10 January 2019

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard has formally written to the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon calling on her to refer herself to the panel of independent advisers to the Ministerial Code over her secret meetings with Alex Salmond.

At First Minister’s Questions today, Nicola Sturgeon admitted that her taxpayer-funded Chief of Staff was present at her first meeting with Alex Salmond.

The First Minister also admitted that she only recorded the meeting – which she contends was not a government meeting – with the Permanent Secretary after Alex Salmond requested another meeting, which took place two months after the first meeting.

The full text of Richard Leonard’s letter is below:

Dear First Minister,

In your introduction to the latest edition of the Ministerial Code, you rightly state that the people of Scotland must “have trust and confidence in those serving in government” and that “it is essential to set and maintain the highest standards of propriety and openness”.

As you acknowledge, the principles that guide those in public life are: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. The public have every right to expect us to follow these principles, and I note your commitment to “lead by example in following the letter and spirit” of the Code.

Section 4.23 of the Code states:

“If Ministers meet external organisations or individuals and find themselves discussing official business without an official present – for example at a party conference, social occasion or on holiday – any significant content (such as substantive issues relating to Government decisions or contracts) should be passed back to their Private Offices as soon as possible after the event, who should arrange for the basic facts of such meetings to be recorded.”

As First Minister of the Scottish Government, you met and spoke to on five occasions the former First Minister of the Scottish Government to discuss the Scottish Government’s investigation into allegations of sexual assault made against him, reportedly by two Scottish Government civil servants – the first meeting of which we now know was attended by your Chief of Staff.

The public will clearly view these conversations as part of your official capacity as First Minister of the Scottish Government. It is not credible to say otherwise.

In response to my question in the Holyrood chamber this afternoon, you said that you only informed the Permanent Secretary of the first Alex Salmond meeting of 2 April 2018 after Mr Salmond requested a second meeting.

That second meeting would take place on 7 June 2018, over two months after the initial meeting.

Even if you continue to refuse to accept that you have breached the letter of the Ministerial Code, it is self-evident that you have breached its spirit. I believe you must now refer yourself to the panel of independent advisers to the Code, who I am copying into this letter.

We must not lose sight of the fact that at the heart of this case are two courageous women who put their faith in a system that has badly let them down. Alex Salmond will have to account for his own response to the events of this week.

As the First Minister of the Scottish Government you have a special responsibility to not only repair the damage this case has already done, but also to restore the trust and confidence in public service and public office that is central to our democracy.

Given the very strong public interest in these matters, I will also be making this letter public.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Leonard

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