The First Minister today tried to deflect questions regarding the clear inconsistencies in her and the SNP chief executive’s evidence to the Scottish Parliament committee investigating the handling of sexual misconduct claims.
At First Minister’s Questions, Ruth Davidson challenged Nicola Sturgeon on evidence at the Holyrood Salmond inquiry on Tuesday, when SNP chief executive Peter Murrell openly contradicted himself and the First Minister.
His testimony indicated the First Minister has misled Parliament and broken the Ministerial Code, as she claimed her meetings with Alex Salmond were party business when Mr Murrell says they were Scottish Government business.
Earlier today evidence emerged that former SNP deputy leader Angus Robertson was aware of allegations against Alex Salmond 11 years ago.
Scottish Conservative Holyrood leader Ruth Davidson said: “The First Minister’s repeated references to her husband today were a transparent attempt at deflection and, frankly, were beneath a woman of her professional standing.
“Mr Murrell appeared at a Scottish Parliament committee this week as SNP chief executive. Under oath, he plainly contradicted the First Minister and indicated she misled Parliament and broke the Ministerial Code.
“There was incredulous laughter at the First Minister’s answers today because she is seriously asking us to believe that the SNP chief executive saw a crucial meeting happen in his own home, between a whole host of key SNP figures, and never asked a single question what it was all about.
“Throughout this affair, a clear pattern has emerged of sharp brains suddenly turning blank, contradictions piling up and half answers having to be dragged out of people who should know better.
“It was perhaps unfortunate of Nicola Sturgeon to make reference to “office gossip” on the day we find out her former deputy was first informed about allegations surrounding Alex Salmond as long as 11 years ago.”
Murrell said Sturgeon’s meetings with Salmond were government business but Sturgeon explicitly said they were not. In response to questioning from Murdo Fraser about Sturgeon’s meetings with Salmond, Murrell said: ‘The issue that was raised with Nicola at the time was a Scottish government matter and Scottish government business is not for me’. However, Nicola Sturgeon had previously said to Parliament on the meetings: ‘The fact that I had no role in the Government process is why it would not have been appropriate for the meetings to be Government meetings.’ (The Times, 9 December 2020,; Official Report, 10 January 2019, ).
Murrell said he did not use WhatsApp but it has been revealed he used it as recently as November. During his oral evidence session to the Salmond inquiry, Murrell said: ‘I can only tell you I know nothing about a WhatsApp group. I’m not on WhatsApp. So, it’s not a social media platform I use.’ However, it emerged that there was a WhatsApp account linked to Mr Murrell’s phone number, which showed that it had been used as recently as 22 November this year. (The Scottish Sun, 8 December 2020,).
Murrell said he was not home when the Salmond meeting on 2 April 2018 took place, but he later said he was. Responding to questions from Murdo Fraser about Sturgeon’s meetings with Salmond, Murrell said: ‘I wasn’t at home. I wasn’t aware of the capacity in which she was having the meetings’ and continued: ‘I wasn’t at home at either meeting.’ However, he later went on to say, when questioned why he had a sense that something serious was being discussed at the 2 April 2018 meeting Murrell said: ‘Well, I came home from work and there were people still in the house at that point’ and ‘I arrived home not long before the meeting ended.’ (The Herald, 8 December 2020,).
Murrell said that he was not aware that Salmond was coming to his house, but then said he was told in advance. During the evidence session, Murrell twice claimed that ‘he wasn’t really aware’ that Mr Salmond would be coming to his house. After being questioned on when he knew about the First Minister’s meeting with Salmond on 2 April 2018, Murrell said: ‘I think at some point on the previous day I was aware that Alex was coming to the house.’ (The Herald, 8 December 2020,).