Nicola Sturgeon has said a “very partisan leak” from the Alex Salmond inquiry is “not that surprising” as the committee is understood to have deemed she misled parliament.
MSPs on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints Committee voted 5-4 that the First Minister gave an “inaccurate” account of a meeting with her predecessor during the live investigation, the PA news agency understands.
This would amount to misleading the Scottish Parliament.
The First Minister told the truth to the committee in eight hours of evidence, and stands by that evidenceFirst Minister spokesman
She told Sky News: “I stand by all of the evidence I gave to the committee, all eight hours’ worth of evidence.
“What’s been clear is that opposition members of this committee made their minds up about me before I muttered a single word of evidence, their public comments have made that clear.
“So this leak from the committee – very partisan leak – tonight before they’ve finalised the report is not that surprising.”
She added that she is awaiting the result of the James Hamilton QC investigation into whether she broke the ministerial code.
The decision is likely to increase pressure on Ms Sturgeon to stand down before May’s election, although it is unclear whether the act was deemed a resignation-worthy offence.
A Scottish Parliament spokeswoman said the committee – which has four SNP members and five from other parties – is still considering its report.
It is expected to be published on Tuesday.
The Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints was set up after a successful judicial review by Mr Salmond resulted in the Scottish Government’s investigation being ruled unlawful and “tainted by apparent bias”, with a £512,250 payout being awarded to him for legal fees in 2019.
The SNP leader has faced questions about when she became aware of the internal government investigation of her predecessor, having originally told parliament it was at a meeting with him at her home on April 2.
It later emerged that Mr Salmond’s former chief of staff had spoken to Ms Sturgeon about – in her words – “a harassment-type issue” four days earlier when arranging the subsequent meeting.
She told the committee she wished her memory of the earlier meeting was “more vivid”, but “it was the detail of the complaints under the procedure that I was given on April 2 that was significant and indeed shocking”.
Ms Sturgeon also defended her decision not to record the meeting, as per the ministerial code, because she initially suspected it was about party business and then wanted to protect the “confidentiality of the process”.
Mr Salmond’s claim there was “no doubt” their meeting was about the government investigation was corroborated by Duncan Hamilton QC – a former SNP MSP – and the SNP’s former communications director, Kevin Pringle.
This latest development comes after Conservative MP David Davis used parliamentary privilege in the House of Commons to read out messages that he suggested showed a “concerted effort by senior members of the SNP to encourage complaints” against the former first minister.
According to Mr Davis, the messages disclosed by a whistleblower “demands serious investigation”, with one alleging the investigating officer in the case complained of interference by Ms Sturgeon’s chief of staff.
The message is alleged to have been sent by Judith Mackinnon to the Government’s communications director on February 6 2018, almost two months before the First Minister claims to have first known about the investigation of her predecessor.
A spokesman for the First Minister said: “The First Minister told the truth to the committee in eight hours of evidence, and stands by that evidence.
“It is clear from past public statements that opposition members of this committee had prejudged the First Minister at the outset of the inquiry and before hearing a word of her evidence, so this partisan and selective briefing – before the committee has actually published its final report – is hardly surprising.
“The question of the First Minister’s adherence to the ministerial code is being considered independently by James Hamilton, and we expect to receive and publish his report soon.”
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: “I am not going to prejudge the outcome of the committee report and we await its findings, but if it does conclude that the First Minister has misled Parliament and potentially breached the ministerial code then that is incredibly serious.”
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “The committee will publish its findings in the coming days and we will wait for that report.
“But we have already detailed that Nicola Sturgeon lied to the Scottish Parliament and for that, she must resign. All we’re waiting for is confirmation.”