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Scotland: Nicola Sturgeon faces calls to resign

March 19, 2021

Scotland's First Minister is facing calls to step down over her handling of an inquiry into sexual harrasment complaints against her former ally-turned-political rival, Alex Salmond.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during First Minister's Questions at the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood, Edinburgh. Picture date: Thursday March 18, 2021.
Sturgeon is under pressure to quit from lawmakersImage: Fraser Bremner/PA Wire/empics/picture alliance

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon faced calls to quit on Friday after lawmakers said she misled a parliamentary probe into a botched government investigation of harassment complaints against her biggest political rival.

Alex Salmond, Sturgeon's predecessor as first minister and leader of the separatist Scottish National Party, was cleared of 13 charges of sexual assault against two civil servants last year.

Alex Salmond, the former Scottish First Minister
Salmond, who Sturgeon succeeded, was cleared last year of all the charges against himImage: Reuters/R. Cheyne

The First Minister rejected claims by her former ally-turned-foe that she had offered to intervene in the case at a secret meeting between the pair in 2018.

Salmond claims he was the victim of a conspiracy to drive him out of public life. Sturgeon has rejected that as absurd.

Colleagues accuse Sturgeon of misleading parliament

British broadcaster Sky News reported on Thursday that the committee made up of members of the Scottish Parliament, also known as MSPs, voted by five to four to decide that she gave them an inaccurate account. 

The report will officially be published on Tuesday. Its remit was to scrutinize the actions of the First Minister, Scottish government officials, and its special advisers.

Schottland Untersuchungsausschuss  Nicola Sturgeon
A separate ruling will decide whether the First Minister broke Scotland's ministerial code in her March 3 testimonyImage: Jeff J. Mitchell/PA Wire/empics/picture alliance

But a top Irish lawyer will issue a separate verdict as to whether Sturgeon has broken Scotland's ministerial code of conduct.

James Hamilton, appointed to probe alleged ethics breaches two years ago, must decide whether the 50-year-old "knowingly" misled parliament. 

Scotland's rules state that any minister who does so would be "expected to offer their resignation."

"I stand by all of the evidence I gave to the committee, all eight hours worth of evidence," Sturgeon told Sky, referring to her marathon testimony on March 3. "Opposition members of this committee made their minds up about me before I uttered a single word of evidence."

Calls to quit mount

The leader of the Conservative opposition in Scotland, Douglas Ross, said Sturgeon should quit immediately.

"We cannot set a precedent that a First Minister of Scotland can mislead the Scottish Parliament and get away with it," he said.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: "This is about the integrity of our Scottish Parliament and upholding standards in public life."

First Minister's Questions. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during First Minister's Questions at the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood, Edinburgh. Picture date: Thursday March 18, 2021.
The news emerged on the same day Sturgeon faced her inaugural 'First Minister's Questions' session in the Holyrood parliamentImage: Andy Buchanan/PA Wire/empics/picture alliance

SNP splits over Salmond case

But an earlier judicial review found a Scottish government inquiry was unlawful and "tainted by apparent bias."

It ordered Sturgeon's administration to cover Salmond's legal fees of more than £500,000.

If Sturgeon resigns, it could leave the door open for the SNP's former leader to make an extraordinary political comeback.

Scotland - torn between two Unions

The Scottish National Party (SNP) had been expected to win an absolute majority in the Scottish parliament in elections in May.

But recent polls suggest a steady stream of negative headlines over Sturgeon's feud with Salmond have dented the SNP’s lead,

She has argued that an emphatic win would give her a powerful mandate to demand a second independence referendum, overcoming opposition from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

In a 2014 referendum, Scots voted by 55% to 45% to remain in the United Kingdom, but supporters of independence argue the situation has changed after Brexit.

In the 2016 referendum on membership of the European Union, just over 6 in 10 Scots voted to remain in the bloc while the UK as a whole voted to leave.

#NewNationalism: Scotland

jf/msh (AFP, Reuters)

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