Sturgeon rejects 'confidentiality breach' claim over Salmond complainer

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Nicola Sturgeon has denied allegations that the name of a woman who complained about Alex Salmond was passed to him during a government investigation.

Mr Salmond claims to have been told the name of a complainer when a meeting with Ms Sturgeon was being set up.

Labour MSP Jackie Baillie said this was "beyond belief" and an "extraordinary breach of confidentiality".

Ms Sturgeon said she did not accept Mr Salmond's account and said opposition MSPs had taken his claims "as gospel".

The first minister said the claims of a conspiracy against her predecessor were "deeply unfair to the women involved" and to "the efforts to create a culture in Scotland where women feel they can come forward with complaints".

Mr Salmond is expected to give evidence to a Holyrood inquiry into the government's handling of complaints against him on Friday, with Ms Sturgeon to follow next Wednesday.

Mr Salmond has made accusations of a "malicious and concerted" attempt to remove him from public life, taking aim at Ms Sturgeon, her government and the party he once led, the SNP.

The first minister has rejected the claims, saying there is "not a shred of evidence" that there was a conspiracy.

At her weekly question session at Holyrood, Ms Sturgeon was challenged by opposition leaders about Mr Salmond's claims and whether her government had engaged in a "cover-up".

Ms Baillie - a member of the Holyrood inquiry committee - said the probe was at its heart about two women who had been failed by the government, after it admitted its investigation of their complaints against Mr Salmond had been unlawful.

'Breakdown of trust'

And she said that "astonishingly", the name of one of the women involved had been passed to Mr Salmond while a meeting with Ms Sturgeon was being arranged.

She said the identity of the woman had been revealed to Geoff Aberdein - Mr Salmond's former chief of staff - and was then conveyed on to him.

Ms Baillie said this was an "extraordinary breach of confidentiality" and a "fundamental breakdown of trust".

Ms Sturgeon replied: "Jackie Baillie is accepting at face value Alex Salmond's account of all of this. I do not accept his account of much of this, which is why when I sit before the committee I will go through in detail what happened and what did not happen, and I think that is the right and proper way of proceeding.

"Accepting at face value the conspiracy theories and the account of the man that women accused of harassing them seems to me to be quite a strange way of standing up for and supporting those women."

Pressed by Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie on whether the name was passed on, Ms Sturgeon said: "To the very best of my knowledge I do not think that happened."

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image captionAlex Salmond is expected to give evidence to the committee on Friday

The breach is alleged to have occurred while arrangements were made for a meeting between Ms Sturgeon and Mr Salmond at the first minister's Glasgow home in April 2018.

Ms Sturgeon says this meeting was the first time she learned of the complaints, but has accepted that it was set up via a meeting with Mr Aberdein at her Scottish Parliament office on 29 March.

Scottish Conservative group leader Ruth Davidson said the truth was that Ms Sturgeon had known about the allegations prior to April 2018, and that this had been "exposed" by submissions made to the inquiry by Mr Salmond.

Parts of these submissions were later deleted after the Crown Office raised "grave concerns" about their contents, and Ms Davidson asked if Ms Sturgeon could "understand why this looks to the public like a cover-up, when the exact evidence being redacted is the most damaging to her personally".

Ms Sturgeon insisted that there was no cover-up, pointing out that she had referred to the meetings in her own written evidence submitted in August 2020.

'Scorched earth approach'

She said: "Scrutiny of me is important and necessary and legitimate.

"What is not legitimate is to pursue a conspiracy theory and a scorched earth approach that threatens the reputation and integrity of Scotland's independent judiciary, just because you don't like this government - and to sacrifice all that, if I may say, on the ego of one man."

The first minister also said the deletions made to submissions would not affect what questions could be asked of her.

And she added: "All of Alex Salmond's allegations and claims about me are in the public domain and have been widely reported.

"I have always fully expected to be questioned in detail about all of those allegations when I appear next week - there is nothing in terms of publication or non-publication that has ever led me to expect anything else."

Speaking on the BBC's Today programme SNP MSP Alex Neil said Mr Salmond did believe "a number of people" had been involved with "conspiring against him and stitching him up".

He is an ally of Mr Salmond and has previously said he would welcome the former first minister returning to Holyrood.

Mr Neil also said: "I think Alex believes after he lost his Westminster seat there was a possibility of a by-election in Scotland in his neck of the woods and he believes some people were frightened of him coming back in, which he says he had no intention of doing anyway.

"I think the SNP leadership has got to try and put a lid on this.

"If it was proven there was a conspiracy - everybody involved in the conspiracy, I think, would be getting their jotters."