Nicola Sturgeon has suggested Alex Salmond still has to answer questions about his past behaviour towards women, after she accused him of peddling “wild, untrue and baseless claims” about a conspiracy against him.
The first minister implied that Salmond, her former mentor and predecessor as Scottish National party leader, was being dishonest about his motives after he turned down several offers to give evidence to a Holyrood inquiry.
Speaking during a Covid briefing as Holyrood officials confirmed Salmond was now expected to appear before MSPs on Friday, Sturgeon accused him of diverting attention from questions about his past conduct.
“Maybe creating an alternative reality in which the organs of the state [were] all part of some wild conspiracy against him, for reasons I can’t explain, maybe that’s just easier than accepting at the root of all this might just have been issues in his own behaviour,” she said. “But that’s for him to explain, if he ever decides to pitch up and sit in front of the committee.”
Her comments came as the lord advocate, James Wolffe QC, rejected Salmond’s suggestions the Crown Office was suppressing evidence to help the government, after he answered an emergency question in parliament from Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour’s acting leader.
Opposition parties were furious after the Crown Office urged Holyrood officials to heavily redact a piece of Salmond’s evidence on Monday night, leading to parts of it being edited out in case it breached a court order.
Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, told BBC Radio Scotland that Holyrood was facing a crisis of credibility. Salmond’s lawyers said they had written to the lord advocate for an urgent explanation into the Crown’s “unprecedented and highly irregular actions”.
Wolffe said he first heard about the Crown Office request after its letter was sent, and had no role in its decision. “[The] Crown has no interest in interfering with or limiting the conduct of proceedings in this parliament,” he said. “It’s only interest is securing observation and compliance with an order of the high court.”
During her media briefing, Sturgeon referred to Salmond’s trial in March 2020 where he was acquitted of 14 charges of sexual assault, including one attempted rape, involving 10 women. Some of the complainants were SNP officials, others worked for the Scottish government.
The motives of those women were now being “maligned [and] have been accused of being liars and conspiracists”, she said.
“The behaviour complained of was found by a jury not to constitute criminal conduct and Alex Salmond is innocent of criminality, but that doesn’t mean the behaviour complained of didn’t happen and I think it’s important that we don’t lose sight of that.”
Salmond, who alleges in his submissions there has been “a deliberate, prolonged, malicious and concerted effort” by his former colleagues to destroy him, has been approached for a response.
Salmond pleaded not guilty and was acquitted of all 14 charges, but during his two-week trial acknowledged some incidents had taken place, including stroking the face of one junior official as she slept in a car next to him. He said he was trying to gently wake her up.
He told the jury he had kissed and caressed another former official in Bute House, the first minister’s official residence in Edinburgh, but denied her allegation in court that he attempted to rape her some months later.
He also admitted to having a “sleepy cuddle” with a female civil servant in his bedroom at Bute House, after drinking spirits. She had accused him of sexually assaulting her, including pulling up her dress. He told the jury that was not true but admitted later apologising to her in person.
He denied outright that he had fondled the knee of an SNP politician in a car and also denied he had touched another woman’s buttocks and breasts.
“I have never attempted to have non-consensual sexual relations with anyone in my entire life,” Salmond said. Some assault allegations were “deliberate fabrications for political purposes”, he told the jury. “Some are exaggerations that are taken out of proportion.”
As Wolffe was speaking, it emerged the Holyrood committee has asked him back to give further evidence within the next few days, and will be issuing a legal order compelling the Crown Office to release additional, but unspecified evidence, to the parliament.
It is also writing to Lady Dorrian, the senior judge who presided over Salmond’s trial last year, to ask her to set out whether her court order required Holyrood to redact significant parts of Salmond’s evidence on Tuesday.