can’t explain. Em … maybe that’s easier than just accepting that, at the root of all this, might just have been issues in his own behaviour. But that’s for him to explain, if he ever decides to pitch up and sit in front of the committee. [1:01:44]

[1:02:53] Richard Percival (Daily Express): “And just to follow up on the Alex Salmond stuff: would you be willing to do like a … a press conference, um, after you’ve given evidence to ex… make your … make your position clear on this whole saga, basically? Because I know Alex Salmond has sort of previously hinted that he may give a press conference after he’s given evidence.”

[1:03:15] NS: [chuckles] “I’m laughing because it feels like that’s what I’ve been forced to do today. I’ll speak to anybody. I’ve always said that I want to speak to the committee on the detail of this first. Because I think that is showing respect for the parliamentary process. I am accountable to Parliament, and through Parliament to the public. I’m getting very frustrated at the length of time it is taking for me to have my opportunity to come before the committee, and once I’ve had that opportunity no doubt others will want to question me and I’ll be happy to answer those questions.

[1:03:42] Um, you know, what I’d say to Alex Salmond is: do a press conference if you like, but don’t dodge the committee. Sit in front of the committee, on oath – just like I will do – and put forward your views, say what you want to say, and – crucially – bring the evidence to back it up. Because, in spite of all the, you know, sort of furore over some redactions to one document yesterday – that’s the missing bit here: the evidence that backs any … of it … up.

[1:04:06] So if you aren’t doing it today, how about Friday? And then I’ll do it next Wednesday, and we can let people decide.” [1:04:14]

[1:06:03] NS: “Em, as you know, I like to keep these briefings on Covid, so apologies to those of you who tuned in to hear updates on Covid and had to listen to my answers on another topics. Em, I’d prefer to keep these issues on Covid, but I hope you understand that when I’m asked questions about issues of the day that are fundamentally about me and my actions, it’s also important that I try to, eh, answer those questions as fully as I can. But I apologise to anybody who is frustrated at the fact that not all of today’s briefing was entirely about Covid.